13.12.08

city day-trippers

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Home from a day trip - click for larger view in flickr

A Taiwanese friend in Singapore once asked - "During weekends, which are the "rural/country" places (her phrase: 郊外) that Singaporeans like to go to?" Her question stumped me for a moment. I am not sure what answer I gave her...maybe I had said Botanical Gardens, Sentosa, Pulau Ubin or, if I recovered quick enough, Sungei Buloh.

While us amps are advocates of good ol' domestic tourism, the idea of "郊外" as a regular weekend distraction on this island is still somewhat remote. But not so for the Taiwanese, young or old, and probably especially so for the Taipei city folk who are daily gas-ed by scooter-fumes.

Among the things J and I miss most about Taiwan when we got back to our little island is this "郊外", often a MRT ride just 30min or less from the city where everything slows down. So if you are ever in Taiwan, day-tripping is a good way to see this island the Portuguese had very aptly named Formosa. With the air cool between 15-22C,

If you are ever in Taipei, below are 5 easy day-trips to make:

(1) Yang Ming Shan (From Taipei):

with/nature (自/然)
on yang ming shan

The #1 weekend spot for Taipei-ites, Yang Ming Shan is a lush retreat of hot-springs, parks and peaks. If you get there early enough, you can hike up Mount Qi Xing (seven stars), the main peak. The paths are actually mostly paved or staired, so it's do-able in a leisurely way. We saw old folks in twos or small groups walking, but for lazier folk (like us!), there's a mini-bus that leaves from the small terminal which goes to almost all the main sights for a flat NT15 ticket. The bus is in a loop, so you catch the same bus back to the terminal.

wind/on (大/風)
J, the Da You Kang, expelling more hot air

If you are taking the mini-bus (see note below), schedule at least an hour for each stop. We stopped by the Xiao You Kang (little oil valley?) where there's a fairly dramatic sulphuric fume from the side of the mountain, some short trails and really photogenic fields.

We tried to visit the Yang Ming Shan Shu Wu, one of fifteen mansions built by Chiang Kai Shek to host foreign dignitaries, preserved with furniture intact. But be warned, you can only tour the large grounds and mansion via the guided tours from the site office, the last of which starts at 3.30pm. We got there late, so had spent the next hour walking the periphery of the mansion's grounds. Paranoid Chiang had painted his mansion army green, camouflaged it with greenery and guarded it on high ground - so we only caught a glimpse from the road 50m away. At one point, we could hear the guide's amplified voice amidst the rustling of leaves and their green. Still, the 1hr walk back to the bus staion via the narrow road was enjoyable and would bring you past a waterfall viewing area and the Yang Ming Shan park where there's a kitschy giant flower clock that plays ching-chong music at the hour.

setting/time (落/日)
token sunset shot on the way down Yang Ming Shan

On the way back to Taipei city, stop instead at Shilin (1 station away from Jiantan) and make a dinner of all the Taiwanese junk street food you can eat from the Night Market. Be warned: the buses from Yang Ming Shan back to Jiantan/Shilin MR station gets very crowded in the evenings from 5.30pm onwards as they also ferry kids released from the Yang Ming Shan High Schools - yes, the smell, chatter and squeeze is enough to inspire claustrophobia.

(2) Mao Kong:

I ad wanted to visit Mao Kong just for its name - "Cat Space" (impossible to resist!), but Mao Kong proved to be a surprisingly good afternoon trip to a tea house up in the hills where the first Taiwanese Tie Guan Yin tea was grown.

We had started our day late. After a brunch of fantastic Ru Rou Fan (Stewed Prok Rice, our #1 culinary find on this trip, but more on food in another post) and a leisurely coffee in a modestly-furnished cafe that scored "A" for connoirsseurship (the waitress first brought you the freshly ground coffee in a wine glass to sniff, then its brew in a fine-bone China cup, before a cold version in another wine glass!)... we didn't waste anytime waiting for the bus to bring us up to Mao Kong for more caffeine. Instead, from the Taipei Zoo MRT station, a cab brought us to a quiet tea house.

cat/hole (貓/空)

The driver claimed that the teahouse 水仙官 is the one he frequents, and is cheaper and slightly off the more popular Tourist stretch. When we arrived, the only other guests were two groups of middle-aged Taiwanese men in sports jackets or business suits. If the weather is good, sit out in the open or opt for the little pavilions. For NT400 (~S$18) and "water-fee" of NT80 each (~$3.50), we had a small canister of very fragrant Tie Guan Yin that should last through 30 brews.

Mao Kong supposedly gets busy at night, and the 山水客 teahouse at is open 24hours! J and I can only imagine how pretty it must be to watch the city from Mao Kong in a cool summer or spring evening, talk till dawn with friends, and marvel at how tall Taipei 101 really is. Before it got dark, we took a walk round the hillslopes and eventually flagged a mini-bus down to the Taipei Zoo.

rest/city (休/城)

If you've not got enough of the city view, take the MRT to the Taipei City Hall stop and walk to Taipei 101 for a fancy dinner at the uppermost floors! Taipei 101 has the usual chain stores. More interesting is the new Eslite nearby which also has cafes and restaurants...of course, and books in a well-designed setting (*it shuts at 10pm instead of the Dunhwa 24hr Eslite).

(3)-(5) Danshui, Beitou and JiuFen
We didn't revisit the seafront, hotspring and ex-mining towns respectively this time, but we had loads of fun in all three places three years ago. If you want to have a sense of how much fun these towns can be for a day-trip, read our accounts of Danshui, Beitou and Jiu Fen!

Both Danshui and Beitou are accessible by MRT on the red line. Danshui is at the end of the line. Jiu Fen is a bit more complex to get to: Take a train from the Taipei Main station to RuiFang, from the Ruifang station, catch a bus to Jiufen. The whole journey is about 1.5-2hrs.

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Note -
>> Getting to Yang Ming Shan:
Get to the Jiantan MRT station. From there, catch any of these buses (#260, #5) for NT15 to Yang MIng Shan main bus station. Just check the Jiantan station map for the location of the bus stops nearby. The bus ends at a small terminal in Yang Ming Shan round about a small cluster of starbucks/7-eleven and the public toilet. Get there early! *In the late autumnal and wintry months, the winds can get quite fierce, so make sure you have a windbreaker or a scarf/hoodie. *If you are spending the day walking or moving round Yang Ming Shan's sites, bring your own water and lunch. Some main sites do sell cup/pot noodles.

>> Getting to Mao Kong:
Get to the Taipei Zoo MRT station on the Muzha line. From there, take a taxi (ask the cab driver for recommendations of tea places) or take the small bus (#15) from across the station which leaves hourly on weekdays and tell the bus driver the name of the tea house. He/she will just drop you off. To get back to the Taipei Zoo station, just flag down the bus any where along the Mao Kong roads. In 2007 a cable-car system was opened that will bring you straight up to Mao Kong from the Taipei Zoo in 20min, but a year later, the system was shut for "maintenance" (soil erosion had supposedly weakened the supports!).

2 comments:

Tym said...

Wah, you can be Lonely Planet writer liao.

ampulets said...

yah rrrright.

LP's style guide probably does not allow for enough exclamation marks. hee. :P

On a sidenote,I actually used The Rough Guide (supplemented by a Taiwanese guide book) for this trip. My Lonely Planet Taiwan Guide's 4 years old and the new LP is written by 2 white men (even though 1 had supposedly lived many years in Taiwan). The Rough Guide seemed to have better maps, but the layout/design/navigation of the info in Rough Guide is really quite horrible.

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