A day trip along Taiwan’s north coast

Now that we are solidly in the second half of 2016, I’ve been reminiscing about the previous six months. With all the travel, change, and excitement, it feels like a full year already! One of my favorite days was a sightseeing car trip along the north coast of Taiwan.

I’ve been to Taiwan about six times prior, but this was my first time experiencing the natural beauty and diversity of the northern coastline. I saw sights I have yet to see elsewhere in the world. If you are visiting Taipei, I highly recommend doing this day trip. It’s an easy getaway and nice change of pace from the city.

We were able to get the “insider” tour thanks to my dad’s decision to get a chartered cab. The chartered car is a popular option in Taiwan and reasonably priced. It came out to about $75 USD for eight hours. Our driver was friendly and very familiar with the destinations. Another option is to get a rental car for the day, but you would need to be comfortable navigating. A tour bus would be the best price, but everything takes longer when you are with a bus full of people.

We stayed in Beitou and started our journey at the hot springs. If are you staying in Taipei City, Beitou is 30 minutes north of the city.

9:30AM – Beitou Thermal Valley 地熱谷 (10 minute visit)

A quick 30 to 40 minute drive outside of Taipei, Beitou is a quiet getaway town known for their hot springs. If you want to relax and do absolutely nothing, this is an ideal spot to stay overnight. If you like more of a night scene, stay in downtown Taipei and make this your first stop on the day trip. The main attraction here is the Thermal Valley, a volcanic crater full of sulfuric water. The size of this hot spring and the prolific steam made this a notable sight.

*Tuesday-Sunday 9am-5pm; Closed Mondays

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Beitou Thermal Valley Hot Spring

10:15AM – Fort San Domingo 紅毛城, Tamsui (Danshui) (3o minute visit)

35 minutes further north of Beitou lies the district of Tamsui. This historic seaside town houses a museum located in a former Spanish fort. Fort San Domingo was first built in 1629. It changed ownership numerous times, and fort has the flags of the various countries displayed outside.

The adjoining former British Consular Residence is now a unique combination of a historic museum and shrine to love. The upstairs rooms have a different love theme each. One room is covered in love notes and scribbles from visitors. Another displays love tips from the public. My favorite room features a window covered in paper hearts from visitors over the years, similar to the love padlocks.

I loved the jarring contrast of the cannons outside the fort, with all the outpouring of love in the museum.

*Monday-Friday 9:30AM-5PM; Saturday-Sunday 9:30AM-6PM

http://www.tshs.tpc.gov.tw/#_=_

Various flags representing the history of Fort San Domingo
Nine flags representing the history of Fort San Domingo
We made a heart and added it to the window.
We made a heart and added it to the window.
15th-17th century cannons
15th-17th century cannons at Fort San Domingo. Photo Cred: Andre.

11:15AM – Lao Mei Green Rock Trough/Algae Reef 老梅綠色石槽 (April and May only) (15 minute visit)

Driving another 35 minutes north, you will reach the tip of Taiwan. Here lies one the coolest sights of the trip, but it’s a seasonal occurrence in April and May.

The volcanic rocks on the beach have been carved by the water into long trenches. Abundant, thick green seaweed grow on these rocks annually and provide a striking view. It’s a little known spot that many natives haven’t even heard of!

If you are visiting outside these months, you can still stop by to enjoy the water, but the vivid green algae won’t be blooming.

Lao Mei green rock troughs
Lao Mei Green Rock Troughs. Photo Cred: Andre.

12:00 PM: Lunch at Yehliu 野柳 (1 hour)

Be prepared, because the quiet coastline road trip now becomes a bit of a tourist sh*tshow. You are literally driving for a calm 30 minutes after Lao Mei, then you turn a corner and bam(!) tour bus central. The tour buses know where it’s at though, and Yehliu Geopark is a must see.

Park in the large lot outside the Geopark and walk to one of the many seafood restaurants across the road to fuel up. I was initially hesitant to eat at these random hole-in-the-wall spots because they didn’t look the cleanest. But the meal ended up being fantastic – very fresh and delicious seafood. The town is located right on the water after all. I even tried the sashimi and was fine the next day :D.

1:00 PM: Yehliu Geopark 野柳地質公園 (1 hour visit)

Yehliu Geopark features striking rock formations that have been weathered over time. They resemble various objects, with the most iconic being a profile of a “Queen’s Head.”

When you first walk in, there are plaster sculptures of the rock formations. Don’t be fooled and keep walking to see the real deal. You are allowed to walk up to the formations and take photos. The visuals here are stunning and unlike anything else I’ve seen.

*8AM-5PM daily. Entrance fee: Adult NT$80, Student NT$40.

http://www.ylgeopark.org.tw/ENG/info/OpenInfo_en.aspx

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Yehliu Geopark
The iconic
The iconic “Queen’s Head” rock @ Yehliu Geopark
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Another type of rock formation @ Yehliu Geopark

Right outside the park are a couple markets where you can get a good sense of the local fruit and dried seafood. There’s minimal variation between vendors, but the dried fruit and dried seafood are fresh and much better than the bagged commercial versions

Dried seafood everywhere!
Dried seafood at the market outside Yehliu Geopark

3PM – Juifen Old Street (1 hour visit)

Driving 50 minutes east, you can reach the famous Jiufen Old Street. This a very popular spot on the east side of New Taipei. Be prepared for throngs of people crammed into the narrow alleys. Expect some traffic going into and out of the mining town.

This alley is located in a former gold mining town and features stand after stand of food and goods vendors. The most famous dish here are probably the freshly made Taro Balls. You can buy a bowl (hot or iced) for only NT$40. The bowl comes with taro, sweet potato, and green tea rice balls, along with red and mung beans. The balls are extremely fresh and soft. The best I’ve had in Taiwan!

The famous taro & sweet potato rice balls
The famous taro & sweet potato rice balls @ Jiufen Old Street
Making green tea rice balls
Fresh made green tea rice balls @ Lai Ah Po Yu Yuan (賴阿婆芋圆), Jiufen Old Street

Other food options include a vendor selling fresh-made grass cakes which are the new big thing. You can spot the stall from the long line. I thought the grass cakes were rather plain though and preferred the taro balls better. Shaved peanut brittle ice cream burritos are another popular option.

Popular grass cake with various fillings. I thought it was rather plain.
Popular grass cake with various fillings. A bit bland for my taste. @ Ah Lan Hakka Glutinous Rice Cake (阿蘭草仔粿芋粿), Jiufen Old Street

You can also get hot food, including gua bao (folded meat bun), ba wan (large gelatinous meat dumpling), and xiao long bao.

If you want a break from food, there are plenty of leather goods, dried fruit, tea, and souvenir shops.

After you get your fill of Juifeng, you’ll be pleased to find that downtown Taipei is only 45 minutes away. The day trip took the scenic route to Juifeng, but instead of going back around, you complete the circle to get back to the start.

Relax and rest up for dinner. You earned it!

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