We woke up at 7 again today – rather, Coldplay (our alarm) started playing at 7 and we studiously ignored it for at least a half hour. Once we were up, we enjoyed breakfast at one of the many corner bakeries in Tainan. The food was great – I bought a questionable loaf of black (?!) bread with bacon and some mysterious, possibly-cheese substance inside, a delicious sweet bread, and a fantastic blackcurrant smoothie. Sometimes risks pay off! It would have been truly idyllic, if only our location had been a little bit more secluded instead of near a busy intersection frequented by every resident on their loud motor scooter.
We got train tickets to Chiayi for noon, which was only 40 minutes away. In Chiayi, we were warmly greeted by agressive guides who urgently wanted to know the answer to the question 你要去哪里? (Where do you want to go?). I couldn’t begin to count the number of times we were asked this; it was truly ridiculous and became a running joke between Carlos, Aleid, and I.
We had hoped to use Chiayi as the starting point for a trip to Alishan National Park in the center of Taiwan, but it turns out that public transportation is temporarily down due to damage from the August typhoon. Here’s a rough translation of Carlos’ conversation with the ticket seller:
Carlos: Can we take a bus to Alishan tomorrow?
Seller: Probably not.
Carlos: How long until the buses will be running again?
Seller: Probably two years.
We figured out that when Chinese people say “maybe” or “probably” it means yes. We had another plan, though, and decided to go to nearby Guanziling, known for hot springs. We paid 300NTD ($10) to use one resort’s springs, which included “swimming pool, Supersonic Aqua Massage pool, mud pool, and fish pool”, according to their literature. They had a few outdoor springs, which we got to enjoy together – delightful 40ºC water feels amazing on sore bodies. The natural springs in Guanziling are muddy, and one of them was accompanied by a bucket of mud to be slathered all over before entering.
This was nice, but my favorite was the fish pool. It was a small wading-sized pool filled with tiny golden fishies who nibbled on anything they could reach – namely, feet. It was very weird. I had to begin very slowly, putting one heel about an inch into the water and getting one nibble before pulling it back out, but eventually I worked up to full submersion for minutes at a time. It wasn’t unpleasant at all, just . . . very weird and tickle-y.
After a while outside, we split up and went to the indoor (nude) springs. They had a very nice facility, with a large muddy hot spring and a smaller, pleasantly cool one. Aleid and I went back and forth a few times, then showered and rejoined Carlos.
The other thing to see is the 水火洞 (Water and Fire Spring), which is a small cave where methane continuously bubbles up through water and burns, causing the spectacular and rare sight of fire on water. The man at the information center told us it was 20 minutes away so we decided to walk, but after stopping to ask for directions that turned out to be the driving time, not on foot. With the help of some very friendly restaurant owners, we called a driver and paid her 300NTD ($10) to drive us up to see it.
It was really cool because we waited until dark to see it, and were absolutely alone during our visit. It felt like midnight, not 7 p.m., as we climbed down the stairs to the spring. Once we got close, we could see the glow of the fire, but the full frontal view was the most amazing.
We were able to stand pretty close – close enough to feel the heat and hear the sound of the gas bubbling up through the water. It was a really special moment.
Out of gratitude to the helpful women (and hunger, I suppose), we asked them to prepare three of their specialties and have them ready for us on the way back. Thus, we had a delicious and convenient dinner that we ate in the total silence of the deserted bus stop.
After returning to our hotel, I continued looking through the Lonely Planet for another treasure that we were overlooking (like we had almost missed Guanziling). I decided Puli looked nice, with its teaching Buddhist temple and hot springs. Carlos made fun of me for this, because it seems like every town has a temple and hot springs. In fact, we decided that Taiwan is made up entirely of 6 things:
- hot springs
- street markets
- parts that were ruined by natural disasters