Sulphurous geothermic waters bubble in the Beitou Hot Springs Waterside Park among the scenic hills around Taipei, heated by the neighboring Qixingshan Mountain, a dormant volcano in the Yangmingshan National Park. Hot springs hotels are numerous, and the water is a perfect 60-degree-Celsius in which to surrender your body and your abandon your cares, before falling further into blissful oblivion, under the hands of an able masseur. The Japanese, recalling their their own hot springs onsen, soon set their sights on these hills during their years of rule here, in the first half of the 20th century, when many tea gardens and bathhouses were constructed.
Xin Beitou may easily be reached from Taipei’s Main Station, with a half-hour trip on the MRT for around one US dollar, and one change to a branch line. Taxis take about 40 minutes for around US$10-12, to transport you into this other world of mountain greenery and stimulating sulphur vapors. Opposite the train station, the Hot Spring Museum, a restored Japanese colonial-era bathhouse, tells the history of the Beitou spas. A government-run hot spring area adjacent to the museum, the Millennium Hot Spring bathhouse, costs under US$2 to use the communal hot spring pools of varying temperatures, but bathing suits are requried.
The Yitsun Hotel, built in 1901, is more refined. Renamed to honor Dr Sun Yat-sen (his given name was Sun Yi-xian) who is said to have visited and praised the waters here, this was also a favored Japanese army officers' retreat during WWII, and kamikaze pilots sometimes spent their last nights here. Wood-panelled rooms, built on different levels, stand within a garden of bonsai trees and a goldfish pond. The rooms are still decorated in the Japanese style, with tatami mats, attended by elderly women for whom this has been both workplace and home for decades. Communal hot baths, one for men, another for women, are cloudy-white in grey slate stone sunken pools that overlook the gardens beyond. Guests walk around casually, soak themselves and, cross-legged at low tables, sample the Taiwanese or Japanese food. Gentle breezes blow between sliding doors and the sounds of trickling water may be heard from a nearby rock garden.
For a more gay Beitou experience, the Kawayu Spa & Sauna 川溫泉養生餐廳 is a 24-hour, all-male and all-naked, authentic Japanese-style bathhouse with an open-air hot pool, showers, steam room, cold water tub, Jacuzzi, and restaurant; popular with all kinds of guys, all ages. A taxi from either Beitou or Xinbeitou MRT stations is the easiest way to get here. The Huang Chi Spa is another all-male, all-naked establishment, accessible from the same entrance, but at the back, across a bridge -- look for the waterfall.
For more Beitou spas, or Wulai resort spa options, from the bedroll-on-wooden-floor experience and open-air pools that overllook mountainside jungles at Wulai Spring Resort, to casual family resorts with splashing and shrieking kids, see the article in Smart Travel Asia, or tourist information sites.
Sha Lun Beach 沙崙海灘: From MRT Tamshui Station, (at the north end of the Red Line), take the local bus to Tamsui Fisherman's Wharf/ Observatory Deck stop on Guanhai Road (just before the wharf gate). Cross the wall using the wooden stairs near the parked motorbikes. The gay beach, just past the woods to the left, is popular on sunny days with nude sunbathers and cruising men. Strong undercurrents and dangerous whirlpools, especially when when the wind blows from the south, have been the the cause of many drownings, and prompted the authorities to ban swimming here.
2/28 Peace Memorial Park: open all night, but most popular in early evenings, especially around the men's room. The setting for the film, The Outsiders (and the book The Crystal Boys), the park had become a popular meeting area for gay men in the 1960s-80s, repressive times of martial law when the official government line held that homosexuality didn’t exist in Taiwan. Today, as most everywhere else, men in Taipei use phone social apps more and more for meeting up, but some still prefer the old ways. The 2/28 Memorial Museum, at the center of the park, commemorates The 2/28 Incident and the White Terror that followed, a 38-year period of semi-fascism that landed 140,000 people in prison, and killed thousands. During those years people couldn't even speak of the event. The first European-style urban park in Taiwan, it was designed by Taiwanese architect, Tsu-Chai Cheng, and established in 1908 as Taihoku Park during Japanese colonial years, on the grounds of the Colonial Governor's Office. The Kuomintang government called it New Park until 1996 after the reforms of President Lee Teng-hui. Get here on the Taipei Metro by way of the National Taiwan University Hospital Station.
The Youth Park in western Wanhua District (south of the city at 199 Shuiyuan Rd), with 7 indoor and outdoor pools, is popular and busy around the men's pool shower rooms and toilets. Cap and goggles are required, and for sale here if you don't have them.
An historic temple in Wanhua district, a place for prayer and gathering for generations of Taipei citizens since the original temple was built by Chinese settlers from Fujian, China in 1738. Buddhist, Taoist, and folk deities such as Matzu as the Goddess of marine voyage are represented. The temple is dedicated to the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Kuan-in in Chinese, or Avalokitesvara in Sanskrit. The bodhisattvas Manjusri and Samantabhadra are also represented. The many statues of other Gods in the rear hall were transferred here when their temples were destroyed by urban renewal.
The buiding is emblematic of Taiwanese classical architecture, with influences from southern China. Rebuilt a number of times, either in full or in part after earthquakes and fires, it was badly damaged by WWII allied bombers in 1945 who destroyed the whole main hall and part of the right annex. The statue of Kuan-in survived intact, a "manifestation of efficacy" and a reason to hope, for the people of Taipei.
A bazaar market area surrounds Longshan Temple with fortune tellers among the small stands and booths. For those who speak Chinese or who have a Chinese-speaking friend, this can be an interesting experience, a far cry from the typical fortune tellers found in Western culture.
Sometimes called Mengjia Longshan Temple, Mengjia 艋舺 being the old name for Wanhua District, before the Republic of China moved to Taiwan.
Also known as the Yuan Xiao Festival, celebrations take place in early Spring, at the end of Chinese New Year, with thousands of sky lanterns lit over Pingxi District (平溪) in an eastern rural part of Taipei. The Sky Lanterns, decorated with well-wishes and images, were originally released to signal to travelers that the town was safe from pestilence.
Also celebrated on the 15th day after the beginning of the Lunar New Year, the Yan Shui Feng Pao ceremonies feature the crackles and bangs of thousands of firecrackers, strung between wooden supports five to twenty-five meters high, from six in the evening until 5am the following day. This "beehive of fireworks" was originally devised to ward away evil and disease after an epidemic of cholera.
The firecrackers ceremony at Wumiao Temple in Yan Shui District began as a show of respect for the accomplishments of Guan Yu, at the time of the third century Eastern Han dynasty, honored throughout East Asia as an epitome of loyalty and righteousness. From Taipei take a train to Sin Ying, then a cab to Yan Shui.
Calendar for Taiwan Lantern Festival: March 5, 2015; February 22, 2016; February 11, 2017; March 2, 2018; February 19, 2019; and February 8, 2020.
The 508-meter-high tower, the second tallest building in the world, is located in Xinyi district. The first building in the world to break the half-kilometer-high mark, it was the world's tallest between 2004 and 2009. Of the building's 101 floors, the 91st floor outdoor observatory deck is the highest level open to the public, with 360-degree views of the surrounding city. Observatory restaurants and indoor viewing decks occupy floors 85-89, The Taipei 101 Mall shopping center covers floors 1-5 with upscale shops and gourmet food options. Fireworks light up the tower on New Year's Eve.
The public zoological garden in Wenshan District, Taipei, the largest zoo in Asia and founded in 1914 during Japanese rule, is today a leader in conservation, research, education, and recreation. One Asian elephant named Lin Wang served with the Chinese Expeditionary Force during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) and came with the Kuomintang forces to Taiwan. Moved to the zoo, he lived out most of his life there, to become its most popular animal.
Animals from Taiwan, Australia, Africa, the Asian tropical rainforest, the desert, and temperate zones are representd, with an aviary of over 12000 birds from over 130 species. Other departments include: an insectarium, an amphibian and reptile house, a penguin habitat, a koala habitat, a nocturnal animals display, and the Giant Panda House with two adults (gifts from the People's Republic of China in 2008) and their offspring female cub. Other displays include an animals native to Taiwan area, and a fern garden. Take the Taipei Metro to the Taipei Zoo Station.
The famous landmark and symbol in Taipei dedicated to the Chinese political and military leader who served as the leader of the Republic of China between 1928 and 1975, first in mainland China, then retreating to Taiwan after the Chinese Communist Party prevailed in the civil war. In Taiwan he headed the Nationalist/ Kuomintang government in exile until he died in 1975, always hoping to return and overthrow the People's Republic of China government that had forced him out. Instead, he created a new Taiwanese society made up of mainlanders from China's many regions who had fled with him, and the local Taiwanese who had only just become Chinese again, after half a century as Japanese colonials. For most of those years he kept the country under martial law, imprisoning 140,000 of those he deemed to be in opposion, and having between 3 to 4,000 people executed. Only after the mid-1990s when multi-party democracy was established could people speak openly of what had happened in those years of the "White Terror."
One of the most interesting men of the 20th Century, Chiang Kai-shek trained at a Tokyo military school and served briefly in the Imperial Japanese Army in his youth. An ally of Sun Yat-sen, he succeeded the revolutionary founder of the Republic of China as KMT Chairman to lead his nation in difficult times. Local warlords feuded, Europeans still controlled parts of the country, fighting soon started with communists in the countryside, and then came the invasion by Japan. As leader of one of the WWII Allied Nations he stood uneasily with Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, but gained China one of the five permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council, along with veto power, after the war. In the Cold War that followed he used fear of communism in the United States to maintain control, and reduce the threat of invasion from China. But he had never trusted American or European motives. As much as possible under the circumstances, he maintained an independent foreign policy and an authoritarian government mixing traditional Confucianism, Christianity and nationalism, always with the goal of undermining the influence of Beijing. Until President Nixon went to China in 1972, and most nations began to recognize the PRC in Beijing instead of the ROC in Taiwan, he hung on, but died just 3 years after the Sino-American political thaw.
The Western-style red-brick octagonal structure in Taipei's Ximen district built in 1908, was Taiwan's first public market and is today one of the best preserved historical sites in the city; also a venue for cultural events with the Riverside Live House with music concerts and street performers, plus the Taipei Cinema Park with Beat Square dance club and a combination of cultural and art events and youth culture.
Also a large outdoor complex and LGBT "Gay Village" center in the space between the back of the Red House and an old two-storey building making a kind of piazza with a long strip of gay bars and cafés along the side. Crowds of mostly gay men drink outside in the balmy Taipei winter. Running along a second floor balcony are a dozen gay-themed shops: salons, underwear kiosks, a gym, tucked-away date spots and the like. To get here go to the Ximen MRT station and walk a short distance to the west.
Just a 20 minute walk from the Taipei 101 building, or half that from Xiangshan MRT Station, steep steps lead up into the forested hillsides of Xiangshan, or Elephant Mountain, one of the Four Beasts 四獸山 in the Xinyi district, said to resemble animals. Tiger, Leopard and Lion are the other three. A hiker is rewarded at the top with sweeping views of the entire Taipei Basin below. Main trails are paved and lit up at night, meaning you can explore anytime. Dozens of trailheads start from Xinyi Road or just off of Songren Road by Sanli Park. See the google map, courtesy sabrinaycl.wordpress.com
One of the eight national parks in Taiwan, located between Taipei City and New Taipei City, including Taipei's Beitou and Shilin Districts; and New Taipei's Wanli, Jinshan and Sanzhi Districts. The parkPark is famous for its cherry blossoms, hot springs, sulfur deposits, fumaroles, venomous snakes and hiking trails, and includes Taiwan's tallest inactive volcano, Qixingshan Mountain. Beautiful landscapes of rock ridges, valleys, lakes, waterfalls and basins make this a popular hiking and biking area, and some 168 different species of butterflies may be seen on nature walks here.