Brutally Beautiful, LiSong Natural Hot Spring 栗松溫泉

One of our travel companions (thanks, Rikki!) found out about LiSong hot spring while we were planning where to go in Taiwan. Upon a quick review of other blogs and photos, this was marked as a definite visit on our map. Tell me this doesn’t tickle your hot spring bug!

Lisong

Game On

Based on blog research (Mandarin and English), the typical journey for those without a car begins at Guanshan or Chisshang train station in Taitung (台東). Then you can rent a car as you exit the station. We got an older SUV (let the lady know you’re going to LiSong!) for NT$1500 per 24/hr day, which worked out perfectly for us. The rental shop was really flexible on extensions and a different return location (for a small fee).

We stayed at Guanshan Fukuda bed and breakfast/boutique hotel (excellent choice!). The host, Rachel, called and checked the road closure time for our early drive to LiSong the next morning. Due to recent landslides, many sections of the road are under construction, some have road closure periodically.

Things to bring:

  • Bathing suit/change of clothing
  • More water than you think you need (at least 2 bottles per person), or a filter for the river water
  • Towel if you have room, but not necessary
  • Plastic poncho if the weather is iffy (or don’t go…that path is more like a slide if wet)
  • Lunch! There’s not much along the way. The temple by the entrance may have some water and snacks
  • 2 climbing ropes at least 15 feet long each — if you don’t have a guide
  • Gloves, they’re NT$15 a pair in town. There are also plenty left hanging on the pole along the path, but mostly wet
  • Some bits and pieces for the dogs. They’re owned by the land owner but super friendly

Route map/Time estimate:

  • 7 AM departure from Guanshan township
  • 8:15 AM pass the construction sites
  • 9 AM arrive LiSong entrance by the temple. The temple looks like someone’s home from the outside, around 187 KM marker
  • 9:30 AM set on the path to the trailhead (approx. 1.5 miles)
  • 10 AM arrive at the trail head
  • 11:20 AM climb to the foothill of the mountain, first sight of the river
  • 11:50 AM complete two river crossing and are directly across form the elusive hot spring
  • 12:10 PM we are officially “chilling” in the hot spring
  • 12:35 PM had to start heading back since it’ll take longer to ascend, and we still need to eat… -sigh-
  • 2:10 PM took some time for the river crossings. Got some rest, dry up, eat, and prepare for the climb
  • 4 PM back to the trail head, it wasn’t terrible with all the mushrooms along the way!
  • 4:40 PM back at the car…holy balony…
  • 5:40 PM on the drive back, there’s a partitioned hot spring along the side of the road, we stopped to soak our wary feet

What LiSong entrance looked like before the landslide, and here’s what it looks like when we visited…half of a tea farm fell into the crevasse of the mountains. The sign for LiSong was nowhere to be found.

After walking for about 1.5 miles down the driveway that forks off the main road (you might be able to drive down but the path is narrow, fits only one car each way), we reached the trailhead. It’s evident from the steel rods connected by thick ropes with layers of used gloves on top. The first two third of the trail is steep in the form of steps. The last third required being very close to the ground to maintain balance and pulling on the ropes constantly.

Trail down to the foothill...mostly steps, but there are areas where youneed to propel

Trail down to the foothill…mostly steps, but there are areas where you need to propel

An hour and a half of seriously slippery footwork later, we arrived the bottom of the mountain, hoping we had reached the end. Not only was that not the case, we have 3 zigzagged river crossings between us and the elusive hot spring.

The first crossing was simple, an easy tread through freezing thigh deep river water boosted our confidence. The second crossing was succeeded by only one member of our group, and we were stumped. Luckily, we saw right behind us, another group of four, led by an unmistakable guide with his gears crisscrossed above the hips.

The last river crossing, and the deepest. Floaty and rope was needed

The last river crossing, and the deepest. Floaty and rope was needed

The second and third river crossings (with risky barefoot rock climbing sandwiched in between) were inaccessible for most at the water level that day. The guide, equipped with additional ropes and floatation anchors, was the only reason we made it to the hot spring that day. We  you!

What all the turmoil was about - 20 minutes in a wild hot spring!

What all the turmoil was about – 20 minutes in a wild hot spring!

The hot spring was more beautiful than photos can represent, and the journey more brutal than any blogs had described. The sulfuric spring water dripped from above at boiling temperature. Meanwhile, the river was as icy as melted snow. It was a craftsman’s game to create a comfortable balance to plop oneself into.

A very enjoyable 20 minutes later, we had to start heading back. Even though the sun was barely perpendicular to the mountains, we knew the ascend won’t be easy, and it’s recommended by many bloggers to get out of the mountain before sunset, which is about 3 PM in the valley.

We clambered back the same 3 river crossings and dried ourselves by the riverbank. The two girls we befriended at the beginning of the trail busted out fire and cookware and promptly hopped into the river to wash the cabbage. Cabbage to go with the ramen they plan to prepare.

Two very cute and nice girls we teamed up on the way

Two very cute and nice girls we teamed up on the way

Going back up ended up being easier than I expected. Mostly because the steep hill forces one to face only a few inches from the soil. At that angle, I found what I’ve been looking for in Taiwan for the longest time — mushrooms! And there were so many different kinds right along the trail. I was too ecstatic to feel my trembling leg muscles, muscle not trained for such challenges.

Mushrooms along the way

Mushrooms along the way

Man of the hour (or hot spring)

Man of the hour (or hot spring)

Call for a guide!! We wouldn't have made it without running into one

Call for a guide!! We wouldn’t have made it without running into one

As we got back to the car, it was clear that any later, we would’ve had trouble finding our way through this thick mountain fog.

The fog descends as we leave the parking space

The fog descends as we leave the parking space

About half way back into town, there’s a hot spring pond right off the side of the road. It’s built into six quarters with varying temperature. At last, we get to enjoy the hot spring a bit more.

The 6 hot spring wells

The 6 hot spring wells

Taiwan Mountain Dogs

Taiwan mountain dogs

Taiwan mountain dogs (台灣土狗)

They’re quite special and deserve a mention as part of the local culture. At first, they reminded so much of “Dingo” in Australia, but according to DNA research, it seems that Taiwanese mountain dogs are unrelated to Dingo.

They are well-adapted to the uneven and thickly forested terrain of Taiwan, having become a semi-wild breed prior to the arrival of several colonial reigns and foreign powers. Notwithstanding these adaptations, Formosans retained the potential to be trained, and are now used as hunting dogs, guard dogs, stunt dogs, rescue dogs, or simply as companions (source wiki).

Cost Highlight

  • Car rental – NT$1500 per day, includes basic insurance
  • Rental drop-off at Taitung train station instead of Guanshan – NT$600
  • Hotel – NT$1200 per day, weekday rate
  • Guanshan bento box – NT$80
  • Gardening gloves – NT$15 a pair

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