ICYMI: I lived in Taiwan for a year while on a Fulbright scholarship and I traveled a lot of the country in my time there. Nantou County is one of my absolute favorite areas...and I'm sharing all the highlights with you here!
Nantou is a mountainous region in the center of Taiwan. It's the only landlocked county on the entire island, making it super unique with so much amazing nature and culture to offer.
Traveler Tip: Since Nantou is mountainous, it's not the easiest to get to. Even if on a map, the distance isnt far as the crow flies, getting into Nantou can be a longer trip than you expect. From Taipei, you will want to take the Bullet Train to Taichung. From there you can take a number of bus options into Nantou.
DAY 1 (SUN MOON LAKE AND JIJI):
The first (and most famous) stop in Nantou is Sun Moon Lake. Sun Moon Lake is Taiwan's largest freshwater lake, known for its stunning natural beauty. If you can, try and go on a sunny clear day because it really makes a huge difference in the experience. The first time I went, the day was a bit overcast, and I felt that Sun Moon Lake was overrated as a tourist attraction...but then I went again when it was a sunny beautiful day and I totally got the hype. It was AMAZING. You can walk or rent bikes to explore the area (but note, if you want to walk or bike around the entire like, its around 30km and will take your whole day!). So I advise just wandering around a bit, until you have taken in all the Sun Moon beauty you can handle, then head to Jiji!
You can get to Jiji from Sun Moon Lake by either bus or taxi. The buses don't come so often, so a taxi might be easiest...it's about a 30 minute ride.
Jiji is a great place to truly take in local Taiwanese culture. It's the smallest township in Taiwan and has such a charming, positive and welcoming energy. It's a nice place to just explore with no real agenda or timeframe. Just walking around is really peaceful and beautiful. If you do want specific landmarks: check out
1. the Jiji Green Tunnel: a beautiful street with trees overarching the street, creating a (you guessed it) green tunnel
2. the Wuchang Temple: this is a super unique landmark...it's a temple that has been preserved in its fallen state after a large earthquake in 1999, which essentially collapsed the lower half of the temple. It's really a sight to behold (and theres a new temple built next to it as well).
Jiji also has some fantastic local shops and restaurants to eat and buy local souvenirs.
DAY 2 (QINGJING FARM AND THE PAPER DOME):
Day Two on the Nantou Itinerary starts with a visit to QingJing Farm...a magical place filled with as many fluffy sheep as your heart could desire! On top of all the sheep, the views here were the most stunning I have seen in all of Taiwan. The land has rolling green hills, forests, beautiful flowers cascading down the hillsides and totally open areas for the animals to roam and for you to interact with them. Again, it's a perfect place to wander and explore. There are the main fields as well as trails through the woods and forests, where you can find even more sheep!
There are multiple trails throughout the farm, but my favorites were: The Great Wall Trail (literally a 10 minute easy walk, but so beautiful, surrounded by lush green hills), The Cryptomeria Trail (a 30 minute walk through the forest) and the Jade Lake Trail (this is the most 'hiking' type of trail as opposed to walking, and you get amazing views of tea farms, forests and the lake. It will take around one hour to complete!) There are also Swiss Gardens at the farm...not as impressive as the farm itself, but can be worth a stop if you have time!
Be aware that the buses from QingJing farm stop fairly early, so you will want to make sure you catch the last one!
Traveler Tip: QingJing Farm actually has a guest house where you can stay...I didnt do it because I didnt know about it before my trip, but I wish I had because this place is a nature paradise and I would have loved to stay here!
A nice ending to the day after QingJing is a visit to the Paper Dome. The Paper Dome is exactly what it sounds like...a big hollow paper tube. The giant paper tube is supported by a total of 58 smaller tubes. The dome was originally built in Japan, but was sent to Taiwan after the same earthquake I mentioned above, that destroyed the still preserved Wuchang Temple. There's not a ton to do at the Paper Dome but it's a really cool structure to see!
DAY 3 (FORMOSAN ABORIGINAL CULTURE VILLAGE):
Taiwan is home to many aboriginal tribes. And I think on short trips to Taiwan, people can miss this rich and deep heritage. But, its an extremely important and interesting part of Taiwan and in my opinion the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village should not be missed. The funny/super cool part about the village is that it is both an interactive museum of aboriginal life as well as...an amusement park! In fact, the park contains the tallest free-fall ride in Taiwan. When you first enter, you come into these gorgeous European style gardens (also the largest of this style in Taiwan). Then you enter the amusement park. The park is literally like a mini-Disney world. It has fun park food and all the good rides.
If you make your way through the amusement park, you will find gondolas, which will take you to the Aboriginal part of the park. This is a huge area set up as authentic aboriginal tribes. You can walk through each tribal village and walk through all the different buildings they have built. There are also aboriginal people there that will show you tribal dances, play traditional games with you, and even teach you archery! It's not only a great learning opportunity and a way to become familiar with Taiwan's heritage, its extremely fun. I spent all day here and didnt even feel like I was ready to leave. The park is situated on 1,550 acres of land...so the exploration is pretty much endless. There is so much to learn and take in and explore...I highly recommend it (and recommend getting there right when it opens at 9am!) The park is also quite close to Sun Moon Lake, so you can return on the same bus you came in on three days ago!
Happy Exploring (and learning!)