Dubbed as ‘IIha Formosa‘ which translates to ‘Beautiful Island’ by Portuguese sailors when they spotted the island back in the 16th century, Taiwan today is not only known for its magnificent scenery but also its diverse blend of culture and a vast variety of good food.
Being just a four-hour flight away from Singapore, it does not come as a surprise that Taiwan is constantly one of the most-visited travel destinations by Singaporeans. Despite the country’s popularity, major cities like Taipei and Kaoshiung aside, many are still unfamiliar with what the Formosa has to offer on the outskirts.
As such, let us take you on a journey out of the city, by presenting 10 things to do around Northern and Central Taiwan that will open your eyes to the natural beauty of the country, with no shopping involved!
1. Explore Taiwan’s Tri-Mountain
Taiwan’s Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area consists of three main mountains—Lion’s Head Mountain (狮头山), Lishan (梨山) and Baguashan (八卦山) ranging across Central Taiwan. Located around Taichung, the area is a mere two to three hours away from Taipei, making it a perfect option for a short trip away from all the hustle and bustle of the city.
What better way is there to explore the mountain scenic areas than to take a hike? Famous for being home to several Buddhist monasteries and retreats, Lion’s Head Mountain is riddled with temples that were built inside caves since the Japanese occupation.
Appreciate the integration of ancient temples and natural scenery trekking along the Shishan Historic Trail (狮山古道) for an opportunity to relax your mind and soul while getting close to nature. Along the way, look out for temples like Quanhua Temple (勸化堂) and Lingxia Cave Temple (雲霞洞). Get ready to be wowed by the splendour and uniqueness of these temples against the picturesque backdrop of nature.
Not an avid fan of trekking but still want to enjoy a breath of fresh air? Shaolai Trail (捎來步道) in Lishan will be a good choice to take a leisure walk.
Located at a walking distance from Guguan Visitor Center (谷關溫泉公園), be sure to drop by the visitor centre to learn more about the area and have a hot spring footbath before working your calf muscles up the trail. Lined with dense forests, the Shaolai Trail will be the perfect spot to catch cherry blossoms in spring and red maple leaves in autumn!
Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area: No.738, Zhongzheng Road, Wufeng District, Taichung City, Taiwan | Tel: +886-4-2331-2678 | Opening Hours: 8.30am – 5.30pm (Visitor Centre) (Daily) | Facebook | Instagram | Website
Guguan Visitor Centre & Hot Spring Cultural Centre: No.102, Sec. 1, Dongguan Road, Heping District, Taichung City, Taiwan | Tel: +886-4-2595-1496 | Opening Hours: 8.30am – 5.30pm (Daily) | Website
2. Visit a local tribe and learn more about Taiwan’s indigenous culture
Being the earliest inhabitants of Taiwan, aboriginal tribes around the country each have their own living areas, unique lifestyle, and habits. Unlike their popular counterpart—Amis (阿美族), the lesser-known mountains indigenous people of Atayal (泰雅族) and Saisiyat (賽夏族) dominates the area of Central Taiwan.
Apart from the beautiful scenery, I enjoy travelling to Taiwan for a different experience which is best represented by their rich indigenous culture that we don’t get to experience in Singapore. Like me, if you are curious about the lifestyle and living habits of the aboriginal tribes, book a trip to Songhe Tribal Village (松鶴部落) located at the Guguan section of Central Cross-Island Highway and experience living like the indigenous people for a day.
Not only will you be able to interact with all the friendly tribespeople, but you will also be able to observe and learn some outstanding survival skills. To the people of the Atayal tribe, coming of age and representation of adulthood plays a significant role in their culture.
During your trip, get to learn weaving and hunting skills from the elders which signify the transition to being an adult for girls and boys respectively. After a whole day of work, savour tasty tribal feast specially prepared by the tribespeople using ingredients that are self-farmed and caught fresh within the village area!
Songhe Tribal Village: Provincial Highway No.8 29k, Heping Dist., Taichung City Taiwan | Opening Hours: 24 hrs | Website
3. Explore and walk along an old street
Away from the main cities of Taiwan are a few hidden gems from the long-forgotten past—old streets (老街). Despite the global rush to modernise, Taiwan also recognised the significance of its centuries-old towns, thus, they have taken steps to retain and revitalise them. Most of these old towns and streets still retain its original vintage look, housing businesses and shops that are equally as old as the town itself.
Located in Northern Taiwan, Sanxia Old Street (三峽老街) is one of the longest and best-preserved old streets in the country. A step into Sanxia Old Street and you will be greeted by arched red brick hallways paved along both sides of the streets. Dating back to the period of Japanese occupation, Sanxia Old Street’s unique architecture was painstakingly restored in 2007 back to its appearance in the early 1900s when the area was still an economic powerhouse distributing dyes, manufacturing materials, and tea.
Besides old-school toy shops and classic Taiwan souvenir shops, be sure to visit Qingshui Zushi Temple (清水祖師宮) at the end of the old street. What makes Qingshui Zushi Temple stand out from the crowd is the amount of craftsmanship that has gone into its construction. Designs on all the walls and columns are intricately sculpted from stone, making this temple one of Taiwan’s most artistic places of worship.
Old streets are usually home to a variety of good food and snacks. This is not an exception at Sanxia Old Street. The area is famous for its bull horn croissants, which can be recognized from its peculiar shape. For a special treat, opt for the ice cream bull horn croissant that is bound to delight for its Instagram worthy appearance and unique texture.
Sanxia Old Street: Minquan Street, Sanxia District, New Taipei City, Taiwan | Tel: +886-2-2671-1017 | Opening Hours: Based on individual shops | Website
4. Take a DIY lesson and learn the art of Blue Dye
Due to the abundance of the dye plant called ‘Da Jing (大菁)’ found in the area, Sanxia became the centre of the cloth-dyeing industry in Northern Taiwan since the early days. In order to keep this tradition alive and to expose the younger generation to the art of dyeing, several local Taiwanese have set up dyeing workshops along Sanxia Old Street to pass on this technique.
Can (甘樂文創) is one of such places within Sanxia that not only offers a Blue Dye DIY Workshop, but also wholesome meals for you to enjoy while waiting for your masterpieces to dry. Learn how to create different patterns with just a white cloth, some rubber bands, and sticks from experts and you might be able to recreate such patterns in the comfort of your homes.
For a full-on experience, head to Zhuo Ye Cottage (卓也小屋度假園區) located in Miaoli. Besides offering DIY workshops, there is also a family-run homestay, a vegetarian restaurant and a shop on-site for you to fully emerge yourself in their tie-dyeing experience.
5. Spend an afternoon relaxing and soaking up all the goodness at a Hot Spring
Known as ‘Hot Tears of the Earth’, hot springs have been recognised for its rejuvenating and therapeutic properties to our bodies. Ranked among the world’s top hot spring sites, Taiwan harbours a variety of springs ranging from hot springs to mud springs.
When it comes to hot springs, hot springs in Beitou (北投温泉) are probably the most well-known in Taiwan as Beitou is located just outside Taipei. Apart from its proximity to the city, the area’s large concentration of hot spring resorts, tea room and public baths also contributed to its popularity amongst locals and tourists.
Unlike Beitou hot springs which cater mostly to tourist and the mid to higher-end crowd, hot springs in Wulai (乌来温泉) caters more to the locals for a weekend getaway. Situated just a river across the old street in the village of Wulai, Wulai Hot Springs is a wonderful way to appreciate the mountainous beauty of the town.
Not only are the hot springs free of charge, but they are also located on both sides of the Nanshi River, allowing you to go for a swim to cool off after you are done soaking up all the goodness the hot springs have to offer.
With hot spring water containing top-quality carbonic acid with pH of 7.6, Guguan Hot Spring (谷关温泉) is another popular spot in Central Taiwan for its clear hot spring water that is safe for drinking. Besides the hot spring hotels situated around Guguan, there is also the Hot Spring Cultural Center—the first cultural establishment in Taiwan dedicated to hot springs.
Spend an afternoon enjoying facilities such as the eco-pond, a lawn area for a picnic or walk across the Guguan Suspension Bridge to Shaolai Trail for a leisure stroll.
Guguan Visitor Center & Hot Spring Cultural Center: No.102, Sec. 1, Dongguan Road, Heping District, Taichung City, Taiwan | Tel: +886-4-2595-1496 | Opening Hours: 8.30am – 5.30pm (Daily) | Website
6. Harvest your own fruits at a local fruit farm
Sweet, sour, juicy and aromatic, fruits produced in Taiwan thrive with the different seasons evoking our gustatory senses as we savour them. In this fruit kingdom, fruit orchards are often integrated into Taiwan’s breathtaking landscape formed by the various mountain slopes and hills. From north to south, west to east, despite your period of visit, there are definitely fruits for you to pick at the orchards scattered around the country.
Situated a mere 29km from Lishan, Wuling Farm (武陵農場) is well known for its high-altitude environment that is able to nurture special cultures, delicious fruits and vegetables, and fragrant teas.
Stroll amidst the blooming cherry blossom, plum blossoms and peach blossoms in spring; head out and enjoy the rays of sun camping and barbecuing during summer; get your hands dirty by picking Taiwan’s famous Asian pears and honey apples in autumn and observe the astonishing views of snow-capped peaks of the surrounding mountains during winter.
For strawberry fans, head to the ‘Land of Strawberries’, Dahu (大湖), in the months of December to April and enjoy picking your very own strawberries.
After that, continue your berry-licious adventure at Dahu Wineland Resort, the first winery in Taiwan that produces strawberry wine. Wine aside, you will be amazed by the different strawberry related products that are on sale!
Dahu Wineland Resort: No.2-4, Baliaowan, Fuxing Village, Dahu Township, Miaoli County, Taiwan | Opening Hours: 9am – 6pm (Daily) | Website
7. Take A Day Trip To A Charming Old Town
Slightly off Taipei City are charming old towns like Jiufen (九份) and Shifen (十分) which used to be gold and coal mining areas respectively back in the 1950s. Retaining its beguiling appearance and vintage vibes, a day trip to both areas will surely take your mind off the hustle and bustles of the City and also fill your bellies with mouth-watering Taiwanese delights.
Just a short distance away from the Gold Museum, Jiufen Old Street (九份老街) was once touted as the ‘Little Shanghai’ or ‘Ginza’ in the gold mining days. Walk into the narrow winding alleys and be greeted by unique little shops selling street food, knick-knacks, and souvenirs for you to bring home.
Rest your feet in a teahouse further in the street and enjoy a cup of freshly brewed tea while enjoying the mountain view. The landscape overlooking the sea gets especially breath-taking around sunset. So, be sure to time your trip well to capture that perfect shot for the ‘gram!
Approximately 40 to 45 minutes bus ride away from Jiufen is Shifen Old Street (十分老街), an area popularised by its old railroad town, where the releasing of sky lanterns takes place. Once used as a signalling system in the railroad industry, visitors today write their wishes on the paper lanterns before releasing them into the sky, in hopes that their wishes will be received and heard by the Gods above.
If your trip to Taiwan happens to be around the Lunar New Year period, be sure to check out the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival and witness hundreds of lanterns being put up together at the same time. It will surely be a phenomenon you won’t forget!
Jiufen Old Street: Jishan Street, Ruifang District, New Taipei City, Taiwan | Opening Hours: 8am – 7pm (Mon to Thu), 8am – 10pm (Fri to Sun)
Shifen Old Street: Ping River (Pingsi) Township, New Taipei City, Taiwan | Opening Hours: 24 hrs
8. Ride on the Old Mountain Line Rail Bike
Completed way back in 1908, the Old Mountain Route (舊山線鐵道) consisted of three steel bridges, four stations, eight tunnels and was famously known as the Ultimate Engineering Feat of Modern Railway.
Operations of this old railway stopped in 1998 and only until recently, it was refurbished by the Miaoli country government to become Taiwan’s first rail-biking system.
Get to ride on a four-seat, pedal-powered rail bike along the more than 100-year-old Old Mountain Line whilst enjoying the scenic and unforgettable views of the famous Shengxing Station (勝興車站) and Longteng Bridge (龍騰斷橋) in an environmentally friendly and healthy way.
Constructed without using any reinforced concrete or cement, Longteng Bridge toppled over during a devastating earthquake that struck Taiwan in 1935. The bridge survived another earthquake in 1999, causing damage to the surviving bridge piers, resulting in its look today. While riding on the rail bike, keep a lookout for the remains of Longteng Bridge which serves as a constant reminder of Mother Nature’s powers to many of the locals today.
Old Mountain Line Rail Bike: No. 88, Shenghsing Village, Sanyi Township, Miaoli County, Taiwan | Tel: +886-37-878599 | Opening Hours: Dependent on Train Schedule | Website
9. Soak up festive vibes by attending a local festival
With the country’s rich culture and traditions, many festivals are held around the country which is uniquely Taiwan. From festivals related to flowers and lanterns to hungry ghost worships, there will always be something new for you to experience anytime during your visit.
Held annually on the last day of the first lunar month to mark the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations and symbolise the coming of spring, Taiwan Lantern Festival (台灣燈會) has become the most important festival in Taiwan.
Designed with traditional culture and etiquette in mind, the exhibition of lanterns retains the theme of folktales and are lit according to traditional customs. In addition to the dazzling displays, the festival will also feature a comprehensive entertainment program that includes performances from domestic and international acts.
Originated in the Qing Dynasty, Toucheng Ghost Grappling Festival or Qinggu (頭城搶孤) is held on the last day of the ghost month at Yilan located in Northern Taiwan. During this day, locals celebrate the end of the ghost month by paying homage to the cooperative efforts, struggles and spirit of sharing that characterise their immigrant ancestors.
The main event—Qinggu—is a sight that is difficult to come by. Witness different teams of people climbing on each other up pillars, slathered with oil, more than 20 meters tall. Upon reaching the top, climbers will cut down food tied on the pillar and throw it down to spectators and the first person who manages to claim the flag will be declared the winner. In addition to remembering the ancestors and their pioneering efforts, the month includes a variety of religious and folk culture events that will go on simultaneously.
There are no fixed dates for festivals and events held in Taiwan. For detailed information, please refer here.
10. Be amazed by the wonders of nature at a natural scenic spot
As an island state in East Asia, Taiwan’s scenic spot is not limited to the mountainous areas. Aside from the Tri-Mountain range that has been introduced earlier, its coastal areas are also definitely worth a visit.
Situated in the northeast corner of Taiwan, stretching 102.5km from Nanya District (南雅) to the south cape of Neipi Beach (內埤海灘), the Northeast Coast National Scenic Area (東北角海岸國家風景區) is known for its numerous capes and bays backed by the luscious green mountains.
Along the way, marvel at spectacular rock formations, unique sea-eroded landforms and rich diversity of marine life. Keep a lookout for the Nanya Peculiar Rocks (南雅奇石) which features art pieces created by the forces of nature. The patterned stone topographies of Nanya are formed through the weathering of the sandstone that lines the shore, making them an exceptional sight found only in Taiwan.
A more popular scenic spot situated along the northern coast is Yehliu Geopark (野柳地质公园). The cape stretches approximately 1,700m and is formed as thousands of years of geological movement forced the Datun Mountains to change their shape, jutting out into the ocean.
At Yehliu Geopark, enjoy the sea breeze and immerse yourself in the wonders of nature. Don’t forget to also snap a picture with some of the most popular geological formations like the iconic “Queen’s Head” (女王頭), “Sea Candles” (燭台石) and “Fairy Shoe” (仙女鞋)!
Northeast Coast National Scenic Area: Please refer to website for address and opening hours of the respective visitor centers situated along the coast | Website
Yehliu Geopark: No.167-1, Kantung Road, Yehliu Village, Wanli District, New Taipei City, Taiwan | Tel: +886-2-2492 2016 | Opening Hours: 8am – 5pm (Daily) | Website
As most of my previous Taiwan trips circled mainly around shopping and eating within Taipei, I was glad to be able to explore the other hidden gems around Northern and Central Taiwan this time around.
This trip opened my eyes to the other wonders this magnificent Formosa has to offer and certainly evoked my desire to return and explore more of the island myself!