Taiwan’s North Coast: Baisha Bay 白沙灣

Baisha Bay 白沙灣, a popular beach in New Taipei City’s Shimen District 新北市石門區, can get a bit crowded during the summer, but on a nice winter day, chances are you’ll have it almost to yourself. And it’s beautiful! Don’t confuse it with Baisha Bay in Kenting 墾丁 on the southern tip of Taiwan though. I’ll cover that beach in a different post.

If you’re based in Taipei, Baisha Bay is a great and easy get-away for the weekend or a day off. There is a bus, no. 862, which runs the full coastal tour from Tamsui 淡水 at the end of Taipei MRT’s red line to Keelung and which stops at various landmarks. The 862 runs every hour during the week and every half hour on the weekends, but if you don’t want to go all the way to Keelung, you can also take some of the other buses (863, 865, 867, etc.) which stop at Baisha Bay. It’s easiest to pay with your Easycard 悠游卡 if you have one. You’ll have to swipe it twice, when getting on and when getting off the bus.

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Baisha Bay in late February 2015: A few people were surfing or simply enjoying the great weather at Baisha Bay. Still, it wasn’t very busy at all.

10411102_10205594915259469_3910524579205121117_nShallow waves and clear water at Baisha Bay

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Directions on the coastal trail near Baisha Bay showing the way to various landmarks

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Along the coastal trail, you can see “windkanter”, volcanic rocks shaped by wind and sand.

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I didn’t see any snakes, but it’s probably a wise decision not to wander off into the thicket…

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The coastal trail is lined with beautiful trees.

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Finally, at the end of this part of the coastal trail, you reach a small harbor.

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From there, you can continue on to Qianshui Bay on the bike trail.

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This part of the coastline is famous for its coral reefs.

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Eventually, a tidal creek on the beach cut off my way. Even though you can’t see this in the picture, the creek was already a meter deep and with a fairly strong current, so I turned around and walked back.

All in all, I think it took me a bit over two hours to walk the trail from Baisha Bay to the coral reefs and back. Highly recommended!

Taiwan’s North Coast: Jinshan 金山

Another popular destination on Taiwan’s North Coast, Jinshan 金山offers beaches, hot springs, and scenic views of the coast. Jinshan District is located north of Keelung 基隆 and is considered part of New Taipei City 新北市.

If you live in  or near Tamsui 淡水, you can take the coastal bus no. 863 right outside Tamsui MRT Station to Jinshan. Bus no. 862 to Keelung also stops in Jinshan. It should take about 1.5 to 2 hours.  If you live anywhere in Taipei city proper or in the southern part of New Tapei, it is probably faster and easier to go to Taipei West Station (Building A), which is within walking distance of Taipei Main Station, and get on Kuokuang 國光客運 bus no. 1815 to Jinshan. The ride all the way to Jinshan should cost around NT$125, but the bus also stops at a number of other popular attractions, such as Yeliu Geopark 野柳地質公園 famous for its unique rock formations, so if you start early enough during the day, you can visit multiple spots along the route.

There is Shitoushan Park, whose trails leads you up to a small pavilion with a view on Jinshan’s famous “Twin Candlestick” rock formation.

11178298_10206076124169391_2910023356645550048_nMaybe think of them as two half-molten candlesticks…

Once you’ve reached the pavilion and taken your pictures, you shouldn’t just head back the way you came from, but continue down the stairs to the south eastern shore of Shitoushan. Eventually, you will reach the end of the paved trail, but you can walk towards Shuiwei Harbor across the rocks lining the coast.

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It’s not a very difficult climb (I managed to do it in flip flops; I had no idea I’d be hopping from rock to rock that day, so I came unprepared), but it’s probably a good idea to wear proper shoes and maybe bring an extra pair of flip flops for the beach.

This trail might be closed off during winter or when the weather is bad or the rocks are under water, but when it’s open, it’s definitely worth it. I’d go so far as to say it was the best part of the Jinshan trip. You can also access the strip of rocks from Shuiwei Harbor.

10371952_10206076157210217_5895954102222354823_nThe rocky southeastern shore of Shitoushan is a popular spot for artists who come here to paint the scenic landscape.

11164806_10206076149330020_6900902717987128981_nI can certainly see why.

 Once you’ve passed the artists, you make your way through this crack in the rocks, and you’re on your way to good food:

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Around nearby Shuiwei Harbor, there are several restaurants offering fresh sea food. Most of the food is on display, so if you don’t speak or read Chinese, you can just point at things, and they will cook them for you.

0427_5This is a bowl of huge fresh cooked oysters with eggs. Take note that the portion sizes are pretty big by Taiwanese standards, so one dish plus rice (which is usually free) is plenty for two people.

There is a long strip of beach right next to Shuiwei Harbor, which you can access via a bridge:

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I don’t know if it’s suitable for swimming – when we were there in late April, nobody was in the water. A lot of the beaches in Taiwan have dangerous currents, so don’t go in the water even if it seems calm unless you know it’s safe. There’s another more famous beach on the other side of Shitoushan called Zhongjiao Beach, which is popular with surfers for its high waves. Then, of course, there’s this:

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Both beaches are located in a nuclear evacuation zone. In case something ever goes wrong at No. 2 Nuclear Power Plant. Nothing says “Have fun at the beach” like a nuclear alarm sign and evacuation plan in an earthquake and tsunami zone. Somehow, Taiwan loves to put its power plants next to its most popular beaches. Whenever I see a beach, I always play a game called “Spot the nearest nuclear power plant.” But then again, maybe if you live on an island with over 1000 Chinese nuclear warheads pointed at you at any time, a tiny radiation leak at the beach might be the least of your worries.

There are a number of facilities in Jinshan that are run by the district’s Youth Activities Center. This including a large hot spring bath, the largest in Southeast Asia, according to the Center’s own website.

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Jinshan Youth Center is housed in this scary-looking fortress. The bath is not located in the same building, but it’s close by, so if you can’t find it, the people at the Center will be able to point you in the right direction. At NT$300, the entry fee for the hot spring isn’t cheap, but the bath offers a large number of different pools as well as a steam room, and you can stay the entire day. We almost had the whole bath to ourselves, which was a nice alternative to the chronically crowded tiny public hot springs in Beitou. If you forgot to bring your swim suit, you can buy one here for ca. NT$600-800.

Most (all?) of the buses to and from Jinshan, including both the coastal line (863) and the Kuokuang bus (1815) have their terminal station at the Youth Center, so this is a good spot to get on and off the bus. You can also catch a bus to Keelung from here, which is closer to Jinshan than Taipei City proper, to finish the day with a snack (or two, or three) at Miaokou Night Market.

Taiwan’s North Coast: Fulong Beach

Taiwan’s north coast offers some spectacular landscapes and beautiful beaches. One of the most popular ones is Fulong 福龍, due to its close proximity to Taipei and the fact that it has its own train station. This makes it pretty fast and easy to take the train to Fulong from Taipei Main Station (details below). Since I was in Keelung 基隆 already, I took the coastal bus to Fulong instead. The landscape is really impressive (though not as impressive as Taiwan’s East coast once you get further South, or so I’ve been told), so if you have the time, this is something I can really recommend. Try to get a spot on the left side of the bus, which will be closer to the coast.

fulongtrainstationFulong Train Station: The local specialty is Fulong Bento Boxes*

The bad news: Fulong Beach has an entrance fee, and theoretically you’re only allowed in during the day: It opens at 9 am and closes around 5 or 6 pm, perhaps later during summer. The day that I went admission was NT$ 40, but this was off season and on a day when technically, people weren’t even allowed to enter the water. During peak season, the fee is NT$ 100-ish.

bridgeFulong Beach is basically one big sandbar, so you have to cross a bridge in order to get there

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Fulong has a sand sculpting event every year. It hadn’t started yet when I visited, but you can already see the stabilizing structures on the beach in preparation for the festival.

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Sand, sand, sand…

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And a couple of surfers in the water**

fulongbeachFulong offers long beautiful stretches of sand. You can literally walk for miles.

fulongbeach2That said, if you leave the swimming  area, you will inevitably run into trash washed ashore, as only a part of the beach is cleaned regularly:

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There is also a small public beach right next to the larger beach if you’re trying to save money. If you ask anyone connected to the for-profit beach, they might obviously try to hide the fact that there is also a free beach from you, so don’t let statements such as “there is no public beach!” discourage you when asking for directions. It’s probably easiest to ask for directions for Dongxing Temple (東興宮), as the public beach is very close by. It’s much smaller though, and there is a chance it will be pretty crowded.

theothersideThe smaller public beach on the other side of the tidal creek, right next to Fulong Temple (the small yellow building at the foot of the hill on the upper left side of the picture)

It’s probably possible to swim across the divide between the public beach and the big beach on most days, but as someone who used to vacation on the Northern German island of Sylt with overprotective parents as a kid, I have a healthy respect of unfamiliar tidal channels and associated rip currents, so cross at your own risk. I wouldn’t do it. There’s also a good chance someone might try to stop you.

Like most other beaches on the North Coast, Fulong also tends to turn into a puffer fish graveyard once you venture outside the designated bathing zone that is kept neat and clean. Rumor has it that puffer fishes get caught up in fishing nets and are thrown back into the sea by fishers, which is how they end up dead on the beach en masse. Or perhaps there’s something else that’s killing them. I don’t know, and I’m not sure I’d want to know. In any case, they have spikes, so watch out you don’t step on them.

pufferfishDead puffer fish

On a probably unrelated note, Taiwan, for some reason, likes to build its nuclear power plants right next to its most popular beaches. Construction on Plant No. 4,  right next to Fulong Beach, was delayed after the 921 Earthquake in 1999 and again after the Fukushima disaster, so only parts of the nuclear reactor are in operation today. Read more about it on Wikipedia.

nuclearThere it is, on the left hand corner, in its semi-operational glory.

Cynicism aside, I think Fulong Beach is still very much worth the trip, particularly on a nice day off-season when the beach isn’t crowded, so here’s the basic info:

Where: On the north east coast of New Taipei City, south of Keelung

How to get there: By train from Taipei (ca. 1  hour and NT$ 99-130 on an express train; look up schedules and fares here) or by bus from Keelung (ask for the number at the Tourism Office at the train and bus station)

Entrance fee: NT$ 40-100

 

* Watch this video for an introduction to Taiwanese lunch boxes, biandang. I’m personally not a big fan of them, but they are reasonably priced meals that aren’t terribly unhealthy. If you come to Taiwan, you will run into them sooner or later.

** Read more about surfing in Fulong here.