Mention Taiwan and people will think of Yangmingshan, an iconic outdoor destination just a short distance away from Taipei city. Before you yawn that it’s another Taiwan’s national park, the word sulfur and volcanoes will probably perk you up.
Yangmingshan is everything in one package – grasslands, cherry blossoms, hot spring, sulfur deposits, mountains, hiking trails and not as rocky as Taroko.
In this article, I will focus on how to get to Yangmingshan on your own, as what we did successfully.
How to Get to Yangmingshan via Public Transport.
There are a few ways to get to Yangmingshan using public transport. Here were the options I found when researching for our Yangmingshan trip:
- Take Minibus S15 from Jiantan MRT Station straight to Yangmingshan. Alternatively, S15 stops at Shihlin MRT Station too, but bus will be full by the time it reaches there.
- Take Bus 260 from Zhengzhou Road outside of Taipei Main Station Exit 2, which will take you to Yangmingshan Bus Station at the foothill. Then queue up for minibus 108 which goes in a circle through the national park.
We chose the first way.
Before we confuse ourselves, here’s how Yangmingshan national park public transportation works. The only buses that go INTO the national park are minibusses S15 and 108. We have not seen any other buses and theirs are the only schedule displayed at the bus stops. S15 starts from Jiantan MRT while 108 starts from Yangmingshan bus station. There are some route differences between the two.
Yangmingshan bus station is well connected to other town or MRT stations through bigger buses eg; from Jiantan MRT, Beitou etc. But it’s not possible to walk into Yangmingshan national park by foot from here, we will be dependent on 108 to take us around.
Bottom line, as long as you figured out a way to get from your place to Yangmingshan main bus station, it will be easier to get into the mountain.
Minibus S15 From Jiantan MRT to Yangmingshan
We spotted S15 upon exiting Jiantan MRT station and noticed some people (who were queuing) did not board it. The bus driver kept announcing “Anyone who’s in a rush, comes up now.” Hence, we did, and we regretted it very soon.
The seats were all taken and it’s a long way from Jiantan to Yangmingshan. The minibus is unstable and we cling to our lives as the bus stopped frequently and rather abruptly, so our bodies keep swaying around like rag dolls.
Unlike what I read, S15 does not stop at Xiaoyoukeng. Inside YMS, it only stopped at Lengshuikeng and Qingtiangang, which is the last stop before it descends through Lengshuikeng again and follows a different route back to Jiantan.
Best Time to Go Yangmingshan
I have read many stories about Yangmingshan being overcrowded, and bus 108 is frequently full, leaving some visitors at the mercy of taxi drivers. For us, we experienced the total opposite situation, because we chose to visit on a weekday and start our journey early. By 8.30am we were already at our first stop in Yangmingshan. Like Taroko, we almost had the place to ourselves too, save for a few hikers.
It’s best to visit on a non-holiday weekday, because YMS is a popular destination for the locals too, who were only able to visit on their off days on weekends.
Literally means ‘cold water pit’, it’s actually a hot spring area. It was called ‘cold water’ as it’s the only water with a temperature that’s cool/safe enough to dip. It was segregated by gender and entrance is free but subject to session hours.
From the back of the Lengshuikeng Visitor Center (which was still closed at the time we reached), there’s hike that will lead to Qing Tian Gang. After a 50 meter hike, I realized that I had injured the muscle at the back of my knee from standing and swaying on the bus. I felt something snapped while on the bus, but did not realize I was injured. We had to abandon the hiking plan and opt to take a bus to Qing Tian Gang.
There are three bus stops at Lengshuikeng. You can either take the bus to Qingtiangang from the bus stop in front of the visitor center or opposite the toll collection booth as shown in the photo above. Both S15 and 108 are okay.
If you’re an avid hiker, do not leave Lengshuikeng without climbing the Qixingshan, the entrance is just opposite the parking area.
Qing Tian Gang
The bus stopped us at Qing Tian Gang visitor center and we headed straight to the infamous grassland. Here we had an unparalleled view of the green land. The path extends over the vast area and covered with pebble stones. Luckily, my Reebok Skyscape handled that better than my Clarks mary jean shoes. The firm grip and the soft sole makes the walking easier.
At one point, CS saw the signboard pointing to Lengshuikeng, the same trail we failed to finish earlier. He decided to try again, without me. I assured him I was okay to hang around at Qing Tian Gang and would take bus 108 to meet him at YMS bus station later. He left with a wink and said he might be able to catch the same bus as me.
After stalking some newlyweds taking their wedding photos, I stared after an elderly couple who made the mission to take pretty pictures of their granddaughter before I made my way back to the bus stop.
Bus 108 came on schedule and there’s plenty of seats available. When it drove into Lengshuikeng car park, I was slightly disappointed that CS wasn’t there. But surprised! He rushed out of the bushes and managed to get on the bus!
Once we come to Yangmingshan main station, imagined our surprise to find the station full of cherry blossom. We were torn between going insta-crazy right there or run up the second bus 108 to Xiaoyoukeng but went for the latter.
The crowd touring Yang Ming Shan had increased by then, so the bus was full when we turned up. CS got a seat right beside the driver, and boy.. the driver was very friendly. Upon knowing it’s our first time at the national park, he explained to us about each stop we came to, like a diligent tour guide.
Xiao You Keng
Xiao You Keng literally means the little oil pit. It’s a mountain range with sulfurous gas emits from the rock formation. The rotten eggs smell wasn’t really that disturbing, really. It’s my first time seeing this phenomenon with my own eyes, so it’s really an satisfying sight for me.
Yangmingshan Flower Clock was actually the better place for cherry blossom, being full of flowers as its namesake suggested. But that will mean another 2 more long bus rides to get back to the station. For us, the cherry blossom at Qian Shan Park, opposite of Yang Ming Shan bus station, was good enough for us.
I took this little photo of 4 ‘flowers’ below the blossoms.
BEITOU HOT SPRING TOWN
Remember how we had missed Jiaoxi (a hot spring town) during our Yilan trip no thanks to the rain? This time we were adamant not to miss hot spring again so we made the trip to Xinbeitou.
How to get to Beitou Hot Spring Town:
From Yang Ming Shan bus station: Walk out from the compound of the bus station. Take Bus S9 from a bus stop, opposite of 7-Eleven.
From Taipei city: Take MRT red line and stop at Xinbeitou Station. Although called Beitou town, Xinbeitou is the nearer station to the attractions.
Here’s when our itinerary went a little haywire. I had forgotten to plan ‘where to eat in Beitou’ and we just drop into one of the shops right by the main road. The food was mediocre and they were super stingy with ingredients. I was only given 3 pieces of meat
for my beef soup, certainly inadequate for a price tag of TWD120.
We walked up the slope to Beitou Hot Spring Museum despite the pain on my leg was getting inbearable. It was closed for renovation!
We thought it’s alright since we were a few more yards away from Beitou Thermal Valley. Imagine our horror when we came to a closed thermal valley with the signboard “Close on every Monday”. We had come to Beitou for NOTHING!
Walking down the hilly slope again, my leg gives way and it became excruciatingly painful to walk on. We took a long rest at 7-Eleven for some snacks and coffee before CS decided we can’t leave Beitou without trying any hot spring. He spent an hour on phone, searching for a budget hot spring establishment while I nodded off.
Choices of Budget Hot Springs:
Millenium (Qian Xi)
It is the cheapest outdoor hot spring, but being semi-government run, it has a reputation of having staffs with bad attitudes. Usually very crowded and there is a strict rule to wear swimwear and I wasn’t sure if my Victoria’s Secret bikini would be too outrageous to wear here.
Long Nai Tang
Long Nai Tang is the oldest hot spring in Beitou, being established by the Japanese colony back in the 1920s. It looks quite well from the outside but I saw a picture on TripAdvisor that showed a gloomy dark open hot spring pool.
Beitou Qing Huang Ming Tang 北投青磺名湯
CS convinced me that this is a good choice since it’s affordable and has rather good reviews on Taiwanese blogs. I dragged my feet following his navigation with increasing skepticism until we stopped at what looked like an old office building.
The hot spring service is divided into 2 floors – the communal hot spring bathhouse (gender separated) was housed on the ground floor while the private baths are on the floor above. The counter is at the entrance where payment will be made for either both.
The staffs saw the doubt on our face and told us we can head upstairs and ask for a tour/introduction so off we went. After being shown to the type of private baths, we chose the TWD350 room which is just cozy for two. There’s another 2-person room which was slightly more spacious but they were fully booked.
At first glance, I don’t really like the gloomy little room with dark marble bathtub. The staff helped us to fill up the tub with their usual ratio while briefed us about the 3 pipes available. Only the cool pipe water and hot spring sulfurous water worked while the third cold sulfurous water was not available.
As anticipated, toiletries were not provided but we were already armed with our own toiletries set.
Steps to enjoy a hot spring bath:
- Fill up the tub with a comfortable ratio of hot and cold water. (Staff will fit it up for the first time)
- Shower and cleanse the body with soap.
- Tie up hair to avoid in contact with the sulfurous water which tends to tangle our hair.
- To avoid a rapid spike of body heat, soak our feet in the tub first.
- Once we were used to the heat, it’s time to dip ourselves into the tub. If it’s still too hot, adjust by just using the cold water.
- If it feels like the water is getting cold, turn on the hot spring pipe.
- Do not dip for too long. We dipped for around 10 minutes, then (slowly) get up and rinsed with cold water. Sometimes, we just sit by the stone steps by the tub to cool down before dipping in the hot water again. Repeat a few times.
- Note: If you’re starting to feel a little dizzy, it is the cue to step out of the hot water. Hot bath is not suitable for people who are already feeling unwell, pregnant or has other pre-existing health issues.
We felt really relaxed and our muscle sores for the past week of traveling were alleviated. Maybe it’s psychological, but my sprained leg feels much better after the hot bath.
SHIHLIN NIGHT MARKET
On our way back to Taipei city, we stopped at Shihlin Night Market for our dinner. This is something we looked forward to. After all, Shihlin is known to be the biggest and most-happening night market in Taiwan, there’s no reason to miss it.
Here are some of the food we sampled for the night:
Honestly, I was underwhelmed by the supposedly famous onion pancake. We thought it would be as good as the one we had in Luodong but no. Instead, it tasted like a very plain roti canai with some unfortunate rubbery texture in its middle.
Ah Hui Mee Suah (Vermicelli)
Now, this is good stuff. We both agreed that this little stall outside of a temple is just as good as Ah Chung’s Mee Suah. The difference was Ah Hui’s pig intestine is on a crispier side, which decreases the porky smell.
Grilled Octopus Feet
Yes, what you’re seeing is not meat skewer but whole legs of octopus, being grilled and glazed to perfect presentation. CS couldn’t resist and bought one original flavored grilled octopus feet but was surprised to find the taste rather mediocre. The sauce did not steep deep into the octopus so we found it rather bland and too chewy.
Shihlin Underground Foodcourt
We came across this basement food court where most vendors offered seafood and a few zi-char. As intrigued as we were, we did not try because we were rather full at this stage now.
Super Big Fried Chicken Chop
As its name suggested, their fried chicken chop is huge! So huge that it could cover CS’s face. The fried chicken chop is another bummer on our Shihlin food hunt. Although huge, we hated the chewy, starchy batter. Overall, it feels like the chicken was covered with gummy starch that gave it a yucky factor. In the end, CS and I were pushing one another to finish it. (It’s not good to waste food)
Fried Oil Rice
When I saw this one and only stall selling fried oil rice, I was happy because we had a very good one in Keelung. It should be just that good all over Taiwan, right? My dream was dashed when I bite into the hardened and umami-lacking rice. Oh… I am missing Keelung so much!
Needless to say, we ended our food hunt at Shihlin feeling grumpier than ever because none of the food really score above average (except for Ah Hui Mee Suah). To sum it up, Shihlin is overcrowded, less organized and very touristy. I won’t think twice to skip this place next time.
To console our disappointment, we went to 7-Eleven for my favorite clam pesto spaghetti and a Coco Bubble Tea which are both cheap and delicious.