Before I traveled to Taiwan I decided to nonchalantly mention on Couchsurfing that I was heading to Taipei. I didn’t ask for a place to stay- I just wanted to see if there were any other solo travelers interested in meeting up.
BOOM! I got bombarded with messages from Taipei locals. I heard Taiwan was a friendly country but I didn’t think I would experience so much friendliness before even setting foot in the country. With so many offers from people to show me around I had to politely decline quite a few.
I was, however, intrigued by one invitation in particular. An older man by the name of James offered to show me all around the outskirts of Taipei. This sounded great to me! I knew Taipei would be easy to explore on my own but the outskirts would be more of a pain in the butt to get to. If he was willing to take me to all the best spots how could I say no?
Luckily, I happened to have a friend at the time who was also traveling in Taiwain I messaged her and asked if she would like to join my adventure and get into a car with a stranger with me. I mean the guy’s references checked out and all but I am still a single girl traveling alone. Thankfully, my friend said she would join. Now I could feel more optimistic about spending the day with a random stranger.
The next morning, we met James at the train station. Right upon meeting him I could tell that he was just a genuine and friendly man. He was half-retired with children of his own. The first question that we asked him was why he volunteered to drive us all around the outskirts of Taipei. It turns out that James’ had a couple of reasons. First, he liked to show off his beautiful country- and it sure is beautiful. Second, he hopes that the people he shows around will one day show him their own country or invite him on their travels.
So we jumped into James’ car and heading out of the city. He seemed to already have a whole itinerary planned for the day. I was completely happy to let him take the ropes and show us what he had in store.
Turns out his itinerary was the bomb! The only downside was that it ended up being about a 14 hour day! James (almost three times our age) never ran out of energy but my friend and I were both dead by the end of the trip.
Since James’ itinerary was amazing, and lays out the best route for off-the-beaten-track stops, I decided to give you a breakdown. This way even if you don’t have someone as awesome as James, you can still have an amazing trip.
Now I know what you’re thinking- how the hell do I get some poor Taiwanese man to drive me around for 14 hours? Well, if you have a few other friends you can actually hire a taxi for the day to take you everywhere- it’s not as pricey as you think. GoTaiwan offers an eight-hour taxi hire for about $110 USD. So if you had four people it would be less than $30 for a full day tour.
Once you have your car you can just follow James’ route. Since this is a lot to pack into one day, free to skip out on some of the things that we did or save them for another day.
Beitou Hot Springs
These hot springs are all natural and beautiful with their turquoise waters. But since we were visiting during the scorching hot summer- we figured a steaming hot outdoor bath wasn’t necessary. Had it been a refreshing pool that would have been a different story. Even though we didn’t go in it was nice to stop by for five minutes to check out these natural hot springs in all their glory.
If you are visiting in the winter you might like to spend more time here to indulge in the springs. If that’s the case, you should save this stop for another day since it will take up a lot of your time. Also the great thing about the hot springs is that you can reach them via the Taipei metro.
Yangmingshan National Park
It felt like just moments after driving out of the city that lush greenery surrounded us. I couldn’t believe how much nature surrounded us. Like most people, when I think of Taiwan I just thought of it’s capital city and tall buildings. No one ever mentioned to me how beautiful and bountiful the nature is in Taiwan. This place seriously deserves more credit.
This volcanic national park is a mountainous area scattered with natural hot springs. In fact, you can literally see the steam coming off of the mountain. As well there are random springs of turquoise waters. Already, you will feel like Taipei city is thousands of miles away!
Down the mountain you will find the township of Jinshan- which is really just a small port. Here is where we stumbled across this stunning turquoise river. Right next to the river is a rundown stone building that looks public bathrooms. But peak inside and you will find that it actually holds hot spring baths! Just make sure to make sure you are peeking into the right room since people bathe here naked.
These hot springs are free for the public to enjoy. If the public bath doesn’t interest you though, there is a cheap hot springs spa that you can visit instead.
From here we headed over the beach. Well…sort of beach.
First we had to walk and hop across a lot large rocks until we reached the sand. Here you will see some pretty cool rock formations and one is even hollowed out so you can walk through it. This is a neat area if you are into geology.
*If you are on a tight time schedule you can skip this spot.
The reason you can skip the last spot is because those rocks have nothing on the Geopark. Yehliu Geopark is famous for its rock formations. You do have to pay to enter the park since it is a protected area (about 80 TWD).
You will notice that each rock formation is named after what it apparently look likes- leaving nothing to your imagination. Personally, I found these names hilarious- like the one named Fairy Shoe. What exactly does a fairy shoe look like? Besides the funny rock names I promise that this is a cool area to check out that is worth a stop on your adventure.
Unfortunately, there are swarms of tourists at this sight. I appreciated it more when I imagined there was no one around and that I just happened to just stumbled across this unique sight on my own. The rocks seem a lot more amazing when you take the tourism out of it and focus on the magic of nature.
Elephant Rock- Shenao
If you are sick of all tourists then have no fear- elephant rock is here! Completely off the beaten path- to the point that you might have trouble finding the path- is Elephant Rock. If you are in a taxi though they should have no trouble finding it for you. Just in case this is the name in Chinese- 深澳岬角 .
Once you get here you may be a bit confused because all that you will see is a harbour. Walk past the harbour until what seems like the end and turn left towards the beach. Here you will see a lot of rocks. Once again, you have to walk over all of these rocks until you can follow the path up to Elephant Rock. Elephant Rock is not in your view from the harbour so there is no easy way out-but hey, it helps ward off the tourists.
Once you reach the rock- you guessed it- it looks like an elephant! Okay well the face of an elephant. Okay the trunk of an elephant.
Here you will also see a cement box. You might not pay it any notice like me but if you look inside you will actually be pleasantly surprised. There is a small staircase that you can take leading down to an opening that drops down to a view over the ocean. Just be careful because it is a deadly drop down.
Jinshan (Gold Mountain)
Next James drove us to the ‘Gold Mountain’. I think that this mountain is still part of the national park- but since I was just sitting back and enjoying the ride I am not one hundred percent sure. What I can tell you though is that there is an old goldmine on this mountain that would make for one spooky adventure if you snuck into it at night. Luckily, I avoided being haunted and just enjoyed the view from the car window as we drove past.
Although there is no actual gold to be found here anymore, you can still visit the Gold Waterfall. You can spot these falls from the road. There is a small place across the road where your taxi can pull over and to let you jump out to get a closer look. The falls are interesting so if you are on the mountain you should take the time to appreciate them.
This waterfall is unique because the minerals in the water have changed the colour of the rocks. Now the rocks are golden colour- which is a beautiful contrast to the lush green hills.
The falls are accessible from Ruifang or Jiufen by bus. However, we only stopped and looked for a few moments. It’s very pretty but since there isn’t much else here to see or do so wouldn’t be worth it to come out just for the falls.
The next place that our dear friend James took us to was to Fulong station. We weren’t riding any trains here- we were actually riding bikes! For less than $2 we could rent a bike and ride through the old train tunnel. It was a nice break from the sweltering heat.
In total the whole bike ride took about 30 minutes so anyone can do it.
The sun was starting to come down in the sky but we still had a couple of hours left of daylight. To take advantage, we hurried to Longdong Bay. Once again, there were huge rocks to have to walk over to get to the good part. These were the worst rocks off all. It didn’t help that we were also exhausted by this point.
James though seemed to have just as much energy now as he did when he first picked us up. My friend and I were a bit slower at this point and were struggling to climb over huge boulders as we took in the stunning view of the ocean. I’m not going to lie, there were times where I debated if the end point was going to be worth the struggle.
Luckily it was.
When we finally got to the lookout point, the view was beautiful and the ocean was stunning. Rocks naturally formed a pool where people were swimming. There was also a huge rock in the ocean where one brave soul jumped off. At this point the sun was setting so we didn’t go swimming but the water was very inviting. If it was earlier in the day I definitely would have jumped in.
This would be a great spot to spend the day. Besides just swimming you can snorkel, scuba dive and even rock climb here.
Jiufen is a popular destination in Taiwan. It has been become even more touristy since the animation film Spirited Away came out featuring this little town.
I haven’t even seen the movie (I know I’m an awful person) but would still recommend coming here. The town is built on the mountain side with small streets to wander through. A lot of the streets have lanterns hanging from them- adding to the charm of this place. The one thing that doesn’t add to the charm is the swarms of people.
Since Jiufen is quite touristy there are many, many, many souvenir shops. As well there are a lot of shops that sell Taiwanese food and snacks. I tried a tea egg from here- which is an egg boiled in a sweet tea. It was…interesting.
Getting here on the bus is doable but I have heard that it is quite the mission. If you add Jiufen onto your day trip itinerary you will have a better time.
The reason people complain about the bus trip is because it takes so long to get here- and there is usually a lot of traffic going up the mountain. Once you get to Jiufen- as cool at this spot is- it’s not that big. So you spend more time actually getting to the destination than you do at the destination.
If you do manage to plan well (we were a bit behind schedule) try to make it here for sunset. Since you are up on a mountain this is supposed to be a prime spot for watching the sun go down.
And there you have it- a brilliant and exhausting day seeing the ins and outs of everything that there is to see on the outskirts of Taipei!
Of course I can take none of the credit for this. Thank my friend James.