Yangmingshan is a national park just outside of Taipei. It's easily accessible, mountain filled and is perfect if you want to get out of the city and get some fresh mountain air. Sulphurous volcanic fumes aside.
There are a number of buses to Yangmingshan from the various parts of Taipei. If you happen to be near the Beitou or Xinbeitou MRT stations you can catch bus #230. I don't remember the exact price for the bus but it was in the $1-2 US range.
The bus will drop you at a open area filled with parked buses. There is a visitor's center where you can pick up a map as well as a Starbucks. There are a number of trails you can explore around the visitor's center area.
We have received a message from a reader (thanks John) saying that bus 230 no longer stops in the parking lot of the visitor's center.
>>>It only breezes through the area near Yangmingshan Bus Station, and doesn't stop unless someone is standing at a "230" bus stop. I saw the Yangmingshan bus station with buses, but we stayed on the road and went in a big circle and started heading back to the MRT. Thankfully, I questioned the driver and was able to hop off only a couple minutes walk from the bus area.
So if you are catching the #230 keep an eye out for an open area filled with lots of buses and people hanging around. If in doubt ask the driver or another passenger.
Although the area around the visitor center is nice there is a shuttle bus that takes you further up into the mountains. The shuttle bus is #108. Apparently it is $60NT ($2 US) per day and runs from 7am to 5:30pm. You can use your Easy Card to pay, the same as on the trains and the other buses. If you don't have one go to an MRT station and buy one. You can pay for almost anything with them.
If its the weekend it will be busy and there will be two queues for the shuttle bus. The left hand queue, probably the longer one, is for people who want a seat. The right hand queue is for people who are happy to stand. When a bus arrives peoples from the left hand queue will get on until all the seats are filled. Then people from the right hand queue will be jammed on until all available space is filled. The standing queue seems to move faster.
The shuttle bus stops at a number of places. It's not particularly clear which stop is which. Your best bet is to ask the driver or some others on the bus where you should get off. Have a map to point to, the name of where you're going ready or both. Fortunately for us we were lucky enough to have a local to show us around.
On our visit to Yangmingshan National Park we climbed Mt Qixing, pronounced Chi-shing. It is the tallest mountain in the Taipei area. The shuttle bus takes you much of the way up there so you can leave your tent and dehydrated meals at home.
The plumes of sulphurous fumes venting from the mountain serve as a reminder that this was once was an active volcano. These days it seems to be limited to letting off a little steam. There are warning signs up saying that prolonged exposure to the fumes can be dangerous. There are also places where you have no choice but to wade through the plumes of gas. Just try to hold your breath or something.
The locals with us referred to this as a hiking trip. I'm not sure what we'd call it. To us hiking involves long distances, remote locations, map reading, that sort of thing. At Yangmingshan its all been made fairly easy for you. Of course you still have to climb the mountain yourself but the way is paved and very well signed.
Just be prepared for stairs. Lots and lots of stairs. If you're in Taipei skip the stair master and give Qixing mountain a go. Eventually we reached the main peak. We took some photos before heading on to the east peak. It was the weekend and was rather crowded. I get the feeling that Yangmingshan and Qixing Mountain is a regular outing for a lot of Taipei residents. On the way back down we were able to glimpse a little bit of wild life. There were three of these little guys. Once we had descended the far side of the east peak we made our way back to the road. There was a shop where we bought a cool drink before catching the shuttle bus. Then we caught bus #230 back to town. We actually caught it going the wrong way so got taken on a scenic trip around some small mountain towns before it turned around and came back the other way. Yangmingshan National Park is really beautiful. It's a little bit surreal being in the city for breakfast, hauling yourself up a mountain and back in the city by mid afternoon. It is however wonderful being able to so easily get out of the big city, even if its just for the day.