Beitou Hot Spring Museum
North of Shilin, easily reached by the MRT Tamsui Line and then short MRT Xinbeitou Line, is the enclave of Beitou, nestled snugly in a valley between lush green hills. Beitou started out as a hot spring resort established by the Japanese administration, but the World War II and Vietnam War eras were its heydays, when its hot-spring hotels and drinking establishments made it a fully fledged R & R destination for troops. With the end of the Vietnam War, Beitou fell into neglect. Japanese tour groups would still arrive but, by the early 1990s, Beitou’s hotels, which once numbered more than 70, had been reduced to little more than a dozen, most of them poorly maintained. Two things have since changed Beitou’s fortunes. One was the arrival of the MRT line, and the other has been the revival of all things Taiwanese since the end of the martial-law era, which has led to a hot-spring boom across the island.
Beitou is easy to explore on foot, and is a favorite day-trip destination for international visitors in the city. The entrance to the Beitou valley is almost directly before MRT Xinbeitou Station, leading up into the Yangmingshan massif. Carved by the Beitou Stream, the narrow Beitou Park stretches along its banks, with most of the area’s tourists attractions lined up one after another in the park or just beside. A walk to the top of the valley without stopping takes about 30 minutes.
Back in the park, perhaps the best place to get a glimpse of the area’s history and a feel for its revival of fortune is the Beitou Hot Spring Museum 5 [map] (Beitou Wenquan Bowuguan; http://hotspringmuseum.taipei ; Tue–Sun 9am–5pm; closed national holidays), housed in the former Beitou Public Baths, a Japanese building that dates from 1913. Exhibits feature the history of the area, and in a classic Japanese-style hall, complete with what looks like an acre of tatami matting, guides hold forth on the culture of hot-spring bathing. Downstairs, the original public bath is preserved in a cavernous room overlooked by stained-glass windows and Romanesque arches.