Features

Taipei: Call of the green

30 Apr 2009 by intern11
There’s more to Taipei than modern buildings, round-the-clock dining and night markets. Margie T Logarta heads for the city’s verdant backyard for some fresh aira “Formosa” is the old Portuguese name of Taiwan, meaning “beautiful”, and you only have to head out of Taipei to learn why – its natural attractions are abundant and spectacular. A pity many business visitors are not aware that they are easily accessible by MRT, car and bus, content as they are with the usual shopping and dining activities. Perhaps, this quickie list will provide an incentive on one’s next trip to see a vastly different side of the island.

YLAN COUNTY

Largely known to Taipei residents, Ylan should be the next big thing for international consumption, considering that the 182-room Sheraton Ylan Resort (www.sheraton.com) located on a hilltop overlooking the Pacific Ocean, is due to open there later this year. Guests will have the option of enjoying the resort’s planned amenities such as Angsana Spa by the Banyan Tree group and 44 private bath houses offering plunge pools with 42°C hot-spring water or visiting nearby tea plantations, going on a trek or biking. Actually, Ylan is blessed with a wealth of scenic spots such as Turtle Island where whale and dolphin watching is popular, the forests of Taipingshan, Cilan and Mingchih and more in between. Another must-consider experience is the Wufengchi waterfalls, located in Chiaohsi town. Star attraction is a trio of cascades that is the stuff of iconic photographs. The walk to the lowest and tiniest waterfall and the next larger one above it is easy on the well-worn path. Then, it gets a bit steeper to the final waterfall, with the trek taking some 15 minutes. But if you do make it – and many don’t – the reward is beyond words: the view of a breathtaking single-drop waterfall leaping down 60m into the yawning gorge below. If staying in environmentally conscious Ylan City, Silks Place (www.silksplace-yilan.com.tw), a 193-room property, offers deluxe facilities ranging from stylish suites with Jacuzzi tubs to meeting rooms and a pillar-free ballroom. Birdwatchers have a field day around the Lanyang River, which is south of downtown, from September to May each year. HOW TO GET THERE: The Hsueshan Tunnel makes Ylan a one-hour car or bus ride from Taipei on the Taipei-Ylan Freeway No. 5. An express train on the North Railway Line stops at Toucheng, Ylan or Luodong Stations in the vicinity. Taipei-based taxis can also be hired for a reasonable fee after some haggling.

YANGMINGSHAN NATIONAL PARK

Named after the classical poet Wang Yang-ming and also known as Taipei’s “back garden”, this natural reserve is very close to the city. From February to March each year, the Flower Festival is held there to celebrate the arrival of spring. Record crowds come to view the cherry blossoms as well as the collection of themed attractions such as the much-photographed flower clock, fountain, azalea and camellia gardens, waterfalls and grottos. While the eye may be visually fulfilled, the stomach is adequately catered to with restaurants in the busy Nanmen Market serving all sorts of delicacies. Two well-known eateries are Nanyuan (South Garden/Booth 192, Nanmen Market, 8, Sec. 1, Roosevelt Road) and Huayan (Flourishing Garden/Booth 68, Nanmen Market, 8, Sec. 1, Roosevelt Road), which have been hand-making tangyuan (round dumplings in soup) for the past 40 years and don’t intend to stop. HOW TO GET THERE: From the MRT Taipei Main Station or the Yuanshan, Jiantan or Shihlin Stations, transfer to bus 260 or Red 5.

WULAI

This mountainous area, 17km from the city centre, boasts one of Taiwan’s most visited (by local tourists) waterfall attractions, which becomes even more dramatic to view when it rains. At the Wulai Hot Springs Village, a minitrain whisks you to the base of the cascades, after which a cable car gets you to the top, which makes for an exciting ride, especially with the kids along. Steaming mineral baths are offered in the resorts, of which there are a good number. HOW TO GET THERE: If you want to experience commuting, take the MRT to Hsintien Station, then hop on a bus to Wulai.

BEITOU

This hilly suburban area, northeast of Taipei, still retains a certain charm, even if it has come up against stiff competition in recent years as a hot- spring resort destination. Beitou Park is where most of the natural attractions are concentrated. One such is the Geothermal Valley where boiling eggs in the scalding spring (don’t even think of dipping a toe) is the first thing visitors will do. While there are plenty of public bathing pools, the Beitou Hot Springs Museum, set in an elegant old mansion, is probably the best place to get a soak. However, it’s closed on Mondays. Want to know more about Taiwanese culture? The Taiwan Folk Arts Museum (32 Yuya Road, tel 88 6 2891 2318) is an excellent repository. HOW TO GET THERE: Take the Tamsui Line from Taipei Central Station and transfer at Beitou Station on a spur line to get to Hsin Beitou Station.

DANSHUI (TAMSUI/TANSHUI)

An extremely easy getaway for the stressed-out visitor, Danshui, meaning “fresh water”, is the last stop on the red line heading north from Taipei. At the mouth of the Danshui River, this fishing village has a distinctly Brighton feel to it, especially on weekends when buskers and street artists line the promenade putting on their acts and displaying works for sale. The carnival atmosphere comes alive on weekends, so be prepared for the crowds, especially in the vicinity surrounding the MRT station and main drag of Zhong Zheng. The town centre brings to mind Macau’s Senado Square but on a much smaller scale, only because it features tiny winding lanes and some historical sites such as the house of Dr George Leslie Mackay, an education-bent Canadian missionary, who founded the Tamsui Oxford University College in 1882 and Tamkang Middle School, both still in operation. Another obvious vestige of the past is Fort Santo Domingo, a legacy of the brief Spanish occupation of North Taiwan from 1626 to 1641, before they were expelled by the Dutch, who were in turn kicked out by the Chinese in 1661. To escape the crush, walk along the riverfront fringed by a canopy of old trees and dotted with leisure fishermen and spooning couples, both oblivious to the parade of camera-clicking tourists. The path leads to a collection of chic alfresco eateries, providing the best spot to view a tranquil sunset and enjoy the tart breezes. HOW TO GET THERE: Start from the MRT Taipei Main Station and head north on the Tamsui Line on a 35-minute ride until the last stop.

Tipoff - smart travel intelligence

TAIPEI is a concrete jungle overflowing with the usual tower blocks of steel and glass, but it boasts a number of conveniences designed to make any business trip hassle free. Convenient office On your way to a meeting, you remember you forgot to zap copies of the proposal for the attendees. No problem, just pop into a 7-Eleven or some similar establishment and the very helpful staff can do the job for you. They can also arrange to send your fax or deliver an urgent parcel should you be caught on the road and be in need of such services. Taxi Phone bookings are the way to go when needing a cab in Taipei. Frequent users are encouraged to sign up for membership offered by a number of cab companies. Owning a VIP card entitles the holder to perks such as 10 percent off each booking. Drivers, associated with these established taxi companies, are usually known to render better service and drive more carefully. The Metro The Taipei Main Station is the main hub of the city’s very efficient MRT system. However, it can be daunting for the first timer with the frenetic criss-crossing of commuters and babel of voices. Fortunately, directions are clearly marked and the passageways wide and well lit.   A tip: when standing on the escalator, keep to the right or risk being pushed aside by people in a hurry. If you’re a heavy MRT user, the NT$200 (US$6) one-day pass saves you from scrounging for loose change every time you need to buy a token.
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