January 03, 2014
Bitan - An Oasis in New Taipei City
If there is ever an area to have benefitted from the MRT, it’s Xindian. From a sleepy little town where the Reverend Mackay first set up church, to a forest of high rises, a river winds its way through the heart of this modern jungle, and its easiest point of access is Bitan.
Bitan was originally named by poet Tsai yun-lin for the green colour of the lake, with the water reflective of the deep green of jade. It’s the last stop on the Xindian MRT line so it is easy to get to, and there are a plethora of buses to locations, including Sansia, Wulai and even the international airport in Taoyuan.
The suspension footbridge is one of the most notable features of Bitan. Connecting both sides of the river and originally built in 1937, it has been routinely serviced so it is thought to be safe.
Under the bridge are a variety of water activities, including pedal boats criss-crossing the lake. This is a famous spot for the yearly dragon boat races and also for training for kayaking, dragon boat racing and even the Red Cross. Although swimming isn’t encouraged, and in fact quite dangerous, some hardy souls come out for sports training.
You can rent bicycles just below the flyover bridge. However the cycling path is not that long and you will need to take it across the footbridge to make a large loop across Yang-guan bridge and back again.
The food options are quite varied, and the strong point is that you can sit outside. It's a great place for families, especially when it's cooler, to enjoy the sun glistening off the water. Picnic type tables and chairs are also available or you could just bring a blanket and sit by the lake itself. As the food area has been developed over the last 5 years, it's a fairly modern style and includes Western food.
The pedal boats are, well pedal boats. Although we can't say this is a unique Taiwanese experience, it is still fun as a family activity. For four people, it costs NT$500 for an hour plus NT$100 deposit for the life jackets which you should wear as the lifeguards are conspicuously absent.
During the day, this is a good spot for the family, and at night it becomes a good place to visit with a special someone. The lake side is well lit, the restaurants are still open and it feels as though you are miles away from Taipei City.
Just across the footbridge on the left hand side on the top of a rock/cliff there is a traditional tea shop called Bi Ting. With views over the lake and mountains, it is great place to watch the sun go down with views over the lake and the mountains in the distance. There are some gentle hiking trails, and an entrance to one is to the immediate left as you leave the footbridge through a small tunnel-like entrance.
There are some great "old streets" in Taiwan, however the old street in Bitan (which is signposted as such) is still waiting for the development enjoyed by the rest of the area. Having said that, there is a Sri Lankan food stall on the right hand side which has been recommended by several people. The Green Hornet Café (http://www.greenhornetcafe.com) has also been recommended if you fancy a beer and food (please remember not to drink and drive).
If you find yourself needing a break from the buildings of Taipei City, Bitan is a good family friendly choice. It's very easy to get to and will give you a glimpse of the real beauty of Taiwan.
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