Dispatches

Hot Springs

Taiwan is one of the world’s greatest destinations for hot springs.

There are moments in Taiwan—when you’re joyously lost in a crowded market and the thick tropical heat beams into your entire body, causing your damp clothes to stick to your skin—where you can’t possibly imagine getting any hotter. But you can. And you should. Because Taiwan is one of the world’s greatest destinations for hot springs. 

Taiwan’s hot springs are chock-full of magical minerals said to have all kinds of healing properties from improving your complexion to arthritis to helping you successfully. Taiwan is a volcanic area, perched between two tectonic plates. As a result, wherever you find yourself on the island, chances are you’re not far from a good soak spot. Some springs segregate the genders, while others offer a communal experience. Some are heavily built up, thanks to resorts and hotels taking advantage of this highly coveted experience, while others remain very close to their wild and untamed state.

Up north near Taipei, Beitou historic village is a popular site, with a resort and hot spring museum to boot. A little further south, Taian Hot Springs is nestled in the mountains and is notable for the purity of its waters. And if you want to get really far-flung, check out a map of Taiwan: that tiny little dot in the middle of the ocean just east of the mainland is Green Island. It’s got beautiful beaches, mountains stretching into forever, coral reef, and seawater hot springs—one of just three known seawater springs on the entire planet.

Text by Sophie Kohn, Photo by David Spadavecchia

Jan. 14, 2015, 12:12 p.m.

Real Streets

One of the best ways to experience a raw and unfiltered destination is to take a stroll through its streets.

Taiwan's streets hit you with unrelenting waves of sensory input.

The air carries an almost incredible mixture of smells—the open markets, the inscence of nearby temples, the food of countless restaurants.

Your eyes are equally charmed with an endless variety of sights—flashing billboards, ancient shrines, lush gardens.

But the real magic of the streets comes as you move further away from the city's core. Making your way through the winding alleyways and markets is the epitome of an urban adventure. Especially so in Taipei.

But the best way to experience it is to lace up your shoes and discover it for yourself.

Jan. 7, 2015, 12:08 p.m.

Jiaobei Blocks

Divination blocks and ancient cultural practices.

Visiting many of the temples and monasteries in Taiwan you are guaranteed to run into someone with Jiaobei blocks, a simple pair of crescent shaped blocks that are used as a sort of divination tool.

On our visit to Longshan Temple we immediately encountered a group of women with the blocks. Grasping them close the whispered to the blocks and then launched them across the floor. Pausing for a moment the women then began a close inspection of the blocks.

The way they land determines your divination.

The blocks are pretty simple, and some historians suggest that the practice and use of Jiaobei blocks originated in China and slowly spread to Taiwan. Essentially you pose a yes or no question to the gods and then the position the blocks land in determines the answer. One block flat and another on on its back? That's a yes. Both blocks land completely erect on the floor? That means you have confused the gods and should ask your question again.

 

It's easy to get wrapped up in the rich culture of Taiwan and everywhere seems to hold an interesting, and sometimes ancient, cultural practice

Dec. 31, 2014, 3:31 p.m.

Longpan Park in Kenting National Park Taiwan

After a quick scooter ride around Kenting National Park, Team opXpeditions Taiwan pauses for a second to check out the incredible pacific coast view. 

 

Video by David Spadavecchia

Dec. 27, 2014, 4:38 p.m.

That's Hot Springs

The world renowned hot springs of Taiwan's Beitou district.

There's nothing like soaking in hot water to relax your body and clear your head after an intense day. The soothing effects are amplified almost exponentially when you take your soak to a natural occurring and mineral rich hot spring.

After finishing up a bout of urban cycling through downtown, Team opXpeditions Taiwan decided that we should all head over to Taipei's Beitou district (the northernmost district in Taipei)  to check out some of the local hot springs. Taipei's Beitou district is world renowned for the high temperatures and crystal-clear water that feeds many of its publicly accessible hot springs. In fact, Taiwan has one of the highest concentrations and variety of thermal springs in the world. From hot springs to cold springs, mud springs, and seabed hot springs. Beitou specifically has direct access to many hot springs and has, over the years, developed into a hotspot for hotspring culture.

Walking around Beitou is sort of like walking around in a South American rainforest. The air is humid and hot, and everyone (and everything) seems to be travelling at a more relaxed pace. The air is fragrant with the smell of sulfer from the hotsprings and public bathing facilities are in no short order.

Historically, bathing in hot springs was not all-that-common in Taiwanese culture until the introduction and spread of onsen (spring soaking) culture during the Japanese period. The practice was quickly adopted once the therapeutic benefits were realized by the local population. Some even suggest that the hot springs mineral content can help with chronic fatigue and eczema. Regardless, going for a dip in a natural hot spring is incredibly soothing for both the body and mind.

Text by Dan Puiatti / Photo by David Spadavecchia

Dec. 21, 2014, 4:25 p.m.

Come On Home Green Tunnel River

Creedence had Green River. Taiwan has this Green Tunnel River.

Nestled within the suburban sprawl of Tainan, on the southwestern tropical part of Taiwan, is a mangrove tunnel that winds through a biologically diverse wetland reserve that has a rich variety of plants and waterbirds.

Sihcao Green Tunnel used to be a salt transport canal. Constructed by the Dutch as an easy way to transport salt products from drying fields nearby to storage facilities along the western coast, this tunnel has been reclaimed by the surrounding trees, plant and wildlife.

Stepping on to the unassuming little raft after grabbing your lift jacket and straw hat (the boat has no canopy, so it is suggested that you grab the hat) gives you a glimpse down the centre of the old salt canal. The entire canal is covered from above by various plants and trees, leaving just enough space, probably around 5 or so feet, for a small little raft to pass underneath.

Dozens of crabs line the sides of the canal and enormous White Crane nests dot the canopy. Ahead a single crane poses, watching our raft float by slowly. We can almost touch him.

About 150 New Taiwan Dollars will get you a ride on the Green Tunnel River Boat for about 30 minuites (which is all you really need) and if your interest is piqued there is a longer boat tour avaialble that actually takes you into the nearby Taijiang National Park to explore the immense amount of waterways that are filled with all sorts of pristine bird and plant life.

 

Text by Daniel Puiatti / Photo by David Spadavecchia

Dec. 16, 2014, 11:15 a.m.

Landscapes of Taiwan

Taiwan is a visually fascinating island with the wonderfully convenient characteristic of having a diverse visual landscape contained within a small and accessible geographical area.

At approximately 36,000 km2, about the same size of Vancouver Island, Taiwan is really quite small, geographically speaking. And yet Taiwan is full of enough landscape variance to make it feel like it is infinitely larger than it actually is.

During our 10 day expedition across Taiwan we were able to cover almost the entirety of the island, from the north, down the east coast, and back up again on the west coast. Our opXpeditions Taiwan expedition not only took us across the entire geographical perimiter of the island, but also allowed us to pass through almost all of the landscape variation on the island: from the ultra modern and bustling metropolitan area of Taipei, to the surreal rock and marble masterpiece of Taroko Gorge, to the lush and pristine forests of Sandiaoling, to tropical beaches, coastal cliffs, mountain jungles and the list goes on.

It's actually quite convenient that Taiwan is the size it is. For exploration on a timeline, in comparison to a country like Canada where immense stretches of land separate the really unique geographical areas, Taiwan is an ideal choice. To see anywhere close to the variety of landscapes I saw in Taiwain would require me to book an extensive and time consuming tour of Canada—and even then I would not get the tropical beaches of Taiwan.

No doubt, there is an abundance of landscapes to explore in Taiwain. Our opXpeditions Taiwan photo gallery has the images to prove it.

Text by Daniel Puiatti / Photo by David Spadavecchia

Dec. 12, 2014, 10:51 a.m.

Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail

Outpost Magazine Chief Photographer David Spadavecchia on the Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail in northern Taiwan taking a moment to talk about Motian Waterfall and Taiwan's geography.

Video by David Spadavecchia 

Dec. 6, 2014, 2:14 p.m.

Satori; Awakening

Taipei is hot, about 30 degrees celcius, and covered with sticky humidity. We are en route to our first official destination: Longshan Temple, a 300 year old dual purpose Buddhist and Taoist temple in Taipei's Manka district. 

Jet lag coats my senses, layering everything with a surreal dream like quality. I wander towards the temple entrance, following the smell of burning incense and low rhythmic chanting. Then a familliar word snaps me to attention.

"Wait."

Our guide calls.

"You must enter the temple from the right, to keep yourself in harmony with Feng Shui."

Walking slowly through the temple is a humbling experience and everywhere people are locked deep in worship: children, parents, grandparents, all interwound in bouts of worship.

The temple slowly begins to pulse with a subtle, rhythmic chanting. The main hall begins to fill as people gather to worship the goddess of mercy Guan-Yin. Moments melt away, carried by the chanting that is slowly increasing in tempo. And then it hits me, the full realization that I have travelled around the world and am, without a doubt, somewhere absolutely different: Taiwan. And it's incredibe.

Text by Daniel Puiatti / Photo by David Spadavecchia

Dec. 3, 2014, 7:40 p.m.

Sun Moon Mornings

I woke up early this morning and lay in bed watching the mist dancing over Sun Moon Lake outside my hotel room window, the silhouette of a single perfect tree standing firmly in the distance.

We’ve got an early start today. The plan is to rent bikes and cycle the 29 kilometre road around the lake before the midday heat becomes too heavy to ride in.

Sun Moon Lake is calm and serene. It’s a manmade body of water smack in the middle of Taiwan, perched at an altitude of about 800 metres. With all kinds of little B&Bs and temples tucked into its nooks and atop its surrounding hills, the region feels like a secret escape. Apparently there’s no swimming allowed in the lake because the boats make it too dangerous, but for one day each year this ban is lifted for a crazy mass plunge event called the Annual Across the Lake Swim. 

The lake got its name because if you bisect it, one portion of the lake is shaped like the moon, and the other, the sun. Sun Moon Lake is also home to the Thao aborigines—with roughly 600 members, it’s the smallest tribe in Taiwan.

We hop on our bikes and ride off into the haze. The bike trail encircles the entire lake, and you can also take several quiet roads down into the surrounding villages. The lake is quiet and still, the sunlight is gentle, and the trail is shaded by lush wet trees reaching for each other from opposite sides of the road. Riding this road feels meditative and cleansing, somehow. We stop here and there to take in the gorgeous vistas, and notice white herons hopping along the water’s edge and turtles sunning themselves on a rock.

Text by Sophie Kohn / Photo by David Spadavecchia

Nov. 28, 2014, 1:05 p.m.
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