For anyone heading down the northeastern coast of Taiwan, Nanfang’ao 南方澳 seems like just a nondescript small port town in Yilan‘s southern region, a convenient stopover viewpoint on the Suhua Highway en route from Yilan to Hualien. But for those who take that little detour to Nanfang’ao will find themselves in a charming fishing centre with a scenic coastal view and the perfect spot for a relaxing day trip. I put together this little guide on things to do in Nanfang’ao, how to get there and all the bits and bobs I’ve picked up from my various visits.
If you are planning a trip to Yilan, Nanfang’ao is just one small town within the Su’ao township in Yilan’s southern half. I’ve put together a more detailed guide on things to do in Yilan that also consists of Luodong, Wujie and Dongshan.
Here’s a handy menu to help you navigate this article quickly:
Why visit Nanfang’ao?
I first explored Nanfang’ao back in 2016 as a convenient stopover after I had a soak in the Su’ao Cold Springs. I actually walked to Nanfang’ao from Su’ao 蘇澳 (here’s a tip: Don’t.) and got caught in a huge downpour that day, but I wanted to find out more about this cute little town, and I returned two more times in 2018 to unearth more unusual things to do in Taiwan during the summer.
Nanfang’ao is one of the villages in the larger Su’ao Township and known for its harbour. While it may look small, Nanfang’ao is one of the top three major coastal fishing villages in Taiwan and famous for excellent seafood that people flock here to buy and eat. With all the boat activity, there is a lot of shipbuilding as well.
In particular, Nanfang’ao is known for mackerel 鯖魚 (zhēng yú)and supplies more than 90% of Taiwan’s local mackerel needs. Mackerel is usually in season from September to February, but Nanfang’ao is particularly busy in early October when they host the annual Mackerel Culture Festival. With over 20 years history, this festival involves parades, cooking demonstrations and special fish auctions all in the name of celebrating mackerel.
Where is Nanfang’ao?
Nanfang’ao is located in the southeastern corner of Yilan County, which is on the northeastern coast of Taiwan. It’s about an hour away from Taipei by driving. Here’s a Google Map with all the places that I talk about in this article marked for you.
How to get to Nanfang’ao
Use TaiwanBus to search for bus routes and information in English. It even gives you updated and live bus arrival timings.
From Taipei to Nanfang’ao: You can take a bus directly from Taipei down to Nanfang’ao if you are based in Taipei and plan to do this as a day trip.
- Kuokuang Bus #1879 starts from Yuanshan MRT station, takes Freeway #1 straight to Luodong passes through Su’ao and ends at Nanfang’ao. This route takes about 2hrs and costs 190 NTD. Buses run every 1-2 hours. [Details and Timetable at Kuokuang website]
- Kuokuang Bus #1812 starts from Taipei Main Station. I wouldn’t recommend this unless you really have a lot of time to kill because this route takes about 3hrs 20 mins as it goes out to Keelung first, and then follows the coastline south to get to Nanfang’ao. Also, it runs once a day at 2.20pm and costs 345 NTD. [Details at Kuokuang website]
From Luodong to Nanfang’ao: I based myself in Luodong for my Yilan travels, first I took an express bus from Taipei Main Station to Luodong Bus station that took about an hour. From Luodong bus station you can take Kuokuang Buses #1766 and #1791 that terminate at Nanfang’ao and come several times a day and costs 58 NTD.
From Yilan City to Nanfang’ao:
- Kuokuang Bus #1766 also passes through Yilan transfer Station (It comes all the way down from Toucheng) and costs 92 NTD.
- Kuokuang Bus Red2 from Yilan Bus Station to Nanfang’ao (Saturdays and Sundays only and costs just 20 NTD)
Check out the Taiwan Rail website for prices and schedules. You can book online or at the train station as well.
The closest train station to Nanfang’ao is Su’ao Station. While you can take the train directly from Taipei to Su’ao, it will still take you about 2.5-3 hours (depending on whether you take the local or express train). It will cost about 173-207 NTD.
I only recommend taking the train if you plan to explore Su’ao first. If you plan to head directly to Nanfang’ao, take the bus instead so you don’t have to take another bus or walk.
A note: You can walk from Su’ao to Nanfang’ao, but I wouldn’t recommend it. I did it in about 45 minutes because it didn’t look that far on the map, but just note that the roads aren’t really made for pedestrians so it isn’t the safest option, and there isn’t very much to see along the way. I personally wouldn’t recommend walking – you’re better off taking a bus/taxi if you ask me.
Driving yourself gives you the most flexibility, which you do need in Nanfang’ao to get around quickly and easily, and especially if you want to get up to the Viewpoint easily. You can take advantage of the #5 Highway (cars/buses only, no scooters allowed) to connect from Su’ao to Luodong quickly.
If you can ride, I personally recommend renting a scooter from Luodong station and riding down the #2 highway closer to the coast directly to Nanfang’ao. Nanfang’ao is pretty small so traffic isn’t really an issue when riding around here.
Things to do in Nanfang’ao
You could probably see most of Nanfang’ao in a day, making it a great day trip option from Yilan or Taipei. I suggest starting off at the Nanfang’ao Visitor Centre to pick up any maps or bus schedules that you might need, and then start your exploration from there.
Nanfang’ao Observatory 南方澳观景台
The best view of all of Nanfang’ao is from an observation deck that is actually located outside the town area. You need to head out towards the 108km marking of Suhua Highway 蘇花公路 (Highway #9), drive up the winding roads of the hillside and stopover at this wooden deck that offers a panoramic view of the coastline.
I wrote a scooter up to the viewpoint – be mindful of winding roads and traffic. If you don’t drive, take a taxi or you can actually hike up a steep staircase behind the Zhaoan Temple 昭安宮. That’s how I first got to this viewpoint back in 2016, though riding up was definitely way less taxing.
The viewpoint faces east, perfect for those who want to catch the sunrise, but if you can’t wake up, coming up on a clear afternoon still gives you a really clear view of the surrounding area, so I think it’s a great place to start your exploration of Nanfang’ao since it’s outside the main town area or end your day if you plan to move down to Nan’ao or Hualien next.
Jinan 進安宮 and Nantian 南天宮
I didn’t actually get around to checking out the insides of Nanfang’ao’s temples which are supposed to be some of the must-sees in this area. Here are some of the notable ones:
Jinan Temple 進安宮 is next to the visitor centre. Dedicated to Mazu, it is home to a coral Mazu statue and another Mazu statue that’s over 200 years old – Read more about the statues here. Note that there is another Jinan Temple that is better known as Chang Gong that is the oldest in all of Su’ao.
Nantian Temple 南天宮 is also dedicated to Mazu and has several Mazu statues in its 3-storey complex – a giant gold one, a jade one and 5 that came from Meizhou Island which is the birthplace of Mazu. Read more about how the Mazu statues came to Nanfang’ao at the Taipei Times.
Chuncheng Seafood 春成海鮮
You have to eat seafood when in Nanfang’ao because the fish here is super fresh. The restaurants are well supplied by the daily catch from the market, but I was recommended to check out Chuncheng Seafood 春成海鮮, a small restaurant that has its own fishing boat and their own stash of live seafood every day.
Another recommendation I was given was Fumei Live Seafood Restaurant 富美活海鮮餐廳 but I didn’t have the chance to check it out.
They close at 7pm so have an early dinner if you plan to go there after all your exploration, or consider having lunch here instead. The restaurant lady helped me to pick out my food: I had a freshly steamed Honghou fish and a soup with 2 handmade fishballs topped off with my favourite braised minced meat rice or Luroufan. All for just 350 NTD (~S$15).
Chuncheng Seafood 春成海鮮 42 Yugang Road 漁港路42號 [Google Maps] Open 10am – 7pm
One of the more unusual finds in this fishing town is Natural 天然手作, a little shop that serves up some delicious organic handmade ice cream and drinks. I had a pretty amazing looking and tasting Dragonfruit soft serve ice cream there.
But on weekends and holidays, they have the bizarre Squid Ink ice cream which is all black, and the jelly bits at the bottom that you think are nata de coco are really gelatin made up of Mola Mola aka the Sunfish! It’s not as gross as you might imagine – you can taste the squid ink and it does stain your tongue black, but it’s good if you don’t like your ice cream too sweet.
Natural 天然手作 129 Haibian Road 海邊路129號 [Google Maps] Open 10am – 6pm (Closed on Wednesdays)
Nanning Fish Market 南宁鱼市场
The Nanning Fish Market 南宁鱼市场 along Neipi Road is perhaps the centre of Nanfang’ao fishing culture. It’s a great spot to get a feel for local life.
The best and busiest time to visit is at around 3pm in the afternoon. Fishing boats usually come in at about 2pm to unload their catch and there are rowdy live fish auctions where the fishermen sell off their catch to fishmongers. After that, that’s when the general public heads to Nanning Fish Market to pick up fresh seafood.
For those looking for an absolutely fresh meal, there is a restaurant right in the market itself that will cook your freshly bought fish there and then for you just 100 NTD.
Nanning Fish Market 南寧魚市場 185 Neipi Road 內埤路185號 [Google Maps] Open 8am – 6pm
Neipi Beach 內埤海灘
Neipi Beach is a grey pebbly beach, a gently curving arc of about 1km that’s also known as Lovers Bay. It’s a very picturesque beach with mountains on either side, and if you don’t like sand you can stroll through Beibin Park 北濱公園 right next to it
While the water here looks quite inviting, be quite careful if you plan to swim at Neipi Beach as there have been several incidents of rogue waves appearing or unusually strong undercurrents dragging swimmers under and resulting in deaths.
If you are feeling adventurous, try looking for the Glass Beach 玻璃海灘 nearby where you may find glass beads that have been ground down by the waves into smooth pebbles. This post from Synapticism has some great pix and details on how to get there.
Tofu Cape 豆腐岬
If you keep driving along Neipi Road, you will end up along Zaochuan Road and finally at Tofu Cape 豆腐岬, a rather quirkily named bay because the rocks around here supposedly look like Tofu thanks to the wave erosion. It’s a nice spot for a walk and you can spot rock fishermen, snorkelers and little sailboats around here.
On the way out and back to the Nanfang’ao bus stop area, you can cross over one of Nanfang’ao’s most iconic sights: the Nanfang’ao bridge, Taiwan’s only single steel arch bridge built in 1998 and a surprisingly modern sight in a sleepy fishing town.
Around the area
Nanfang’ao is part of the Su’ao District, so it makes sense to visit the neighbouring Su’ao town as well. Check out the famous Su’ao cold spring for something refreshing during the hot summer, or take a hike up the Qixingling or Seven Stars Peak right next to the Cold Springs.
Head further south to Nan’ao and Dong’ao for more natural sights and wild coastlines. There is a Dongyue Cold Spring here and while it doesn’t have minerals or carbonation like the Su’ao Cold Springs, the water here originated from the nearby mountain and is perpetually hovering around 15ºC throughout the year. I haven’t been to this area yet and hope to do so eventually, but check out this article
The most convenient and accessible bases in Yilan can be found in Luodong (southern half) or Yilan City (northern half). I’ve somehow spent more time in Luodong than Yilan City – check out my Yilan guide which covers Luodong, Wujie, Dongshan as well as Su’ao, or see all my posts on Yilan.
Where to stay in Su’ao
Nanfang’ao itself is pretty small and focused on fishing so there aren’t that many hotel options. You’re probably better off staying in nearby Su’ao instead.
- Brighthouse [booking.com affiliate link] is located near Tofu Cape and all their rooms look like they have really good coastal views, but it’s pricier. Sea Forest Homestay [booking.com affiliate link] just behind Neipi Beach is cheaper but the rooms are catered for larger groups so may be pricey for the solo traveller.
- The Chilih Hotel [booking.com affiliate link] next to the Su’ao train station looked like a good budget hotel option with a great location, reasonable prices and quite a modern and clean looking room
- Some of the higher rated and fancy looking hotels in the Su’ao area look pretty amazing if you want a serene getaway, but be prepared to fork out more. Lakeshore Hotel [booking.com affiliate link] in Su’ao has this amazing looking infinity pool with a view of the coast.
Have you been to Nanfang’ao or the Su’ao area? Tell me what I missed in the comments.