5 Reasons to Take a Road Trip on Taiwan’s Northeast Coast

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One of my favorite ways to explore a new destination is via road trip. With the freedom of the open road, the flexibility to go where you want, when you want, and the chance to stumble upon towns and experiences not indexed in any guidebook—well, what’s not to love?

Road Trip! Taiwan's Northeast Coast

It can be a little overwhelming at first, mainly due to the swarms of scooters on the road as well as the various interpretations of what a red light means, but once you get the hang of it, Taiwan is a great place to go for a drive. One of the most popular road trips in Taiwan is circumnavigating the entire island. But if you don’t have time to see it all, there are still plenty of shorter jaunts that promise to be just as memorable. Specifically, Taiwan’s Northeast Coast is full of stunning landscapes, lively night markets, and traditional towns just waiting to be explored. Better yet, it can be done in a long weekend.

Road trip! Views of Taiwan's Northeast Coast

Whether it’s by car, by scooter, or even by bus or bicycle, here are 5 reasons to give Taiwan’s Northeast Coast a ride:

Keelung

Keelung is a harbor city located just a few hours from Taipei. The town is beautiful on a clear day when the mountains that surround it are visible and the sea is a beautiful blue. Unfortunately this doesn’t happen too often, as Keelung is also Taiwan’s rainiest city. Be prepared and come with a poncho—it has seriously rained every time I have visited.

Keelung is home to a few eccentricities, such as a Hollywood-esque sign for ‘KEELUNG’ in the hills, as well as a replica of the Statue of Liberty (conveniently poised behind a large McDonalds). But the main reason to visit Keelung is to encounter one of Taiwan’s liveliest and largest night markets—the Miaokou Night Market. Click here to check rates and availability on Keelung's highest rated hotels.

You’ll find the night market adjacent to the Keelung Harbor; due to the prominent smells and noises, it’s really quite difficult to miss. Pao-Pao Shaved Ice is one of the market’s specialties. Be sure to also try stinky tofu, anything that comes fried and served up on a stick, and the fresh seafood.

Yehliu Geopark

Continuing down the coast is the Yehliu Geopark—likely unique from any landscape you’ve seen before. But not only is it distinct, it’s also strikingly beautiful. (So scenic that it was awarded ‘Most Beautiful Landscape in Taiwan’ in 2013.)

The Geopark is located on a small strip of land that juts out into the ocean. Along it sit around 180 unusual rock formations in various stages of sea and wind erosion. A few of the most characteristic attractions are the Mushroom Rocks—globe-shaped rocks supported by thin stone pillars—as well as the Honeycomb Rocks—rocks covered with holes of different sizes.

Be sure to snap a photo with the ‘Queen’s Head Rock’, perhaps the park’s most famous attraction.

Taiwan Road Trip! Yehliu Geopark - crazy rocks

Taiwan Road Trip! Yehliu Geopark - crazy rocks

Jiufen Old Town

About an hour away from Yehliu lies Jiufen. The quaint town is an old gold mining village built into the hills off the coast. The town flourished during the Japanese colonial period, when the gold was plentiful, but then underwent a sharp decline when the mining industry closed down. Today it has been revived as a weekend escape for locals who are seeking a Taiwan from the past, before high-rise apartments and a Starbucks on every corner. Here's where to stay.

Small, stone alleyways zigzag up and down the mountain, beckoning you to leave the main thoroughfares behind. Traditional red Chinese lanterns line the streets, invoking the feeling that you have stepped back in time. The main tourist attraction is Jiufen Old Street, a winding road filled with street vendors and handicraft shops. Each city or town boasts its own special food, and Jiufen is no different. Snacks such as fish meatballs, dumplings, and gelatinous mochi are a few common choices, but the doughy, purple taro balls are easily the most famous, said to be a symbol of the town.

Just avoid road tripping to Jiufen on the weekend, as busloads of Taiwanese tourists cram the streets at this time.

Taiwan Road Trip! Jiufen Old Town

Taiwan Road Trip! Jiufen Old Town on a rainy day

Taiwan Road Trip! Tea in Jiufen Old Town

Taiwan Road Trip! Jiufen Hills

Teapot Mountain

Teapot Mountain is a moderate half-day hike. If you’re willing to stretch your legs and sweat for a few hours, you’ll be rewarded at the top of the mountain with one of the best views in all of Taiwan (in my opinion). 

Viewed from afar, the mountain does in fact look like a teapot, although you might have to squint a bit to recognize it.

The trailhead is easily reached from Jinguashi Gold Ecological Park, just a few minutes away from Jiufen. The hike begins with about 2 kilometers of stairs. But soon the stairs open up to a brief stroll down a semi-flat maintenance road that will in turn lead to the signpost for Teapot Mountain. From here on out, expect rocky hiking with occasional exposed cliffs. Numerous dangling ropes are in place to assist with the steep climbs and rock scrambles.

You’ll likely have a bit of company on Teapot Mountain. Taiwanese love to cheer on foreigners participating in outdoor activities—expect to receive advice, ”jia you”s (let’s go!), fruit, and lots of photographs!

Taiwan Road Trip! Hiking Teapot Mountain

Taiwan Road Trip! Climbing Teapot Mountain

Taiwan Road Trip! Teapot Mountain

Yilan

After a few days of eating, hiking, and exploring, enjoy the end of your road trip at one of Taiwan’s beaches.  This area also happens to be one of the most popular places in all of Taiwan to surf.

Yilan is the main town (click here for where to stay), but for the beach go to either Wai Ao or Wushi.  Both are black-sand beaches with a great view of Turtle Island out in the distance. Wai Ao tends to be less populated, largely due to the lack of convenience stores or restaurants in the area. The surf here can also be more demanding. But with the mountains behind you and ocean stretching out in front of you, it’s a great place to relax and get away from it all. On the other hand, Wushi has a consistent stream of Taiwanese and foreigners that dot the beach. You can rent a surfboard from one of the stands on the sand. Be prepared to share the waves with lots of other surfers, many of them beginners.

Taiwan Road Trip! Wushi Beach, in Yilan

If you have the time, don’t feel like Yilan has to be the end of your journey! The scenic coastline and East Rift Valley between Hualien and Taitung are certainly worthy of the extra miles.

Typically the traffic in Taiwan is at its worst in the cities. Once you are outside of the major hubs, driving is rather straightforward. However, there are plenty of bus connections between the stops listed above if you prefer to relax in a passenger seat.

Note: To drive a scooter or motorcycle in Taiwan you must have a valid Taiwanese motorcycle license.

For more tips and tricks to traveling in Taiwan, be sure to download 101 Tips to Living in Taiwan, a completely free ebook.

 

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5 Reasons to Take a Road Trip on Taiwan’s Northeast Coast

 

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Casey Siemasko, the Taiwan Editor for Wandering Educators, is a freelance writer, blogger, and avid traveler. She finds her life inspiration by exploring new places and meeting new people, and seeks to find magic in the most ordinary of places. When she's off the computer, she enjoys practicing yoga, training for marathons and scuba diving. Somewhere in there she also found time to write an eBook, 101 Tips to Living in Taiwan. She and her husband comprise the two lovebirds and digital nomads documenting their travel musings at http://acruisingcouple.com

 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Casey Siemasko

 

 

 

 
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