My wife and I went from Banqiao to Taiping Shan this weekend. Here’s a write-up on how to do the trip using public transit.
As there is only one bus per day (just weekends?) from Yilan to Taiping Shan and that bus leaves at 9:30 a.m., we caught the 7:05 from Banqiao to Yilan (price per one-way ticket: NT$244). So the train would leave Taipei about 7:15 or 7:20. From Banqiao to Yilan takes a little less than 2 hours.
To reach the bus station in Yilan, exit the front of the train station and turn left. The bus station is less than 5 minutes away by foot and will be on the right.
A round-trip ticket to Taiping Shan costs NT$328. For the best view, sit on the left – though it doesn’t matter all that much on a minibus.
The minibus didn’t head straight for the highway but instead went to Luodong to pick up more passengers. So from a practical standpoint one could take a later train and get off not at Yilan but one stop later at Luodong (which takes about 10 minutes to reach by train but half an hour by minibus). That would save some time.
Once out of Yilan and Luodong, the route is scenic. It runs through a broad valley. The flatlands in the middle are cut through by a river bounded by mile after mile of long, tufted grass, which makes for a beautiful sight.
The ticket seller said the ride to Taiping Shan takes an hour and a half. As it turned out, however, it took an hour and a half to get to the entrance to Taiping Shan park. (A bat-out-of-hell driver, not uncommon in Taiwan, could do it in less.) All vehicles must stop at the park entrance and pay an admission fee. Bus passengers are charged NT$100 each. Not everyone on my bus bought a ticket, but I did.
From the park entrance to the hotel complex near the top of Taiping Shan takes 55 minutes or so. The road is beautiful – and testament to the hard work of road crews, who have to deal with more than the occasional minor (and major?) rock slides. Again the road is beautiful. What struck me most about it is how, other than the road itself, there was essentially no sign whatsoever of a human presence. No ugly concrete buildings, no KTVs, no heaps of rusting metal – just green mountains. Formosa – the real deal. This part of the drive alone is enough to justify the trip.
The hotel at the end of the line costs NT$2,200 per night. There are rooms in the main hotel and also in cabins. My wife and I stayed in the latter (cabin 532). It was OK but nothing special. Its view is a little better than that of some of the other cabins – but that made little difference because the glass in the windows is translucent, not transparent, so we couldn’t see outside. The main problem with the cabin was its lack of a heater, as the temperature dropped pretty low during the night. (Thanks to the earlier posters for the warning to bring warm clothes!) We ran the hair dryer some to warm up the room a little before jumping under the quilt.
The price of lodging comes with dinner and breakfast. Dinner runs from 5:30 to 7:00 and consists of three plates per person of misc. food., plus soup and rice. Not bad. Breakfast (6:30-8:30) is largely the same, but with congee and mantou. Those wanting lunch (and there is no other place to eat) need to pay NT$165 per person for the same type of food as at dinner.
Taiping Shan is known for its beautiful sunrises. While I’m of the opinion that sunrises are best seen – if ever – at the end of a long day, my wife wanted to go to the standard scenic vista for dawn the next morning. As there is no public transit there, we went to the drivers’ dorm (the long, wooden building between cabins 531 and 532) to talk with some of the bus drivers. We found someone with some extra spaces in his van for the trip the following morning. He wanted NT$300 apiece for a ride to the sunrise vantage point and then to the lake and back, but he went down to NT$250 without much trouble.
A trip to the lake requires a mountain permit, so we went to the police station by the hotel lobby and acquired these for NT$10 apiece. This wasn’t necessary, as one permit seems to have covered the whole vanload. But those driving themselves would need one.
The van left for the sunrise viewing at 5. It took a little less than half an hour to get to the viewpoint. The sunrise was nothing special. The driver said the best viewing is in the spring, when there are beautiful sunrises almost every morning.
The lake, from its description, is perhaps technically more like a deep swamp. It’s OK to look at – but better seen without hordes of people around. I would have liked the opportunity to walk around the area a lot more; but I was with a lot of other people in Taiwanese tour-group mode.
Back at the main hotel complex a ride on the “bom-bom che” (formerly a logging train) costs NT$100 round trip. It would be possible to walk the whole route, but the train ride is nice enough. The trail to the waterful was washed out and so was closed.
The bus back to Luodong and Yilan leaves Taiping Shan at 3:30.