|Further along the cliff you can see the swimming hole below, and peeking out beyond that is Bitou Cape|
So, yesterday we took a day trip to Longdong (龍洞), an area with beautiful natural scenery, striking blue water, good hiking, diving and snorkeling (I'm not sure how good the diving really is, but it seems to be popular). Our plan had been to follow the route on page 112 of Taipei Day Trips 1, and hike along the coast from Longdong to Bitou Cape (鼻頭角), but we enjoyed lingering at the natural swimming hole at Longdong that we never did make it to Bitou.
If you want to do both in one day, you can, but leave super early, don't get off the bus at the Amazing Hall (the big ugly white building) as we did, get off at the stop before it, just after the tunnel. Otherwise you have to walk back up about 500 meters. It's easy, but the pavement is hot and the exhaust fumes from trucks barreling by are disgusting. Also, don't linger too long at Longdong. Consider driving if you are really hell bent on one day trip to see the entire northeast coast - buses are infrequent. Alternatively, you could turn this into two or more decent day trips.
One thing I love about living in Taiwan that is markedly better than life in China is that there are more and better opportunities to swim in the ocean, or just to swim naturally (i.e., not in a pool). Although I am not terribly impressed by many of Taiwan's beaches (overcrowded, oversupervised, but hey, at least they're generally clean and safe), I do appreciate that the opportunity is there. I have been to beaches in China, and...well...no. Generally not my bag.
But from Taipei, you can catch a bus from Danshui or catch a train to Ruifang and be at any number of swimmable spots in a fairly short time. If you're not that interested in Taiwan's mostly lackluster sand beaches - at least the beaches on the main island (the outlying islands are another story: Penghu is fantastic and I am excited about going to Orchid Island next week!) - and you really just want a dip in the ocean and don't mind rocks, Longdong is a great alternative.
To get there, you can take a bus from Fulong that will take you all the way to Cape Bitou and beyond, but I recommend the route we took yesterday: the 9:35am train to Ruifang, breakfast in Ruifang and then the tourist bus to Longdong (exit the train station, turn left at the main road, and walk past the police station, almost to the elevated highway, to the bus stop. It gets crowded on weekends, you can't miss it). It'll take you over Jiufen and Jinguashi and down again before dropping you off at Longdong. Again, get off right after the tunnel, not at the big white building called "龍洞四季灣" (also labeled "Amazing Hall" in English - it's a chain). If you make it there, you've gone too far. This drops you at the trailhead to the coastal path over some stunning cliffs - if you just want to swim, you can skip this part and get off one stop early, in Longdong village.
The path starts just after the tunnel (on the left if you're coming from Ruifang), and bathrooms and vending machine drinks are available. Follow the clearly marked trail and do be sure to stop at the viewpoints - they're gorgeous. There is a trail leading down, and I suppose one could swim down there towards the start of the path, but we saw nobody doing so. There may be a current or it may be otherwise unsafe.
|So inviting, but not sure if it's safe|
From one of the vantage points (the top picture), you can see all the way to a safe swimming hole. A trail leading down will take you there via Longdong village. Exit the trail and turn right towards the ocean. Keep right, and enter the rocky area via a path that widens, then narrows before widening again and taking you to the coast.
Of course, by "rocky path" I mean, basically, a horizontal rock scramble. There is no real path. Taipei Day Trips 1 makes it sound easy: it is not. It is definitely possible and safe (although watch out for sprained ankles), but it's not a walk in the park. It's also hot - the rocks are hot and there's no shade. Wear sunscreen.
Taipei Day Trips 1 says there's some "supervised swimming". There is swimming, but it's not supervised. When you get there, there are several points at which you can jump safely into the water, and one spot where you can lower yourself in gently if you're afraid of jumping.
The water is crystal blue and clean, and tiny tropical fish swim around you as you swim or tread water. Bring snorkeling gear if you'd like to get a closer look. You can swim to the far island (pictured below) and climb up via ropes - it's safe to jump from the top - or beach yourself on a lower rock and enjoy the sun.
|I stole this photo from my friend - hope that's OK, Joseph!|
It's safe to stand on the rocks in the shallow areas, but the rocks above water have barnacles on them, and generally speaking river tracing/snorkeling shoes would be a good thing to wear if you have them.
If you don't linger you can then hike around Bitou and catch a bus back to Keelung, Ruifang, Jinguashi or Jiufen. Heading up to Jiufen at sunset is a lovely ride, and you can eat or drink tea there. Alternately, you can head all the way to Keelung and go to the night market - the bus will drop you off nearby. If you have a car, there are several other great spots to stop and enjoy before the sun goes down. If not, be careful of time.
One final note - bus stops are spaced out weirdly: one bus stop doesn't necessarily cover all available buses. For example, the Keelung tourist bus stops a little further up the highway from Longdong than two other buses, and generally won't pick you up if you're at the wrong stop. This is idiotic, and the government really ought to do something about it. For now, though, check the times and wait at the appropriate stop to the best of your ability.