"Whoa," my friend Karen says, stooping down to pick up a bag in the hot spring. "There's actually a tea bag in here!"
This is the Chuan Tang Spring Spa Hotel, a spa and sauna in Jiaoxi. Jiaoxi is a town in Yilan County, about a two-hour train ride from Taipei City. It's a township known for its hot springs; and over the years, a series of resorts have popped up to cater to the weekend getaway crowd.
Chuan Tang Spring is just a ten-minute walk from the train station and admission is around $6 USD. It's a mixed-gender spa and swimsuits are required. There's a kid section with slides and fountains, a cafeteria, a hot rock bed for reclining purposes, saunas, steam rooms, a pool, and a series of flavoured hot springs. They also have a popular pond where guests can put in their feet and get a fish pedicure, in which small fish will congregate around your feet and literally eat the dead skin off of you.
These amenities aren't unique to Jiaoxi or Taiwan; hot spring destinations are a favourite pastime for Taiwanese locals. What sets Chuan Tang apart are their delectable options.
The main attraction are six small pools of scented springs. The flavours rotate and the ones that are in rotation today are coffee, tea, milk, lemongrass, rose, and sulfur—all programmed at around 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
The tea hot spring has an actual tea bag steeped inside; the milk pool is like bathing in dessert. The coffee is, of course, diluted, and we can't quite figure out if we are going to become caffeinated by hanging out in it. We wonder out loud what would happen if the spa, one day, decided to mix milk and tea together. Or milk and coffee.
Lemongrass is by far our favourite scent; it isn't overpowering like the milk one and the floral aroma make us want to fall asleep in it.
And then there are the steam rooms.
I watch my friends run out of one labeled "Mint."
"Is that what it feels like to smoke a menthol cigarette?" one of them screams while running out.
"I feel like I was being suffocated by a cough candy," the other one exclaims.
But then immediately, they both become wide-eyed and still. "Actually that felt really good," they conclude. "It cleared up all our sinuses." All three of us go in again. It's initially quite painful; it's hard to see and breathe, but the cooling effect once we exit the room is well worth it.
The steam room flavoured with sweet olives is relaxing and gentle, but we spend the most time in the Chinese medicine steam room. It reminds me of my Taiwanese grandmother's bedroom, but far hotter. It actually feels like we are being cooked in an herbal chicken broth; we are the chicken.
The sauna is hidden by the pool section and unlike the other amenities, it is divided up by gender and doesn't have a flavour label. But the moment we sit down, we smell strong hints of sweet potato.
By the end of the afternoon, our bodies are soft, relaxed, and extremely hungry. I dive into the tea-scented hot spring one more time for good measure.
We take the train back in Taipei and, appropriately, have dinner at a hot pot restaurant.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in May 2016.