When people ask me where to go to for a quick getaway from Singapore to escape the work deadlines and stress of daily life for a little bit, one of my favourite suggestions is Taiwan – it’s not too far to fly from Singapore, offers a great variety of city and natural wonders and has great friendly people, all perfect elements for a relaxing getaway.
In this series collaboration with Scoot where I uncover cool and unique things to do in Taiwan, I found some interesting spots and activities in Taipei City 新北市 and Yilan 宜蘭, minus the maddening crowds to allow you to truly relax. Also, some insider tips based on my own experiences on how to reduce your stress levels when it comes to planning your Taiwan vacation.
[GIVEAWAY] And a special treat for my dear readers: I brought a couple of Taiwanese craft beers back from Taipei and I’m giving away two pairs to my Singaporean-based readers! Scroll down to the bottom of the post to participate.
- Yuanshan員山: Blend your own brew at Kavalan Whisky Distillery
- Dongshan冬山: Cycle Yilan’s very own Mr Brown Road
- Su’ao: Chill out at the cold springs
New Taipei City: North Coast
- Keelung 基隆: Uncrowded coast at Badouzi Park
- Fugui Cape 富貴角: Green phenomena at Laomei
- Jinshan金山: Appreciate art at the hillside Juming Museum
Where to stay
- Taipei – Designer hostel stay at Star Hostel Main Station
- Luodong – Glamping at Yilan Inspiration Hostel
Blend your own brew at Kavalan Whisky Distillery
Once a bit of a secret, Yilan’s Kavalan Whisky Distillery is world renowned after scooping up several international awards in recent years, and sees bus loads of tourists visit everyday for a little whisky tasting and shopping. But you can still enjoy a rather interesting experience away from the crowds and take home a really cool souvenir to boot.
The highlight for most are the free whisky tasting sessions, those see hordes of tourists at a time – it’s a bit too touristy for my liking, but if you are willing to fork out 1,500 NTD (S$67), you can partake in a little DIY session where you get to blend your own bottle of whisky and take that blend home with you as a souvenir. During peak season it is recommended you book this in advance, although I just booked mine on the day itself at the gift shop.
We were given 3 different whiskies that are apparently not sold in the giftshop, each with their own flavour profiles, and instructed very briefly on how to combine these whiskies together to figure out our favourite combination and proportions. I will admit that as a noob whisky drinker, a lot of the subtlety was probably lost on me, but I enjoyed trying to figure out my favourite blend and I got to bring home my own unique bottle of whisky.
Once you’ve picked your ideal proportions, the staff will combine your requested proportions into a 300ml bottle in its own box, and you get to sign off on the bottle as the master blender. I definitely enjoyed this experience much more than the free tasting session – there were just 3 people in my session so it was much less touristy/hectic than the whisky tasting session earlier.
How to get there
Kavalan Whisky Distillery is located in Yuanshan, Yilan and is a little bit out of the way – I rode there on a scooter, and the easiest way would be to take a taxi from Yilan or Luodong, but if you are taking public transport, you can take the E-Lan Bus #752 from Yilan Transfer Station and stop at Yuanshan Farmers’ Alliance Cheng Kung Branch 員山農會成功分部.
Cycle Yilan’s Dongshan Mr Brown Road
Taitung’s Chishang is famous for its picturesque Mr Brown Road without any lamp posts or telephone poles ruining your beautiful green and yellow fields, but if you are short on time, you can check out the mini version of this road in Yilan, just an hour or so away from Taipei City.
Yilan’s version is a lot more winding, and apparently the best time to go is late June when the yellow flowers are in bloom. I was there in mid July but sadly didn’t have any blooms, but the grass was nice and green. I was there around 9am+ in the morning and there was absolutely no one around.
How to get there
The easiest way to get there is either by scooter or cycling. Note that vehicles aren’t technically allowed on that road – you need to park nearby though I did see a mini van drive along the road when I was there. It was pretty deserted when I was there, but it was a weekday morning after all.
The location on Google Maps is pretty accurate – 77 Sanfeng Road off Chengxing Road in the Dongshan district of Yilan which is not too far from Luodong. A suggestion is to take the TRA train to Dongshan station, rent a bike there and cycle over to the road.
Chill out at Su’ao Cold Spring 蘇澳冷泉 for free
Taiwan is famous for hot springs, but for something quite different head to the Su’ao Cold Spring. The water temperature is around 22ºC throughout the year, and while there are cold water springs all across Taiwan and the world, those with naturally occurring carbonic acid mineral waters like the ones found in Su’ao are very rare – you can drink this water and it is said to have beautifying properties as well.
I’ve visited the Su’ao Cold Spring in the past, but the Cold Spring facility is undergoing some major renovation so the public areas are torn down and only the cabins are left if you want to have a private soak. But if you venture a little further along the road and head towards the park right next to the Cold Springs carpark, you will see the cutest little stream covered with a beautiful rainbow canopy of umbrellas.
It turns out that this stream draws the same cold spring mineral water from the same source as the Su’ao Cold Spring, and besides a truly Instagram worthy backdrop, it is also completely free. Kick off your shoes and wade into the water, and make sure to wash your face thoroughly with the water to get that youthful glow. If you are adventurous, have a little taste – the water has quite a distinct flavour that tastes to me like a slightly-off soda drink. (Wanna taste what it’s like? Scroll down to the giveaway and stand to win some carbonic water soda!)
Look out for Old Mr Xiao around the stream area – I first met him in the Su’ao Cold Spring back in 2016, and was really happy to meet him again out here. These days he mans a drinks cart on a motorbike and remains a fountain of knowledge on everything to do with the Su’ao Cold Spring, and was one of the people responsible for getting this free stream source constructed in the first place. Local residents that I chatted with attest to his expertise – one older gentleman told us how he had consulted Mr Xiao when constructing his own private cold spring pool nearby and generously invited us to check it out.
How to get there
Take the train to Su’ao station and cross the main Zhongshan road. You should see signs pointing you to the Cold Springs, otherwise follow Zhongyuan Road until it bends, and you should see a large (Paid) carpark for the Su’ao Cold Springs. Keep following the road – the free cold springs area with the bright umbrella canopy is right next to the carpark and next to an open park space.
Soak in the beauty of the North Coast at Badouzi Seaside Park 八斗子海濱公園
Keelung’s Peace Island or Hepingdao is more popular for those who want to get a feel of Yehliu’s rock formation away from the crowds, but for natural coastal beauty away from the masses, head on over to the lesser known Badouzi Seaside Park that you can visit for free. Badouzi is the largest fishing village in Northern Taiwan, but became the site of a major power plant during the Japanese reign and the island was joined to the mainland via land reclamation. These buildings have since become the current National Museum of Marine Science and Technology 國立海洋科技博物館.
The key sight to see in Badouzi is the Wangyou Valley 望幽谷 – Wangyou 望幽 loosely translates into ‘looking at peace’ but sounds similar to 忘忧 or ‘forgetting worries’, so this is the perfect spot to kick back and relax a little. Take a walk through the picturesque green valley and admire the coastline features – you can see Keelung Islet in the distance.
There are several paved footpaths and viewpoints in Badouzi – 65 Highland is the most crowded viewpoint where you take that green valley shot, but just 5 minutes walk up a slope and you’ll find practically nobody at the 80 Highland which offers more amazing sea views and a covered pavilion. Another short climb takes you to the highest 101 Highland where there are two abandoned military posts that you can climb up on to and get an amazing 360º view of the surrounding area.
Also worth checking out on the eastern side is Chaojing Park 潮境公園 which has several interesting art installations set against the coastal backdrop – most noteworthy are the nautilus shell slide that children love, and the cluster of giant brooms that brings to mind Harry Potter. Lots of people just go there to hang out or take walks – when I was there, there was an exotic animal owners gathering of sorts where I saw 3 colourful macaws, some smaller parrots and even a tamed falcon of some sorts flying around the park.
How to get there
From Keelung Bus Station, take public bus 103 or the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle Bus T99, also known as the Keelung Shuttle Bus East Line or 龍宮尋寶(東岸)線 towards Ruifang and stop at Haikeguan 海科館. Ruifang is the jump off point for the Pingxi Line where spots like Shifen, Houtong and the Sandiaoling waterfalls are.
The museum occupies a large area, and the buildings house exhibitions and film screenings if you have the time to check them out, but for the nature spots listed above, head behind the buildings and up into the hills/towards the coastline.
See a unique green reef at Taiwan’s northern-most point
One of the most famous spots on New Taipei City’s northeastern coastline are the weird rock formations of Yehliu, but consider heading to Shimen instead and checking out Fugui Cape富貴角 – Taiwan’s northernmost point, and home to the unusual phenomenon known as the Laomei Green Reef 老梅綠石槽.
The Datun volcano that erupted a long time ago – the same ones that formed Guishandao – caused the formation of the lava rock coastline here in Shimen, gradually eroded into their current trough shapes by the waves. What’s interesting is that some unique combination of natural elements has resulted in these rocks being covered in a green algae layer that’s quite unlike any other coastal rock formation in Taiwan.
April and May are apparently the best times to see this green algae carpet effect, and from what I’ve seen on Instagram, photographers will love trying to get sunrise and sunset shots here, juxtaposing the amber lighting with the green covered rocks. I was there on a July morning when the tide was low and I could still see the effect, and there was absolutely no one else on the beach with me (but man the sun was pretty hot)
Not far away is the Fugui Lighthouse that marks the northernmost point of Taiwan. It’s not particularly scenic or unusual and unfortunately you can’t actually enter the lighthouse itself, but it’s worth taking a stroll to since it’s so nearby.
How to get there
From Danshui Bus Station, take Taiwan Tourist Shuttle Bus 862, also known as the Crown Northern Shuttle Bus Line or 皇冠北海岸線 towards Guihou Fishing Harbour and drop at the Fugui Cape Lighthouse (Laomei Green Reef) stop 富貴角燈塔(老梅綠石槽)
Enjoy the serene mountainside at the Juming museum 朱銘美術館
Up in the hills of Jinshan is a beautiful museum that features one of Taiwan’s most established artists and sculptors Juming 朱銘. What’s unusual about this museum is that it’s more outdoors than indoors – Juming is famous for his large figurines and rather than keep them sheltered in galleries, most of his works have been placed in serene gardens, resulting in the Juming Museum becoming Taiwan’s largest outdoor art gallery.
Juming is particularly famous for his series of Taichi statues that are spread out in a lovely green field – I do like how he manages to convey a sense of movement and humanity even in hard unwieldy material like rock. There are some indoor galleries on site with rotating exhibitions of his newer works.
Walking around the museum is a nice way to enjoy the hillsides of Jinshan – it can get a little cloudy up in the hills, but on a clear day you can also see the neighbouring Chin Pao San Cemetery with its neat rows of graves along the hillside, and also famous for being the grave of famous Taiwanese songstress Teresa Teng.
How to get there
Up in the hills of Jinshan, you can take the same Taiwan Tourist Shuttle Bus 862, also known as the Crown Northern Shuttle Bus Line or 皇冠北海岸線 from Danshui towards Guihou Fishing Harbour and drop at the Juming Museum Stop. Check with the bus driver whether the bus stops as there are certain buses that do not make this stop on their route.
Alternatively, there are free museum shuttle buses from the Jinshan District Office.
Open Tue-Sun 10am-5pm (winter) or 6pm (summer). A ticket costs NTD 280 / S$12.50
Indulge in local Taiwanese Craft Beer
My favourite way to relax and cool down is to sit down somewhere nice and have a pint of ice cold beer, especially in Taiwan’s sweltering summer. While the green label Taiwan Beer is still the most popular, locally brewed craft beer has become very popular and these days you can find plenty of craft beer bars to indulge in both local and international tipples.
Here are several craft beer bars and brands that I either visited or was recommended to check out:
- Driftwood [Wanhua]: This bar in the Ximending area is easy to get to and has a nice atmosphere. They carry local Taihu Brewing beers on tap – I tried the Kumquat ale but it was a little too sour for my taste and ended up with a more typical bright ale instead. If you are interested in brewery tours, head to Taihu Lab in Xizhi/New Taipei City instead, where they carry Taihu beers that you can’t get in other outlets!
- Mikkeller Bar [Datong]: Located on Nanjing West Road on the southern end of the hipster Dihua Street, Mikkeller is located in a historic building in one of Taipei’s oldest neighbourhoods. This Danish brewery has 24 draft beers on tap, a mix of local, international and of course Danish beers.
- Beer Ammo [Datong]: This tiny craft beer spot is conveniently close to Ningxia night market. There is a small selection of beers on tap, but it’s more popular for its floor to ceiling selection of over 300 craft beer bottles from all over the world.
Where to stay
Taipei: Star Hostel Taipei Main Station
Taipei Star Hostel has an excellent location right next to Taipei Main Station, very convenient coming off the Airport MRT as well as getting to the bus and train stations. It’s quite a large hostel so but a very swanky hipster designer one at that – I was pretty blown away by the design of the common room, with lots of natural light and wood and even the cutest little treehouse nooks.
I had a private single room for 1,450 NTD (S$67) per night that was snug but had all the important things, like my own toilet and hairdryer, air-conditioning and even a TV.
Check out Star Hostel on booking.com [affiliate link]
Luodong: Yilan Inspiration Hostel
I’d originally wanted to do a little glamping in Yilan but the place I wanted to go was fully booked up. Instead, I found the Yilan Inspiration Hostel that let me live out my camping dreams of staying in the cutest tent with the comforts of proper plumbing and air-conditioning.
The dorm rooms each have their own concept – I picked the 6 bed dorm room with the tents because it looked the cutest, but just know that the mattress you sleep on within the tent doesn’t have springs, so perhaps not the most comfortable if you have a bad back, but it’s definitely not a dinky piece of foam which is nice. The 4 bed dorm has little wooden houses for each bed like mini log cabins, while the 10 bed dorm has sturdy built-in beds stacked up in 3 layers that feel almost like a cat’s playground and surprisingly enough doesn’t feel cramped.
Location wise, it’s a 15-minute walk from Luodong train and bus station and located in a residential area along a canal, though if you ride a scooter it’s just 5 minutes away.
I had a bed in the 6 bed dormitory for 500 NTD (S$22) per night.
Check out Yilan Inspiration Hostel on booking.com [affiliate link]
My tips for a stress-free holiday in Taiwan
The key thing is to make key bookings before the trip so the bulk of stress happens before the trip and not during your holiday. Planning can go a long way in letting you relax on your vacation.
- Check in online so you don’t have to rush so much at the airport even if there are delays getting to the airport
- I suggest going carry-on and packing light to save baggage fees and having to worry about whether your luggage gets lost, but if you plan to shop or just don’t roll that way, purchase any needed check-in luggage space and carry hardy luggage.
- If you are flying with Scoot, consider booking a seat in the ScootinSilence quiet zone only on their 787 Dreamliner planes) – with no children allowed, adjustable headrests for better neck support and more spacious seats near the exit so you can get off quickly. Little perks like these can make for less stressful travel
- If you are short on time, consider pre-ordering a meal on the plane so you save yourself the hassle of having to find food when you land. It’s a little cheaper if you pre-order compared to ordering on the plane itself!
- Pick a central location that’s easy to get to.
- In Taipei, I found staying around the Zhongzheng area near Taipei Main Station extremely convenient because of the proximity to the Airport MRT, regular MRT and buses in and around Taipei. That’s not to say other locations aren’t good, but for sheer convenience, this has definitely been my favourite location.
- In Yilan, Luodong and Yilan City are both well served by the bus and train stations, so picking an accommodation near these transport hubs will save you the hassle of arranging transport to your hotel.
- Do your research beforehand – in Chinese if possible, because while there is a fair amount of Taiwan information in English, the most updated stuff is naturally still in Chinese. I’ve had several instances of unexpected closures and movements that were not reflected in English translations or websites.
- Have some back up plans – don’t be too hung up about following the perfect itinerary and just go with the flow. Who knows what adventures you might encounter along the way.
- I highly recommend getting an Easy Card 悠遊卡 – you can pick it up at most convenience stores or at the MRT station. It’s used in most MRT, bus and even ferry services, and also as a payment option at many shops as well, so even if you run out of cash, you might still be able to use your Easy Card at major chains.
- Uber can be used to get around Taipei, always useful if you don’t speak Chinese.
- Having data and being connected could help reduce stressful situations by giving you the ability to google and look up things on the internet when you need it, but it also makes you more easily contactable to people back home, not ideal if you are trying to relax properly from stressful work situations
- I’ve been using Klook for my SIM card needs in Taiwan so far – I like how you can book the SIM card beforehand and just pick it up when you arrive at Taoyuan airport. I’ve used both Unite Traveler 4G SIM Card by Chunghwa Telecom and Welldone 4G SIM Card by Taiwan Mobile Telecom and they both were very easy to pick up and provided excellent speeds. If you use my Klook sign up link, it gives you HK$25/SG$4 off and gives me some kickback rewards.
[OPEN] Reader Giveaway
As a special treat to my readers, I brought back some drinks from my Taiwan trip to help you get into the rest and relax mode!
Prize 1: A pair of craft beers from Formosa Brewing Company
I picked these beers up from BeerAmmo after exploring nearby Ningxia Night Market. Formosa Brewing Company was set up by two French guys who love and live in Taiwan, and I love how pretty the bottles look :) Also, pepper beer?? I’m definitely intrigued.
Prize 2: A pair of craft beers – Sambar Beer and Lychee Beer
Lychee beer is quite a classic Taiwanese beer flavour, and Sambar is a reference to the Formosan Sambar deer that you can find around the island. I had the Sambar beer during a hot summer day’s lunch one day, very refreshing craft beer.
Prize 3: A pair of Ice Cream Soda Pop
These were the soda pop drinks that old Uncle Xiao was selling at the Su’ao Cold Spring area. These are actually quite an old-school drink that is popular with kids, made with carbonated spring water and there’s a weird little marble in the neck of the bottle that’s meant to keep the air form escaping. The pink plastic things are what you use to open the bottle by releasing the pressurised gas inside.
Unfortunately due to the nature of the prizes (glass bottles and some alcohol), this giveaway is only open to my readers based in Singapore, or who will be able to pick up the prize from me in person in the month of August 2018. For my international readers don’t worry, stay tuned to the next Taiwan post and video where I will have more stuff for you!
How do you like to relax in Taiwan? Share your best R&R activities with me in the comments.
See the full series of my unique experiences in Taiwan here or follow me on Instagram @jac_theocctrav and check out #TaiwanderingWithScoot for updates of my trip adventures. If you have more time to spend in Taiwan, why not check out all my Taiwan posts to see what else the other parts of Taiwan have to offer.
This trip to Taiwan and blog post was sponsored by Scoot. Scoot flies to Taipei every day and Kaohsiung 3-4 times a week – visit the Scoot website for more.