Taiwan is a beautiful place that would deserve more attention and to be put on more people's bucket list. There is a rich heritage to see, absolutely amazing food (I am on a 5 meals a day diet when I travel there), amazing landscapes and you always receive a very warm welcome from the Taiwanese who will go out of their way to help you.
We had already visited Taipei and its surroundings on another week-end and wanted to go again. We settled down for a long week-end in Tainan & to soak up in the amazing naturally muddy Guanziling hot spring. The fast train network in Taiwan makes it a very easy & fast to reach out other part of the west side of the island.
The trip was first to travel to Chiayi region and then reach the Guanziling hot spring on the following day. Enjoy the hot spring and drive around the coffee road with a motorcycle to finally make our way with the train to Tainan and visit the city before going back up to Taipei to check out a few places we hadn't had time to see on our last trip.
If I had to redo this long week-end, I would articulate it differently - we had a few issues and our backpacker wired "mindset" blocked ourselves with stupid budget constrains habits - and for such a short trip, money wasn't such a primary focus … Still today we sometimes struggle to accept paying some extra bucks to improve our transport or hotels on short trips.
First we though it would be more difficult and long to get to Chiayi - not at all ! We arrive much earlier than anticipated and we had planned a night there. There is nothing to do in Chiayi, the night market is very small and the town itself has 0 appeal. ( apart from the owner of the restaurant we dined at on that night, who made the whole stop worthwhile with his super nice welcome and extra sampling of all the food we should try in Taiwan from his restaurant ! ). We thought renting a motorcycle would be easy from Chiayi station, there were lots of rental shops - but even our international driving license was not accepted. Since we were still in the "backpacker" mindset, taking a taxi that day was out of the question - we would take the bus the next morning...
The next morning, we couldn't find the bus stop and took one of the taxis at the train station to get to the King's villa hot spring resort very early in the morning.
If I had to redo it - Just don't make a stop at Chiayi, get a taxi from Chiayi station directly to the hot spring area of Guanziling, it's very close ( 30min or so ) and the taxi are not expensive. Also the hill is pleasant and has a lot more interesting accommodations that Chiayi town.
Since our hotel in Chiayi didn't have breakfast we paid to get the breakfast at the King's villa hotel and it was a typical Chinese breakfast with salty options only and quite surprisingly nice to be honest.
In this hotel, you can pay to have access to their impressive hot spring complex. In the complex, you have changing rooms, showers and all amenities you might want. it's partially open on a view of a river which is very pleasant. There is a mix of water jets, standard pools, a fish spa, plus you have eucalyptus bath, herbal bath and the famous mud bath ! There are 3 natural mud hot spring in the world, one in Japan, one in Italy and Guanziling hot spring ! You have buckets of natural mud that you can apply to your body, let it dry a bit and then rinse it in the bath or at a shower.
If you wanted to visit the coffee road around Guanziling, I would recommend renting your own car or find a way to get a Taiwan approved driving license to rent a motorcycle.
In Tainan we stayed in a hotel close to the main train station as this is where most buses depart from - we took the buses to visit all main sites ( Anping fort, the chikhan towers, various temples and the eternal golden castle). What is very interesting is that the old city center of Tainan is full of small narrow streets with beautiful doors and details - it's pleasantly easy to get lost and to look around/ wander through this district. Getting around Tainan was effortless with the bus systems - as the bus stops are clearly identified and the tourism counters at the main train station has well done brochures with all practical information you might need to use the network. A bicycle could be considered another option to visit the main sites. The old city center was not that busy and seemed quite cyclable (and flat).
There are unique dishes in Tainan, some of which have been awarded Michelin stars - there are some very useful maps and food tour itinerary available at the tourist information counter in the train station or at some main site attractions. There was even a Michelin star advised itinerary !
Going back to Taipei from Tainan is easy, you hitch a ride on one of the buses going to the fast train station slightly outside of town where you can chose to arrive in Taipei or at the train station close to the Taipei airport if you need to catch a flight directly.