Fall is the favorite time of year for many people in Taiwan. In the lowlands, the heat of summer has abated, but there is still plenty of sunshine.
In October and November, the weather is superbly comfortable. Taipei’s daytime temperatures average 19 to 25 degrees Celsius (66 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit). In a typical year, November is the capital’s second driest month and October is the fourth driest. Nighttime in the mountains is not too chilly, while the days are still reasonably long.
Although public transportation in Taipei and some other cities is largely bilingual, tourists who wish to take advantage of the excellent weather to explore the more remote parts of Taiwan may well struggle to get around. Very few regular buses connect the lowlands with popular tourist destinations in the hills like Lishan in Greater Taichung or Tataka near Alishan, and understanding the services can be difficult without a decent grasp of Chinese. For solo travelers and couples, sharing a taxi with a few strangers is a reasonably inexpensive option in many places. However, first-time visitors are unlikely to be aware of such potential arrangements unless a friendly local or homestay owner helps them out.
Recognizing the challenges that may confront independent travelers, Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau has come up with mechanisms to enable them to enjoy every facet of this fabulously diverse island. One innovative and long-running solution is called the Taiwan Tour Bus. This coalition of carefully chosen and fully licensed tour companies offers excursions to almost every part of the country.
Visitors are not only delivered to points of interest, but are also accompanied by knowledgeable guides who speak English, Japanese, or Chinese. Those who sign up need not worry about mistakenly buying a ticket for the wrong destination, or missing their stop. The price of each tour includes all admission charges and insurance. Because many of the tours last an entire day, a lunch featuring scrumptious local dishes is often also part of the deal.
Before finalizing their itinerary, those planning to visit Taiwan in the fall can choose from more than 100 Taiwan Tour Bus routes, including one to Tai-pingshan, a place deep in the mountains that is said to have some of the island’s most magnificent autumnal scenery. Covering 12,631 hectares, Taipingshan is the largest national forest recreation area in Taiwan. Some of the woodlands here are a mere 500 meters or so above sea level, while other tracts shiver at an altitude of 2,000 meters.
Almost every winter, there are one or two heavy snowfalls. The forest recreation area encompasses a range of ecosystems, and visitors will find themselves studying the plants and insects right in front of them at least as often as they gaze at far-away mountain peaks. Whether conditions are foggy or crystal clear, Taipingshan’s network of eight hiking trails can satisfy the strongest yearning for the great outdoors.
The Taiwan Tour Bus’s Yilan Tai-pingshan Nature Tour sets out from Taipei at 7:30 in the morning. Passengers can board at various locations, including the main railway station and Songshan Airport. As with all Taiwan Tour Bus trips, booking in advance is essential, with details easy to find on the website. The bus heads through one of the world’s longest road tunnels, emerging on the other side of the mountains that long hindered the development of northeast Taiwan.
Once inside the recreation area, participants are given a guided tour of the principal attractions. Among these are remnants of the miniature railway system used to move felled trees to the lowlands, and what was called the ropeway. The latter, a kind of cable car, carried loggers and their supplies up and down the mountain. Natural highlights include Baling Giant Tree (a Taiwan Cypress believed to be at least 2,500 years old), and Cuifeng Lake, a beguilingly beautiful alpine pool.
The tour costs NT$1,400 per person on weekends and national holidays, and NT$1,200 on other days. Children aged three or under not requiring a separate seat are charged just NT$200.
If you expect to spend much of your visit in or near Taichung in central Taiwan, you should consider joining the Taiwan Tour Bus’s Wushe and Qingjing Farm jaunt (NT$1,850 per person; children three years old and under are charged NT$300).
This excursion packs in a lot. The first stop is Puli Winery, where the most famous product is Shaoxing, a rice wine both enjoyed as a tipple and used in cooking. Next up is Chung Tai Chan Monastery, designed by C.Y. Lee (the architect behind Taipei 101) and completed in 2001. In addition to being one of Taiwan’s architectural highlights, this is an excellent place to learn about the role of Buddhism in modern Taiwanese society.
The tour then heads deeper into the mountains that cover two-thirds of Taiwan. After lunch, excursionists get a chance to explore Qingjing Farm, a sprawling high-altitude pasture with a fascinating history.
After relocating to Taiwan in 1949, Chiang Kai-shek’s government had to resettle well over a million refugees from the Chinese mainland. Some of those who had fought for Chiang in China’s southwest (and belonged to ethnic minorities from that region) were assigned to an area between Wushe and Mount Hehuan, where they reared livestock and formed a distinctive community-in-exile.
Tourism came later, and the area is now thick with accommodation options. In terms of food and drink, it is possible to get everything from a hearty meal featuring Yunnanese delicacies to a simple cup of coffee to sip while gazing at mountains near and far.
For detailed information about Taiwan’s climate, including weather forecasts for all 300-plus urban districts and rural townships, visit the Central Weather Bureau’s website. To find out which national forest recreation areas are currently open (and for background reading on fauna and flora), visit Taiwan Forest Recreation website.
For additional information about Taiwan’s attractions, visit the Tourism Bureau’s website, or call the 24-hour tourist information hotline 0800-011-765 (toll free within the country).