Taiwan - Mototour - Hot, Wet & Steamy / by Mark Boyd

As I pulled away from the 4 Seasons B&B in Yilan I was already deliberating on plans for the day.  Originally my thought was to ride all the way to the North East point, along the North Coast and drop down in to Taipei and back to Hey Bear Capsule.... It would be a full day ride.

As I sat in the rain at the traffic lights I knew that Jiaoxi's hot springs were a mere 45 minutes away.... Mmmmmm hot, steamy bathing.... What a delightful thought.... So they were my options laid out in my helmut clad brain.

35 minutes later, as I pulled over outside the astro turf clad exterior of the East Travel Backpackers Hotel (having completed a total of 25km).... the thoughts of hot, steamy geothermal springs had won me over. It was still hammering down so why on earth would I spend all day punishing myself on a gruelling tour of the miserable greyness currently known as North Taiwan. Taiwan is famous for hot springs.... And as yet I'd managed to avoid them all!  East Travel Backpackers was going to cost me £15.00 which was pretty expensive for a hostel/capsule style place, but having said that it was only 10.30am, they were letting me check in super early, it was brand new, modern, clean and amaaaaaazing inside. So bang for my Taiwanese buck was definitely being achieved.

The name on the front did not match their Booking.com title of East Travel Backpackers....

The name on the front did not match their Booking.com title of East Travel Backpackers....

I ditched my gear and went in search of the hot spring park....  Had I found it?  No, this was just one of the many little pools of hot water all around the town.

I didn't have to search for long. It was across the road and 250 metres away.

The gardens leading to the hot springs.... Pretty.... Miserable light though... Grim day!

The gardens leading to the hot springs.... Pretty.... Miserable light though... Grim day!

The rain had turned to a cool drizzle.  I'd brought my shorts along, but had forgotten to bring a towel.  As I paid the £1.50 or so entrance fee the lady offered me a towel for another 50p. Perfect!

She then went on to try and explain something to me, but she spoke no English. Out came her smart phone.  With GoogleTranslate fired up she began to tap away at the screen. She then pressed translate and held the her phone in front of my face.

'No Clothes'

Ah. Okay. I thought this was the park where it was imperative that you actually wear a bathing suit.... But I was clearly mistaken. Was it mixed?  I nodded, smiled, wandered in to the undressing area.  I quickly disrobed and turned to walk in to the open hot, spring area.  It was just men.  I was greeted by the grey furry crack and ancient looking sack of a local octogenarian who was bent double at the waist giving himself a good ole scrub before entering the geothermally heated waters..... Quite the welcome.

The gentle cool breeze felt good on my naked skin, but the water was going to feel great!

I nodded to a couple of elderly gentleman as I lowered myself in to one of the pools. Ooooooh it was hot, good hot. The grey stony environment gave the place a real natural feel. I closed my eyes and relaxed. One of the old men clambered out, he 'dangled' briefly then lowered himself on to the stone steps to cool down. He coughed, hoicked up some phlegm and spat it somewhere I'd no doubt walk in a few minutes.

The pools had digital thermometers displaying the temperatures. Each of the three main pools varied, one at 38 degrees, one at 38.7 and one at around 39.5.... It was amazing how much that one degree made a difference!

After 90 minutes of steam softened sacks and cracks, (plenty to satisfy my insatiable sacks and cracks appetite) I wandered out of the hot springs (having put my clothes back on!) and back over to the hostel.

A snack van packing up in the rain.... cute little vehicle.

A snack van packing up in the rain.... cute little vehicle.

People sat around the little pools fully clothed, just bathing their feet in the geothermally heated waters as they chatted and socialised.

Back in the hostel I got chatting with Paul & Ciara a young couple in their early twenties. They were travelling rougher than I was. Mainly camping and budgeting hard. This place for them was also a bit of a treat. They said they were having trouble with their tent pegs, cheap and bendy. I was heading home in a few days, so I gave them my MSR titanium tent pegs. Paul didn't want to accept them, but I told him they were a 'travellers gift' and that they needed them far more than I did and that I could easily buy more when I got home.

They then told me our hostel had its very own hot spring bathing area!!!??? What!!!??? Where??!!! How did I not know about this!?  Later I will be bathing!

I wandered down on to the main street to find food.  It was tricky.  Everything was obviously in Chinese.  And most of the folks didn't speak English.  Without someone ordering in front of me so I could point at what they were having and nod (whatever it was, including guts, glands and entrails) I was stuck.  Then I spotted this chap.  He spoke a little English and what he was preparing looked edible.  Bonus!  I ordered the strange little rather tasteless pancake roll.  

As I was passing the 7/11 on the way back to my hostel I decided to dip in and grab one of their boxes of pre packaged sushi rolls.  Hunger staved off until tomorrow morning!

By 9pm we were all in the hot spring pool... Winding down and relaxing... A perfect way to end the day.

I awoke to the sound of rain hammering on the windows of the hostel.... Bloody hell.... Was this rain ever going to let up? I'd got up early to have a hearty breakfast with the full intention of completing my journey to the North East tip of Taiwan across the top and down in to Taipei. But with this God awful weather I had no intentions of sight seeing. In all honesty there was one rock formation I fancied seeing.... But today I was willing to live without the rocks!

I spent the morning procrastinating.... Paul and Ciara suggested I make the most of the hostel and wait for the rain to stop. By 10.30am it was still pouring.  I decided it was time to man up.

I popped my Osprey 13 litre day pack in to my Sea to Summit dry bag.... It's the perfect fit. I donned my 'man-up' attire, my ill fitting lavender poncho and headed out in to the rain. I sat on the wet seat of my Kymco scooter and thought.

Thinking Face.....

Thinking Face.....

Once again I had two options.... Take the coast road where the air temperature would be bareable... Or head up in to the hills on a winding road in to far cooler climes, but save myself over an hour in this miserable weather.

I took the bull by the horns and decided to head in to the hills.

For an hour I didn't see another vehicle... I didn't actually see much at all with the mist and rain. The air was cold and my fingers had become sensationless red clawed shapes gripping onto the handlebars. My iPhone was in it's LifeProof (waterproof) case. It's guidance wouldn't be necessary until the outskirts of Taipei which I reached within an 75 minutes! I'd tackled the mountains pretty quickly.  Freewheeling down the other side proved to be an absolute joy as the rain halted briefly. And as I rolled down the roads doing all I could to make my fuel last until Taipei city the air temperature gradually crept up.... The slower I went the warmer I got.

Then the city traffic appeared. It wasn't much. Taipei isn't so bad. I popped the iPhone sat nav on, popped an earphone in one ear and let GoogleMaps guide me back to Hey Bear Capsule Hostel.  The ride from the outskirts of Taipei to reach 'home' took almost 40 minutes. I parked up my soggy scooter and squelched in to the lift and up to the 8th floor to reception.

It was only 1pm. I couldn't check in for another 2 hours. I asked if it would be okay if they gave me a key card so I could take a shower to defrost and warm up. After explaining that usually they would charge for this privilege the girl smiled and passed me said key card. Thank you for not being a 'jobs worth'.

The following day I met up with Jennifer and her Austrian husband (the teacher whom I'd met on Elephant Hill when photographing the city of Taipei 10 days ago) for coffee. She had been hoping that I would visit her students on the Monday (tomorrow), but then remembered tomorrow was actually a Taiwanese holiday. I have to say I was a tad disappointed.... My plan was to visit the school. Do a little talk, then fly back to Kuala Lumpur in the afternoon.... But now I suppose I had time to relax tomorrow morning and plan how I was going to get to Taipei airport for my late afternoon flight.  This afternoon I'd just catch up on writing.... and head to my favourite street eatery in Taipei for a hearty feed of 'stinky tofu', that's it's actual name and other stuff that floats in the bowl with the noodles!