By Barry Martinson
I am floating in the steaming hot springs of the aboriginal mountain village of Chingchuan (清泉), an hour’s ride from the foothills of Chutung (竹東), not far from Hsinchu (新竹) City. Outside, the air is chilly. But once in the water, there is nothing but warmth.
“Chingchuan” can be translated as “Pure Springs.” The clear mineral waters of this village are reputed to be the best in Taiwan. From the smoothness they create on my skin and the relaxation they give to my body and spirit, I tend to agree.
Chingchuan Hot Springs is a large, rambling structure set next to a flowing river that divides the village. The two halves of the village are connected by suspension bridges. One of the bridges, brightly lit with soft lights in the evening, leads from the parking lot to the hot springs.
The hot springs include two hot water pools — one inside and the other under the stars — a cold pool, and several private Japanese-style hot tubs. I chose the outdoor pool, beside a small waterfall, which appears to be the hottest.
As I soak in healing waters that gurgle in time to the Mando-pop tunes on the sound system, I wonder if there is any place on earth as comfortable as this. The price is reasonable, too — only NT$150 for large pools and NT$300 for a private tub. Groups get special rates. More information can be found at 03-5856037.
Feeling thoroughly clean and invigorated after my hot spring bath, I head upstairs to the second floor and find a very elegant restaurant and coffee shop. For around NT$200 I can choose from a set menu or have hotpot. I notice there are also mouth-watering pastries to go with the coffee or tea.
Since Chingchuan is a tribal area, the entire atmosphere of the hot springs is rustic and natural. From the cordial smiles of the Atayal youth that greet me, to the many forms of aboriginal artwork found along the paths and at the nearby school and church, you know you are in a tribal area, far removed from the stress of city life.
On my way to the hot springs, while it was still light, I visited the new memorial to Chang Hsui-liang, the famous “Young Marshall,” who was kept under house arrest in Chingchuan for some 14 years. Just up the hill from where he stayed is the former house of San Mao, one of Taiwan’s most famous writers.
I cross the suspension bridge back to the parking lot and am greeted by a waft of assorted smells from barbeques and little restaurants dotting the riverbank. I notice that many of the offerings are local dishes, like sticky rice with mushrooms stuffed in bamboo. There are also different types of homemade wine for sale.
Up the hill from the parking lot, I reach a Catholic church that is decorated with colorful mosaics and murals. Next to the church is the Chingchuan Fountain of Youth Hostel (“Ching Chuan Shan Chuang”) This clean and spacious structure is nestled among pine trees, overlooking a large basketball court.
The first floor of the hostel has a large dining area and kitchen. Guests are able to do their own cooking, if they wish. Upstairs, there are several large Japanese-style rooms for groups. There is even a penthouse of sorts on the third floor, with a large balcony overlooking the waterfall and valley below. (For reservations call 03-5856026; Web site: www.chingchuanhostel.com)
Only a few minutes’ walk down the road from Chingchuan Hostel is Old Wang’s Restaurant and a stained glass studio run by Yawee, a tribal man from Orchid Island. Both religious and aboriginal stained glass art hang from his display window.
Another half-hour trek brings me to Mindoyo on the opposite side of the river, where there is a traditional Atayal village. Aborigine woodcarvers, farmers and gardeners can be seen here, going about their work just as they have been doing for hundreds of years.
The rolling hills with their bright green trees are perfect for trekking. I pass a group of hikers, who remind me that the aromatic buds of the tung oil trees will soon blossom, covering the paths like snow. The hikers joke that if I get lost, the fireflies will light my way, and I can listen to the croaking of the frogs to find the river.
If I kept going up the main road from Chingchuan, I would pass the Eight Immortals Waterfall and eventually get to Shei-Pa National Park. But I am content for now to rest here in Chingchuan, listening to the sound of the waterfall and floating in the hot springs. I’m looking forward to some warm spring days soon, when I can come to watch the fireflies and hear the frogs croak.
How to get there:
From the second cross-island highway, take the Chutung turn-off. Continue to Sya Gung Gwan, and from there go straight in the direction of Wufeng. Continue about 10 minutes past the tunnel to the village of Chingchuan and follow the signs.
It takes about an hour to reach Chingchuan from the Chutung turn-off. There are also buses from Chutung to Chingchuan.
Originally published May 8, 2008 in The China Post, republished with permission from the author.