Backpacking in Taiwan: Kuan Tzu Ling – Hot Springs Mountain Village

Jonny Blair in Kwan Tzu Ling Taiwan a lifestyle of travel

Guanzihling, Kwan Tzu Ling or Guanshiling – either way it’s a hot springs mountains village in Taiwan!

Again you’ll have to bear with the English prononciation of this wee mountain village – signposts read “Guanshiling”, local signs in the village read “Kuan Tzu Ling” and the entrance gate to the mountain road reads “Guanzihling.” Natalja and I did a day trip there, because the mountain village is famous for its “hot springs.” There is no train station there – its too high up, so the best way was to take the bus from Shinying main bus station. The bus journey takes around 45 minutes and costs 71 dollars. This works out around £1.50 each way, which is very reasonable given the scenery on view and the bumpy bus ride up the mountain experience.

Central Guanshiling

We boarded an early bus, giving us extra time in Guanshiling, aside from our visit to the hot springs. We passed through a lower village before heading up the mountains. You could see the top as we rose and you could enjoy the views of a forest in the mountains. Scattered here and there were trees and shrubs mixed with the odd house or random mountain top building. The type of building you’ve seen on a travel TV show, or in an adventure film. We weren’t quite sure where to get out of the bus, so after one temple and the sighting of a “Kuan Tzu Ling” sign next to a 7-11 shop, we decided to get out. This turned out to be the first stop and in the lower Guanshiling village, which was a bit premature for us, but it meant we had the fun of walking a further 30 – 40 minutes up the mountain roads to find a hot spa. We stopped at a key view point which had a bench. There we had a quick breakfast (rolls we had bought earlier) with a tea and more water before the final part of the hike into the upper Guanshiling village. It was some view. We were the only foreigners, we saw people’s everyday lives up in the mountains.

Dreamlike Guanshiling/Kuan Tzu Ling

Finally at one point we saw a load of hotels and spas, all of whom are trying to get you to use their hot springs. We wanted to keep it cheap however and thought we’d shop around. The Lonely Planet Guide came in handy again here as it mentioned some cheap options. These were Maple Hot Spring Cottage and King’s Garden Villa. We had a look around for them, although they weren’t obvious by any means. On the way up, we passed the old temple, called Biyun Temple. It looked much more rundown than the others we’d seen. But it must be hard to repair and maintain a temple so high up in the mountains. This was an area that gets affected by thunderstorms, forest fires, typhoons and extreme weather conditions. On the day we went the chances of forest fire were high. It was hot and I got photographed next to the sign which read “dangerous”, a sign which varies from day to day.

When visiting Guanshiling there are basically 3 things that are recommended for the tourist to see (except for the amazing views, nature and wildlife). These are:
1. Biyun Temple – Ming-Dynasty era temple, dedicated to Guanyin, the goddess of mercy. Small temple, but with colourful Chochin style carvings. The temple appears on the left on your way up a hill.
2. Hot Springs – try the hot springs, grey muddy murky water which is naturally produced in the mountains. Relax and bathe in it.
3. Water and Fire Mix – basically a fire in the middle of a pool of water which is natural.
We set about seeing those three things. Just after the temple, we seen our first snake in Taiwan. We needent have worried though – it was dead and lying on the road. I took a photo of it. Near this was a sign with a man’s willy on it. It was an obvious advert for a nudist hot springs area. We didn’t go for that one – though I’d have been happy with it.

Once we got even higher we started to see lots of signs for the Kings Garden Villa Hot Springs and decided that we should go for that one. It took a while to find, even the entrance was disguised, but once up there and in, we were surprised to hear them understand our English on the counter and the price of 350 dollars each was to our liking. This was around £7. I had been to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland in 2007, natural volcanic water springs and it was soothing, relaxing and impressive. I expected the same type of thing in Guanshiling. We paid, got our lockers, got changed and we were in. You could stay as long as you wanted. We agreed on 3 hours or so. There were a lot of different sections in there to see and many more activities other than just “hot springs.”

I couldn’t say I was disappointed with it, because it was a unique one -off experience for us, but I did expect something very different. Even Neil had described it as different. We seemed to be waiting on real mountains with the hot springs naturally in between, without any human intervention. I truly expected an outdoor pool of grey murky bubbly hot water – almost a mountain top lake. Don’t expect as much as we did. Just be glad of the experience. Once changed and inside we tried all the various pools, spas and exercises that were there. These were:

(all man made, in a similar way to a leisure centre)
– a “normal” swimming pool
– fountains
– a cold pool
– a luke warm pool
– two hot baths which were brown in colour and looked like you were bathing in tea (41 and 37 degrees celsius)
– four hot baths which were grey in colour and of various temparatures
– a sauna
– a steam bath
– a cool outdoor pool (chlorine water)
– a foot massager
– a feet and leg massager
– heated bench for warming muscles and joints
– showers
– nudist section

I went in to nearly all of the sections, my favourite being the grey hot bath which was 41 degrees celsuis. I had just had some sunburn from our day at Kenting and needed my skin to be soothes. The murky grey liquid looked dirty, but it was natural and is good for your skin. Guanshiling is famous for hot springs, and these came to the fore during the Japanese era of Taiwan/Formosa. They have always considered to be therapeutic and I definitely agree they are. The village is becoming basically a hill of hotels and spas however and we noticed that every hot springs also offers accomodation. Its hardly surprising – the location is in the middle of the mountains and is hard to get there and back in a day. We had already made a note (and I took a photo of the bus timetable) of the final bus to Shinying, which was at 18.40. It would suit honeymooners as part of their trip. Hardly a coincidence then that for the first time in ages we bumped into two non-Taiwanese people! Honeymooners – a nice guy from London in England (whose name I didn’t catch) and his new wife, Corina from Brazil. They were in the same pool as us for a while and I chatted away to the guy. They had a lot of stories to tell, and were on a 1 year honeymoon which sounded just amazing. They had already been to Jordan, India and Uzbekistan amongst others! They told me how Felipe Scolari is now managing in Uzbekistan, and how they needed visas and an invitation to travel there. Sat relaxing in taiwanese mountainside grey water it was nice to meet some “westerners” and exchange some tales. That said, it was also important to give them private time, as Natalja said and move around the pools.

The Kings Garden Hot Springs wasn’t enclosed, though so we did get the misty appeal of the mountains coming in the side by each pool. I stared out at the lemon trees and random lizard species in abundance. I particularly enjoyed the “steam bath”, very relaxing and good for those tense muscles and bones. Bathing in the tea type liquid was also nice – it really did look like tea, but the steam rose off it. Apart from us and the other couple I mentioned there wasn’t many people there. A few locals I’d imagine. It felt good. We also made use of the heat massager for back, legs and feet and leg/foot massagers (battery operated devices). We got our money’s worth put it that way. Soon we were aware of time ticking, the long walk back to the bus stop and the fact that we were hungry and still wanted to see the “water and fire mix”. We got directions all in Chinese for the Water and Fire mix. There didn’t appear to be any tourist information centre in Guanshiling, or any booklets with English writing, but maybe we just missed them. I thought I could follow the map easily to find the water and fire mix, but after walking for some 30 minutes up and down the twisting mountain roads, we decided it was too hard to find. Even the Lonely Planet directions were unclear, apparently the water and fire mix was in a grotto. We didn’t find it, but we did 2 out of the 3 things in Guanshiling and headed for food before our bus home.

There was a car park at the foot of the hill in upper Guanshiling village. This was where we should have got off the bus earlier. I managed to luckily meet a bus driver there, who was driving a bus to the Chiaji route (a city we also had visited) and he confirmed the next and last bus to Shinying would definitely leave that exact car park at 18.40. We had just over an hour to relax and have some food. I’d been carrying round a tin of beer all day for some reason so I decided to open it while we savoured the last day light view of the mountains. The beer was called Anka Malz and was fairly rotten, and basically non-alcoholic. That hardly mattered – the view was second to none! Then we had food in the restaurant opposite the bus stop to ensure we didn’t miss it. We let the lady chef/owner know we were getting the bus and she cooked especially for us and quickly. We share a meal in there, a soup; a main course of chicken leg, rice, vegetable and noodles and a pudding of coffee jelly (nearest thing I could compare it to was creme caramel). With it we also got free water, a very nice raspberry ice drink (soothing and fruity) and two separate pots of hot fruit tea (mine camomile, Natalja’s mixed fruit). It all wasn’t a dream. Hot springs. Mountains. Fruit Tea. Beer. Lizards. And we were even on time for our bus home. The lady in the restaurant even poured the rest of our hot teas into two sealed plastic cups so we could take them with us and drink on the bus. Very kind of her. I couldnt read the name of the restaurant and there was nothing in English written there, but I could take you to it. I’d recommend it. The entire meal and drinks was less than £3 for both of us.

We boarded the bus at 18.38, it left on time and we were the only 2 passengers, at least until the first stop. The bus journey down the hill was the bumpiest ever. You thought the bus would topple or crash. Both my beer and our tea spilt at one point. My iPod fell on the floor. But it was all fun really and part of the special Guanshiling experience. Perhaps I’m dressing Taiwan up to be an amazing place. BUT it truly truly is. On the journey home I was eagerly awaiting meeting Neil after work for a drink, some late night food and live internet football – none so important as Czech Republic v. Northern Ireland! It would be the first time in my life that I’d watch a Northern Ireland match live on the internet. I had worn my NI shirt all day and was relaxed on the bus ready for life to get busy again. Neil had promised the Ocean Every Day pub would have the England match on Live TV and I could bring my laptop for live internet streaming on wireless of the NI match. On the bus journey back we had to change buses somewhere (wasnt sure where it was) before finally arriving where we began, at Shinying bus station.

Transport Used – Buses (one a mini bus, the other a comfy coach)

Money Spent – About £11 per head for the day out

Bars/Restaurants Visited – First one on the right hand corner of upper Guanshiling Village, the one next to a bench and an amazing view of the mountains.

Drinks Tried – Water, Raspberry Fruit Drink, Camomile Tea, Mixed Fruit Tea, Anka Malz Beer.

Nationalities Met – English, Brazilian, Taiwanese.

Key Song – Savage Garden – Truly Madly Deeply (just cos of the line “I wanna stand with you on a mountain”)

BUS TO KUAN TZU LING:

KUAN TZU LING KING’S GARDEN HOT SPRINGS:

KUAN TZU LING CHICKEN RESTAURANT AND BIRDS:

KUAN TZU LING MOUNTAINS:

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