Taipei is a bustling cosmopolitan city in Asia, with its towering Taipei 101 Building, more night markets than you can count with one hand and a world-class history and culture museum. It also happens to be an incredible base for day trips to the picturesque northeast coast, Yangmingshan National Park, Jiufen Old Street and the hot spring town of Beitou.
While most people traveling to Taiwan only stay in Taipei for 2-3 days, you might want to extend your stay to venture away from the crowds and explore lesser-known landmarks beyond the typical tourist trail. Now before you go off and start feverishly researching underrated day trips from Taipei, here is one that not many people know about…yet. In fact, when I had asked my family in Taipei about it they thought I was talking about the identically-named Qiandao Lake near Hangzhou in China!
Though the Sun Moon Lake located south of Taipei is Taiwan’s most famous lake, you don’t have to travel far to immerse yourself in the mountains and enchanting nature. The Thousand Island Lake (or Qiandao Lake/千岛湖) in Shiding is just a short one-hour drive away from Taipei city and a perfect day trip destination if you are looking for breathtaking landscapes, fresh air and rich tea culture.
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Where is the Thousand Island Lake?
Thousand Island Lake is located in Shiding, about 30 kilometres southeast of Taipei. The turquoise body of water is actually a man-made creation formed by the Feicui Reservoir and Beishi River. You can read more about the history of the Thousand Island Lake and its formation here.
It’s not the easiest of places to get to by public transportation (though it’s not impossible), so I would recommend booking yourself on a small-group day tour from Taipei that takes you to the Thousand Island Lake viewpoint and tea plantations, Pinglin Old Street to experience a tea tasting ceremony and the Pinglin Tea Museum.
To get from Taipei to Shiding Thousand Island Lake, check out this tour via Klook, operated by a local tour operator with licensed English-speaking guides. This tour to Thousand Island Lake/Qiandaohu runs daily, and you can either meet your guide at approximately 7:30 AM at one of the designated meeting spots, or they offer hotel pick-up as well. Here’s what to expect from a perfect day trip to the Thousand Island Lake near Taipei!
Prefer to charter a private car to show you around? Look into one of these private Taipei car charter services here, but note that there may be a small surcharge to drive out to Shiding/Pinglin. I do not recommend driving yourself out here as parking is limited, and the roads are overrun with wannabe MotoGP drivers.
Thousand Island Lake and Tea Plantation tour itinerary
1. Thousand Island Lake viewpoint and Bagua Tea Plantation
After a breezy 1-hour drive from Taipei in a comfortable van, our group of 5 (plus our local guide, Walter) reached the heart of tea country and were greeted with breathtaking panoramic views of the “islands” and aquamarine water framed by lush tea plantations.
Walter told us a little more about the tea industry in Taiwan, the types of tea cultivated on the island, when the tea is harvested and so on. I had previously visited tea plantations in Maokong and near Sun Moon Lake in Central Taiwan, so had some idea of the types of tea and how they were grown on the island. For first-time visitors to Taiwan, don’t miss out on trying high mountain oolong tea, or this region’s specialty: the baozhong tea. Did you know that more than 80% of the local residents grow tea and the total area of tea plantations is close to 1000 acres here?
After 15-20 minutes of taking landscape photos we moved onto the next stop, Pinglin Old Street, though some visitors might also opt to have a light lunch or snack at the on-site cafe – I hear the local tofu ice cream is one to try!
2. Tea tasting ceremony at Pinglin Old Street
This next part of the tour was my favourite, and might have even topped the jaw-dropping views of the Thousand Island Lake! While a tea tasting ceremony might not sound like anything special, tea is very much ingrained in Taiwanese culture and is an important industry for the island and certain local communities.
We spent about an hour in a small tea house tasting a variety of Taiwanese tea – from the fragrant and sweet-smelling baozhong to the honey-infused black tea. The tea farmer hosting the ceremony lovingly brewed cups of hot tea for us and showed us how to smell the tea using special smelling cups, before holding the tea in our mouths for a few seconds to make the most of its aroma.
There are only 2 small tables in this tiny local shop, and is a wonderful opportunity to ask questions about tea culture and industry, or pick up a few souvenirs for home. For a little sweet treat make sure you try the tea-flavoured peanut candy – I’m Taiwanese and visit a few times a year, but it was my first time trying these little bite-sized delights!
3. Pinglin Tea Museum
Don’t write-off the visit to the tea museum like I did, because you might actually be pleasantly surprised. I didn’t have high hopes for visiting the tea museum after the outrageously stunning viewpoint, lush terraced tea plantations and educational tea tasting ceremony…but the Pinglin Tea Museum proved me wrong.
The museum features 2 exhibition halls dedicated to the history of tea in Taiwan and the properties of Taiwanese tea, and you can also visit the “Experience Center”, an activities-based hall where visitors can appreciate tea through the senses and interactive installations. I especially loved the installation that allowed you to smell different types of freshly brewed tea.
The Pinglin Tea Museum is a must-visit for tea aficionados, and is all-in-all a wonderfully-curated collection that gives you valuable insight into this very rich part of Taiwanese culture.
If you’re looking for an incredible day trip from Taipei away from the tourist crowds, then look into this Thousand Island Lake and Tea Plantation tour! I went on a weekday in January and we were the only group at the Thousand Island Lake viewpoint in the morning, only 1 of 2 small groups at the tea tasting ceremony and the only group touring the tea museum.
Though you might run into a few more groups during the peak travel season from May to about mid-October, Taiwan as a whole is an extremely underrated travel destination in Asia and doesn’t tend to experience extremely heavy crowds (with the exception of a select few landmarks such as Jiufen).
- The tour runs year-round but I encourage you to book ahead of time to guarantee your spot, and try to visit on a weekday as more people tend to head out to this area on the weekends
- This particular Thousand Island Lake & Tea tour costs US$50 per person including transportation, a local guide, the tea tasting and your entry into the Pinglin tea museum
- The tour pick-up time is approximately 7:30 AM and gets you back into Taipei city at around 12, 12:30 PM depending on traffic
- If you are a first-time user of Klook you can sign up for a Klook account using this referral link and get HK$25 (US$3.5) off your first travel booking!
- The road to Shiding is very windy – I recommend taking a tablet ahead of time if you are prone to motion sickness
- I feel that this tour could be suitable for families with children as well – the museum is very interactive and the tour gets you back to Taipei by lunchtime!
- The museum is closed the first Monday of each month so if your heart is set on checking the museum out make sure you book accordingly
Where to stay in Taipei
There are plenty of convenient accommodation options in Taipei – if you want to stay somewhere central look into hotels and AirBnBs in the Xinyi, Da’an and Zhongzheng districts. You’ll be close to most of the attractions in Taipei and these areas are well connected by the Taipei Metro.
Hotel HD Palace: Hotel HD Palace is located in the Da’an District. The rooms are basic but clean, and room rates are extremely reasonable. If you’re keen to explore the night markets, Tonghua Night Market is just a hop and skip away. Click here to book your stay at Hotel HD Palace!
Fullerton North: Fullerton North is located in Songshan District and is perfect for people who prefer staying at boutique hotels. It is close to Raohe Night Market and Ciyou Temple. Click here to book your stay at Fullerton North!
The Sherwood: The Sherwood is an upscale hotel located in the heart of Taipei that has hosted the likes of Ang Lee, Margaret Thatcher and Rafael Nadal. If you’re looking for a luxury hotel in Taipei and want a spacious room, gym and spa then book yourself into this hotel – click here for current rates at The Sherwood!
More: There are tons of great accommodation options in Taipei – if you want to stay somewhere central look into hotels in the Xinyi, Da’an and Zhongzheng districts. Click here for even more accommodation options!
I hope this Taipei day trip guide inspires you to look beyond the obvious attractions in Taipei and venture off the beaten path! Ready to book a visit to the Thousand Island Lake near Taipei? Click here for availability and rates!
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