After spending four days depleting Taipei’s entire food supply, my stomach was in need of a break and my body was in much need of exercise. And no, I don’t mean working up my smartphone’s pedometer while grazing my way through all of the food markets. I needed to leave the food paradise that the city is and do something other than eat. Maybe walk up a hill? Get some fresh air? Be in awe of some epic Taiwanese landscapes?
Here are three amazing and super easy day trips I took just outside of all the bustle of Taipei city.
Beitou Hot Springs
Wait… was I still in Taipei? Actually, yes, technically I was. I was right near the city limits. But it sure didn’t feel like it!
This is by far the easiest day trip to take because you don’t even need to leave the city to feel like you’ve been transported to a quiet, picturesque and charming mountainside town.
Just a short 30-minute MRT ride from central Taipei (Taipei Main Station), lies a magical corner of Taipei where natural hot springs are in abundance! Public bath houses, spas, and resorts can be found along the winding roads carving through the rich, palm-tree covered hills. I spent hours walking/getting (very) lost along these roads. But, didn’t mind at all because all of my surroundings were so incredibly beautiful.
One of the most popular sites to visit while in the Beitou hot springs area is the Thermal Valley, also commonly referred to as Hell Valley (how ominous). The only thing ominous about this valley was that it smelled like I was trapped in a small, confined space with a bunch of fresh, hard-boiled eggs. Ominous, I tell you…
The hot spring is actually quite enchanting. A stormy-turquoise pool of bubbling hot water is encircled by hills overflowing with greenery. I could already feel the heat radiating from this hellishly hot, hot spring while approaching it still quite a way’s away along the path. This hot spring is not for swimming, with temperatures reaching up to 100°C. This hot spring is for admiring only. And, realizing how much sweat your body can produce and possibly boiling some eggs if you’re hungry.
Take a dip in the hot springs at the public bath house (Millennium Hot Springs) located right near the plum garden, or at any of the spas or resorts scattered throughout the area. Millennium Hot Springs costs $40 NT to enter (about $1.70 CAD) and will provide you with an authentic, local hot spring experience. Spa and resorts prices vary. But, if you want a more private bathing experience then try out these instead! And of course, don’t forget to pack your bathing suit!
HOW TO GET THERE:
Take the red line along the MRT headed towards Tamsui to Beitou Station. Transfer to the pink line and take the MRT one stop to Xinbeitou Station. Leave the station and walk straight (follow the signs) towards the entrance of Beitou Park.
For tea lovers and hikers alike! Just a short bus ride from Ruifang Station, lies the sleepy town of Jiufen. Jiufen is regarded by most as the “Santorini” of Taiwan. The mountainside town is made-up of steep stairwells and pathways, twisting and turning through series of stacked ocean-view buildings.
The lantern-lit alleyways of Jiufen Old Street are home to delicious restaurants, cute cafes, and Jiufen’s iconic landmark, the A Mei Teahouse. This large, vividly ornamented tea house is especially striking at night, with rows upon rows of bright, red lanterns illuminating its exterior. I stood in the pouring rain, gawking for five minutes, completely mesmerized by the tea house.
Jiufen Old Street is surrounded by mountains. A collection of hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulties can be easily accessed by foot or by a short bus or taxi ride. The most notable hike in Jiufen is Keelung Mountain. About an hour in length, with some challenging sections, this hike ends with some awesome, panoramic views of the ocean and town below.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Take the MRT to Ruifang Station. This costs $80 NT (about $3.40 CAD) for a day pass and takes approximately 50 minutes from Taipei Main Station. Exit the station, turn left at the first intersection and follow the signs (about 200 m) for buses bound for Jiufen. The bus stop is located on the opposite side of the street. Once you arrive in Jiufen, follow the crowd up the steep staircases and get yourself lost!
PINGXI RAILWAY LINE
Be transported (literally) to enchanting, little towns tucked in pockets of some seriously epic, jungle-like, Taiwanese scenery. Trains leave from Ruifang every hour and slowly weave their way along a 13 km stretch of green, VERY green, countryside. The train tracks run right through the middle of towns. At times, the train whizzed by buildings so closely that I thought we were about to pass through someone’s living room.
What makes the Pingxi Railway Line so special is that it is the site for releasing lanterns into the sky! Most towns along the railway line allow you to purchase your own lantern, personalize it with a painted message, and set it off into the sky. It was a pretty remarkable sight to watch dozens upon dozens of lanterns floating up into the clouds simultaneously.
But, what I think makes this day trip so unique (and slightly adrenaline-inducing) is that you are free to wander the train tracks whenever a train is not currently passing through. It may make you feel like a slight daredevil until you hear the blaring of a loud whistle. This is to announce that the slow-moving train is soon approaching. This is to also remind you that you are not the true daredevil you thought you were there for a mere few seconds. Yes, the train tracks are very safe. They are actually the site where people set off their lanterns from (when a train isn’t passing through, of course).
Here are the stops I chose to explore along the railway line:
The busiest of all the stations. It seemed that this station was the most popular among the locals. Either side of the train tracks were lined with super delicious food vendors. But, for once I was not here for the food. I mean, I did eat. I had to! I was hungry! But that’s not the point. Instead, I stopped here to observe the masses of people setting their lanterns off into the sky.
Shifen is also known for its waterfall. A small, short hike along a paved trail, loops around the 20 m high waterfall, providing some fantastic views along the way.
Pingxi is a very quiet station with a very rural feel. People come here for a more private lantern experience, away from the big crowds of Shifen. Little, old shops make-up the Pingxi Old Street, including craft and more food vendors.
A village dominated by cats! Need I say more? Spend a few hours here to see how many of the 200 cats roaming the village’s narrow streets you can spot. To read about my feline-filled experience in Houtong, click here.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Take the MRT to Ruifang Station. This costs $80 NT (about $3.40 CAD) for a day pass and takes approximately 50 minutes from Taipei Main Station. Exit the station once you’ve reach Ruifang and purchase tickets for the Pingxi Line. You can purchase a day pass for $52 NT (about $2.20 CAD) that allows you to jump on and off the train as many times as you like. Re-enter the station and board the train bound for Jingtong. From Ruifang to the last stop, Jingtong it takes about one hour. Trains from Ruifang run every hour, so plan your stops accordingly.
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