Wulai (烏來) is a small town in New Taipei City, Taiwan, famous for its hot springs and aboriginal culture. The name of the town derives from the Atayal phrase kilux ulay meaning "hot and poisonous". Don't let this scare you away from this lovely town! Consider going during the week if you can as it is quite crowded on the weekend. Also, in the summer, it might be a few degrees cooler than Taipei, but the elevation is not sufficient to provide real cooling.
Wulai suffered great damage from typhoons in August 2015 and again in late September 2015. When visiting on September 18, 2015, residents were still trying to clean up. Anything below street level along the river was washed away. Many hot spring buildings were not open but some were in the process of rebuilding. At least 4 large hotels were destroyed. We were told some owners of hotels have no plans to reopen because all of their hot spring pools are now nothing but mud. But for a quick trip to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city, Wulai is a beautiful location surrounded by gorgeous mountains. Any tourist dollars will help the local residents at this time when they need it the most.
MRT to Xindian Station (Xindian line). Take Bus 849 at the bus stop in front of the station, just behind the Information Counter, next to the taxis. The bus journey takes about 40 minutes (longer on weekends), comes about every 15 minutes, and costs NT$15. Wulai is the last stop, so you can enjoy the journey without worrying when to get off. A seat on the right side of the bus allows views over the river. You likely pay when you exit the bus, which accepts EasyCard for payment. From the bus stop to the waterfall will be another 30 minute walk.
Definitely the easiest and fastest way to get to Wulai is simply to take a taxi from Taipei. It only takes 30 minutes from Xindian MRT station, but is not cheap. At the Xindian MRT taxi line, they have a taxi fare sign with predetermined fares (depending on the destination). Going to Wulai from the Xindian MRT will cost you $600 NT one way. Returning from Wulai by taxi can be negotiated and should be cheaper than $600 NT, but ultimately not cheaper than the bus. Sometimes during very busy times, with lines of people waiting to board crowded buses, taxi drivers may show up offering to take four people up to Wulai for NT$100 each. This is a good bargain if you want to get up to Wulai fast and in comfort.
This compact little town is easily covered on foot. There's a map posted next to the bus stop, with all tourist destinations clearly marked in English. If the taxi drivers waiting there tell you that Wulai Waterfall is too far away to walk, don't believe them: it's a nice stroll of less than half an hour. The walk also passes through the open air market on Wulai Old Street, and continues to the falls via the "Lover's Path", which affords some nice views of the river gorge below the falls.
The Wulai Log Cart is a little train that brings you 1.6 km from the Wulai Old Street area to Wulai Waterfall and near the terminal of the gondola that brings you to Yun Hsien Resort, on the top of a nearby mountain. From the main tourist street in the town, cross the bridge, and take the wooden staircase across the road. It goes up to the left. Follow the pedestrian street to the station. The Wulai Log Cart costs NT$50 each way, and is back in working order after restoration work was carried out.
The Gondola is a spectacular way to see Wulai Falls as it takes visitors from the base of the gorge to the top of the mountain. At the top there is a hotel, conference center, and a beautiful garden park with paddle boats, nature trails, and a natural obstacle course (雲仙樂園). The Gondola for both directions including the park visit is NT$220. ***The park at the top of the Gondola ride suffered massive damage from a typhoon in August 2015. As of September 18, 2015, visitors can still ride the gondola but they stop selling tickets at 4:00pm with only a cost of NT$150. The last ride back to the bottom is at 4:30pm. The park is basically nonfunctional with the paddle boat area and other attractions covered by rock/mud slides. It can be very erie because it seems like an abandoned town. You can still go up and see the damage and there are still great views of the valley area below. They are very slowly trying to clean up and the towns people are helping, too. Your NT$150 will go a long way to help the town rebuild.
Yun Hsien Resort at top of Gondola this was heavily damaged from mud slides in 2015. However, if you like exploring and being adventurous, you can wander around in the resort (a relatively small resort that can be covered by foot completely in about half an hour walking around). If you head up to the "mountain training field" there is access to the waterfall and stream you can walk in. There's also well maintained (but currently not being rented out) villas (cabins) you can make you way into with a bit of creativity. And also very old abandoned houses from decades ago. Also bring 10元 coins to use in machines such as fish food dispenser, old abandoned (but will working) arcade machines, bumper cars, etc. Overall, if you're the type to like old abandoned places, it can be a very cool interesting place open to your exploration.
Next to the waterfall visit the show of the formosan aborigines, and the museum of the history of the "little" train. Admission is free. Famous for its natural hot water springs, along with Beitou, Wulai is the place in the Taipei area to soak away the winter cold and damp. In fact, the name Wulai is the aboriginal tribe Atayal's term for hot springs. The springs at Wulai are clear and odorless. Public hot spring etiquette requires that bathers thoroughly wash and rinse off their bodies before entering the bath, do not wear clothing (including swimwear) in the bath and tie up their hair so that it does not touch the water. Finally, people with high blood pressure, heart disease or open wounds should not enter the baths.
Places to bathe
There are a number of excellent hiking trails in the mountains around Wulai.
As an Atayal aboriginal town, Wulai has a host of unusual and delicious dishes, including wild boar, Reeve's muntjac (山羌 - shan qiang), and bird's nest fern (山蘇 - shan su). A specialty of the area is seasoned rice steamed in a tube of bamboo (竹筒飯 - zhu tong fan). Another Aboriginal specialty is Millet Wine (小米酒), and various foods are seasoned with the Aboriginal spice maqaw (馬告, Litsea cubeba).
There are numerous hotels in Wulai, most of them provide in-room bath facilities with hotspring water. Starting around NT$2300/3000.
If you like public hot spring bath, Spring Spa Hotel offers a big one with more than 5 spring pool and good view which you can visit for free when you stay. The breakfast is nice too. The room is at very reasonable price for what you got. The only downside is it's quite a bit long walk to the old town.
To get back to Taipei, take the 烏來 Xindian-Taipei Main Station bus (849), and get off at the Xindian MRT station, this bus also stops all the way to Taipei Main Station at NT$45