Follow this hot new trend in Taiwan: hiking to wild geothermal springs
Once a niche outdoor activity in Taiwan, hiking to wild hot springs is now growing in popularity. A combination of phones and social media is fueling the trend.
Taiwan has long been known for its luxurious hot spring spas, many of which were first developed in the early 20th century when the island was a colony of Japan. Like Japan, Taiwan is a geothermally active region, with a concentration of springs among the highest in the world.
An estimated 100 of these springs remain undeveloped. Many are famed for their beauty, with pools of silky blue waters tucked into remote wooded valleys. Mineral deposits from the waters often stain the surrounding rocks and getting a selfie in the swirl of rainbow colors is popular with hikers.
In the past, few hikers ever made it out to these locations. Smartphone usage is changing that. "The biggest contributor is probably Facebook and social media," says Asher Leiss, who runs a popular hiking blog and Facebook page called Follow Xiao Fei. "People see hot spring photos on social media, then search for directions online. Old blogs used to have dozens of pictures showing the route at every turn. In the case of my blog, I make a detailed map that smartphone users can load and use while hiking."
Leiss has mapped every known wild hot spring on his blog, and has personally visited 37. "A little over twenty require two or more days to reach," says Leiss. "And about 10 more can be done in a day but are better with more time. All the rest can be done in a day. Most require 1-2 hours of hiking." Seven, Leiss says, don't require even a hike. They are accessible roadside.
According to Richard Saunders, author of a number of hiking guides on Taiwan, this accessibility is a double-edged sword. "Unfortunately from my experience people too often still don't seem to understand it's the natural quality of the springs that makes them so special. GPS and blogs open up places, but also leaves them open to being ruined or at least spoilt."
Even springs that are far upriver are vulnerable as they can be surprisingly easy to reach. The hot spring hiking season is Dec-May, which corresponds to the island's dry season. Riverbeds that swell with rainwater in the summer, are near dry in winter, and in many cases are wide enough for people to even drive up them in 4WD vehicles.
No matter how one gets to them, there are a few hazards to be aware of. "Going to hot springs in not inherently dangerous," says Leiss. "The most important thing is to watch the weather reports. Another tip is to test the water with your fingers first. Some of the hot springs come out at very high temperatures."
Leiss blogs at followxiaofei.com
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