From the Mountain to the Coast

Taipei has long been a go-to place for foodies and those taking advantage of long weekends.  However, the city’s attractions aren’t the only things visitors can cram into a long weekend, as many Taipei-ites can attest to.

Thanks to its relatively small size, Taiwan’s beautiful mountains and coastline are easily accessible on a day trip from Taipei; the dramatic northeast coast and the Yangmingshan mountains are within an hour’s drive from the capital, and are great places to go hiking, mountain biking, diving or rock climbing. And at the end of the day, soak away your aches at a hot spring.

CYCLING

It’s not a stretch to say that the Taiwanese are obsessed with cycling. Home to top bicycle manufacturers like Giant, it’s gained notoriety as a country that loves punishing uphill climbs, gnarly singletracks and everything in between.

In northern Taiwan near Taipei alone, there are over 100kms of bike paths that crisscross the landscape, located near scenic spots along rivers, coastlines, or mountains. Taipei City’s bike paths are an alternative way to navigate the city; convenient Youbike kiosks rent bicycles from NT$5.

 

Yangmingshan National Park

If city biking isn’t your thing, head to the Yangmingshan mountains just north of the city and you’ll be able to experience some lung-busting climbs (and thrilling descents). A maze of paved roads snake their way up (at a 7% gradient) around Yangmingshan National Park, offering spectacular vistas of the mountains and/or the ocean at just 30 to 60 minutes’ cycling time from central Taipei.

One popular route is the road is a punishing 15km, 4-hr ride behind the National Palace Museum that takes you up along curvy mountain roads to Lengshuikeng with its free hot spring baths. Push further onto Datun Mountain, the highest road in the park, for its amazing views and natural attractions. Soak your muscles at the end of your ride at the public hot springs of Beitou at the base of the park.

Yangmingshan is popular for road bikes, as hiking trails are off limits to bicycles.

 

Trail Riding

While Taipei’s forested areas near Yangmingshan and Maokong are rife with dirt trails, it’s not always easy to locate one. Nevertheless, local bikers will gladly show you the way to tracks like the 10km-long ‘Ski Lift’ which is a fast, technical downhill track near Yangmingshan, or the 15km-long Maokong trail in the Mucha area that’s famous for its teahouses that overlook the city, where the challenging trail winds through tea plantations and bamboo groves over 2-3 hours.

A little further afield is Wulai, about 30km from Taipei, where you can join the cross-island Tonghou trail which takes you along the Tonghou River through grass, dirt tracks and farm roads towards Yilan. (passports required at the trailhead).

Shorter rides can be had in nearby Taoyuan County where trails range from dirt tracks to tea plantations and forest trails.

 

Bike Tours

In a cycle-obsessed country, it’s not difficult to join one of many bicycle tours offered at various cycle shops in Taipei. In Taipei, Alan’s Mountain Bike (www.alansmountainbike.com.tw) organises frequent MTB tours in and around the city, and also rents mountain bikes – hardtails (NT$800/day) and full-suspension (NT$1,000/day).

 

HIKING

There are many hiking trails accessible from Taipei City, depending on the type of scenery and terrain you’re looking for. Many of these involve hill climbs due to the topography of the area.

 

Yangmingshan National Park

As the closest national park to the city (30 minutes by bus or car), it’s a very popular hiking spot especially during weekends. Plenty of trails criss-cross the entire park, with difficulty levels ranging from super easy to demanding.

The most popular trail is one that leads you up to the tallest mountain in the park, Qixingshan (or Seven Star Mountain at 1,120m). From the Xiaoyoukeng Visitor Center, you can get to the top of Qixingshan in about an hour along a treeless trail. From the top, there are pavilions with sweeping views all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

On the way down, you can head towards Lengshuikeng via a trail that’s lined with sections of bubbling hot springs. The entire park is volcanic in origin, so you’ll see sulfuric fumaroles steaming from various points in the park, including Lengshuikeng and Xiaoyoukeng. Lengshuikeng is a milky lake with sulfurous fumaroles – the source of water for the adjacent free public hot spring bath (bathers must bring their own towels).

Yangmingshan is also popular for its rich bird life, both endemic and migratory, which can be spotted along the many trails in the park. The most prized sighting is of a Formosan Blue Magpie, characterised by its long striped tail, which features on the NT$1,000 bill.

April to August is butterfly season, and a popular place to see them is along the flat and shaded Erziping Trail, situated at the foot of Mt. Datun. For more on the park, visit www.ymsnp.gov.tw.

 

Other Hikes

There are a number of excellent hikes within Taipei, including the Four Beast Mountains that’s just 15 minutes from Taipei 101. The staircase trails (which are lit at night for a quiet hike) offer amazing city views, dotted with interesting sites – from rest areas to artistic spots – along the many loops within the vicinity. There are also paths that veer into dirt trails requiring ropes to climb.

Just 20km from Taipei is the village of Pingxi which is popular for its steam  locomotive and lantern festival. A dozen trails criss-cross the area – many radiate from Xiaozishan, leading to trails with dense forest, razor ridges and clear streams to soak in. This historic area is also dotted with abandoned mines, Japanese-era bridges and interesting caves.

 

NORTHEAST COAST

Situated about an hour’s drive from Taipei, the scenic Northeast Coast is a landscape of coastal mountains that drop into dramatic cliffs and protected sandy bays. Thanks to its varied topography, plenty of locals drop by for diving and rock climbing at Longdong bay, and surfing at the beaches further south. Numerous scenic hilly hikes line the coast, offering views of the coastal cliffs and beyond.

 

Longdong Bay

In recent years, Taiwan has been attracting top climbers from around the world thanks to the gnarly rocks of Longdong, a 2km stretch of cliff pounded by the wild Pacific Ocean. There are over 500 routes along this stretch, with excellent sport and traditional climbing (up to 80m) ranging from 5.4 (beginners) to 5.14a (experienced climbers).

The sites are accessible from the scenic 3km-long Longdongwan Cape Trail located above the cliffs. The flattest access is from the jetty near Hemei Elementary School – you hike for 10 minutes over boulders to reach the climb sites (covered shoes are necessary). On any given weekend at Longdong Bay, it’s not difficult to ask someone to point you to the right direction.

Dive operators also meet at the jetty here for scuba lessons and excursions, as it’s the only dive spot in northern Taiwan.

At an average depth of 12m, marine life includes scorpionfish, stonefish, nudibranchs and other colourful fishes that congregate along its rocky shore.

Snorkelling is also popular here, and snorkel gear is available for rent nearby.

 

Surfing

Further south along the coast are a series of coves and beaches. Daxi’s sandy beach is popular for beachcombers as well as surfers who flock to the quiet horseshoe-shaped Honeymoon Bay with its 2-3m high waves. You’ll need to bring your own board here as there are no surf facilities nearby.

A little further down the coast is Wai-Ao, which is a more developed ‘surf town’ where you can rent surfboards and have surf lessons from instructors from around the world. In summer, surf competitions are regularly held here thanks to its large white sand beach and consistent wave conditions.

 

Paragliding

Located on the hills behind the beach is Wanli, a launchpad for paragliding tours of the area. The most popular site in northern Taiwan, the upward airflow makes it a great training base for beginners, as well as for tandem tours.

 

GETTING THERE

There is no shortage of flights to Taiwan, ranging from airlines like EVA and China Airlines to budget airlines like Scoot, Jetstar and AirAsia. Flight time is about 4.5 hours. For more on Taiwan and its attractions, visit www.taiwan.net.tw.

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