Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Taiwanese Tuesday: A Weekend in Wulai

On Saturday I went with my host mother to Wu Lai, a place in the mountains that had a hot spring resort.  I got to sleep, eat, and use the hot spring for free, a pretty nice deal.  My host mother was every bit as embarrassing and hovering and caring as a mother can be.  She stuffed me full of food, introduced me to all of her friends, and took me to see some beautiful scenery in Wu Lai.  I was amazed at how natural the landscape was just half an hour from Taipei.

The hot spring portion of my weekend was quite an experience.  I had been to a hot spring hotel before that was very discreet: an attendant filled a tub of water in a bathroom, and there was an anteroom where you could change before and after soaking.  This hot spring had none of that.  I stripped down and went into a public area butt naked with a whole bunch of Taiwanese ladies I didn't know with my host mother and all of her friends.

You might be thinking the hot spring was unsanitary.  Nope!  The place was spotless; it was a real spa, not a public pool, so they could afford to pay staff to clean.  Clients showered before and after soaking.  I soaked for a while in hot water, dried off in a sauna, and let a giant nozzle pummel lukewarm water on my back.  My host mother and I rubbed wet salt on each others' backs and went inside what looked like a reverse sauna.  It had transparent walls but was full of hot fog.  I sat and let the salt melt on my skin, then my host mother doused me off with a cold shower nozzle.  I shrieked because I wasn't prepared for the cold.  The ladies chuckled at my reaction.

The spa had no windows, allowing steam to flow freely from under the roof.  Except for the reverse sauna, I wore my glasses the whole time.

There was an outdoor portion of the spa that had two pools: one very hot and one ice cold.  How hot was the hot pool?  SCALDING.

"Good Lord!" I cried in Mandarin as I lowered myself into it.  "It's too hot. I can't take it!"

"Don't force yourself," one of my host mother's friends said.  "Sit on the edge until you get used to it."

I did as she advised, then followed my host mother back and forth between the hot and cold pools.  My toes crackled as though a current of electricity was flowing through me.

"You're very brave," the ladies murmured as I went back and forth between pools.

I took a break from the extremely hot and cold water after a while and went to look at the river tumbling over the rocks and the steam billowing out of the spa.  A few robed ladies rested on deck chairs next to me.  The river was an opaque emerald color.  Lush green mountains shrouded in mist towered over me.  I tried to make the moment last as long as possible.

After we soaked we had dinner.  My host mother is a part of the Taiwan branch of the Girl Scouts, and last weekend was their retreat in the mountains.  They had a full program that evening, including dancing, karaoke, and an auction.  Like a good sport, I sang a karaoke song with my host mother.  Warning: if you ever go to Asia, be prepared: karaoke is a staple of social life here.  I don't care how much you hate it (and I do--almost as much as Hello Kitty).  Make everyone happy and sing at least one song.

The next day my host mother and I got up early and walked around the tourist area of Wulai full of shops selling aboriginal-themed souvenirs.  It was raining pretty heavily, so it wasn't as fun as it could have been, but I got to see the waterfall up close.  That was pretty cool.

All in all, it was a eye-opening (and exhausting) weekend.  I learned to be less self-conscious about my body.  Athough my body certainly isn't perfect (legs aren't shaved, carrying more weight that I would like, etc, etc.) no one's else's body was perfect either.  99.9% of all of people there jiggled at least a little.

Who's ready for pictures?  ME!  I AM!

No, I don't have any pictures from inside the spa.  Obviously.

So the deal is that Taiwan has a lot of mountains.  Like this one.

Me and my host mother.  She was intense but awesome.

I don't know what kind of fish this is, but I've had it a lot in Taiwanese restaurants and it's good.

Flamenco dancers!  The woman on the far left had a 'tude, which made her performance HILARIOUS.

Cool-ass waterfall!  The wires are for cable cars that go all the way up the mountain.
I got to get closer to it on Sunday.

Whee!  Sadly, I did not get to ride the cable car.

A street in the tourist section in Wulai.

See you Thursday!



  1. I wish we had hot springs for free in Cali. To use them, you have to pay a bajillion dollars! Not really but it'd be nice if they were free. :)

  2. Wow, that sounds like an awesome trip. Wulai looks beautiful.


  3. Alleged--
    They were certainly not free. I got to enjoy them free of charge, but it was actually quite an expensive place.

  4. What a great experience you are having!
    I added myself to your followers.

    Tossing It Out
    Twitter hashtag: #atozchallenge

  5. What an adventure you are having. Reading about this is so amazing.

  6. Those pictures are amazing. What an inspiring little place. You must feel so refreshed now after a weekend of pampering.

  7. I'm so jealous I could cry! This looks like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Thanks so much for sharing. :)