Northern Taiwan

24 Aug

Baishawan

Despite Taiwan’s island status, it is really lacking in good quality, clean beaches.  Fortunately for Taipei visitors/residents, Baishawan (White Sand Bay) is one beach that does fit that description.  The sand here is a beautiful golden yellow color and very fine.  The ocean is suitable for swimming in and the shelf is not as steep as it is in other places on the east coast.  There is however the annoyance of not being able to swim out past your chest depth (or waist-depth depending on how panicky the lifeguard is) but this is just one of the things that you either grow to accept (or ignore) here.

Baishawan can be reached by taking the MRT to Danshui Station and then Bus number 1262.

Keelung

The city of Keelung (pronounced Jee Long) is located on Taiwan’s north-east coast.  It is the island’s second biggest port and is known also known  in Chinese as 雨港 (rain port) because of the high level of rainfall there.  The average annual rainfall for Keelung is 3600mm per year – that is six times more than ‘rainy’ London.

Keelung is well worth a day trip and it is easy to reach from Taipei by train.  Don’t miss – Ershawan Fort, Heping Island, Zhongzheng Park, Fairy Cave and the Miao Kou Night Market.

Jiufen and Jinguashi

During the Japanese Occupation Era, Jiufen was a booming, prosperous town after the discovery of gold at nearby Jinguashi (Kinkaseki in Japanese).  During the Second World War, allied prisoners of war were forced to work down in the mines as made famous in Jack Edwards’ book – Banzai, You Bastards.  The mines closed down in the seventies (though there is still some dispute as to whether or not they should reopen) and the town never really moved on for 20 years.  This lack of progress was to become the town’s savior, after the release of the film “City of Sadness” in 1989 that was shot in Jiufen.  They filmmakers choose Jiufen to be the backdrop to their movie set in late 1940’s Taiwan and upon seeing that the town had kept all of the charm of this era, tourists flocked to the town in hordes.

Nowadays, the area can be very crowded at weekends, but much more accessible during the week.  The town is built into a very steep hillside, and the many Japanese-style teahouses that line the streets are buttressed with heavy stones to stop them falling down the mountain during the summer typhoon season.

It is a great place to walk around and soak up the atmosphere (even on a busy weekend), sip some baozhong tea and look out on the Pacific Ocean.  Combining the trip with a visit to the Jinguashi Gold Ecological Park Museum is a good way to fill up a day out here.  A lot of interesting history here and the chance to touch a 220kg gold bar!

You can take bus number 1062 from Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT station directly to Jiufen.  However, the traffic can be a nightmare on weekends so taking the train to Ruifang and catching the same bus from there could be a better option.


Fulong

Perhaps the most popular beach in northern Taiwan, Fulong is a short one-hour train ride from Taipei and attracts a large number of ex-pats every summer weekend.  The main part of the beach is the right as you walk out of the train station and then follow the crowd over the bridge onto the sandbar.  I think it is about $100NT to go to this part of the beach, which is again roped off and has lifeguards that are edgy at best.  If you head left out of the train station (following the main road) then you will come to another beach (there is a temple at the far end) that always seems to attract a mainly ex-pat crowd.  The beach itself is usually clean during the summer months and has toilet facilities – recently an ex-pat bar/restaurant has opened near the temple that serves great South African food.  The waters around here can be dangerous, but if you use common sense then you should have no problems at all.

Caoling Trail

The Caoling trail (草領古道)is one of the most celebrated hiking trails on the island.  Not least because of the Chinese Silvergrass season that occurs around November of each year.  The trail is not that difficult (8.5km linear) and should not be a problem for anyone with a reasonable degree of fitness.  The hike starts in Dali (which can be reached by train from Taipei – check the schedule, though as there are not many trains going here) then you will hike over to Fulong.

Jialuo Lake/Songluo Lake

Two hikes in Yilan County that are more suited to experienced hikers lead up to two mountain lakes.  Personally I prefer Jialuo Lake, but maybe that is after a bad experience at Songluo Lake.  Both hikes can be done in 2 days, camping out by the lake at the top of the mountain.

Jiaoxi Hot Springs

Jiaoxi in Yilan County is a popular hot spring area that has prospered and expanded a lot (for better and worse) in recent years due to the completion of the Xueshan Tunnel.  The springs are alkaline and some of the resorts around Jiaoxi are among the best in the north of Taiwan (and more reasonably priced than others in Taipei).

Also worth a visit in the area are the Wufengqi Waterfall and the recently opened Lanyang Museum.

 

Pingxi/Shifen

Pingxi is probably most well-known for it’s annual Sky Lantern Festival that takes place around February each year, but in fact there is much more to see around this area.  There are many hikes that start in this area – Xiaozishan and Fengtoujian being two of the best.

The area was once a big coal mining centre and served by a small railway line that was reopened several years ago to carry tourists between the villages of Jingtong, Pingxi and Shifen.

I am writing an article about the railway line and the other sites in the area for a magazine now, so check back in a few weeks for that.


Shiding/Shenkeng

The town of Shenkeng in Taipei County is famous for it’s Stinky Tofu Street and vernacular architecture.  If you are in the area, you could also try having a (not so) relaxing shower under the Silong (Four Dragon) Waterfall!

The Bus number 660 can be taken from the train station (or Jingmei MRT) to Shenkeng.

A little bit further east of Shenkeng is another small village that has received a bit of a makeover in recent years – Shiding.  There is a stream that runs through the village that has been cleaned up and it makes a pleasant place for an afternoon explore – or even a bicycle ride from Taipei.  Shiding is also the location of the trail head to one of best hikes in Taiwan – Huangdidian.


Sanxia / Yingge

Wuliaojian


North Cross-Island Highway

Beicha,

 

Wild Hot Springs



Shimen Reservoir



Hsinchu

 


Beipu

Beipu is a small Hakka town in the mountains of Hsinchu County that has a very well-preserved old town center with architecture rarely seen around the island.


Taian

 


Tongxiao

Tongxiao is a small rural town in Miaoli County that was recently chosen as one of the Top Ten Rural Villages in Taiwan.  It is a refreshing weekend getaway for many a city resident looking for fresh air and a relaxing place to get away from the daily grind.  For more information read my account of a trip there in January 2010.

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