Welcome to Nantou – an icon of Taiwan’s majestic natural beauty!
Info About Nantou
Like Miaoli, Nantou is both a city and a county. Also like Miaoli, the city itself doesn’t have much to offer – it’s quite an uneventful place to be honest. However, the county is quite famous as it is the home of Sun Moon Lake, one of Taiwan’s top 5 tourist destinations. Oh, that’s also where you’ll find Jade Mountain (Yushan), or at least parts of it.
But there’s so much more than Sun Moon Lake… The area is packed with hiking trails, waterfalls, tea plantations, temples, small villages, bamboo forests, and scenic roads. I’ve been exploring Nantou County for more than 20 years, and I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. If you have extra time and a spirit hungry for proper adventures, Nantou County might exactly be what you’re looking for.
Where is Nantou County?
Nantou County is dead in the center of Taiwan, and of all Taiwan’s counties, it is the only one that is landlocked. Situated in the middle of Formosa, Nantou is also characterized by its rolling hills and mountainous geography. For that reason, it’s a highly popular destination for hiking!
Things to Do in Nantou County
Mt Hehuan 合歡山
Hehuan Mountain is a big (local) tourist pull, delivering the familiar, pleasant trio of Taiwanese mountain ranges – scenic hiking, cherry blossoms and a relatively untouched natural environment. I’ve spent tons of weekends in the Hehuanshan area and I can guarantee you that you won’t regret traveling to this part of Taiwan, even if it requires more preparation. Alpine vistas, rugged trails, snow, remoteness – Mt Hehuan is awesome if you search for those things. One of my all-time favorite places on Formosa!
Surrounded by lofty mountains and steep hills, Qingjing is a fine place to base yourself for few days in the Central Mountain Range of Taiwan. This is the last village where you can find proper B&Bs, 7-11s, and luxuries such as Starbucks. Passed this point, you are entering the wild, cold Formosan alpine. Qingjing is renowned for its farm, European castle-style guesthouses, high-grade mountain tea, and Seediq aboriginal food. Hehuanshan is only 45 minutes away from here.
East of Guoxing, Huisun National Forest is a very nice place to walk around thick jungle and easy mountain paths. It’s a kid-friendly place, and relatively close to Taichung, so expect big crowds on weekends. I love this place during quiet weekdays. Not a must, but worth it if you have extra time.
Few international tourists ever visit this remote (by Taiwanese standard) mountainous area of Nantou County, as it’s seldom mentioned in guidebooks. I personally think that Aowanda is a very interesting and beautiful backcountry region in the heart of the Central Mountain Range of Taiwan. Definitely worth exploring. The visitor center is accessible by car and there are convenient facilities which make the park popular with families on weekends. Great destination for photographers.
Nantou City Attractions
As mentioned earlier, Nantou City is not attractions gallore. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit if you have extra time. There are some interesting sights in town, and here are my personal favorites:
Zhongxing New Village 中興新村
Zhongxing New Village is well known for it’s tree-lined streets with western-style sidewalks. Until 2018 this somewhat unique urban village was the seat of government of Taiwan Province. The main reasons to go there are walking around pretty streets, taking pictures of old buildings, and sipping coffee or tea.
Zhongxing New Village is part of Nantou City proper, but it is about 10 minutes away (east) by car. It’s on the other side of the freeway, so it feels like you’re in a different city. It’s much prettier than downtown Nantou.
This newly-built museum (of sorts) is more like an elaborate library dedicated to the collection of documents and literature relevant to Taiwan’s history. If you are an Asian history buff (being able to read Chinese will be especially helpful here), there is plenty of material waiting for your exploration here. Historica contains archives from the era of Japanese rule, as well as bureaucratic documents from the post-war period and beyond.
For the non-nerds, Taiwan Historica also contains a good-sized collection of “folk relics”. The building’s grounds are well-maintained and the architecture is interesting if not fantastic.
It may look strikingly like a temple from your point of view, but this Academy in Nantou City is actually a place of study that was established in 1864. Its architecture is true to that era, and the building is something to see in itself. Additionally, the academy today holds historical artifacts for the visitor to take in. However, the best way to enjoy it is to just stroll around the academy’s grounds and try to put yourself in its 150-year-old world.
Nantou Night Market
No Taiwanese city or town is safe from the culture of the night market, and Nantou is no exception to this rule. Near the city’s Carrefour there is a night market that is especially lively on Wednesdays. As always, night markets are a great way to try all of a city’s local specialties with one-stop shopping efficiency.
Getting Around Nantou
Surprise, surprise – you’ll want to be renting a scooter near the main bus station in Nantou City, Puli, or even Taichung City to get around as briskly as possible.
If you’re looking to just make your way around the shopping area in Nantou City you could easily walk, which is never a bad option. Non-scooter drivers should write down some names of places of interest in Chinese so that taxis can help you find your way.
Getting around Nantou County is not easy if you don’t have your own wheels as public transportation is not comprehensive and very complicated to understand if you can’t read Chinese. Having your own car or scooter will is a great option. I’ve done most of my travel in the area on two wheels.
Eating in Nantou / Restaurants
As you might have guessed from the existence of a winery, Nantou produces a lot of its own fruit. Grapes and plums are locally grown, as well as tea, mushrooms, pineapple and more. Local fruit stands will be a good option for some of the freshest you’ve ever had.
Chinese and Taiwanese restaurants can be found in every single town around the county and the food can be either extremelly delicious, or awefully bad. I usually stick to places that are packed – which is usually a sign that locals like it.
Ching Jing Farms, Sun Moon Lake, and Jiji are packed with good eateries. Most of the good restaurants at Sun Moon Lake are in Itashao and Shuishe Village.
Azhang Yi-Mien 阿章意麵
Authentic yi-mien noodles, sold in a tiny, local eatery in downtown Nantou City. Cheap, filling, delicious. I’ve been many times, it’s unbeatable for the price, and it offers a true authentic local experience. Warning: nothing fancy here.
Adresse : 126, Minquan St, Nantou City
Accommodation in Nantou
If you’re looking for something on the cheap side in Nantou City, like many other places in Taiwan your best bet will be to scope out the area around the bus station, where there will be a collection of interchangeable hotels accommodating travelers.
Chinatrust Crystal Resort
Near Sun Moon Lake, this slightly more upscale option has a swimming pool, massage, gym facilities and the like. Most likely among the best you can find in Nantou County.
70-1 Chin Tien Lane Talin Village Yu Chih Township, Nantou City
Getting There and Away
One of the easiest ways to get to places in Nantou County is to first take a train (either HSR or TRA) to Taichung City, and then take a bus to some of the most popular destinations such as Sun Moon Lake, Puli, or Nantou City.
You can take a bus to get to these destinations in front of Taichung train station. If you don’t know where the bus stops are, just ask someone who works at the Tourist Information Center in the train station. These guys can speak English and they’ll be more than happy to help you find your way around.
Travel to Nantou from Taipei City
It is possible to get bus rides to Sun Moon Lake, Puli, and other tourist spots in Nantou County from the main bus station behind Taipei Main Station.