The small town of Jhihben知本 in Taidong County台東縣 boasts one of the nation’s best known, and most popular hot spring resorts. First developed by Japanese colonial forces more than a century ago, it was designed as a rest and relaxation point for the army’s officers.
Fast-forward one hundred years and, while some things have changed, many have stayed very much the same. Taking a bath in Jhihben’s naturally hot spa water is still the perfect way to relax and unwind, and the beauty of the area’s scenery remains undiminished. The main change of course, is that instead of playing host to officers of an occupying army, the town now welcomes tourists from all over Taiwan, and also a growing number of international visitors.
At just a few minutes drive from Taidong City, Jhihben is ideally located for those holidaying in South East Taiwan. Located in the Jhihben River valley, the resort is surrounded on all sides by wonderfully green and dizzying mountains. Visitors should take heed, and plan to stay for more than just the few hours needed to sample the hot springs themselves.
Perhaps the best way to see what’s on offer is to visit the National Jhihben Forest Recreation Area. I love hiking, and one of the best things about doing it here is the very natural feel the place has. Unlike so many of this country’s hiking areas, the paths in the Forest Park are not covered with concrete. Now that can make walking conditions a little bit more tricky. For those interested in really connecting with their surroundings however, the abilities you have here to walk on real earth and trip up on exposed tree roots, it’s an enlivening experience.
Aside from the old suspension bridge with its wonderful illusion of fragility and danger, the Park’s outstanding feature is its 100-year-old Banyan Tree. Given its age and the way in which Banyans grow, with branches successively spreading out and growing into the ground, this isn’t so much a single tree as it is a great chaotic mass of tree. It’s fantastic, and when animated by a family or two of Formosan macaques, the sprawling madness really comes to life.
The Jhihben area, both inside and outside of the Forest Park, is the home to a diverse range of animal life. Apart from the monkeys, the mountains also contain boar, mongooses, many species of bird and insect life including some large and beautifully winged butterflies, and I was very surprised to see a red crab scuttling across a rock near to the White Jade Waterfall.
That said, Jhihben remains a hot springs resort, and if you’re not an enthusiast then you might want to make it a day trip instead of a weekend visit. The nightlife isn’t wonderful and consists of a few KTV bars where grandparents stand and belt out hits from yesteryear, and shops where you cook eggs in hot spring water. Not that eggs aren’t fun, they surely are, but unless your buddies call you Cool Hand Luke, then there are only so many eggs that you can eat.
Should you love a spa holiday though, and it seems that a good many people do, Jhihben certainly is the perfect destination.