Taiwan is definitely a place that you have to visit once in your life. Suitable for backpacking or just a short getaway, Taiwan caters activities for all kind of travellers, whether you are a city tourist or an adrenaline junkie.
A few years back, Married Women and I decided to visit Taiwan as one of our post-marriage travels (we decided not to have a honeymoon trip, as we prefer to continuously experience the joy of travel!), mixing a bit of adventure with city travelling.
If you are thinking of travelling to Taipei, Hualien or Jiufen, this post will briefly introduce things you can do in each of these destination. I will also briefly cover some tips on transportation, on how you can get in and out of the area. Read on to find out more, and if you like the places that you are reading, check out my other post at the end, where I will provide greater details on how to cover this in a 11 days free and easy trip!
1. Taipei (台北)
Taipei is the capital of Taiwan. It is a great place to be, friendly locals, products so cute and intricate that you will feel like splurging all your money on them, regardless of whether you need them or not. However, uniquely Taiwan is the exuberant variety of delicacies that you can find. From the famous friend chicken, scallion pancakes to oyster noodles (mee sua), street food and night market is usually within a walk away wherever you are.
Like most cities, it is well connected and you can get around by metro. Below is a quick run though of the places that you can visit while in Taipei, all accessible by metro.
Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall (Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall Station, Red/Green Line Intersection)
A dedication to the founder and former president of Taiwan, you can visit the memorial hall to find out about the history of the Kuomingtang, their involvement in WWII or observe the change of guards parade, if you are lucky.
Taipei 101 (World Trade Centre Station, Red Line)
Spanning 101 stories, at a height of 508 metres, many tourists will usually drop off at the Word Trade Centre Station to visit the Taipei 101 observation tower. You will need to buy a ticket up, but you’ll be rewarded with a 360º viewpoint of Taipei city. Around the place are fancy shopping malls that you can visit.
Tamsui (Tamsui Station, Red Line)
Right at the other end of the red line from the World Trade Centre station is Tamsui. Consisting of a riverbank, it used to be an important trading post. Today, the old streets are lined with food stalls, selling local delights such as the “smelly” tofu (beancurd), barbecued squids glazed with sweet sauce or baked milk curds. This is also a good place to people watch as you walk along the bustling riverbank, crowded with locals, tourists and street hawkers. Visit the old wharf if you have time. Convenient place to visit if you are staying in Beitou, else it might be a little out of the way to get here.
Yong Kang Street (Dongmen Station, Red Line)
Personally, I find Dongmen a good place to stay for a day or two. It is quite centralized and price range of accommodations are relatively cheaper than popular places like Ximending. If you are around the area, drop by Yong Kang Street for a walk. It is known as the Taiwan food hub, and home to the famous Ding Tai Fung restaurant. Visit Yong Kang from late afternoon onwards, and take a 10 minutes walk to Shida Night Market. There is also a morning market around Dongmen Hotel that you can visit.
Ximending (Ximen Station, Blue/Green Line Intersection)
If you are in Taipei, then you must definitely visit Ximending, the youth shopping district. The place is a reflection of youth vibrancy, with activities lasting late into the nights. You will see both students and office workers gathered around the streets, eating, drinking or hanging out with their friends. We managed to see a youth dance competition going on in the parade late into the night. Again, this place has really good street food that you must try, such as Ah Zong Mian Xian (Oyster Noodles) or the Prince Cheese Potatoes, just to name a few. For people who like shopping, this is also the place to be as you will find lots of fashionable apparels.
2. Around Taipei (台北)
Jiufen (Ruifang Train Station)
Just slightly north of Taipei is the famous Jiufen, known for winding alley of shops and steps (known as the Old Streets). Originally a home to miners until the mines were closed in 1971, the place can still give emit instant nostalgia of an old miners’ town, as you walked through the maze of lanes and alley, and past shophouses that resembles traditional Japanese inns. The Old Street is located on a hill overlooking the sea, and is usually very crowded as tourists flock over from nearby Kee Lung or Taipei city for day-trips. You can’t miss the Old Street once you are at Jiufen. The place is also famous for the Jiufen assorted-flavour ginger tea, as well as the authentic and traditional Lai Ah Po sweet potato and yam ball desert. Activities in Jiufen becomes more latent in the evening, providing a relaxing and repose atmosphere.
There is a beautiful hill near Jiufen Old street, known as Keelung Hill (基隆山道). The trail takes you to a spot overseeing the ocean and the whole of Jiufen. At a height of 685m, the hill has pathed steps all the way to the top and takes approximately one hour to climb. It is definitely an easy but tiring trek, especially if you don’t exercise regularly. You can take beautiful panoramic photos of Jiufen at the peak. There are also other treks around Jiufen, such as the Teapot Mountain Hiking trail that we missed. You can visit the Old Gold Mine Museum if you want.
Sandiaoling Waterfalls 三貂嶺瀑布 (Pingxi Train line)
Sandiaoling is popular amongst the locals for its waterfalls and nature trails. From Ruifang train station, you can easily get a ticket to Sandiaoling or Shifen via the Pingxi line. We were initially planning to visit Sandiaoling followed by Shifen. However, we changed our plans as we met some friendly locals who urged us to continue trekking through to see the beauty of the park.
From Sandiaoling train station, walk along the train treks until you come to the Sandiaoling village. From there, there will be signs guiding you to the waterfall trail. The pride of Sandiaoling is its three waterfall, the Hegu, MoTian and Pipa Cave waterfall.
The hike is simple and fun, with some variations from the dirt tracks along the way
When you reach the last waterfall, you can ascend to the Pipa cave and continue on from there. Follow the trail that takes you to Houtong Cat village, which is one stop before Sandiaoling train station. The trek took us approximately 4 – 5 hours as we took our time to absorb in all of nature’s wonder.
Motian waterfall, on the left is the largest waterfall amongst the three. The Pipa Cave waterfall on the right signals the end of the Sandiaoling waterfall trail. Continue to Pingxi trail from there.
It was a beautiful and peaceful trail, with lesser people as we went deeper into the forest. The trail will lead you to the opposite of the Lion’s mouth mountain, giving you an indication of how the mountain acquired its name.
We reached Huotong late in the afternoon, but the trek was definitely worth it, even though we missed Shifen. Nearby Houtong Cat Village, you will come across some abandoned miners’ quarters and coal mining plant.
Keelung Night Market (Keelung Station)
From Jiufen, you can also schedule an afternoon to visit Keelung and its Miaokou night market, which opens at 5pm. Miaokou night market is known for its seafood, including lobster, crabs, prawns, you name it. The bus from Jiufen Old Street, 788 goes straight to Keelung station. From there, you want easily walk to the night market. However, take note of the time the last bus departs from Keelung station if you need to get back to Jiufen.
3. Hualien (花莲)
Hualien is about 3 hours by train from Taipei city. Compared to places like Ximending, Hualien will appeal to you if you are looking for a quiescent place to be. Even though it is the largest eastern city in Taiwan, you’ll not find any skyscrapers or highways with heavy traffic. Instead, you are greeted by streets and streets of shophouses and low-rise buildings, with mouth-watering eateries at every corner. We reached Hualien around early noon and only spent a day in the city. Visit the Tungtamen night market on one of your nights here.
Taroko Gorge is a well-known heritage destination if you are in Hualien. We rented a scooter, which is very helpful if you want to do a day-trip to Taroko Gorge. The ride takes approximately 45 minutes to reach the entrance of Taroko, travelling at a speed of about 60km/h.
You can stop at various parts of the national park to explore the treks. There are multiple treks along the national park, such as the Shakadang trail (砂卡礑步道) or the Yanzikou trail ( 燕子口), which is a closed of segment of the old road circling round the gorge. You can also visit the Changchun shrine (長春祠), a dedication to the workers who died building the highway, or the Lushui Geology Exhibition Hall, where there is also a short Lushui trail nearby.
We headed straight to the Tianxiang Youth centre as we wanted to embark on the famous Baiyang Trail, known for its Water Curtain Cave. Unfortunately, it was closed due to the heavy rainfall. It was also too late by that time for us to head back to Zhuliu Old Road, where you can experience the breath-taking narrow mountain passage used during the Japanese occupation. I will recommend 2 days if you intend to really cover the sites in Taroko.
Qixingtan Beach 七星坛
Along the way to Taroko from Hualien, if you are driving or riding a scooter, you can stop by the famous Qixingtan beach. Formed in the shape of a crescent, the beach is where the mountains meet the open sea. You can rent a bicycle and do some cycling if the weather permits, or seat by the beach enjoying the breeze from the pacific ocean. There are street hawkers along the beach, and you can definitely find the famous DaChangBaoXiaoChang (大肠包小肠 , or big sausage wrap small sausage), made of Taiwanese sausages wrapped in glutinous rice. We stopped by the beach and grab some hot food, as it was pouring cats and dogs on our way back, but also because we wanted to see what Qixingtan was all about.
Travelling through Provincial Highway 11
Whether you rent a scooter, ride a bicycle or drive a car, enjoy the idyllic coastal road and feel the warm breeze against your cheeks as your travel through the Provincial Highway 11, just south of Hualien. We travelled down from Hualien all the way down to San Xian Tai (三仙台), a look out point which was nearer to Taitung. It took us a full day ride through and fro, covering about 200 km in total. Keep to the speed limit as there are traffic police and cameras situated all along the coastal road.
4. Our afterthoughts for the trip?
So this sums up the places that we covered over a 11 days trip in Taiwan. With proper planning, you can definitely visit more places than we had, as we prefer to take our trip slow. That said, you should definitely try to cover Shifen if you can, as well as stay a night or two at Beitou in Taipei to enjoy the famous hot baths, which we couldn’t due to time.
Taiwan is definitely an easy place to travel free and easy, if you want to. It is well connected and there are tons of resources online to help you plan. Though language can be a barrier in the rural areas if you can’t speak Mandarin, don’t worry as people there are really helpful and will try to assist you as best as they can. Also, with Google translate, anything is possible now.
If you like what you have read, and want to try planning your own free and easy trip, check out our 11 days free and easy to Taipei and Hualien for more information on detailed itinerary and tips on how to get around by public transport. You can also download a copy of my itinerary there if that is something that interests you!