Taiwan's geological location as an island situated right on two major tectonic plates has given it many beautiful mountain ranges and volcanoes, resulting in literally hundreds of natural hot springs scattered across different areas of the island.
During fall and winter, hot spring destinations across the nation are quite often jammed with locals and visitors looking to experience the instant feeling of warmth and coziness brought on by bathing in heated groundwater.
For those who favor hot springs that are odorless and clear, however, there is only one clear option: Wulai, a rural aboriginal township in northern Taiwan that is famous for its odorless bicarbonate hot springs.
Wulai vs. Beitou
Wulai sits at the southern end of New Taipei City. At 321 square kilometers, it is the largest township in the county. The rural township is surrounded by towering mountains, with a stunning geography of ravines, cliffs, and waterfalls dotting the landscape.
Of all the famous hot spring destinations in the greater Taipei area, rural Wulai and metropolitan Beitou are often in direct competition for the crown.
Although there is no clear winner, Wulai does offer a very different feel from the sulfur springs of Beitou. Wulai's spring water is safe to drink, and is said to have a therapeutic effect on skin and gastrointestinal diseases.
Another distinction lies in the fact that Wulai has only a few high-end hot spring resorts; most of the hot spring hotels in the township are privatelyowned establishments and family-run operations.
Instead, Wulai's "wild” hot springs are the major attraction. Rather than enjoying hot spring indoors, many visitors choose to soak in hot springs located right alongside Nanshih Creek, which runs through the Wulai area.
Not only is it free of charge, visitors can also enjoy the beautiful natural scenery while taking a bath. For first timers, it is advisable to follow someone familiar with the area to avoid the chance of getting lost in the woods or suffering from burns in the hotter parts of the creek.
Steeped in Atayal culture
In addition to its hot springs, Wulai also has a rich aboriginal culture linked to the Atayal tribe. This is reflected in the wares showcased alongside the famous Wulai Old Street, where one can easily sense the Atayal culture in a variety of traditional clothing, hats, and aboriginal crafts.
For the best taste of Wulai, be sure not to miss the local specialty drink — aborigine-brewed millet wine, which has close to a thousand years of history. Cloudy and usually sweet, the liquor is usually infused with fruit flavors and served in a shot glass.
There are also dozens of small restaurants serving aboriginal specialties such as sticky rice steamed in bamboo cones, Atayal-style stone-grilled mountain boar, soup made with betel nut flowers, and roasted mochi, a popular dessert made from millet flour and filled with a paste of grounded red beans, peanuts, or sesame seeds.
Hot spring eggs, or eggs poached in geothermal groundwater, are another popular choice. Visitors can either bring their own equipment, or purchase fresh eggs and fish nets from Wulai Old Street, and try their hand at making this specialty item. The finished product offers a milky soft texture, with a glistening and slightly runny yolk that is best slurped.
The natural wonders of Wulai
The last frontier to be explored in Wulai is its beautiful mountain landscape, shaped by the very forces of nature that gave birth to the region's hot springs.
There's the breathtaking Wulai Waterfall, an 80-meter cascade that is framed by cherry blossoms during springtime, as well as close encounters with wildlife and butterflies, for Wulai is ranked one of Taiwan's top ten bird-watching sites.
As long as visitors are willing to walk a few more steps, or quietly stand still for a few more minutes, there are a whole world of brooks, waterfalls, and forests waiting to be discovered in Wulai.