TaiPei's Top Beaches

By Joe Duffer Translated by Iya Chen

      Summer is here! It seems like only last week we were enduring some of the coldest winter weather to hit Taiwan for many years, and already the dog days of summer are on their way. That means sweltering heat, blazing sun, 24-hour air conditioning, and weekends at the beach.

For many people, vegging out on the beach equals making the pilgrimage down to Kenting, the beach resort on the island's southernmost tip. Kenting has emerged as THE top beach on the island. True, during winter it's about the only place in Taiwan to enjoy a little beach culture, but during the long, lazy days of summer, Kenting isn't such a dream destination that I'd be willing to make the long journey more than once a year.

Fortunately, there are a clutch of beaches within an hour or so of the capital which are more than adequate for the job, yet (with one or two exceptions) they are not that well known--especially among expats.

Most popular by far is Fulung Beach on the northeast coast, served by regular trains from Taipei. The main beach, backed by a small lagoon, is one of the few remaining beach resorts in northern Taiwan, complete with parasols, deck chairs, litter patrols, and lifeguards who blow their whistles furiously if you venture in deeper than your waist. There's a small, free, public beach next to the main one. Turn right along the main coast road after leaving the train station, then first left in a minute or two, after crossing a small stream.

Further up the coast, northwest of Keelung, are the area's other big beach resorts. Chinshan doubles as a noisy family beach (complete with piped music) and a hot springs resort. Just behind the beach is a large park popular with locals for barbecues, and an indoor hot-springs swimming pool (look for the blue glass pyramids on the roof). Everything is closed on Mondays. There are regular buses from Taipei North Bus Station (next to Taipei Main Railway Station) straight to the beach.

For some beach bumming without the crowds, try the very large beach on the opposite side of the headland. From Chinshan Beach walk along the coast, past the harbor, then cross the park on the headland above. The beach is on the far side of the headland. There's a further tiny, very secluded beach near the end of the headland, reached by a steep scramble down the cliff. It's a great spot, but beware of strong currents.

A little further south, near the tourist Mecca of Yehliu, lies Green Bay. This place has an expensive admission charge, but it's the place to be in summer if you like water sports, and the admission fee includes use of Howard Beach Resort facilities. Those in search of a thrill could do worse than hook up with an instructor and jump off the cliffs high above-- attached to a paraglider of course. Green Bay is one of six places in Taiwan where the sport is practiced. Call the Keelung Aerosports Association (tel: (02) 2966-3414) to fix up a tandem jump or arrange a full course.

To reach Green Bay, take a bus or train to Keelung, then take another bus from the bus depot next to the train station, bound for Chinshan. The journey to Green Bay takes about 20 minutes.

For more water sports, head to Ilan County, 90 minutes by train. Get off at Tahsi (only a couple of trains each morning stop here, so check the schedule first). Turn right along the main coast road to reach Honeymoon Bay in a couple of minutes. This isn't the best spot for swimming, but it's famous as one of Taiwan's premier surfboarding locations. The surfing industry is taking off here--witness the several surf shops which have opened up in the nearby village, along with a popular eatery selling tasty and cheap Vietnamese food, and on almost any weekend, bronzed youths leaning on their surfboards or discussing the state of the waves.

Non-surfers should stay in shallow water, as the currents are strong. The grassy campus of the elementary school next to the beach makes a fantastic camping spot. Waking up in the morning to see the sun rise over the Pacific, with a magnificent view of Turtle Mountain Island, is hard to beat. Ask the school janitor before putting up your tent.

My personal favorites happen to lie even closer to Taipei. For swimming, White Sand Beach, on the north coast not so far from Tamshui, is my first choice. It's convenient to reach, it's free, and the beach has clean, fine, pale sand. As dusk approaches, head out onto the wild headland with its small patches of coral sand to see the sun set over the East China Sea.

After falling into neglect, White Sand Beach has recently enjoyed a renaissance, with some discreet, tasteful development. Hopefully piped music and deck chairs won't follow. Take the MRT to Tamshui, then take any bus heading north round the coast: White Sand Beach is a 40-minute ride.

Finally, a very long but almost unknown beach lies hidden down a network of back lanes not far from Tamshui. The water here isn't quite as clean as further round, but the beach is almost always deserted, even on weekends, save for the odd local out to pick up shellfish, a few beach lovers in the know, and--on one memorable visit--a group of amateur photographers snapping a pair of nude models. Watch out for submerged rocks off to the right; in the center the sands stretch uninterrupted towards the horizon during low spring tides. This beach lies down a lane off the main North Coast Highway, about six kilometers after the first turnoff to Tamshui. There's a sign, but only for traffic going towards Tamshui.