7 Unusual Things to do in Taiwan for a More Memorable Trip
Taiwan has been enjoying the surge of tourists these past few years. Popular places to visit are Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, Taipei 101, the old townships of Shifen and Jiufen, and of course, the night markets -- they are in abundance in the country. People has this impression that there's nothing much to do or visit in Taiwan. It is often compared to Japan or Hong Kong, but the boring version of these countries. But then, if you come to think about it, nothing much can be done in these places; they are typical tourist spots and attractions.
But with a bit of research, you can find unusual places to visit, and activities to do in Taiwan. Taiwan has surprised me so much, and it is one of the best trips that I had, so far, in my short travelling life. The country has a lot of hidden gems, and endless activities to do. I experienced a lot of "first times" through this trip, and I have enjoyed a lot.
With this post, I shall share the unusual activities and places that I did and visited in Taiwan.
1. Hike the Elephant Mountain and admire the Taipei skyline
To see the view of the amazing Taipei City skyline, one will go to the observatory deck of Taipei 101 located at the 89th floor. It was the world's tallest building, after all. But what if I tell you, you can do it for free, and the view includes Taipei 101? But there's a catch: you need to hike a mountain.
The Elephant Mountain is unique in its right because it's an actual mountain in the city, albeit not a tall one. The hundreds of steps that you need to climb are so worth it; the views at the top are magnificent. I did the hike in the morning, and it was raining and kind of foggy, but the views still delivered. I have read somewhere that it is better to hike it late in the afternoon, so you'll see the view both in daytime and nighttime.
I am not proud, but if you may ask, it took me more that an hour to hike it up and down. This includes stops to rest, and of course, picture taking. If you are not as unfit as me, the hike can be accomplished less than an hour.
Nearest MRT station: Xiangshan MRT (Tamsui-Xinyi Line, red line)
2. Queue up like a local and eat at the best beef noodle restaurant in Taipei
While Japan has ramen, Taiwan has beef noodles. There are lots of beef noodle restaurants in Taipei, but one of the most popular among locals is the Lin Dong Fang Beef Noodles 林東芳牛肉麵. During peak hours, the queue can be quite long.
The aroma of the bowl is so appetising; you'll instantly know that it will be a satisfying meal. One bowl primarily consists of the thick noodles, soup broth, beef meat, and some spring onions. The soup broth has a smooth and savoury flavour; the meat is so tender; and the noodles are cooked al dente. Perfect!
Address: No. 4-3號, Andong Street, Zhongshan District, Taipei City, Taiwan 10491
Nearest MRT Station: Zhongxiao Fuxing Station, exit 1 (Banman Line; blue line)
Opening hours: Monday to Friday, 11am to 2am; closed on Sundays
3. Explore Shifen and Juifen on the back of a motorbike
Shifen and Jiufen are old townships in New Taipei City. Shifen is famous for the Old Shifen Railway where you can make wishes and release sky lanterns. Jiufen, on the other hand, is famous for being Hayao Miyazaki's inspiration for the place in Spirited Away.
It takes about an hour to reach these places from Taipei, and people usually take buses or hire private cars. In my case, I rode a motorbike. But as a passenger, of course.
I was kind of nervous at first because it's my first time riding a big bike. I have always perceived big bikes to be dangerous, so I was not sure why I was signed up for this activity in the first place. But the riders are experienced and professional; you'll feel safe the entire trip. In addition, the riders are super friendly, and they will even bring you to places out of the itinerary. It is a really nice experience to see these places in a different light. Taiwan has gorgeous landscapes!
Taipei Motorbike Tour on Klook
Price: S$171 per person for 8 hours
4. Climb up and take a photo at the Elephant Trunk Rock
Mostly only locals know this place as this is actually not marked in the map. There are also no signs on the road leading to this place. It is located at the north coast of Taiwan, before reaching Keelung City if you are coming from the east. The known landmark near it is the Shenao Fishing Harbour.
As its name suggests, the Elephant Trunk Rock is an enormous rock that is shaped like an elephant's trunk. It is very fascinating how this big rock turned into this shape. By the way, the climb up to the elephant's head is quite scary, so be careful and be mindful of your steps!
Address: No. 20, Shen’ao Road, Ruifang District, New Taipei City, Taiwan 224
How to get there: Easiest way to reach this place is by car or motorcycle. By public transport, you can take bus no. 791 or 1051 from Keelung train station and get off at 深澳發電廠 (Shēn ào fādiàn chǎng) and walk your way to the Shenao Fishing Harbour (source).
5. Paragliding in Puli
This was the highlight of the trip; the activity that I was most excited about. The experience was exhilarating! The feeling of flying and seeing the amazing views of Nantou is breathtaking! I am actually not frightened of heights, but I was still surprised at myself that I didn't felt a hint of nervousness, even at first try. I think I ought to try skydiving next time! Haha.
The paragliding pilot was outstanding: he was so considerate when we were in the air even though he's busy operating the chute. On my first try, he said it was not windy enough and the flight was quite short (which I didn't notice), so he invited me to go on again, for free! Of course I couldn't refuse that!
Important tips to note: Firstly, flights usually take place in the afternoon, around 12nn onwards, when the winds are adequate to fly. So don't go in the morning, or you'll have to wait like I did. Second, make sure you are not full prior to flying. You don't want to feel sick during the flight!
Nantou Paragliding on Klook
Price: S$126 per person
Address: No. 100-1 Lane 433, section 1 Zhounshan Road, Puli Township, Nantou County, Taiwan 545
6. Watch hundreds of flying lanterns during the Sky Lantern Festival in Pingxi
Aside from Shifen, Pingxi is also famous for sky lanterns. In fact, the annual sky lantern festival is held here after Chinese New Year. According to the elders of Pingxi, the Sky Lantern Festival originated in the Xing Dynasty, more than two thousand years ago. At that time, bands of outlaws frequently raided the lowland villages, forcing residents to seek refuge in the lush, verdant mountains. Village watchmen used “fire balloons” as signals to inform the refugees that their houses were safe once again. When those hiding in the hills saw the celestial flares, they knew it was time to go home (source).
This event is actually the reason why I went to Taiwan. I booked the trip to coincide with the lantern festival. The sight of hundreds of lanterns in the sky was awe-inspiring. I think one should witness this at least once in their lifetime.
7. Relax in Spring City Resort Beitou’s hot spring spa
This activity is actually not really unusual, especially in Beitou, the home of hot springs in Taiwan. But normally, local and tourists alike head to the Millennium Hot Springs, which is a cheap and public bath house. Since it's cheap, it is usually crowded. I'm not sure about you, but I don't fancy soaking in cramped pools.
Spring City Resort has similar hot spring baths, and it is not crowded. I went there on my last day in Taiwan, and I felt completely relaxed and refreshed after all the walking that I did the past few days.
Spring City Resort Beitou Hot Spring Spa on Klook
Price: S$23 per person
Address: Spring City Resort, No. 18, Youya Road, Beitou District, Taipei City
How to get there: Hop on the free shuttle buses in Beitou and Xinbeitou Stations; refer to the timetable here.