Soaking in Beipu Cold Springs

It is incredibly unlikely to discover natural hot springs, but the chances of finding a natural cold spring is even slimmer. Taiwan is actually just one of two countries with natural cold springs (the other is Italy). In Taiwan, Beipu cold springs 北埔冷泉 is along the Daping River in Hsinchu county. The west coast has its own, near the town of Su’ao in Yilan.

Philip Chang under waterfall at Beipu Cold Springs in Hsinchu, Taiwan

What’s So Special About Cold Springs?

Cold spring water, 22° Celsius or below, is good for the skin. The Japanese have an entire culture called “onsen” devoted to the health benefits of bathing in spring water. Some, like Tamagawa Onsen, draw cancer patients.

Selfie of Philip Chang on Daping River by Beipu Cold Springs in Hsinchu, Taiwan

“The springs are also said to be effective against other maladies, including nervous system disorders, high blood pressure and circulatory diseases.” A few people out there say there’s magic in the Beipu cold springs.

“Ten some years ago, my mom was not able to walk at all (due to aging), my brother carried her to the cold spring to dip into the spring water for the treatment. Believe or not, a month or two later, my mom regained her walking capability.” – David H.

The Beipu waters have some carbonation — so, bubbles! Since it’s very slight, I’m not sure anyone notices. Su’ao is the same, except what makes Beipu cold springs different is it’s in the open. It like you’re playing in nature! But there’s also a lot of visitors who leave their junk behind so water quality is up and down. I can tell you right now, you probably shouldn’t drink it.

On the other hand, the springs in Su’ao were commercialized long ago, and the public areas were damaged by Typhoon Soudelar. Beipu is free, the other isn’t. 

If you’re only interested in hot springs, you have more options. In the northern district of Taiwan – Taipei, Taoyuan, Hsinchu counties – there are 13 hot springs. But cold springs is one of the truly unique phenomena in Taiwan. If you have the opportunity, you should at least go once.

Photos of Beipu Cold Springs

Public Area of Beipu Cold Springs in Hsinchu, Taiwan, by Philip Chang

Man Falling Over into Daping River near Beipu Cold Springs in Hsinchu, Taiwan, by Philip Chang

Golden hour on Daping River near Beipu Cold Springs in Hsinchu, Taiwan, by Philip Chang

Dusk at Beipu Cold Springs in Hsinchu, Taiwan, by Philip Chang

Clouds and Mountains of the Beipu region from Beipu Old Street in Hsinchu, Taiwan, by Philip Chang

Directions to Beipu Cold Springs

River Tracing to Jinyue Waterfall in Yilan

Lupi River Tracing in Yilan, Taiwan - Aohua Waterfall

The Upper Jinyue Waterfall (Courtesy: V. Lam)

Last week, I took Tuesday off to explore Taiwan’s east coast and go river tracing 溹溪 (suo xi)! The path takes us along the Lupi Creek 鹿皮溪, past a 8m-tall natural waterslide, to the main show — 25m-high Jinyue Waterfall 金岳瀑布.

Dustin made a short video about the trace for his travel consulting company, Taiwan Adventure Outings. Reach out to them if you’re visiting Taiwan and looking for outdoor fun like this. Check it out:

It was also the 4th of July! There’s no official way to celebrate that in Taiwan. At least the American Institute in Taiwan hasn’t had anything to say about it (if I’m wrong, let me know). We decided on chasing waterfalls with a few Bud Heavys. Happy birthday, ‘Murica.

Lupi River Tracing in Yilan, Taiwan - Drinking Budweiser

The 8m-tall natural waterslide (Courtesy: Richard Saunders)

River Tracing in Taiwan

So it’s been awhile since I’ve done anything like river tracing. Just rock scrambling along the American River in California some two years ago. In Taiwan, there’s more interest in river tracing, but it seems to be considered one of the riskier activities because people (and guides) aren’t always taking safety measures. For example, going out when the forecast calls for flash floods.

A few essentials Dustin, and common sense, insists on:

  • Helmet, in case you fall at an odd angle
  • Rubber Boots, for grip on slippery rocks
  • Life Jacket, if you can’t swim
  • Waterproof bag, for personal items

A few weeks ago, some tracers died taking the same path. They got caught in a whirlpool and instead of letting nature spin them out, they fought it. Sadly, swimming is not a big thing here. In fact, during September, Taiwanese people avoid going into the water because it’s Ghost Month 鬼月. “Evil spirits that had drowned may try to drown the swimmer to gain a chance at rebirth.”

Lupi River Tracing

Maybe one of those spirits got the months confused and made its way into my iPhone, because it’s dead. The iPhone 7 Plus’s military IP67 rating means it’s waterproof if immersed for 30 minutes in 1m of water. But, this iPhone was in and out, here and there. The Lupi trace is mostly knee-deep water.

Very little swimming is involved, and when you are, you’re going against the current. One thing to watch out for. When the water is waist high, you risk losing your center of gravity (It figures, doesn’t it).

Once you clear the initial waterslide – also called the Lower Jinyue – a path on the right side takes you a little further up. A few minutes later, you’re back in the creek. From there, I’d say it’s about 1-2 hours of scrambling to the waterfall.

I’d recommend bringing a camera that’s more rugged. Something designed for the outdoors, like Dustin’s Go-Pro or an Olympus TG-5. My last iPhone (which was not IP67-rated) survived a dip in the rapids, so it’s fair to say it’ll survive a toss in the sink or the pool. Don’t take it on wet adventures.

Because my iPhone’s getting surgery, enjoy more of Vin’s pics.

Lupi River Tracing in Yilan, Taiwan - Selfie Lupi River Tracing in Yilan, Taiwan - Philip Chang Checking Phone Lupi River Tracing in Yilan, Taiwan - Golden Silk Orb-Weaver Spider Lupi River Tracing in Yilan, Taiwan - BudweiserTaiwan Adventure Outings is also running a TravelStarter campaign to raise funds for a 12-passenger van, in case you’re feeling generous!

Teaming Up to Solve Taiwan’s Pollution Problems: National Taiwan Clean Up Day at Jinshan Beach

National Taiwan Clean Up Day in Taipei TimesJinshan Beach along the north coast was trashed by the time our crew got there on National Taiwan Clean Up Day. So, perfect conditions!

One Brown Planet discovered a full-grown bamboo stalk that we used to load five bags at once. A photo of us with our bounty made the front of the Taipei Times, the most read English newspaper in Taiwan.

Wait, what’s National Taiwan Clean Up Day? This year, volunteers cleared trash from beaches around Taiwan. My American friends who run Taiwan Adventure Outings started it to get in touch with what we have to do to keep Taiwan beautiful. A place locals want to love, and a place travelers want to visit. So, you get a mix of people who come out and want to do something good for each other.

A Little Bit about the Culture of Volunteer Work in Taiwan

National Taiwan Clean Up Day probably shouldn’t have been headline news. But in Taiwan, this is the kind of work many locals full-on dodge because there’s an element of public shaming amongst some out-dated people. Keep in mind that this is anecdotal:

  • Volunteer work isn’t a big thing because it’s still work and people want to get paid for work. People in Taiwan often work long hours and try to spend more of it with their families. Groups like ours do get together. But some Taiwanese also believe we are here because we don’t have families to spend time with. Like I said, out-dated, to the core. Besides, once you get to a certain point in your life — your friends are your family.
  • People may think you’re doing some kind of community service. Did you do something wrong? People might gossip in an aw-shucks kind of way about what that could be. And locals love to gossip about what expats are doing. If you’re as lucky as I am, they’ll ask you directly. I mean that, because I’d rather deal with issues head-on. Give people something good to talk about!
  • Other than outdoorsmen (and women), most Taiwanese go out of their way to avoid getting tan. Some say it makes a person look like a blue-collar worker. Which is a disarming cultural exchange, because Americans see tan and ask where you went on vacation.

Universally, people think there’s always someone else around who will clean up for them — that’s not a Taiwan thing. I wouldn’t point this out if the local characteristic weren’t a little more particular than that, though. People in Taiwan focus more on doing what they’re supposed to because of the rule-of-law that bosses and elders have in East Asian culture. Unfortunately, that also means people leave it to others to “do their jobs.” What does that mean? Someone else will do something about it.

That someone else is us! Because garbage is a problem on Taiwan beaches. Why is there so much trash on the beach? Well, Taiwanese people don’t often go to the beach, so the sands get less attention than they should.

Jinshan Beach before cleanup (Courtesy: XpatMatt)

Speaking for myself, beach clean up is a kind of payback I do for all the beautiful scenery I experience around Taiwan. I don’t deserve any special credit; it’s just being human. And it’s a fantastic way to make new friends who care about the outdoors. Doing this kind of volunteer work also makes obvious the other effects of pollution on quality-of-life. Like food safety, and tourism.

That brings us to the way I see National Clean Up Day. A model for how locals and expats can take on several of these problems at once, through a simple intervention like partnering with each other. We make it meaningful, we make it fun (clearly), and we make it count.

Let’s talk more about these problems.

Singing Garbage Trucks That Clean Cities

Every now and then the Taiwanese show me awesome ingenuity. The cities’ musical garbage trucks is one of my favorite examples. “From Garbage Island to one of the world’s top recyclers, Taiwan (now) keeps its garbage disposal in check.”

However, whatever 垃圾 (lèsè) isn’t thrown away or incinerated tends to end up in nature. If you can’t see something, does it exist? Maybe not. Until the 100 inches of annual rainfall Taiwan gets washes it down to the beach.

Sometimes people go one step further and burn garbage at the beach by digging a hole, setting a fire, and covering it up. Over time, the sand moves, and the trash rises to the top. The ocean also brings in its own garbage from other places. The situation at Jinshan is, well, it’s not great. Mostly, it’s just a lot more of the usual.

      • Plastic (bottles, bags, helmets)
      • Aluminum cans
      • Rubber pieces, gloves, parts of tires
      • Broken glass
      • Small appliances
      • Hypodermic needles
      • Somebody’s hand

Okay, I’m kidding about the hand. But this time, the beach looked as if it was carpet-bombed by plastic shrapnel. New pieces, always surfacing. It’s just a guess. Seems the last time they gave Jinshan Beach a facelift, they brought in cheap sand from the bottom of the river — another place where people used to do their dumping.

Taiwan’s EPA


“Everything that happened in the U.S. in the 60’s is happening in Taiwan now.”


There are still locals who remember when many of these rivers were clear and the water was drinkable. Then, factories and growing towns began dumping more chemicals, and trash into rivers. Two of the assumptions I’ve heard are believing the rushing water would cycle out whatever was unnatural, and that the fish would eat the waste. A two-some of wishful thinking.

People came up with their own reasons for justifying dumping. As an early administrator of Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Agency, Jaw Shau-Kong 趙少康, explains, “When people are poor, their only concern is making money. They say, ‘When we become rich, we’ll do something about the environment.’ But once they become rich, they find it’s too late. That’s the way it always is.

Tamsui River Garbage Dump Site in Taiwan Today

Typhoons clear these dump sites at rivers. (Courtesy: Taiwan Today)

Speaking of, in 1987, Taiwan started its own Environmental Protection Agency, realizing “everything that happened in the U.S. in the 60’s is happening in Taiwan now.” At the time, Chang Kow-lung, a physics professor at National Taiwan University, told the New York Times, “nearly every river has been polluted to the extent that the water is pronounced dead — it is dead water.”

For a bureaucracy, the EPA acted quickly, but by 2000, illegal dumping was still only illegal-by-day, according to this letter in Nature magazine. “Taiwan currently has just one secure landfill, in Kaohsiung. It cannot handle all the toxic waste it produces, hence the government is seeking cash-starved countries that will dispose of it for a hefty fee. In a high-profile case last year, Cambodia returned 2,700 tons of Taiwan’s mercury-laced waste after several deaths near the disposal site.

It’s not as drastic now. Taiwan is in much better shape than the United States and other Asian countries — like China. The government is heavy into clean up. Natural restoration. And getting more serious about penalties. In 2013, Taiwan shut down ASE’s K7 plant in Kaohsiung. ASE was discharging “industrial wastewater containing the heavy metal nickel and other toxic substances into a nearby river.”

Practical Considerations for Daily Living

Every action has a totally unexpected WTF reaction, when it comes to dumping toxic chemicals. In the Kaohsiung case, it was also affecting rice paddies down the river. One of the reasons some Taiwan foodies swear by importing their rice from Japan.

The average person doesn’t have to care about saving the planet. They should care about their surroundings. There are practical considerations affecting quality of life for ordinary Taiwanese, like this example. It’s not like you can throw a couple of magic eggs into a wok and fry the heavy metals out of the rice.


“When people are poor, their only concern is making money. They say, ‘When we become rich, we’ll do something about the environment.’ But once they become rich, they find it’s too late. That’s the way it always is.” – Head of Taiwan EPA


Also, recreation. Huang Tsai-Jung grew up near the Tamsui River. “It was very clean, es­pecially during high tide, and when you dove into the water you could see bril­liantly colored fish.” What stands out to me is the span in which this level of pollution happened took less than two generations to take root.

Taiwan’s iconic Sun Moon Lake isn’t invincible, either. The lake is a much different now than 20 years ago, because of fertilizer run-off. Sun Moon Lake is still a beautiful lake nestled in the central mountains. But tourists like myself are figuring out the bureau sometimes uses old photos. Good thing people have Instagram!

Tacos, Corona, and Clean Up! Or, How to Attract Tourists

Taiwan is constantly asking itself what it can do to bring more travelers. It’s a big question that deserves more than this paragraph, but the simplest thing everyone can do is to clean up after themselves.

When we were done, Jinshan Beach became a little more like the kind of beach that looks clean, not just from afar. On a good day, surfers come here, looking for an under-the-radar cove. There are a lot of positives to having surfers around. They clean up after themselves (usually). They’re friendly. They bring friends. And they tend to be Westerners, whom Taiwanese love to see.

In fact, I’m pretty sure if you told the local residents that to draw more Western tourists, all you had to do was: 1) Clean up the beach, and 2) Open a tacos and Corona stand, they’d be on it.

So, Jinshan and a lot of other lightly populated areas like it has the potential for much more casual tourism. Only if people take better care of the land.

Jinshan Beach Bridge in Taiwan

The bridge to Jinshan Beach. In the back, you can see Yehliu Geopark.

Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau kind of already knows this.

Taoyuan International Airport greets travelers with beautiful large format images of some of Taiwan’s statement destinations. Many of the more popular stops are starting to become overrun by trash. Same as in every country, but in Taiwan, it’s lately gotten worse. A combination of having a reputation for beautiful scenery, and a reputation for low cost of traveling. You end up having to go further out – like Hehuanshan – to get to the good stuff.

For Taiwan to stay special, the most popular hikes can’t involve colonies of fleas at the summit, because hikers are leaving their garbage behind. It’s normal to find garbage at the top of many California mountains, but you shouldn’t find it at Yangmingshan Mountain, if we’re assuming Taiwan’s goal is to bring in more foreign visitors. Isn’t it?

No one comes to Taiwan to see the garbage. Taiwan is still much, much cleaner than many other places in Asia, but those places don’t have the same reputation Taiwan has for scenery. Making Taiwan a more beautiful place to live and visit is a project locals and expats need to continue working on.

If you’d like to join the next beach clean up, Contact Me or TAO! They’re also running a TravelStarter campaign to raise funds for a 12-passenger van, in case you’re feeling generous!

Jinshan Beach Surf Scene

Jinshan Beach, after the clean up

Hehuanshan Mountain West Peak: 3,400 Meters High on the Border of Nantou and Hualien

As nature likes to do, the rain didn’t take any time letting us know who’s the boss at Hehuanshan (合歡山, or Mount Hehuan) in central Taiwan. At least it helped us realize we’re the kind of people who smile when it pours. And why shouldn’t we? Inclement weather kept everyone else in Taiwan from having a look around 3,400 meters high. For most of the hike, the 8-km trail to West Peak was ours.

Hehuanshan is deceptive. Most of the area’s peaks are straightforward and you can reach several 3000m peaks in a day. For example, the East Peak is just a lot of stairs. Most people can get to and from North Peak in a morning; no problem. Another peak is a rest stop along Highway 14.

These are the places most visitors throw up deuces, take a group photo, and stop pressing on. There’s nothing wrong with that, because the views from the road are incredible. It’s still kind of a shame, because it gets even better.

Getting to West Peak is…

On a clear day, it’ll take you a half day of hiking to get to West Peak, and then there’s the matter of getting back. There’s an obvious, rough trail all the way there. So, it’s not technical, not savage, but not for snowflakes, either. Taiwan Waterfalls gives it a 5/5 for difficulty (see below).

Last week, a hiker was choppered out after getting a blister on their foot. Blisters are painful! But it seems a lot of people underestimate these heights because they heard about the place from people who only hit the easy peaks. Like I was saying, no snowflakes.

This is a topographical map of Hehuanshan, thanks to The World is Not That Big. When Highway 14 was built – the highest road in East Asia, by the way – the locals built roads to or near all the other peaks, but left West Peak alone. It’s out of the way for good reasons.

If you want to thru-hike (hike in one direction), there’s allegedly a service road down by the Hehuan River, and you could hire someone to drop you off. Note that Hehuan River isn’t marked in Google Maps, like it is here in Chinese. You won’t see the service road on either map.

Part of the Central Mountain Range along the “backbone of Taiwan,” this trail is also the border between Nantou and Hualien county. It’s the western edge of Taroko Gorge National Park, and part of its watershed. Way further east, rapids rush through even deeper grooves through the mountains. Gorge-ous.

I see these beautiful and devastating cliffs, and immediately understand why the government chose to place the Nantou-Hualien borders exactly where they are. No one in their practical mind wants to take the technical path down and up these ravines.

Trail permits are still reqiured to come out here – which just means registering at the nearest police station – although this area no longer requires special government permission to venture around.

The military once had a training facility by East Peak, and they still use this area. Some cable cars they put up here were turned into a ski lift that’s now just ruins. A combination of bad roads, inconsistent snow, and at best, 15 seconds of pow pow gnar gnar is the story of the ski business in Taiwan. This is from an 1983 issue of Taiwan Review, about Hehuanshan Ski Resort:

“During our stay on the mountain, the cable lift had broken down. Ski meis­ters and green hands alike had to spend 15 minutes climbing the 150-meter slope, just to slide down in 15 seconds. Most of the novices, not knowing how to stop or change directions, would fall on their backs to break their speed. When one of them crashed into one of our colleagues, we broke into cold sweat. He turned a somersault and lay flat for several minutes before we finally got him up.”

Getting permissions probably has something to do with the military, but there is a lot of biodiversity here — some being researched, some used for traditional medicines. That’s worth protecting, also!

You could go off-trail if you really want to, but you’re faced with this and that on the near side of the mountain. There’s really nothing preventing you from going down the ravine if you’re not paying attention. Around here, you don’t have to try very hard to get lost, or hurt.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, like these guys who came here to snowboard.

I wrote earlier that the trail is clear, if rough. Getting to West Peak requires quite a bit of scrambling and rope climbing.

Green on Green on Green. I mean, we could be in Ireland. Sometimes, it felt like we were on our own spirit quest. The challenge and beauty of the terrain leaves you feeling a little more empathetic, more human once you’ve reached the end.

Thick seas of clouds can be an issue for a lot of visitors, but we saw no reason to complain — mostly, because we were taking pictures of them. The area is actually known for its clouds, and because they’re always shifting because of violent winds, you’ll never really see the same view twice.

Finding A Place To Stay Near Hehuanshan

We made our own campground along the trail. You can also camp in the visitor center’s parking lot, for free. If you need a trail guide, talk to my friends Ryan and Dustin, who run Taiwan Adventure Outings!

If you’re looking for something more, indoors, Song Syue Lodge (松雪樓), is the place most people recommend. Sitting at 3,150 meters, Song Syue is generally considered the highest lodge in Taiwan. They also have an oxygen room in case you get altitude sickness.

There are many more hotels in Nantou county’s Ren’ai Township, about 1-1.5 hours due west. You’ll see them on your way, if you take the Nantou route to Hehuanshan (and you should). A few other tourist attractions are also nearby, like Cingjing Farm, the Small Swiss Garden, tea farms, and Aowanda National Forest. There’s much to see here — Central Taiwan is a gifted place.