Psychologically hidden away in the hills of Taipei behind the district of XinDian, WuLai is a relatively quick trip by car or bus. Busy on weekends but relatively quiet on weekdays, the area has its own distinct historical story to tell.
By Stuart Hill
Possibly most famous for the hot spring businesses lining the local NanShi creek, WuLai’s development dates back to early immigration by Taiwan’s Atayal tribe. There is still a strong local aboriginal presence in the area, and WuLai represents a center of their culture. A museum that’s accessible along the main street (though slightly obscured by what has basically become a tourist market) provides a lot of content about their lives and customs to learn from. Inside you’ll find beautiful fabrics, weapons and everyday utensils. Explanations are in English.
Many of the restaurants in WuLai serve food made from locally grown ingredients or at least commonly used by the local aborigines.
Before entering WuLai, you’ll first pass a number of hot springs on the right which offer stylish upmarket “resort” facilities. They are a fair walk from the main market street but there is a bus stop nearby. You can pay an entry fee of around NT$1000 to use their public (naked) or private (personal room) baths. There are cheaper options at other establishments along the same section of road, and also a few more but older-looking hot spring businesses starting closer to town, near the WuLai parking lot building.
Once the Japanese discovered timber in the mountains of WuLai, the area entered a new phase of development. Today you can get some feel for the local timber industry with a small tram ride along the old hauling track. Since the end of logging in the area, the “log carts” have been used by tourists – even as far back as the 1960s. The station closer to the busy end of town is located up behind Helen’s Cafe – which is a good spot to grab something to eat or drink either before or after your trip. The cafe has a great view of the market street and the river, as well as the surrounding gorge.
During summer weekends the log cart tram ride is extremely popular and the wait can be around 40 minutes or so to just to get a ride. As the station is outdoors, it can be hot and steamy waiting for a tram to arrive, but it is under cover.
Luckily the tram isn’t the only way to get to the end of the line. In fact you can choose to skip the wait entirely and make the journey on foot. The trip takes about 30-40 minutes (one way) of fairly easy walking up or down hill along a scenic and paved road. It’s worth walking at least one way along the hillside. As more people wait to catch the tram up the hill than down, it is possible to avoid the crowds at the first station by hiking there, and choosing to catch the tram back.
At the end of the line are another series of shops, several hotels and a cable car station that takes you across the river and up over the local waterfall to a scenic view overlooking WuLai.
The area around the cable car station has seen more prosperous days, but it still provides a view of the local waterfall – at 80 meters the highest in the north of Taiwan – plunging down the cliff into NanShi Creek that runs back through the township.
- To get there by public transport catch Bus 849 from Xindian MRT to WuLai
- WuLai Visitor Center (located near the parking lot) phone: 02-2661 6355