What do you do when you wake up at 4 am on a Saturday and can’t fall back asleep. Please take a moment to think about it. For me, the answer is to take advantage of the morning. As Billy Joel sang before he became famous and, well, Billy Joel:
Four o’clock in the morning
I can dig into my mind
Four o’clock in the morning
I’m surprised at what I find
As I’m walking on the cobblestones
I feel the world is mine
And I’m grateful to the morning
For this little slice of time
It’s two more hours until sunrise, so I get changed, find my headlamp and book a ride to the 軍艦岩親山步道 Warship Rock trailhead above Yang-Ming University. From here, it takes less than 10 minutes to reach the top, and I realize I’m way too early as it’s still pitch black. I sit at the top taking in the views of the city beginning to come alive. I also try to stay warm, knowing I’m going to be here for at least another hour.
As time passes a few more early birds reach the top. Some stay for the sunrise; others pass by and continue their morning hikes to another destination. One woman does her stretching and yoga routine overlooking the Taipei skyline.
The last remaining clouds create a dramatic backdrop as they’re pushed through the sky by a vivid wind. Once the sun is up, however, it soon clears up. As it gets warmer and sunnier, I continue my short hike towards Beitou, Taipei’s famous hot spring district. After an unplanned detour which leads me across an old cemetery (I don’t recommend this), I reach Xinbeitou shortly after 8 am.
I buy some water and head straight to 瀧乃湯浴室 Takinoyu bath. It’s the only public bath I’ve tried in Taipei so far, but I’m pleased with my choice. Unlike many other hot springs I’ve visited, the pools here aren’t just warm; they’re legitimately hot. 43 and 46 (!) degrees is no joke (for comparison, the hottest pool in Budapest's Rudas bath is 42 degrees, and they have a sign warning you not to stay in for more than 5 minutes at a time). There’s also no cold pool, a bummer for an icebath fan like myself but I can always take cold showers in between.
The bathhouse has separated areas for women and men. In the men’s room, a large stone pool takes up most of the space. Hot water enters through a pipe on one side, colder water on the other. A wall in the middle separates the pool into two smaller ones but it has some holes which allow the water to circulate and exchange between both sides. The magic of fluid dynamics creates a hot pool on one side and an even hotter one on the other.
In pragmatic Asian fashion, the rest of the interior is made of plastic. Plastic seats to relax and pink plastic buckets to pour more water over yourself or cover certain body parts when you want to lie down on the stone floor in between dips.
I haven’t figured out my perfect routine yet, but I usually do 5-10 minutes in the hot water, take a cold shower, rest and repeat. I leave my fitness tracker on during this, and I’m shocked to see that an hour of hot baths burns about the same amount of calories as the hike before.