Undoubtedly the fastest way to travel between Taipei in the north and Tainan in the south is to take the High Speed Rail. However, if you have a little more time you may want to consider travelling by car as this gives you the chance to visit some simply stunning spots along the way and get a much better idea of the beauty of Taiwan. Here are a just a few of the highlights that you can visit without straying too far from the freeways that wend their way south.
Sun Moon Lake
Taiwan’s largest lake is situated in central Taiwan and is a popular spot for a weekend getaway or an afternoon of cycling the bike paths alongside the lake. It’s easy to see why - with nearly 8km2 of stunning azure waters set against a mountainous backdrop the views are breathtaking. You can also take a cable car ride over a section of the lake, visit the Thao tribe village or simply wander around temples and take in the view. It gets very busy on the weekends so if you have the choice weekdays are a better option.
Alishan is famed for the glorious sunrise and the single-gauge Japanese-era railway that winds up the slopes. Aside from the tourist hotspots the surrounding area is fantastic for hiking or exploring tea-farming culture. Take the opportunity to buy some of the local tea while you are here – it has a solid reputation amongst tea aficionados. Wasabi is also grown here and makes a fantastic gift to take home.
Houtanjing Sky Bridge
This is a quick stop-off where you can stretch your legs and take a walk across a 204m suspension bridge that crosses a pleasant valley with views of lush foliage and the Changhua plain. The bridge is just over 200m long and there are over 200 steps on the well-maintained approach path. The mountain is thought to resemble a crouching monkey looking down into a well (the valley) hence the name (literally ‘monkey look well’) There is an entrance fee of NT$50. Don’t forget to stop by the nearby Sunny Hills Pineapple cake factory to pick up arguably Taiwan’s best version of this snack. These make an excellent gift too.
Ping Seto Glass Suspension bridge
If you are up for a longer hike Nantou is also home to an 88m-long glass suspension bridge. The round hike is 6km long with around 2000 steps and while the bridge - of which 54m is glass panelled at a height of around 50m - is the highlight, the hike itself is very enjoyable, passing by a 100-year-old mango tree, a shrine to the Land God and plenty of lush forest along the way. Allow around 2 hours for the hike. There is an admission fee of NT$100 (closed on Wednesdays).
As one of Taiwan’s oldest towns Lukeng boasts some excellent architecture in the ‘old street’ area and has a great selection of traditional foods and snacks available (keep an eye out for the duck-meatball soup and fried mud-shrimp). However, most visitors come to see the temples. There are several notable temples in the town particularly the Matsu Temple (the original temple dates back to the 1600s with several additions in the intervening 400 years) and Longshang Temple which dates back to the early 1600s with notable reconstruction in the 1800’s and is built in Fujianese style. Lukeng is an excellent stop to get a dose of Taiwan around the time of the Dutch occupation.
Siraya National Park
This park is named after the Indigenous tribe (who originally inhabited the plains area closer to the coast but were pushed up into the mountains by immigrants from the 1600s onwards). The park was established in 2005 and visitors often choose to enjoy the Guanziling mud hotsprings (the only mud springs in Taiwan), visit the Water and Fire Crevice where natural flames shoot out over the hotspring water, or enjoy locally grown coffee. There are also leisure farms, temples, and hikes to be enjoyed in the area.
While the drive between Taipei and Tainan takes around 3 and a half hours direct (depending on traffic) compared to 90 minutes to two hours on the HSR, the chance to stop along the way at one or more of the above places allows you to really experience Taiwan as opposed to simply whizzing down the coast occasionally, for example, glimpsing magnificent statues of gods which are gone before you can get your camera out to snap them.