A tour of Taiwan's ... rural retreats

| May 16, 2019

The island of Taiwan is packed with spectacular scenery. Its interior encompasses high peaks, deep gorges, hot springs and azure lakes while unspoilt beaches and dramatic cliffs lace the coastline. Hidden away amidst these magical landscapes are quaint, rural communities that showcase bucolic charm and Taiwanese hospitality. Starting and finishing in the capital, Taipei, a tour around Taiwan can neatly encompass both the country’s natural wonders as well as its attractive townships.

The capital city in the far north of the island seems an unlikely place to start if it’s natural beauty that you’re after, but make the day trip out from central Taipei to Beitou district and you’ll find it. Humming with holiday makers, this natural spa surrounded by forested mountains might be busy but it’s a world apart from city life. Visit the museum, set in the original bathhouse built by the Japanese in 1913, before taking a dip in the steaming springs, ranging in temperature from lukewarm to scorching hot. Finish with a walk along ‘Hell Valley’, one of the sources of the thermal springs here. The boiling hot waters in the valley are permanently shrouded in steam (as well as a rather unpleasant sulphuric whiff!)

Thermal Valley, Beitou, Taiwan

Thermal Valley, Beitou

Moving south from the capital and along the western side of Taiwan, you’ll come to Sanyi in Miaoli County, a township set amid verdant hills and tea plantations. The forests here have inspired a tradition of woodcraft; local camphor trees are whittled into remarkably detailed sculptures with some of the very best pieces displayed at the Sanyi Wood Sculpture Museum. The old mountain railways that once crossed through the region are also a sight to behold, in particular the jagged remains of Longteng Bridge. Although engineered by the Japanese, much of the hard labour involved in constructing these railway lines was done by the Hakka people, a Han Chinese minority that escaped persecution in these remote mountains. You can take a toy train ride to Longteng Bridge from Shengxing, a former Hakka village with a pretty wooden station and a number of Hakka restaurants.

Longteng Bridge, Sanyi, Taiwan

Longteng Bridge, Sanyi

Journeying from here into the Central Mountain Range brings you to Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan’s celebrated beauty spot in Nantou County. You can take boat tours across the waters or cycle around the shoreline, but to truly appreciate the scenery it’s worth getting up high. Ascend the steps behind Wenwu Temple for picture-perfect views over its rust-orange rooftops or work up a sweat climbing to the top of Ci En Pagoda. Alternatively, jump aboard the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway. This cable car offers effortless panoramas of the eastern, sun-shaped section of the lake and western, crescent-shaped shoreline, with sacred Lalu Island in the centre.

Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

Sun Moon Lake

Continue almost directly south and enter the ethereal landscapes of Alishan. These misty mountains are webbed with hiking trails and little railway lines that lead through forests of ancient, gnarled trees to temples and viewing platforms. If the drifting clouds part at the right moment, the sunrises and sunsets from here are out of this world.

Alishan National Scenic Area, Taiwan

Alishan National Scenic Area

Before reaching the southern tip of Taiwan it’s worth stopping in Meinong, a predominantly Hakka community. Sample authentic Hakka cuisine such as bantiao (flat rice noodles) and lei tea, made from ground peanuts, sesame seeds, brown rice and tea powder. Local crafts include oh-so-delicate oil paper umbrellas, hand-painted in appealing colours, and handmade blue shirts, a traditional part of Hakka attire. A cycle tour around the fields and streets of Meinong perfectly sets the leisurely pace of life in this rural community. If you plan your visit for late spring or summer then make sure to visit nearby Yellow Butterfly Valley where hundreds of species fill the air, reaching their peak in July.

Oil paper umbrellas, Meinong, Taiwan

Oil paper umbrellas, Meinong

Kenting National Park covers the extreme southern end of Taiwan. Green hills, sandy beaches, coral reefs and a tropical climate to boot make this a popular spot for hiking, swimming and snorkelling.

Kenting coastline, Taiwan

Kenting coastline

If you prefer more remote and dramatic coastal scenery, then the east coast is sure to satisfy. Taroko Gorge has to be the centrepiece. Trails into the gorge, some easy and some more challenging, pass cascading waterfalls and spiritual shrines with jaw-dropping views.

Eternal Spring Shrine, Taroko National Park, Taiwan

Eternal Spring Shrine, Taroko National Park

On the return to Taipei, as you pass along the north-east shoulder of Taiwan, you’ll come to a cluster of villages in Ruifang district on the edges of New Taipei City. Shuinandong, Jinguashi and Jiufen were once important centres for the Japanese gold mining industry. Vestiges of their prosperous past remain to be seen, including an 18-level smelter at Shuinandong that was once the largest in Asia. Today, its manmade terraces, now overgrown with vegetation, merge into the hillside and the surrounding craggy coastal scenery. For an insight into the life of a miner, visit Gold Ecological Park in Jinguashi where you can explore a former mining tunnel, touch what is reportedly the largest gold bar in the world and see excellent examples of Japanese-era architecture. Round off your tour of the idyllic island of Taiwan with a well-deserved cuppa beneath the golden lanterns of one of the many teahouses on Jiufen Old Street. Packed against the hillside, they offer delightful views of the green hills and rippling coastline below.

View from Jiufen Old Street, Taiwan
View from Jiufen Old Street

Visit Taiwan on Cox & Kings' 11-day small group tour of the island. Alternatively, if you are interested in private travel, please either call one of our Far East experts or complete our tailor-made request form and one of our experts will get back to you to help you plan an itinerary.


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