After a full and wonderfully enjoyable day exploring various corners of the Taiwanese capital, my son and I kicked off our morning in the Grand Hyatt Club. The views of Taipei 101 and the hills to the south area excellent. Taiwan is quite mountainous, something that we would face firsthand as we headed to Yangmingshan National Park.
Off to Explore Yangmingshan
Having crashed the previous night at a little after 8:00 PM, morning came early. We were able to eat breakfast and leave our hotel just before 7:30 AM. A ride on the red line of Taipei’s efficient MTR would bring us to the Shipai station. Here we would catch a bus for Yangmingshan.
What we did not expect was the huge line for bus line 128. The social differences between mainland China and Taiwan could not be a starker contrast. Where I was expecting the pushing and shoving we experienced at “lines” during a couple moments in Beijing, queues in Taiwan are orderly and the people polite. We managed to squeeze on a bus with as many Taiwanese as the driver could possibly fit. Turns out Yangmingshan is a popular choice for a Sunday outing.
Our time on the bus was one of those experiences I relish. I wouldn’t have traded our bus ride with dozens of locals for a faster and private Uber ride, even if the latter was free. They obviously thought nothing of standing for the hour-long journey up into the mountains. One woman insisted that my son sit is her already limited footspace, which he and I both greatly appreciated. For my part, I enjoyed the views of the city below us as we wound our way into the mountains.
Line 128 brings you to the main park bus station and visitor center from which you can catch a number of other buses to various places inYangmingshan National Park. We took the 131 bus to Zhuzihu. This was where I made a mistake, as we actually could have continued on the 128 straight to that area.
Zhuzihu is a beautiful and tranquil area within the park where you can walk along plots of calla lilies and quietly flowing creeks. We headed down the trail toward the green maple forest.
Th large, terraced hillside of hydrangeas and other plants was a super popular spot for many of the Taiwanese visitors. Everything was blooming nicely. You do have to pay a $100 NT entry fee, and the view from the footpath is often blocked with netting and cloth. But we were able to steal a few shots.
This section of the park is so green, so lush, and so flowing with water. We enjoyed the couple paths we ventured down. But there is much more to explore in this national park.
By 10:30 AM the traffic coming up the hill into Zhuzihu was insane. Cars were backed up for a couple miles. I had planned to transfer to a bus to take us to the other side of the park back at the visitor center, but I quickly abandoned the idea. We would spend most of our time on a bus rather than enjoying the park. While I figured out another option, we enjoyed an early lunch.
A lady at the National Park visitor center desk was super helpful. I was interested in hiking Mount Qixing, and she directed us to the trail that leads to both peaks. We could then continue down into Xiaoyoukung Recreation Area, which is where the bus would have taken us. This trail had not showed up in Google Maps, and hiking seemed like a much better idea than sitting in traffic.
But little did we know what we were attempting.
Conquering Mount Qixing
Looking at the maps back at the hotel, I could tell that the peaks within Yangmingshan National Park are sizeable, at least with respect to the areas around them. It would be a steep climb, but I knew we could do it.
You might not think this is the sort of thing to bring your kids on, unless they are avid hikers. But I’m a firm believer in pushing kids through uncomfortable situations. Ours have a tendency to stop short, as soon as things get hard, and this isn’t an attitude that I want to persist through life. Still…this one was a challenge. Take a look at the elevation change between Miaopu trailhead (where we started) and the ain peak.
Fortunately, the trail through the forest is shaded most of the way, which helps you keep from overheating completely. But the mugginess was certainly a challenge for us. Soon we were perspiring profusely. My son complained, but trekked on. He was a real trooper.
That being said, even I thought the hike was brutal. Two kilometers of stone stairs that just get worse the higher you climb. It is a strenuous hike, possibly the most strenuous that I have ever done aside from one mountain peak I attempted in the Trinity Alps. It was certainly the hardest endeavor on which I’d brought my son.
As we got to the top, we entered the clouds. The haze already made views of Taipei less than ideal, but this prevented them entirely.Shortly after we arrived at the peak, we couldn’t see more than 200 meters in any direction.
But it was all worth it! We conquered Mount Qixing, and lived to tell the tale. Again, in Taiwanese form, there was a long queue for taking photos with the monument at the top. Everyone also got a free Englishman to photobomb their moment. He was completely oblivious to everyone. I’m not sure what he was looking at, since you could hardly see anything.
The hike down was smooth sailing. Halfway down we were greeted by the signature smell of hydrogen sulfide. There are sulfur vents dotting the national park, many of which are along the section heading down into Xiaoyoukeng.
We finally spotted the parking lot below. The end of our hike was almost here!
From Xiaoyoukeng we hopped on a bus to Lengshuikeng, a former sulfur mining area. After checking out the visitor center while conveniently charging my phone, we walked down to see the suspension footbridge. By this point we were exhausted, and with a direct bus option back to the MTR, we concluded our visit to Yangmingshan National Park.
McDonald’s Will Do
Our feet were completely destroyed by that point, and we’d planned to head back to the hotel for some R&R before hitting up another night market. But it didn’t quite happen. We arrived in Shilin at 4:00 PM. It seemed silly to go all the way across town to our hotel when the night market was only a few blocks away.
I had promised ice cream as a reward for a successful hike, and that was a sufficient immediate change of plan. Striking out in the immediate vicinity of the MTR station, we spied a McDonalds. That was sure to deliver, even if it is admittedly not as good. But my kid doesn’t care.
They also delivered on another front. Even though I basically never eat their food here at home, I’m game for trying their oddball international offerings. In this case it was a chicken sandwich with salsa and green bell peppers. And not just green peppers, but a green bun.
They also had a normal toilet, which is amazing when you’ve been doing everything you can to avoid the squat toilets. I’m going to chalk McDonald’s up as a win on all fronts. The hour of rest was exactly what we needed.
Shilin Night Market: The Biggest and Best
Shilin is arguably Taipiei’s best night market. It is one of the oldest, and certainly the most famous, but depending on the experience you desire, I’d entertain other options for the title of best. There are countless food stalls, and crowds to match. After wandering for a while, we eventually spied dinner at Hot-star fried chicken. This was probably the most normal thing we could have found, which is exactly why my son picked it. The fried squid certainly didn’t interest him.
Given that the Hot-star line was long, it had to be at least fairly good. It was certainly the most giant slab of fried chicken I’d ever laid eyes on.
But there is so much more beyond fried chicken. You’re in Taiwan, for goodness’ ‘sake. The Shilin night market offers everything from octopus to orange juice, squid to stinky tofu. It’s a foodies dream. How I wished I could just eat everything that caught my eye.
If you’re not into food (or need a break from the munching), there are other things to do and see as well. We spent a while at these pinball-esque games. You essentially “bet” ball bearings, and win twice what you placed in the machine if the ball falls through one of the lit chutes. My son enjoyed it immensely.
Out choices for the night were fried dumplings, boba tea, orange juice, and one of the sausages. Not as adventurous as we could have been. I certainly wasn’t up for any of the stinky tofu, or anything that said “bean curd” on it. Most of the offerings appeal to the senses, but those turned me off completely.
If you haven’t picked it up, Taiwan’s night markets are where it’s at. We spent about an hour and a half at Shilin, just enough for it to get dark, before heading back to the hotel.
It had been a hot, sticky day in Taiwan, so I needed to allow time for showers before we got to sleep. With a relative humidity hovering between 70-80% and temperatures in the high 80s, it was a bit of a shock coming from mild northern California. But we managed. We even hiked in it, conquering Mount Qixing and then enjoying a night market. Time had already passed too quickly. With two days under our belt and one to go, I realized how grossly I underestimated this amazing city.