Taiwan – Tainan – Guan Zi Ling

Guan Zi Ling (GuanZiLing, 关子岭.) is a hot spring area situated in Tainan, with the nearest town being Chia Yi (ChiaYi). It is one of the four main hot springs region in Taiwan – Guan Zi Ling, Bei Tou, Yang Ming Shan and Shi Chong Xi. By High Speed Rail (HSR), it is 1.5hrs from Taipei Main Station. Unlike the hot springs in Taipei, which are sulphur rich, the hot springs in Guan Zi Ling are rich in minerals and argillaceous rocks, which are rumored to treat all sorts of skin ailments, as well as beautify the skin. Whether you believe it or not, it is still worth visiting, because there are only three such hot springs in the world, one being in Japan, the other in Italy. Apart from the hot springs, there is another wonder of nature worth visiting, which is Water and Fire Homogeny (水火同源).

To get to Guan Zi Ling, buy HSR tickets from Taipei Main Station to Chia Yi HSR Station. After a 1.5hrs journey, you will arrive in Chia Yi HSR station. Just outside is a bus stop, where you can take the free bus shuttle to Chia Yi Train Station.

Chia Yi HSR vs Chia Yi Train Station
Chia Yi HSR vs Chia Yi Train Station. Click to enlarge.
Chia Yi HSR to Chia Yi Train Station Shuttle Bus

Proceed to Chia Yi Train Station back exit, cross the road and you can see a motorbike rental shop (大象). For my bike (couldn’t recall how big it was, but definitely not 50cc) it was  NT400 per day. To rent a bike, you would need an international driving permit, the driving licence issued by your country, and your passport. The attendant will make photocopies of these documents and return them back to you.

After familiarising with the bike, make a u-turn, heading away from the train station. Take a left turn at the second main junction, and a right turn at the next main junction, to hit Mingsheng South Rd (163). Follow this road all the way straight approximately 40-60mins, until you hit a T-junction. Take a left turn, and take the right path at a Y-fork junction.

Chia Yi Town Map
Chia Yi Town Map. Click to enlarge.
Road 165. Click to enlarge.
Follow road 165 straight all the way, till you hit a T-junction. Turn left. Take the right fork at the Y-fork junction.  Click to enlarge.
Merge into Road 172.
Merge into Road 172. At the merging junction, there is a charcoal roast chicken stall on the right hand side of the road. Click to enlarge.

Do look out for petrol kiosk to refuel your motor bike, even though you will probably have only used 1/5 of the tank, as there are no petrol kiosk up in the mountain. Follow the road all the way till you merge onto road 172. At this point there is a charcoal roasted chicken stall on the right hand side of the road, serving delicious stone-baked chicken. This is a good place to stop for a break after the hour-plus bike ride. Chicken is roasted in a clay-kiln, using traditional fire wood. A bowl of radish soup is placed under the chicken, collecting the chicken essence that drip down, making the soup extra tasty. You can also try their salad vegetable, as it is fresh and light, complementing the lightly salted roast chicken. I don’t know what vegetable they used, but Taiwanese call it dragon’s whiskers.

Charcoal roasted chicken.

After the refreshing lunch, continue back on road 172, and take the right fork at the Y-fork junction, to begin the mountain ascend.

Guan Zi Ling Map
Guan Zi Ling Map. Arrows depict path to take back towards Chia Yi Train Station. Click to enlarge.

First stop will be Da Xian Temple. This temple was first built in 1747 under Qian Long’s reign. Over the years it grew bigger and bigger, and now comprises of numerous temple complexes, pagodas and monastery buildings. The architecture of the main temple complex is influenced by Japanese Zen Buddhism. The temple also provide short-temple stays, as well as meditation courses.

Da Xian Temple
Dragon and pagoda
An interesting-looking old tree
Goddess of Mercy Temple
Monastery
Pagoda
Two pagodas
Goddess of Mercy

After Da Xian Temple, follow the road further up to reach another temple – Bi Yun Temple. Unlike Da Xian Temple, which is mainly a Buddhist temple, Bi Yun Temple has elements of Taoism mixed into it. It’s premises is much smaller than Da Xian Temple. It is worth climbing to the top of the temple complex to get an unhindered overview of Guan Zi Ling.

My solitary bike
Bi Yun Temple
View from the top of the temple
Goddess of Mercy, 8 Deities and 18 Arhats

A short distance away from Bi Yun Temple is Water and Fire Homogeny, or Shui Huo Tong Yuan (水火同源). It is so named because there is a constant fire burning over water. This is caused by the combustion of methane gas that seeps to the surface by the heat of the hot spring. It is truely a wonder a nature to be marveled. Despite being up in the mountains after a rain, and in the month of December, a few minutes in this area is sufficient to make one perspire.

Water and Fire Homogeny
Fire over water
Fire over Water
Sausage tree. Non-edible though.

There are numerous hot spring resorts up in Guan Zi Ling catering to different budget. I decided to stay in Toong Mao Spa Resort. It is a big hotel, and my room is really big (for a twin). Being a guest of the hotel, gives you unlimited visits to the hot spring area. The outdoor hot spring area is scenic and tranquil, with 4 pools (3 muddy, 1 clear). There is also a bucket of ‘mud’ available for application to various parts of your body, from face down to the legs. People will then loiter around and wait for the mud to dry, or if you only applied it to your face, you can jump back into the hot spring. All-in-all a fantastic experience. My skin feels notably smoother after 45mins. There are a few restaurants along the road around the hotel for meals. A night’s stay comes with complementary breakfast.

Toong Mao Spa Resort
Reception
Lobby
Under-utilised swimming pool
Twin Queen beds!! Pardon the mess. This is what happens when you sleep on one and throw your stuff on the other bed.
Muddy Hot Spring
Bucket of “mud”
Shop selling very nice Mua Chi (rice flour balls)
Mua Chi

Surrounding the Hotel are a few other interesting spots – Cinnamon Tree path, Heroes’ Slope and Guan Zi Ling Park. These are all accessible via foot following a path just outside the hotel. If you follow the path to its end, you will reach the top of the Heroes’s Slope.

Cinnamon Tree Path
Guan Zi Ling Park
Guan Zi Ling Park
Path to a Taoist Temple

When you are ready to leave, continue following the main road, and you will start going down hill. First stop will be the foot of the Heroes’ Slope. I decided to climb back up towards Toong Mao, to be a Hero! Note that the stairs are super slippery, especially after rain. Be very careful, a tumble down is no joking business. This is built by the Japanese during the Japanese Occupation for military training purposes.

Sky Stairs and Bridge
Beginning of Heroes’ Slope. It has 300 steps.
View from the Sky Bridge
Super steep and slippery
Heroes’ Slope

The final stop before departing back to Chia Yi Train Station is the origin of the hot spring. It is really a sorry sight. So many pipes are draining out, I can feel the pain of the earth, as if it’s blood is being drained. The least people can do, is to build a nice structure or shelter honoring it.

Hot springs origin
Precious Spring Bridge. From the way they are treating the origin, I doubt the words ring true. Placing this as the last photo of the page, it serves to remind everyone to conserve the environment. Please use the ‘mud’ in the hot springs with care. Don’t waste it.

To get back to Taipei, descend down road 172 soon you will reach the fork where you had previously take a right turn to Da Xian Temple. Now, just backtrack all the way back to Big Elephant Motorbike rental and return your bike. Enter Chia Yi Train Station, and take the bus at Bay 1, it brings you to Chia Yi HSR. From there, buy a ticket and you are back in Taipei Main Station.

Tainan – Guan Zi Ling is really one of my favorite destination out of all the places that I had been to in Taiwan, mainly because it is so ‘inaccessible’, which means it is not flooded by tourists. I also like the feel of air brushing against me as I ride down deserted stretches of road, reminding me of the countryside. Definitely a place providing respite from the buzz, rush, anger, backstabbing, and office-politicking of urban city.

Dec 2012

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