February 25, 2011
There are a number of places to visit within easy reach of Taipei City, and a gem in the south is Wulai.
Famed for its hot springs, Wulai is located around an hour (see below) south of Taipei City at the beginning of the mountain range that stretches down the east of Taiwan. As such, the road is popular with cyclists and it is a pleasant trip with views of mountains and rivers.
The name Wulai is alleged to come from the language of the aboriginal tribe (Atayal) of the region, meaning something along the lines of hot spring, and it is the hot springs that forms the basis of the economy. You'll see "resorts" everywhere ranging from very expensive hotels to still pretty expensive, but there are also restaurants which offer a meal and an hour or two in a bath at much better rates and there are open air pools.
Do take note of warning signs if you want to take a dip in one of the rivers. Being as mountainous as it is, the water level in these rivers can increase quickly. I've also seen snakes swimming in some pools, although I can't attest to whether or not they were poisonous.
At the end of the road you will find Wulai "old street" (a common term being used in many places around Taiwan). Basically this means lots of small shops and restaurants where you can find the local delicacies, and often this will be the busiest part of the location, as is the case with Wulai.
The aforementioned local delicacies tend to be based around the Atayal culture, and include roast pork, fish, mountain vegetables and rice cooked in bamboo. It's certainly worth a try although there are other options if it doesn't appeal.
In recent years, the government in Taiwan has made efforts to embrace the aboriginal culture in Taiwan, and there is a museum dedicated to the Atayal tribe on the old street. Everything is bilingual and there is an info sheet in English if you ask at the front desk. It's free and provides an interesting insight into life as was not all that long ago.
A popular draw in Wulai is the cable car which goes to the top of the Wulai Falls, the biggest waterfall in the area. The views are great, and there is a park by the final stop.
There are other waterfalls in the area, and hiking is very popular. You'll see several trails well marked as you come into Wulai, and there are lots of other resources available on the web.
As with every major tourist destination, Wulai gets very busy at weekends and holidays, especially when the weather is nice, but also when it's cool when hot springs are at their most popular. Consequently, getting to Wulai can be a problem. The only means of public transport (except taking a taxi) is to take the 849 bus, which runs from close to Taipei Main Station along Roosevelt Road then into Hsintien. However another popular tourist spot, Bitan, is on the way, and the traffic is also usually heavy there. Hence although I said the trip takes around an hour, it can take much, much longer. My suggestion is that you leave as early as you can and come back after lunch. That should give you a straight shot in both directions.
It really isn't worth driving a car though as parking is limited and you'll spend hours fighting to find anywhere. I know a lot of people love riding their motorcycles out to Wulai, but if you don't have experience I'd advise caution.
If you don't have time to head into the mountains further south, then I'd recommend Wulai as a place to get the feel of what much of the island is like.
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