One aspect of my time in Taiwan that has continued to surprise me is its natural beauty. Not necessarily in the white-sand beaches, tropical island sort of way, but in its mountainous and jungle landscapes that I otherwise wouldn’t have associated with a small island. I was not expecting such an abundance of options for outdoors activities or such well-preserved park systems open to the public. During my time there, I was able to go hiking, biking, snorkeling, and more, all easily quite inexpensive and accessible via public transport. With the weather for the most part remaining warm throughout my time there, I had plenty of opportunities to escape the big-city life, even, paradoxically, while remaining in the city limits. Taipei did an excellent job at designating parks for the public and creating large zones for recreational activities and hiking/bike trails.
Yangmingshan (陽明山) National Park was located directly north of the city and offered all kinds of activities – including hot springs – for solo and group visitors. From waterfalls to wild water-buffalo, the park was filled with interesting things to do and see that I would not expect from somewhere such a short metro and bus ride away from the city.
I also enjoyed Dragon Cave (龍洞) on the eastern coast of the island. We went at the end of November when the water was pretty chilly, but still decided to go snorkeling and saw a lot of fish. There were some really impressive rock formations as well and, since it was off-season for tourists, the place was completely empty. This was in many ways the perfect day trip from Taipei and one that few people really know about.
Lion’s Head Mountain (獅頭山) was definitely a spontaneous, day-before kind of decision, but I’m glad I went and, once again, surprised it isn’t more well-known. At this spot, Buddhist temples line the central mountains and are interconnected by hiking trails. It was interesting to see real Buddhist monasteries that were self-contained and secluded from most of society. Some temples were modernized while others kept to traditional styles.
These three sites are just a small sampling of natural beauty in Taiwan, which is far more extensive than simply Taroko Gorge and Sun Moon Lake. The best part that is probably unrivaled in most other places in the world is the fact that the entire island can be traveled with relative ease by public transport, making it that much easier to take a day trip from Taipei or a long weekend around the island. For anyone interested in studying abroad in Asia, this is definitely something that stands out and makes the experience that much more engaging.