Taipei is a huge base for day trips for when you want to get out of the city or (in our case) have ran out of things you want to do. As a city, we found we had exhausted what to do in Taipei within a couple of days and really we could have probably got everything done in one day if we’d pushed ourselves a little further. We know we like to pack a lot in and we’re also not into spending loads of time at museums so we know that most people would be able to fill a lot more days here. After our two days exploring, we spent the next few days going a bit further afield to see what was outside of the city, which is quite a lot!
Our first day trip was on Monday 28th May to Juifen which is an old gold mining town in the mountains around an hour and a half away from the city. Jui Fen translates to mean ‘nine portions’ and got its name as nine families used to live in the town and so nine shipments of goods would always be ordered from the port… hence the name. Juifen is also the setting that some of the scenes of the Studio Ghibli film Spirited Away were based on. If you don’t know of Studio Ghibli it’s a very popular anime movie company from Japan. The film Spirited Away is the second highest grossing anime film of all time and tells the story of a ten year old girl called Chihiro who visits an abandoned theme park with her parents who are then turned into giant pigs and she is made to work in a ‘spirit retreat’ to free them. As I walked around Juifen I didn’t really see the Spirited Away references but I don’t know the film very well from memory and when I googled it later those similarities were a lot clearer.
We got the #1062 bus from Zhongxiao Fuxing in Taipei City which took an hour and a half and we arrived at around 1pm. The bus was NT$101 (£2.50) which isn’t too bad considering the distance you’re travelling. We started by having a small rest stop, mainly to wake Niall up a bit as he’d been up most of the night watching the Champion’s League Final and so slept the entire journey there. Our new favourite thing to have in Taiwan is papaya milk and so we got a carton of this from the Family Mart supermarket next to the bus station and then headed to a viewing platform next door that looked out over the coast. The views were really nice and spanned over the leafy mountains down to the sea and what looked like a port town below. Wherever you went along the outskirts of Juifen you could see the sea which was great and it reminded me that Taiwan was an island – easy to forget when you’re in the city!
Jishan Street is the major business street running trough Juifen and is full of shops selling toys, food and tea. To be honest, the town is so small that this is probably one of what felt like five streets that the entire town had. We had read blogs about spending hours exploring everything Jiufen had to offer which I just don’t see how – sometimes travel blogs can be misleading and exaggerated this way. We walked along this street a couple of times and it was very busy with people buying all sorts from the range of shops as well as trying the many teas and juices on offer. Tea houses are a big thing in Jiufen and we saw a number of them as well as tea stalls on Jishan Street whilst we were there. I did get an A-Zhu peanut ice cream roll (NT$40) which is a spring-roll-like sheet (called popiah) with ground peanuts and then two scoops of taro ice cream. Taro is a root vegetable that’s incredibly popular in East Asia and we’ve seen it many times in ice creams, deserts and drinks but had never tried it before. I really liked my ice cream roll but Niall wasn’t a fan, more because he doesn’t like peanuts though than the taro ice cream.
The town was cute especially when you walked out of the main street full of people and could enjoy the little buildings and details of the place as well as more great views over the sea and the town. We walked around some more but quickly exhausted places to go and, as we’re not big tea drinkers, we didn’t stop in any of the tea houses which would have you spending longer here.
Despite being such a small town there were a couple of big temples to see here which were very colourful and full of carvings of warriors and dragons. I don’t know the names of the temples but they were very nice and were on the edges of town too so you got some good views alongside them!
We were only here for a couple of hours before we had run out of things to do here and so we caught the next bus back into the city. It was a shame that the place was so far away as it if had only been a short ride (and a cheaper fare) I think we’d have thought a bit more of the place but it seemed a lot of time and effort to get there for what it was.
The following day we headed to Yangmingshan National Park. Thunderstorms were forecast for later that day but we decided to go anyway as it was sunny when we woke up and we just had to hope that the rains would stay away. It was a bit of a faff to reach the national park which it shouldn’t have been as two buses go there from the station outside of our hostel (MRT Jiantan). We decided to get a bus to the visitors centre as we could get more information and then buy a shuttle bus ticket to take us to multiple places within the national park. That first part of the plan went fine until we were told at the visitors centre that the shuttle bus wasn’t running that day. This meant we had to wait for a different bus and chose one destination to go and visit. We chose to go to the Qingtiangang Grasslands as it’s one of the most popular stops in the national park and is meant to have some easy walks where you can get views of the rest of the park. What was especially annoying about how this turned out is that a bus (#S15) goes directly to Qingtiangang from by our hostel and so we wasted time and money on an extra bus that wasn’t necessary. This also meant that we missed some of the clearer weather and during our time walking around the grasslands lots of clouds rolled over which lead us to cut our day in the national park short as we ended up quickly walking in a cloud (flashbacks of the Tongariro Crossing came to mind!).
The grasslands were nice and probably really pretty during a sunny, blue skied day and I enjoyed our walk around before the clouds came. The mornings set backs had put a bit of a dampener on the day though but at least we got out and saw some of the national park and the buses were all only NT$15 (40p) each per person so it didn’t break the bank! Just after we returned to the hostel (at around 3pm) there was a huge downpour – our first rain in Taiwan – so we seemed to have made a good decision in cutting our losses and leaving!
The following day we were lucky enough to get some blue skies and sun despite it being forecast thunderstorms for the entire day. This ended up being one our favourite days in Taipei despite it being seemingly ordinary when it came to the activities we did. We left our hostel at around 10:30am and got the MRT to the end of the red line to a place called Tamsui. This cost us NT$40 (£1) each and got us to the Tamsui River. In the sunshine the area was very busy with people fishing, walking their dogs or sitting in the sun. We walked along the river ourselves and the views were really nice of the mountains on the other side.
To exploit the good weather we had planned on going to the beach and so we didn’t hang around in Tamsui incase we had a repeat of the changing weather we had the day before in Yangmingshan National Park. We got the bus #867 which took us to a beach called Baishawan which is in the Shi Men area. We had been recommended the beach by the lovely young lady in our hostel who had helped us out a bunch of times with places to go during our stay. Baishawan translates to mean White Sands Bay and it was nice little beach with sheltered areas fixed into the sand for people to rent out for the day. There was a surprising number of people there considering it was the middle of the day on a Wednesday particularly the later into the afternoon it became. It had taken us around an hour on the bus to get there and so was 12:30pm by the time we arrived and we still ended up staying here for nearly three hours. As well as the calm waters of the coast the area also had a nature reserve and a walkway that led along the peninsular through leafy areas and also through rock pools which was cool – we had to watch out for snakes though!
After sitting, people watching and looking out over the calm water for while we were getting hungry and so decided to get the bus back to Tamsui to have a better look around there as it had looked very nice and also to get some food as there wasn’t really anywhere to eat at the beach. We had food in 7-eleven and then had another look around. As it was around 4pm the area was a lot busier and many of the food stalls we had seen earlier in the day were now open for business. There were lots of foods on offer and all at good prices so it was a bit of a shame we had been so hungry when we got off the bus to have eaten straight away. I did get a large ice cream similar to the 30cm ice cream I’d had in South Korea (although I opted for the smaller version this time) which was only NT$20 (50p) and was vanilla and chocolate flavour. There was four or five of these ice cream stands along the riverfront and we saw loads of people buying the ice creams which I’m not surprised for how cheap it was.
We walked down the Tamsui Old Street and then, being too full to enjoy the many food stalls popping up we decided to head back to our hostel. It had been a really nice, relaxed day with great weather and we had really enjoyed ourselves. Although we didn’t do anything particularly spectacular, it had been cool to do something so very ordinary and being near the beach especially when the weather turned out to be so nice had been just what we needed.
I imagine Taipei would be a lovely place to live as it has everything you’d need from a lot of shopping malls, many night markets, national parks, good transport links and beaches so it was good to get a little flavour of all of that whilst we were there. We talked about it whilst we were there and have decided we think a week isn’t the right amount of time for Taiwan. For Taipei, even with some day trips thrown in, you don’t need longer than four or five days and then a week doesn’t really give you long enough to travel much more of the country as the train times can be quite long (e.g. 6 hours to the other end of the country). I think if you had the time – perhaps two weeks – it would be good to get down to the other end of the country to Kaohsiung which seems to have some cool things to see as well as some islands off the coast of it which you could explore. In hindsight, I wish I had read up on this place when we were booking our trip and either cut short or extended our time here but that can’t be helped now and overall we still had a good week here. We were able to exploit our lull moments with essential planning for the next leg of our trip so it wasn’t time wasted really.
Sending love x