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Taipei, Taiwan’s day-trippers often throng to better-known destinations such as Beitou and Jiufen, but visitors who crave a relaxed outing will find more room for exploration in the scenic mountain town of Wulai.
From Taipei, it’s a mere half-hour drive — or longer, via a scenic and super-cheap public bus ride (about 50 cents) — to pristine mountain-and-gorge views, natural hot springs and a glimpse into the traditions of the Atayal, an aboriginal tribe with a vibrant heritage that is still visible throughout the town. In fact, Wulai’s name is derived from uraikirofu, the Atayal word for “steaming springs.”
Here are some highlights of a Wulai day trip.
Stroll to Old Street and WaterfallsAll the town’s main attractions can be seen on foot, and most visitors begin by roaming Wulai Old Street, a narrow walking area lined with food stalls, eateries and souvenir shops stocked with aboriginal wares such as woven bags and glass-bead bracelets.
Near the beginning of the street is Wulai Atayal Museum (entrance is free), which showcases the indigenous tribe’s traditions of weaving, female face-tattooing and, most famously, head-hunting. There’s also a well-stocked gift shop upstairs.
To work up a proper appetite, visitors can walk to the end of Old Street, cross the bridge, and leisurely make their way uphill to see the town’s biggest draw: Wulai Waterfall, which plunges 262 feet into the Nanshi River below.
If a 25-minute walk doesn’t sound appealing, the falls can also be reached by taking a short ride on the Wulai Scenic Train (about $1.50 one way), which was converted from an old Japanese rail-cart system used for transporting timber and logging tools. The terminus is near the waterfall and across the street from a promenade with plenty of cafes, restaurants, shops and even a forestry museum and a small cultural center.
Eat and DrinkWhen it’s time to eat, visitors can head back down to Old Street for cheap and delicious local specialties that aren’t found anywhere else on the island. Some street-food highlights include grilled mua-ji (mochi) with a variety of sweet and savory toppings; millet wine, which is made from a local grain; and wild boar sausages. (Pro tip: Queue up for the sausage stall at the very end of the street.)
Restaurants serve up some of the heartier dishes, such as local vegetables seasoned with maqaw, a type of mountain pepper; plates of fried river shrimp; and bamboo rice, which is sticky rice stuffed and steamed inside bamboo tubes.
Soak in Local Hot SpringsThen, of course, there are the famed hot springs. Clear and odorless, and rich in alkaline sodium bicarbonate, Wulai’s spring water is known to have great skin-care benefits. While the public, open-air riverside pools are now closed, the town has an abundance of hotels offering options that cater to all budgets. These range from a no-frills soak at just about $3 an hour to the five-star environs of Pause Landis Resort and the private baths and spectacular views at Volando Urai Spring Spa & Resort.
Wulai flies under the radar of most tourists, but for those in the know, it’s an easy escape from Taipei’s sprawling concrete slabs and skyscrapers.
The DetailsPause Landis Resortwww.pauselandis.com.tw
Taiwan Tourism Bureau eng.taiwan.net.tw
Volando Urai Spring Spa & Resortwww.volandospringpark.com