礁溪 Jiao Xi, Taiwan

jiaoxiJiaoxi is the hottest hot spring [温泉 wen chuan] destination in Taiwan. It is located in Yilan [宜蘭], about an hour drive from Taipei. While it’s doable as a day trip, I highly recommend staying overnight at Jiaoxi for at least a night to fully enjoy bathing in all the wonderful hot springs! My mom loves staying at the Hotel Royal Chiao Hsi [礁溪老爺酒店]. I don’t blame her. The facilities, the service, the meal plans, the environment…everything is just what the doctor ordered for a relaxing getaway. The hotel is mostly an open-space environment, with tall glass walls to let in ample sunshine.

jiaoxi3If you’re lucky enough, you may snag one of the ocean view rooms; both times my mom took me to Jiaoxi, we could only manage to get a mountain view room. Still a beautiful view: palm trees, lush rainforest, birds flying overhead.

The rooms themselves are a work of art. Hotel Royal Chiao Hsi is modeled after traditional Japanese hot spring hotels, complete with tatami beds, a tea room, and little  [cha dian], or dim sum treats. When I went in 2008, they even brought in fresh fruits to your room, daily! You’re also provided with a set of yukata [浴衣 yu yi in Chinese], and sandals to wear around the hotel and to the hot springs. They used to let you bring the sandals–which are really comfy–home, but not anymore.

jiaoxi2The central baths are wonderful too. There are outdoor [露天風呂 lu tian feng lu] and indoor baths, ranging from boiling hot water to near-freezing temperatures. My favorite thing to do is to jump from the hottest pool into the absolute coldest. It’s absolutely cathartic when you feel the heat dissipating from your body–like being bandaged in Icy Hot all over (except you’re hot first then cold). Showering facilities are meticulously clean, with wonderful-smelling shampoos, creams, and body washes. The ones by the pool come with small wooden buckets to pour over yourself.

jiaoxi4If japanese hot springs aren’t your thing (as you have to bathe in the nude), the swimming facilities are amazing. Giant infinity pool and hot tubs and whirpools galore! Essentially an outside water-based playground. They even have pools of the doctor fish, which are these tiny goldfish that nibble away at your callouses. I don’t know if my feet were more beautiful after wading in the doctor fish pool, but it was a ton of fun to see how long I could keep my feet underwater; the nibbles tickle a lot!

jiaoxi5Beyond that, there’s a games room with pool and ping pong tables, as well as a computer lab if you want to spend your hot spring vacation surfing the internet (…why?). When I first went in 2008, the hotel offered a lot of outdoor excursions: the most memorable being crab catching at night. It cost about $25 per person–a small price to pay for a priceless experience. You’re put on a shuttle bus to this serene and isolated beach somewhere in Jiaoxi (neither my mom nor I remember), given lanterns, a net, and a bucket to put the crabs in. There’s a contest to see who can catch the most crabs; I forget the prize.

And no, the crabs were not for eating. We all set them back into the ocean once we tallied who had the most crabs. It was a blast! There was such diversity in the crabs we caught; tiny ones the size of my thumb to bigger ones that could cause a painful pinch. Red ones, blue ones, brown ones, gray ones. I’d never seen so many! Once we all set the crabs free, our guide ordered us to all shut off our flashlights. We were surrounded in complete darkness; no streetlights or any illumination for miles. With no buildings or mountains to obstruct our view, the sky encircled us in a snowglobe of twinkling celestial bodies. I have never seen anything as stunning or divine since that night.

wufengqiwufengqi2There’s plenty to do outside of the hotel too; I love climbing the Wufengqi Waterfall [五峰旗瀑布] and exploring downtown Jiaoxi for a lot of good snack [ xiao chi] booths. Wufengqi is about a 90-minute to 2-hour hike, and totally worth it even on the muggiest day. The falls are split into 3 tiers, with the final fall being the largest and the harder one to get to.

The trail is well-maintained, albeit wet from all the spray. After a rock slide in 2009, the last section to the upper falls was closed and is yet to be reopened. When my mom and I went this past summer (2014), we jumped the railing and found that the trail was perfectly in-tact and walkable. Still, I’d recommend using common sense if it’s a rainy or stormy day out.

jiaoxi6Downtown Jiaoxi is incredibly small, but cute and full of tasty treats. Jiaoxi is famous for high-quality preserved duck eggs [蛋 xian dan], scallions/green onions [蔥 cong], hot-spring tomatoes [番茄 fan qie], hot-spring mochi [麻糬 mua ji], and dried kumquats [金棗 jin zao]. Hotel Royal Chiao Hsi, however, already has an astounding selection of good eats for its lunch and breakfast buffet, as well as a beautiful kaiseki meal for dinner. All of this is already incorporated into your stay when you pay for the hotel, too!

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Mushroom soup with morels and truffles, taro balls, fresh bamboo shoots, sauteed asparagus, rose and ginger vinegar, 10-grain fried rice, and sushi rolls for dinner.

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So much delicousness in one breakfast!

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National Palace Museum & Tamsui, Taiwan, 2008

grandregentSince two of our close family friends were visiting Taiwan for the first time, my mom had an exciting itinerary laid out for all of us; most were sights that I had not even had the chance to see yet! We began our trip with two luxurious nights at the Grand Formosa Regent, 台北晶華酒店 [‘tai bei jing hua jiu dian’], one of the high-end hotels in the center of Taipei. (Traveler tip: 酒店 means ‘hotel’). The rooms were so big! Two queen-sized beds for my mom and I each. 🙂

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Not entirely related, but look at the size of those Kyoho grapes! They’re almost comparable to the size of tea eggs

While the hotel had many comforts to enjoy, it was too beautiful of a day to stay inside. So, we group of four decided to spend most of the day at the National Palace Museum, 台北故宮 [‘tai bei gu gong’]. gugong(故宮 means ‘ancient palace’). The National Palace Museum is one of the largest collections of ancient Chinese imperial artifacts and artworks: spanning 10,000 years of Chinese history! Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day after sleeping in and the museum was closed. Still, the grounds were as grand as you would imagine a place with the title “National Palace Museum” would be.

This was not too much of a setback for us; we took a taxi into the city and then the MRT subway out all the way to Tamsui (淡水 read as ‘dan shui’). Nothing but a short, 45-minute ride. One of the most popular tourist attractions in Tamsui is the 漁人碼頭 [‘yu ren ma tou’], translating quite literally as “Fisherman’s Wharf”. Lots of great food vendors, shops, and beautiful sunsets to be had here.

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I could not have been more excited about the grilled stinky tofu! I do admit it’s an acquired taste, but when you love it, you looove it. There is no more magical pairing than deep fried, grilled tofu, still tender on the inside, and paired with cold, pickled and crunchy Taiwanese cabbage.

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Our evening was spent feasting with our eyes, noses, and ears on all the deliciousness Taiwan has to offer. And although my mom and I could not taste the famous seafood our family friends ordered for dinner, it was equally satisfying seeing their faces in ecstasy from sucking on freshly-steamed mussels.