As we’ve mentioned before in this blog, Taiwan is full of surprises. And probably one of the most pleasantly surprising places you’ll find on the island is Alishan, or Mt Ali as it’s sometimes called. It’s a high-altitude forest park that – given the climate and vegetation – makes you feel like you’ve left subtropical Asia and reappeared somewhere in the Alps. Also, it’s by far the top place in Taiwan – and maybe one of the best in the world – for viewing the sunrise, but more on that later. Right now, let’s talk about how to get to the Alishan National Scenic Area, a route that will inevitably take you through Chiayi. Women picking tea on Alishan (Credit: Living + Nomads)What to Do While in Chiayi? Most tourists come to the city of Chiayi simply to get to Alishan, but it’s also a nice place in itself. It has that distinctive easygoing, friendly vibe of southern Taiwan, as well as some notable sites and scrumptious food. So if you’re planning to spend some time there, we can recommend a few things to do. Food-wise, you’ll get everything you need at the Wenhua Road Night Market, including local specialities like delicious turkey rice. Another cool place to check out is Hinoki Village, a collection of Japanese-era buildings made of high-grade cypress from Alishan, which today functions as a shopping area for local arts and crafts and as an exhibition space. One other thing Chiayi’s famous for is its high-heel wedding church! Designed to look like a gigantic glass slipper, it’s a truly unique work of architecture. And besides all this stuff, Chiayi is known for its Lantern Festival and for National Chiayi University, one of the biggest and oldest centers of higher learning in Taiwan. Chiayi's high-heel wedding church (Credit: Taiwan Tourism Bureau)Some Chaiyi Hotels Near the Train Station Regarding places to stay in Chiayi, it’s full of hotels. Some of the more popular ones close to the train station are Chiayi Guanzhi Hotel, Chiayi Maison de Chine Hotel, Guanko Hotel, Chiayi Crown Hotel and Day Plus Hotel Chiayi. Or if you want to sleep in a quieter part of town, try the Nice Prince Hotel. Weather-wise, Chiayi shares the warm, humid, but generally agreeable subtropical climate of much of southern Taiwan. For those looking to avoid the rain, the driest period is fall/winter, with the most precipitation falling in summertime. Hinoki Village in Chiayi (Credit: Travel with GO! Taiwan)Options for Getting to Alishan from ChiayiNow let’s move on to the important stuff – and one of the reasons you’re probably reading this article – how to get from Chiayi to Alishan. In our opinion, the simplest way to do this – when coming from Taipei, at least – is to board the high-speed train (HSR) to Chiayi, from there taking a bus for 2.5 hours that will drop you off just outside the Alishan National Scenic Area. However, this may not be the most scenic way to get to Alishan, and if that’s your aim, you’ll want to head to Chiayi’s regular train station (TRA), where you can ride the Forest Train to Fenqihu, followed by a bus that will bring you to the Scenic Area. This train weaves its way through tunnels, along picturesque bridges and through bamboo forests, but takes around 2 hours and 20 minutes, in addition to the one-hour bus ride. If you’re already at the TRA station (as opposed to the HSR), another option is to take a bus from there straight to Alishan in just a couple hours. And if you plan to come from (or go to) Sun Moon Lake, there’s a bus that travels between these tourist hot-spots a couple times a day. Finally, it’s also possibly to fly into Chiayi, but the airport mainly serves domestic flights and routes from mainland China. The Forest Train to Alishan (Credit: CNN)Alishan National Scenic Area – An Alpine WonderlandAlishan itself, like we said before, is a world unto itself. The National Scenic Area sits at over 2,000m above sea level, and – unlike the rest of inhabited Taiwan – is cool, misty and alpine, and covered in dense forests with enormous trees. Along with Taroko Gorge and Sun Moon Lake, it’s one of the must-visit spots on the island, and the first thing you should plan do there is see the sunrise. For that, you’ll need to wake up early – very early – like 4am or so, and catch the quaint, historical Forest Railway Train that chugs up the mountain to the viewing area. There, you’ll wait with a crowd of other people to see the bright, majestic orb crest over Taiwan’s highest point – Jade Mountain – and a sea of clouds. The entire experience, from riding on the tiny train to witnessing such an awesome natural display, is quite memorable. Sunrise & cherry blossoms on Alishan (Credit: Taiwan Tourism Bureau)Hike the Giant Tree Trail & Sip Alishan Oolong Tea Besides the incredible views of the sunrise and a trip on the Forest Railway, there’s other fun stuff to do up on Mt Ali. One of the main activities, given the pristine environment, is hiking, and there are numerous trails that wind through the ancient forest. For example, if you don’t want to ride the train back down the mountain after the sunrise, you can hike down the Giant Tree Trail, where you’ll pass massive, thousand-year-old cypresses. Other trails include Chushan Sunrise Viewing Trail and Duei Kao Yueh Trail. Along these paths – beside the more famous Formosan cypresses – you’ll see red pine, Alishan elm and Chinese hemlock, as well as ponds, sacred trees and Taoist shrines. And don’t forget to sample some Alishan oolong tea while you’re there. Taiwan is famous for the high-mountain tea leaves it produces, and the stuff made on Alishan is some of the best of the bunch. Alishan ... or Dagobah? (Credit: Taiwan Tourism Bureau)Our Top Hotel Pick – Alishan HouseIf you need a place to stay on the mountain, we highly recommend Alishan House – an elegant, historical establishment that’s smack in the middle of the Scenic Area. It’s rustic but refined, with quiet and spacious rooms, and the service is fabulous. Day tours of Alishan are also available from Chiayi or Taichung, and if you need help arranging one, please contact us at Vacaycar. In terms of weather, keep in mind that parts of Alishan have a mountain climate, which means it gets cold, especially in the fall and winter, so dress accordingly. In fact, it’s been known to snow on Alishan on rare occasions! It’s is also humid year-round, and sees more rain in the spring and summertime. Alishan House (Credit: Taiwan Everything)According to the lyrics of the famous Taiwanese song “Alishan Girl”, on Mt Ali, the mountain is green and the streams are blue, while the girls are pretty as water and the guys strong as the mountain. That sounds pretty accurate to us, and – who knows? – you may find yourself singing that tune yourself after visiting this beautiful place. Sunrise, anyone? (Credit: Viator)The stars behave differently on Alishan ... or so it seems (Credit: Taiwan Tourism Bureau)
01 Aug 2019
Did you really think Taroko Gorge was the only cool thing to see in Hualien County, Taiwan? That’s understandable, as Taroko is freaking awesome – like we pointed out in our last post – but it’s simply not true. There’s boatloads of other stuff to do in Hualien, and it’s also just a great place to relax. Qixingtan Beach (Credit: Triba East)Hualien County – A Little BackgroundIn the 16th century, a Portuguese ship went past the eastern coast of Taiwan, and the sailors were so enchanted by the land they saw that they named it ‘Ilha Formosa,’ or ‘beautiful island’. Perhaps the place they gazed upon was today’s Hualien County, as the area’s known for its natural grandeur. In fact, the name Hualien derives from ‘huilan’ (回瀾) or ‘eddying water’, which sums up what the county’s all about – rivers meeting the ocean against the backdrop of towering mountains. With an area of over 4,600 sq. km, Hualien is Taiwan’s largest county, but – compared to the more urban regions of the west coast – it’s sparsely populated, meaning you’ll find an easygoing, laid-back vibe almost everywhere you go.Old map of Taiwan, formerly known as 'Ilha Formosa' (Credit: Taiwan News)Come to Hualien City & Chill Out by the BeachThe best place to start your journey is in the county seat of Hualien City. It’s accessible by train from Taipei, with the trip taking anywhere from 2-4 hours (depending on the type of train), as well as reachable from Taitung, which is farther down the east coast. You can also fly from Taipei to Hualien, which only takes 50 minutes or so and isn’t that expensive. As Hualien City sits right on the ocean, it’s a good place for exploring Taiwan’s beaches, such as the nearby Qixingtan, a picturesque, crescent-shaped beach located just below the mountains, which is made not of sand but smooth black pebbles. Not far away from there is Qingshui Cliff, a unique spot that offers sweepings views of the ocean, from which you can reportedly see the three distinct colors of the Pacific. Hualien City is also an ideal spot for walking or biking along the shore, and it has a number of parks dedicated to that purpose, like Nanbin Park, Beibin Park and Meilun Seashore Park. Nanbin Park (Credit: Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan))More Things to Do in Hualien – Tzu Chi Headquarters & Dongdamen Night MarketIf you’re of a religious turn of mind, you should pay a visit to Jing Si Abode, the headquarters of Tzu Chi, one of Taiwan’s four major schools of Buddhism. Led by the nun Master Cheng Yen, Tzu Chi focuses on charity, medicine, education and humanity. However, if spirituality’s not your thing, you can also indulge your appetite at Hualien City’s famous night market, Dongdamen. A relatively recently established one, the market consists of an immense number of stalls in neatly kept grounds near the ocean, which sell everything from stewed spare ribs and bamboo rice to fried wild boar to and coffin cake. Another Hualien specialty is mochi (balls or cakes made of sticky rice), a tasty treat you really ought to try. These traditional snacks are usually filled with red bean paste, sesame or a peanut spread, and there’s a store that sells them right inside the Hualien train station!Jing Si Abode (Credit: Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan))Coffin cake (Credit: Alexis Jetsets)Suggestions About Where to Stay in Hualien City In terms of where to crash in Hualien City, there are lots of choices. Staying at Taiwanese-style bed and breakfast, known as a minsu (see our short article about them here), is a special experience, so we recommend doing that if possible (if you need help finding a good minsu, please contact us). Airbnb is also an option in Hualien City, as are numerous hotels. Some of the best of these are Farglory Hotel, a luxurious complex that sits on a hill overlooking the ocean and is a short distance from Farglory Ocean Park; Hotel Bayview, located a mere two minutes from Qixingtan Beach; the modern and colorful Chateau De Chine; the resort-style Parkview Hotel Hualien; and the lovely Lakeshore Hotel Hualien. Farglory Hotel (Credit: Booking.com)Hualien Weather & Alternative Ways to Get There One of the nice things about Hualien is that it’s located near Taroko Gorge, making it the perfect jumping off point for exploring the National Park. And since Hualien has its own airport, you can fly in directly from another city like Kaohsiung, which saves lots of time compared to taking the train (I took this flight once myself, and besides being efficient, it provides passengers with incredible – and unnerving – close up views of the mountains next to Hualien!). You can also get there from other hot spots in Taiwan, like Cingjing and Alishan, but it’s tough to do by bus, with the simplest option being to hire your own transportation. At VacayCar, we can help you get anywhere you want to go on the island, and we also offer a one-day itinerary for the Hualien area. In terms of weather, Hualien County is hot and humid in the summer, and it sees rain year-round, with more falling in the spring and summertime. The most pleasant time to visit is the winter.Assorted mochi (Credit: Will Fly for Food)We hope we’ve shown you there’s more to Hualien than meets the eye, and that Hualien City and its surroundings are an excellent place to check out, at least for a couple days. Chances are, you’ll want to stay even longer!
25 Jun 2019
Hualien is a gorgeous, peaceful county on Taiwan’s more-remote east coast, where you can do some serious chilling out and exploration of quiet places, as well as visit one of the island’s main draws, the glorious Taroko National Park.Taroko Gorge (Credit: Reddit)The Majestic Gorge of Taroko & Its Eternal Spring ShrineIf you want to see Taroko (and if you’re coming all the way to Taiwan, it’s a must), there are two ways to do it. You can take a day trip from Taipei, which takes 2-3 hours each way, or – if you really want to enjoy yourself – you can spend a couple nights nearby, either in Hualien City or inside the Park itself. Either way, you’ll be blown away by the sheer size and majesty of the cliffs and marble rock, and the brilliant turquoise river that winds its way through the gorge. The place is simply breathtaking, and one of the most impressive sites is the Eternal Spring Shrine (seen at the top of this page),a classical Chinese-type shrine on a cliff above a waterfall, from which you get a fabulous view of the gorge and the river below. If you’re up for it, you can also continue hiking up the mountain to Changuang Temple. Swallow's Grotto (Credit: Culture Trip)More Scenic Spots at Taroko – Swallow’s Grotto (Yanzikou) & Tianxiang Taroko is a hiker’s delight, and there are scores of trails all over the gorge that you’re free to pursue at your leisure. One of the most popular is the Swallow’s Grotto (Yanzikou) Trail, which is an excellent place for viewing the gorge from deeper inside the Park. It’s called Swallow’s Grotto because the caves on either side of the river provide nesting grounds for swallows, and it’s known for the Indian Chieftain Profile Rock and Jinheng Bridge, among other landmarks. Another awesome spot to explore is Tianxiang, the main village/recreation area of Taroko Gorge. There, you can walk up to mist-shrouded Buddhist temples perched on the side of the mountain (Xiangde Temple and Tianfeng Pagoda), hike another of the Park’s top trails – Baiyang – and take a dip in the natural pool of nearby Wenshan Hot Springs. And besides all that, if you’re willing to splurge, you can stay at one of the nicest hotels on Earth – Silks Palace Taroko.Xiangde Temple (Credit: Guide to Taipei.com)Silks Place Taroko – The Hotel of Your DreamsI’ve stayed at Silks Place myself, more than once, and for me, it’s not so much a hotel as an oasis. Dropped smack in the middle of Taroko National Park and surrounded mostly by trees, mountains and temples, it’s a quiet, retreat-type five-star hotel with tasteful, stylishly decorated rooms and interiors that somehow blend in with the surrounding landscape. There’s also a sumptuous buffet breakfast, and a swimming pool and hot tub area located on the roof beside a mountain slope, where taking a dip is both a transporting and relaxing experience. In addition, the hotel has aboriginal-themed music and dance performances that you can join in, which – perhaps surprisingly – can be pretty damn fun. But if luxurious, rustic-style paradise-like hotels aren’t your thing (or within your price range), not to fear – there are other good options within Taroko Gorge National Park, such as Taroko Village Hotel and Taroko Lodge.Hot tub at Silks Place Taroko (Credit: jessieonajourney.com)The Taroko Express & Other Ways to Get to the ParkGetting to Taroko isn’t hard, but it’s not super-easy either. From Taipei, your best bet is to take a train for a couple hours to Xincheng Station, from their taking a bus or taxi to the park. The train line, appropriately, is named the Taroko Express, but it appears on tickets at the Tze Chiang Limited Express. If you’d like to book a ticket online, go here. An even better option, like we mentioned before, is to stay overnight in the closest city – Hualien – which is worth a visit in itself, and you can make your trip completely hassle-free by booking a private English-speaking driver with us at Vacaycar! We’ll take you from your hotel in Hualien strait to the top spots in Taroko Gorge, and bring you to other famous sites on the way back, including Qingshui Cliff, where the three different colors of the Pacific Ocean are visible, and Qixingtan Beach, one of the island’s prettiest beaches. We can also help you arrange a day-tour from Taipei as well as other Taroko Gorge travel packages, so contact us if you need assistance. Qingshui Cliff (Credit: Josh Ellis Photography)Maps, Weather & All the Rest for Taroko National ParkAs you can see, Taroko is a pretty special place, and any journey to Taiwan wouldn’t be complete without it. To check out a map and note the position of the sites we’ve covered, click on this link. The weather in Taroko varies according to the terrain, as mountains higher than 2,000m make up half of the Park’s area. At that elevation, the average temperature is 12.5°C, while the gorge as a whole gets about 2,000mm of rainfall per year. The Park has had landslides in the past during typhoons, sometimes blocking the main Taroko Gorge road, so – obviously – it’s best to avoid going there during foul weather. The turquoise waters of the Liwu River (Credit: Lonely Planet)We’d like to tell you more about cool stuff to see and do in Hualien County besides Taroko, but the place is so amazing that our post has already gotten too long! Tune in for our next article to find out more about Hualien. Tianfeng Pagoda (Credit: The Lost Passport)
13 Jun 2019
Taipei is well-known as a hotspot of food, nightlife, and shopping, chock-full of all kinds of different experiences. However, Taipei is also known for its sweltering summer temperatures and rainstorms. On days when stepping outside will make you melt in the sun, or the rain, or both, it’s probably best to spend a part of your day indoors. Don’t want to waste your vacation time inside doing nothing? Use your time wisely by digging a little deeper into Taiwan’s history. Taipei has a number of great institutions that are not only eye-opening, but will also keep you shielded from the elements. Whatever your motivation for visiting, here are some of Taipei’s best places that you can walk away from feeling just a little bit more knowledgeable: National Palace MuseumJust as Taiwan’s night markets provide a smattering of dishes from across the traditional Chinese territories, the National Palace Museum houses a vast collection of some of the best surviving pieces of art and expert craftsmanship. Its artifacts span eight millennia! At the top of many visitors’ lists are the Meat-Shaped Stone and Jadeite Cabbage. The subjects might be a bit amusing, but both pieces have been carved so intricately and expertly that you can see the marbling of the jade meat glisten and a couple of microscopic insects to crawl among the cabbage leaves. However, those are by no means the only treasures worth seeking here. Rolls of landscape paintings, cases of pristine ceramics and golden jewelry, statues, calligraphy, books, bronze: walk around for a few hours in the cavernous halls and you’ll see exactly why the Nationalists found it so important to preserve the collection as they moved their operations from mainland China to Taipei. With the overpowering number of artifacts in the museum, you’ll find it difficult to imagine that the vast majority of the collection are actually stored in vaults away from view. Longshan TempleIf the towering columns and colorful roof carvings of Longshan Temple weren’t eye-catching enough, the steady stream of worshippers and tourists slipping in and out through the main gate will help you note its importance. This temple was originally founded as a Buddhist place of worship in 1738 but, a few centuries later, its halls now host an array of deities including the powerful sea goddess Mazu, the Matchmaker god, and the god of war Guan Gong. Each day, hundreds of people pay a visit to seek protection, guidance, and favor from at least one of the deities with private rituals that can involve prayer, incense, and fortune-asking. You’ll be able to observe these rituals, and marvel at the many deity statues, as you wander around the intricately-designed halls of the temple. Sun Yat-Sen MemorialAlthough China and Taiwan don’t seem to work together on much right now, both sides of the Taiwan Strait do agree on Sun Yat-Sen as the founding father of modern China. A revolutionary, a politician, and a trained doctor, Sun Yat-Sen was the first president of China after the fall of the Qing Dynasty, working hard for most of his life to extract China from Manchurian empirical rule and bring the country into a united republic. A memorial to a founding father wouldn’t be complete without an impressive statue, of course, but the memorial also houses a curated exhibition on the life and accomplishments of Sun Yat-Sen, as well as other galleries hosting various temporary exhibits. The memorial hall’s auditorium also hosts various cultural and educational performances. Bonus: if you time your visit correctly, you can also witness a changing of the stone-faced guards in the main hall. Confucius TempleThough he was once a mere human, the teacher Confucius has ascended to a near-deity status in Taiwan, complete with over twenty temples dedicated to him on the island. Not only is the legacy of his social philosophies still evident in the cultural norms of modern society here today, but his identity as a man of education and higher thought is so revered that students and their parents (and their grandparents) will pay his temple a visit to ask for help in attaining high marks on upcoming exams. Credit: KabacchiIf you’re not looking to boost your grades, the temple has a number of displays about the history of Confucius and is legacy, as well as a beautiful courtyard and impressive architectural wood- and stone-carvings. If you happen to be in Taipei towards the end of September, the annual ceremonial celebration of Confucius’ birthday on September 28 shouldn’t be missed! Credit: Supersentai Getting There The Taipei MRT (metro system) has stops dedicated to the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial and Longshan Temple on the red and blue lines, respectively, making them an easy destination for visitors. The Confucius temple in Datong District also has a metro stop nearby, along with bus accessibility. However, the National Palace Museum is not as convenient to get to. There are a few bus lines to that part of the city, but going by car is definitely the best choice.In fact, on a hot or rainy day, getting to all of your travel destinations by car is the most comfortable way to go. With a private vehicle and experienced, English-speaking driver, VacayCar lets you explore Taipei’s must-see sights with a little time to relax in-between (and some AC on those scorchers!). You can customize your own experience with the places that most pique your interest, or check out some of our standard itineraries for even more stress-free options and ideas on how to make the most of your time in Taipei.
02 Jun 2019
Taiwan’s an island that’s full of hidden gems for those who venture off the beaten path. The mountainous county of Nantou – the only landlocked one on the island – is a storehouse for stuff you won’t find anywhere else. It’s most famous attraction, Sun Moon Lake, is one of the top natural sights in Taiwan, but there’s more to it than that – a lot more. Nantou County (Credit: Taiwan Tourism Bureau)The Main Attraction – Sun Moon LakeSun Moon Lake is up there with Taroko Gorge, Alishan and Jade Mountain as one of Taiwan’s premiere natural spots and the reason people come to the island in the first place. It’s the country’s biggest lake, impressive for its sheer side and the beauty of its surroundings. Activities abound here for backpackers and families alike, as you can take a boat ride on the lake, get on a cable car that climbs high into the sky and provides breathtaking views, visit the picturesque Wenwu Temple, and meet the local aboriginals who have long called the area home. Swimming isn’t allowed in the lake except once a year, in September, during the enormous Sun Moon Lake Mass Swim. As the region gets about six million visitors a year, we recommended booking in advance. There are plenty of lakeside hotel options, and in a future post we’ll tell you all about them and share further details about this must-see site. Sun Moon Lake Mass Swim (Credit: 日月潭觀光旅遊網)Puli & Caotun Townships Have Temples You Can’t Miss As mentioned above, Nantou is more than just the county with Taiwan’s biggest lake, and – in our opinion – some of its hidden treasures are equally as memorable. Take, for example, Puli Township, where Chung Tai Chan Monastery is located. The Monastery represents one of the four main sects of Buddhism in Taiwan, and it dominates the country’s central region. The building itself is an architectural marvel designed by C. Y. Lee – who also built Taipei 101 – and it towers over the land more like a castle than a temple. In fact, it’s the world’s second-tallest Buddhist structure, and besides the Monastery building, with its endless statue-filled halls and corridors, you can also take a look at the Chung Tai World Museum and Wood Sculpture Gallery, which contain Buddhist relics dating from as far back as 1,500BC. And if temples are your thing, you should also visit to Caotun Township, home of the majestic Lei Tsang Temple – a unique temple that serves as a center for Taoism, Madhyamaka Buddhism and Vajrayāna Buddhism – as well as a Taoist pagoda that’s shaped like a worm wearing a hat!Chung Tai Chan Monastery (Credit: Taiwan Tourism Bureau)Xitou Monster Village, Cinjing Farm & Formosan Aboriginal Culture VillageBut Nantou is more than temples still! If you go there, you’ve got to check out Xitou Monster Village, in Ming Shan Resort, a place that’s known for cute and terrifying monster statues and delectable Japanese snacks. You can also stop by the serene Cingjing Farm, where you’ll explore hiking trails and themed gardens, and witness sheep shearing. Also, you won’t want to miss Atayal Resort, a rustic resort that emphasizes the natural world as well as the culture of the Atayal people, or Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, which is both an aboriginal-themed outdoor museum and an amusement park. Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village (Credit: 日月潭觀光旅遊網)Looking for Nantou’s Top Ten Spots? We Can HelpIf you’re still searching for stuff to do in Nantou, then take a ride over to Jiji, named one of the Top 10 Small Tourist Towns by Taiwan’s Tourist Bureau, where you can hop on the quaint Jiji Railway Line that winds through the countryside. And while you’re in Nantou, why not take a break at Lushan Hot Spring? It’s one of the largest hot springs in Taiwan, and – at an altitude of 400km – it’s also the highest. Drinking the spring water is said to cure gastritis, while the pools themselves are surrounded by cherry trees. But if you want to drink something besides spring water, not to worry. The County’s also home to the Nantou Distillery, where you can watch (and sample) smooth Taiwanese whisky being made. With all of these options before you, it may take a couple days to see everything in Nantou, which is why you’ll need a good hotel.The Jiji Railway Line (Credit: Focus Taiwan)Nantou Hotel & Transportation DetailsThere are tons of hotels and guesthouses in Nantou, but some of the standout options are The Lalu Hotel, Mei Jen House, Love Home Lake Hotel, Classic Hotel and Tai-Yi Red Maple Resort. Also, if you’re wondering how to get there, the closest major city is Taichung, which is about an hour’s drive from the county capital, Nantou City. You could take a bus from Taichung to a few of the destinations we mentioned, but there’s no way you can see all that stuff without hiring your own transportation … and that’s where Vacaycar comes in! Book our Japanese-Influenced Nantou & Sun Moon Lake Tour and we’ll take you to the top sites, or – alternatively – you can customize your itinerary and go anywhere you want. Sheep shearing at Cingjing Farm (Credit: 清境農場官方網站)Weather-wise, much of Nantou consists of hills and mountains, where it’s cooler and more rainy, while the lowlands tend to be warmer and drier. If you need a map of the area, click here. Touring Nantou is a truly fascinating – and relaxing – experience, so make your plans as soon as possible!Xitou Monster Village (Credit: Spiritual Travels)
02 Jun 2019
The city of Taipei has a lot to offer the savvy traveler. From tasty night market eats to colorfully intricate temples, glistening skyscrapers to lush parks, Taiwan’s lively capital city always has something to explore. Although there are a multitude of things to do in Taipei, you might feel that you need to catch your breath for a day away from the hustle and the bustle. Just outside of Taipei’s city limits are a few worthy places for you to visit when you need a little more open sky and peaceful ambience, perfect for a full day’s trip before jumping back into that city life.Walk on Sunshine at YangmingshanTo the north of Taipei sits Yangmingshan (Sunlight Mountain) National Park, a sprawl of hill and forest sitting on top of a (resting) volcano. With 114 square kilometers (44 square miles),you could easily spend a full day there in the myriad of different areas in the park to explore. You might be interested in wandering among its tidy gardens of ponds and statues, plunging deeper into the forest in search of waterfalls, or even just taking in the view of Taipei in the valley below.Springtime visitors shouldn’t miss the opportunity to pick their own bouquet (and snap a few pictures) in the calla lily fields, and autumn sojourners will find the fiery foliage emerging from the silver mist a feast for the eyes. If you plan ahead, you can also make a reservation at the private hot springs and relax in the mineral-rich waters any month of the year. No matter what time of the year you visit, start your day there in the morning to get the most out of your visit. Yangmingshan’s crisp air and many trails make it a popular spot for international visitors and Taipei residents alike. The most-famous spots in the park can attract large groups of people, especially in the afternoons on weekends and holidays. However, no matter what time of day you visit, you are sure to find beautiful national park worth exploring. Stroll Along the Riverfront in BaliAfter a morning wandering around Yangmingshan, you’re sure to be ready for a tasty lunch break in the neighboring town of Bali. Bali sits on the southern bank of the Tamsui River and this quiet, hilly district become a more popular spot to check out in recent years, especially for Taipei families looking for a little fun on a weekend afternoon. Its riverfront views, with the town of Tamsui across the water, are sure to leave a lasting impression on any visitor. Start at Bali Old Street for a lunch of your typical Taiwanese street foods—noodles, sausages, and freshly-pressed juices, egg tarts, doughnuts, and winter melon tea, just to name a few options!—and for the view along the river. You might also consider renting bicycles to venture out further; the city maintains its bicycle paths well, which makes exploring the riverbank’s fishing docks and wetlands a breeze… and who knows what other interesting sites you might find along the way? Turn back Time in Tamsui Across the river sits the district of Tamsui, a quiet town with a complex history. Located on the mouth of the river, the harbor was essential to the aboriginal tribes that first settled there, as well as for the Spanish, Dutch, Chinese, Japanese, and British forces that arrived in later centuries and battled each other for control. The best place learn about Tamsui’s strategic importance is Fort San Domingo. Originally built in 1629 by Spanish settlers, the fortress, and the former British consular residence beside it, have observed the political tug-of-war over Tamsui for centuries. Today they serve as a time capsule for visitors wanting to learn more about the small town’s big international history. A walk through its ancient corridors takes you along detailed exhibits, and the spectacular view outside of the buildings and river below are an additional treat. The same hill on which Fort San Domingo sits is also home to two other beautifully-preserved buildings. The former Custom Officer’s Residence, also known as the “Little White House”, is a wonderful example of Spanish colonial architecture. You’ll marvel at its gleaming white walls, arched doorways, and sloping red-tiled roofs as you explore the house and grounds, especially on a sunny day with a clear-blue sky for a backdrop. Down the road, the Former Residence of Tamsui Township Head Tada Eikichi presents a different window into history. Built in the 1930s, the Japanese-style wooden house was constructed during Japanese occupation; today, you can still enjoy stepping into its tatami-floored rooms and walking through the verdant garden outside. Savor the Sunset in TamsuiBefore heading back to Taipei, make sure to swing by the newest landmark in this historic town. Tamsui is famous for its exquisite sunsets, and the best place to watch the sky fade to dark is out on the point right by the affectionately-nicknamed “Lover’s Bridge”. The bridge’s gently-curved design and nighttime illumination make this a popular spot to see the sun go down over the sea, and it is an experience that you simply cannot miss on your visit to the greater Taipei area.Credit: johnnylin1223 Planning Your Visit to Yangmingshan, Bali, and TamsuiYangmingshan, Bali, and Tamsui are located right outside of Taipei and can be accessed by public transportation. Yangmingshan National Park doesn’t have a convenient MRT stop, but there are a few different public bus lines from the city that go straight to the park entrance. To head to Bali, you can either start at Tamsui Station at the end of the MRT red line and catch the ferry from Tamsui’s Old Street, or exit a few stops earlier at Guandu and cross the Guandu Bridge, either by foot or by YouBike. (This second option can be a bit tricky to navigate, so plan ahead before you go!)To get the most out of your day, book a trip with us at VacayCar. With a private vehicle and experienced, English-speaking driver, you’ll be able to visit all three areas without fear of getting lost or slowed down by public transportation. There is already a standard itinerary for a day at Yangmingshan, Bali, and Tamsui, but you can also customize your own daytrip to really make your time in Taipei and Taiwan your own.
05 May 2019
As any rain-drenched northerner will tell you, Tainan is a nice change of pace from Taipei. It’s a bit like going from New York City to a Sunbelt city, in that the pace of life is slower, people are more casual and the sun is sunnier. Ok maybe not the last one, but it definitely doesn’t rain as much in Tainan. In fact, I swear that every time I go there with my wife to visit her family, it is warm weather and blue skies all around.Tainan is well-known among locals for its food, as it has a lot of hole-in-the-wall type of restaurants that have been around for ages, one of which I’ll tell you about later in this article. As someone who has driven around Tainan quite a bit, I would not recommend it to foreigners. Drivers often treat traffic laws more as suggestions than rules, and unlike straight-laced Taipei, you’ll see lots of people cruising around on scooters without a helmet on. Thus, VacayCar makes for an excellent option for getting around! Now, on to my list of places I recommend visiting while in Tainan.Credit: AmCham TaipeiChimei MuseumIf you find yourself south of Tainan, just past the airport and the Chimei Happiness Factory, you may wonder why, plopped on an inauspicious plot next to the freeway, there is a giant building that looks something like a cross between Vienna’s Hofburg palace and the US Capitol building. That, my friends, is the world-caliber Chimei Museum, named after the Tainan-based conglomerate that makes everything from plastics to the TV panel in your living room.As you’d suspect judging by the exterior, inside the museum you’ll find mostly Western items, such as artwork, musical instruments and weapons, as well as some natural history exhibitions. The museum feels a bit surreal, since Tainan is far removed from 14th century European paintings, Italian violins, and giant model polar bears. However, it’s quickly apparent that the generous people at Chimei really put a lot of resources into the museum, and many of the exhibitions are top notch. And for those looking for more non-Western exhibitions, the museum does boast a robust non-European arms and armor section (think samurai armor and Mongol archers on horseback). The museum grounds also make for a very pleasant stroll, granted it’s not the middle of summer. Running around the large tree-lined moat-like pond outside and checking out the impressive fountain were actually my young son’s favorite parts of the visit.Chimei Museum reminds me of another high-quality off-the-beaten-path museum not far from where I’m from: Crystal Bridges Museum in northwest Arkansas. Just like Crystal Bridges, Chimei Museum is well worth a visit.Credit: The Occasional TravellerTen Drum Cultural VillageTen Drum Cultural Village (aka Ten Drum Rende Creative Park) is actually very close to Chimei Museum, although both are around 20-25 minutes from Tainan City. If you’re a Taiwan history buff, you probably know that sugar was a very important crop during and after Japanese rule, and sugar mills used to be scattered all over Taiwan. Those days are long gone, but some of the mills still remain. One particular mill in Tainan was founded way back in 1909 by the Japanese, and after Taiwan’s independence it was handed over to Taiwan Sugar Corporation, which was the big daddy sugar company of Taiwan. The mill was closed for good in 2003, but it has been given new life by the Ten Drum Art Percussion Group, which turned the old mill into Ten Drum Cultural Village. Ten Drum Cultural Village still looks exactly like an old mill, with large rusty machinery strewn about and slithering pipes winding throughout giant warehouses. But interspersed among these, and often connected via fun walkways, are a nice mix of attractions, including a relaxing coffee shop, a music store selling CDs from Taiwanese artists (some of the music is surprisingly good!),a climbing wall for youngsters, a collection of drums to beat on, dark tunnels and buildings lit only by sunlight to explore, and even an indoor kids play place. And of course, there is the stage building. This is where the appropriately-named Ten Drum Art Percussion Group drummers perform. The drummers give a rousing performance that is in stark contrast to the relatively sleepy mill surrounding them, and you’ll feel the heavy drumbeats in the core of your soul as they pound away with the vigor and energy of war galley drivers!Credit: artdc2011Kink’s PubDespite the raunchiness implied by the name, this place is great for a laid-back night out, and is personally my favorite bar in Tainan. It’s a bit Taiwanese-style hipster-ish, and the staff can sometimes give off a too-cool-for-school vibe, but other than that, there’s a lot to like. The reddish walls, dim lighting, and antique furniture make me feel like I’m having a midsummer’s dream in someone else’s house, especially after I’ve downed a glass or two from their solid drink selection. But if you happen to get lost in a reverie, you’ll quickly be snapped awake by one of the trains that sporadically rumble by, as Kink’s sits right next to, and I mean right next to, an active train track. But I think it just adds to the character, and danger perhaps, of the place.Credit: Kink's PubCredit: Kink's PubXiao Dou DouChimei Museum, Ten Drum Cultural Village and even Kink’s Pub are all pretty well known, but this place is more off the radar for most Westerners. In fact, I’m not sure what its English name is, or if it even has one – it’s humbly labelled “Noodle shop” on Google Maps – so I’m going to refer to it as Xiao Dou Dou, its Chinese name. But what I do know, is whenever my wife and I visit Tainan (her hometown remember),this place is a must-go for her.Credit: TainanlohasXiao Du Du was founded in the 1970s, and like many successful older mom-and-pop establishments in Taiwan, it looks like it hasn’t changed a whole lot since then. Over the years, it’s become a favorite among locals and Taiwanese tourists thanks to its good food and convenient location near Tainan Confucius Temple and Fuzhong Street, which is packed with stalls selling all sorts of treats and trinkets and trendy but generally affordable shops.While Xiao Du Du does have noodles and congee, we always go for the shaved ice. And move over Baskin Robbins, because this place has an incredible selection: over 40 flavors of shaved ice, including 25 flavors of the coveted snowflake shaved ice, which is fluffier than regular shaved ice and is my wife’s preference. Her absolute favorite is peanut butter snowflake shaved ice. Seasonal fruit-based versions, like strawberry and mango snowflake shaved ice, are also strong contenders. These are perfect for cooling down on a hot summer day.Credit: djtooonI hope you enjoyed my little list of things to do in Tainan. The team here at VacayCar consists of native Taiwanese and long-time Taiwan residents. We love this island and believe you will too, and we’d love to be the ones to help you show you around. So next time you get a hankering for some snowflake shaved ice, look us up!
28 Apr 2019
So you’ve made your way to Jiufen, explored its winding alleys and cozy teashops, marveled at the view of the north-eastern coast, and had your fill of all of the coal chocolate, bubble tea, and egg pudding on Jiufen’s Old Street. You might not have any more room for food, but it’s not time to leave yet! Away from the noise and the crowds of Jiufen are a few unique experiences that are sure to leave their own lasting impression.Explore the Jinguashi Gold Ecological ParkContinue further up the main winding road from Jiufen and soon you’ll encounter the sprawling Jinguashi Gold Ecological Park. After gold was discovered in the mountains, Jinguashi and Jiufen thrived during the mining boom, but suffered once the mines were closed in the 1970s and 1980s. The Gold Ecological Park was founded in 2004, allowing visitors today to take a step back in time and explore the history of mining here through preserved gold-era buildings and interactive exhibits. You can easily spend a few hours exploring all that Jinguashi Gold Ecological Park has to offer.Credit: Fred HsuDelve into the World of GoldFollow the old railroad tracks to the Gold Building to learn all about the precious metal that used to exist in the mountain. There is so much to see here, but you definitely shouldn’t miss your chance to touch the impressive 220-kilogram brick of pure gold on the second floor with your own hands! Surrounding the behemoth of a block are dozens of glimmering golden craftworks, from jewelry to utensils to statuettes; you’re sure to enjoy wandering through some of the exhibit’s rather whimsical pieces.Inspired to try your hand at mining some gold? Head up to the top floor of the museum where you can pan for gold silt armed with nothing more than a small plate, sand, and some water. Then, head over to the mine tunnel next door and walk in the footsteps of former miners, before climbing the steps that take you to the stone remains of the Jinguashi Shinto Shrine. The shrine was built in the late 19th century to protect miners, but after residents moved it in 1933, only the gate, lanterns, and some pillars remain in the tranquil hush of the forest.Credit: Gold MuseumWander into a Royal ResidenceDuring the Japanese colonization of Taiwan from 1895 to 1945, the gold mines of Jiufen and Jinguashi were especially prized by the Japanese. In fact, the Crown Prince Hirohito (who would become Emperor Showa) planned a special trip to inspect this mining industry in the 1920s. Although the visit fell through, the Crown Prince Chalet was completely built in anticipation and still stands too welcome visitors to this day. The luxurious wood-and-glass mansion is shrouded by encircling trees, providing shade and a little seclusion as you wander through the lush garden.Credit: Ernesto HuangClimb the TeapotReady to stretch your legs a little more? Teapot Mountain (ChaHu Shan) is another worthy stop during your visit to Jiufen. Named for how the peak evokes a tea kettle, this hike is a popular half-day trip for people coming from Taipei to Jiufen. You’ll be speechless from the sweeping vistas that let you soak in the surrounding mountains, the valley below, and the blue ocean stretching out towards the northern horizon.Teapot Mountain’s trail has a mix of sturdy stone steps and dirt pathways, with a dash of basic rock climbing at the very top. It can be quite steep at times, so make good use of the pavilions sprinkled along the trail to catch your breath! Bring a snack to enjoy at the top, too-- after that climb, you deserve a tasty reward to pair with the view. If you want a little more challenge, continue on to Baoshi Mountain for even more pleasant scenery. You might even consider hiking up early for a perfect view of the sunrise.Go(ld) Chasing WaterfallsIf you want a little more time in the sun, head over to marvel at the beauty of the Golden Waterfall. Here, glimmering waters emerge out of the lush green landscape, created by the rainy climate and heavy presence of metals in the soil. (In fact, the water here is so toxic from the metals that even touching it can be dangerous!) Once you’ve pulled out your camera and capture a few shots, follow the flow down to coast of the Yin Yang Sea, where river’s minerals creates a unique mix of gold and blue-green sea water along the shallow bay. You’ll be sure to come away with even more photographs of the natural beauty of Taiwan.Credit: ZaironPlanning a Trip to Jiufen and JinguashiYou have several options to get from Taipei to Jiufen and Jinguashi. Some like to take the train from Taipei Main Station to Ruifang Station in the valley, then jump on the Keelung Transit bus up the mountain towards Jiufen/Jinguashi. Bus route 1062 also goes directly from downtown Taipei to Jiufen and Jinguashi. Be prepared for plenty of seatmates! Jiufen is a popular attraction any day of the week, so head there earlier in the morning for the best experience. Once there, make use of the local bus lines to get to the attractions outside of Jiufen. Looking for a little more comfort and control over your trip to Jiufen? Book a trip with us at VacayCar for a private vehicle and English-speaking driver to get you from place to place. You can customize your own experience, or check out our standard itinerary for a stress-free option that includes the Yehliu Geopark and Shifen, so that you can really make the most of your time in Taiwan.With so many hills and staircases in the mountains here, comfortable shoes are a must when you take a trip to the Jiufen area. Add a water bottle and a camera to capture memories, and you are all set for all that Jiufen and Jinguashi have to offer.
12 Apr 2019
For Taiwanese people, Yilan is synonymous with peace and relaxation, as it has a slower pace of life, more laid-back locals, and lots of volcanic beaches, hot springs and mountainous terrain. Commonly known as the ‘backyard of Taipei’, Yilan is just far enough from the capital to seem like a different world, but close enough to make for the perfect day-trip or weekend getaway. Aerial view of Yilan (Credit: Yilan County Government)Getting from Taipei to Yilan Is a BreezeYilan County is now easier than ever to get to from Taipei because of the Xueshan Tunnel, which opened in 2006. At 12.9km, it’s one of the longest tunnels in the world, and traveling through it is a noteworthy experience in itself, as you spend a solid 20 minutes or so under the mountain, entering on one side of Taiwan and popping out on the other. In fact, it used to take more than two hours to get from Taipei to Yilan via winding mountain roads, but now it’s less than an hour’s journey. Jiaoxi's hot springs at night (Credit: Yilan County Government)Your No. 1 Yilan ItineraryThere’s tons of stuff to see in Yilan County, but the itinerary we’ve put together for you is – in our humble option – the cream of the crop. Called the Beach-Castle-Hot Spring Tour, it takes you to four unforgettable destinations, starting with Waiao, a wide, volcanic black-sand beach where you can stroll around, sip tea at the big café by the beach’s entrance, or – if you’re feeling adventurous – try your hand at surfing! After that you’ll be whisked up a nearby mountain by our driver to the Mr. Brown Castle Café, which is a stylish coffee shop inside a modern-day castle, from where you can look down on the landscape below in breathtaking fashion. Next, our English-speaking driver and tour guide will take you to a short trail that leads to Wufenqi, a beautiful waterfall in the middle of the forest. After that, you’ll be transported to Jiaoxi, an easygoing spring town where you can end a hard day’s hiking and beachgoing like you deserve, by soaking in a natural hot-spring until every aching muscle in your body is soothed. Mr. Brown Castle Cafe Other Kick-Ass Tourist Attractions in YilanAnd those aren’t all the tourist spots in Yilan! Besides the ones on our itinerary, there’s also Jimi Square, a life-sized photogenic sculpture garden near the Yilan train station; the Luodong Forestry Culture Park, a former logging site that’s now a sprawling park with giant wooden sculptures, historic train cars, and ponds full of wild birds; and the Luodong Night Market, a food-focused night market that’s one of the biggest in Taiwan (which is saying something). Some of the best food items to be found there are local specialities like ox-tongue cookies, mashed taro and Yilan spring-onion pancakes. And finally, if you’re not satisfied with blissfully unwinding in a piping-hot spring, you’re welcome to try a cold one, as Yilan County has one of the few carbon-acid springs in the world, called Suao Cold Spring, where the water is also drinkable. Sculpture at Luodong Forestry Culture ParkOur Private Yilan Tour Beats a Bus Trip Any DayAt VacayCar, we can take you to all of these tourist spots and more, upon request – all you need to do it customize your itinerary. And yes, you could take a bus from Taipei to Jiaoxi, which makes for a decent trip in itself, but it’s difficult to get from there to Mr. Brown Castle Café and the other attractions without your own wheels, so why not treat yourself? Book a private local tour package (like ours ☺) to get the most out of your Yilan experience. Luodong Night Market (Credit: Yilan County Government)Leisure Farms, Yilan City & Luxury Hotels – Extending Your Stay in Yilan If you have more than one day to spend in Yilan, better still! You’ll be able to do even more cool things, like hanging out a rustic leisure farm, such as Toucheng or Shangrila, where you can plant rice and pick fruit, as well as stay overnight. Or you can visit Yilan City, which has a number of historic buildings dating from the Japanese Occupation Period, such as the picturesque Memorial Hall of Founding of Yilan Administration. As with most places in Taiwan, you can book Airbnb rooms in Yilan, but – like we just said – a more memorable (and tranquil) overnight option is to stay at one of the county’s farmstead B&Bs, or – if you can afford it – a top-notch hotel like Silks Place Yilan (the only 5-star establishment in Yilan City’s center) or The Westin Yilan Resort, which was inspired by the city’s old-school Japanese architecture and has its own open-air hot spring.Toucheng Leisure Farm (Credit: Taiwan Everything)Yilan Weather & Travel Blog InfoNortheast Taiwan has a reputation for rainy weather, but don’t let that stop you from going, as many of Yilan’s attractions can be enjoyed rain or shine, while many would argue that some activities – like lounging in a hot spring – are better on rainy days. Although it’s not always easy to find tourist maps and detailed information about happenings in Yilan, there are quite a few travel blogs out there (such as this one) that can help you plan your trip, and you’re always welcome to contact us via the VacayCar website if you have any questions. One thing that’s for certain is that Yilan is a wonderful place to explore and unwind in, and you should definitely check it out if you have the chance. It even has a unique language called Yilan Creole Japanese –a combination of Japanese and the native aboriginal tongue Atayal, which doesn’t use the grammar of either one. How many places do you know that can say that?
07 Apr 2019