Enthralled as we were with Taipei, we also wanted to escape the city for the cooler air of the countryside, and see some of the rest of Taiwan. We chose two easy day trips from the capital; Beitou Thermal Valley to see some geothermal action, and the Maokong Tea Plantations in the hills.
Beitou Thermal Valley
Beitou is just north of Taipei and is known for its thermal activity – namely hot springs! Upon arrival I was slightly taken aback to read all about where the local earthquake shelter is – but as Taiwan sits near the egde of two tectonic plates, earthquakes are possible so it pays to be prepared! We headed for the local footbath but weren’t prepared for it to be quite so crowded! The footbath was so busy that some people were just standing in the middle due to lack of space! We decided not to squeeze in, but continue our stroll to the Thermal Valley.
We made the short walk to the Thermal Valley. It was interesting to see the smoke rising and smell the sulphur, and I always enjoy some geothermal activity. If this was your first visit to somewhere like this, you would probably find it interesting, but it was a lot smaller than I expected, and to be honest having seen massive geothermal areas in Rotorua, New Zealand, and Yellowstone, USA, I wasn’t blown away. Instead, I was rather anxious about mosquitoes that were buzzing around, given that they can carry dengue fever.
As we left the Thermal Valley we were surprised to see a lady asking everyone to leave so she could lock the gates! It seems that they close at 4pm, so we just made it in time. On the walk back to town, we meandered through the park and saw a couple of hot springs. We also stopped at the very pleasant Beitou public library; an airy wooden building with comfy chairs, air conditioning and international newspapers, so we sat down and read for a while, which was a nice break from the heat (and mosquitos!) before dinner.
Overall, it was a pleasant day trip, and i’m glad we went to check it out – you don’t know unless you go! And it was good to get out of the city to see suburb of Taipei. However sadly I wasn’t bowled over by Beitou, and I think the time would have been better spent in Taipei itself.
Tea Plantation at Maokong
Sadly I must lower the tone at the start of this adventure by adding that I went to the ladies toilets at the base of the gondola and there was a sign saying that these toilets are regularly checked for hidden cameras. I was quite horrified as obviously the reason that the toilets are checked must indicate that they have had a problem with people recording others in the toilet?! I’ve never seen this sign before (though I have heard of it since – I read recently that in Seoul, South Korea, they check every public toilet daily due to this problem!!). So, an interesting and unsettling fact for you… maybe have a quick visual check around the toilet cubicle before dropping your pants in future!
Our toilet ordeal over, we rode a cable car above the tree-tops to the Tea Plantations. This was fun and provided a great view over Taipei city.
Once at the top, we walked the winding road past the tea plantations and various tea houses. We were heading for the Taipei Tea Promotion Centre, which had received some mediocre reviews online, but it was free and I thought looked quite interesting. Unfortunately when we got there it was closed! Doh! At least we had a good walk and passed a large temple (and a dead snake on the road!). I was less worried about mosquitoes here (as the dengue ones tend to be in the city), but the guidebook said there were giant wasps which, if you are stung, can kill you! Sometimes I despair!
As dusk fell, the views over Taipei were amazing. We stopped in a tea house for tea and some snacks to recharge our batteries and enjoy the view. Outside, the night markets started doing a good trade.
On the way back down in the gondola, we discovered that there was a sensor light in the cabin, so the only way to achieve total darkness (which is best to see out, with no reflection) was by being totally still, like a game of Statues. This was much more difficult than it sounds (for us, anyway!) and provided some entertainment on our return leg.
Overall, we had a perfectly pleasant day and I was very glad of the fresh air in the hills, which was a welcome break from the petrol fumes of the city. I’m glad I went, both for the air and because I now know what is there. However, I didn’t find it absolutely amazing, and in retrospect I feel there was more to see in the city.
Travel Tips for Beitou:
- Take the train from Taipei to Beitou (red line) and then change for the 5 minute journey to Xinbeitou (pink line).
- Thermal Valley closes its gates at 4pm. Check this before visiting!
- Men are not allowed to wear boxer-style boardshorts in the hot springs – you need to have lycra speedo-style shorts. All swimming costumes must be made of lycra-style swimming costume material.
Travel Tips for Maokong Tea Plantations:
- Take the train to Taipei Zoo (brown line) and then walk 5 minutes to the base of the gondola.
- The cable car stops at 3 levels. For the tea plantations, ignore the other stops and stay on until the top.
- There is a grocery shop at the top for snacks / drinks.
Next blog: Food in Taipei
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