(CNN) — Taipei City offers one of the widest selections of cheap and easy day trips of any Asian metropolis.
The capital at the northern tip of Taiwan is right next to incredible natural escapes as well as boisterous towns and markets. Everything is just a short train or MRT ride away. We've narrowed it down to our favorite half-dozen low-maintenance destinations out from Taipei.
1. Steamy getaway: Beitou
Swim under Yangming Mountain, pictured here.
Courtesy 欣盈/Creative Commons/Flickr
Welcome to Taipei City's own volcanic hot springs right at the base of Yangming Mountain. You can smell the sulfur even before you get off the MRT at Xinbeitou.
Start the day with photo ops at Hell Valley, the source of many of the local hot springs. You will find its name fitting as you peer into a bubbling blue swamp while being engulfed by steam. Water temperatures can reach boiling point here.
In the main park area just in front of the MRT station, there is the original Japanese-era hot spring building, as well as the Beitou Public Library, a triangular architectural statement inspired by the bungalows constructed during the Japanese occupation. Follow Hot Springs Road up past the park to find Puji Temple, a cute little wooden temple built by Japanese rail workers.
Tired from all that walking? It's time to treat yourself to a soak and the park's atmospheric outdoor public springs are your best and cheapest bet.
For a more luxurious bathing experience, try the public springs in the Broadway Hotel just beside the park, or spend the night in one of their traditional Japanese-style rooms, complete with your own private tub. SweetMe Hot Spring Resort is another good option with similar facilities, just next to the MRT station. If you want privacy on a tighter budget, all of Beitou's hotels provide comfortable rooms with private tubs that can be rented for two hours.
Getting there: All of the sites in Beitou can be accessed on foot from Xinbeitou MRT station.
2. Best sunset: Tamsui
Foolproof tourism: river -- check; Kodak sunsets -- check.
Courtesy Ken Marshall/Creative Commons/Flickr
While just about every getaway in Taiwan involves a night market or two, Tamsui has a crazy night market as well as Taiwan's most iconic sunsets.
The Tamsui market is crammed with endless rows of snack vendors, game stands and even a homegrown believe-it-or-not museum. Enjoy a walking lunch of typical snacks like barbecued cuttlefish, stinky tofu, and deep-fried ice cream. Then burn it off by renting a two-seater bicycle and cruising the riverside path, or stroll up to the Fort San Domingo built by the Dutch (also known as the "Fort of the Red Heads" in Chinese), later used as the British consul's residence and once home to Herbert Allen Giles who completed some of his work on the Wade-Giles system there.
If that's too much historical trivia for your vacation, take a bus ride to Baishawan for an afternoon of blanking out on the beach.
As the day winds down, make your way to Fisherman's Wharf for Taipei's most renowned sunsets.
Just north of the Tamsui town itself, the boardwalk is touristy but worth it for the perfect shot of the Lover's Bridge of Tamsui against a setting sun. For the return trip to Tamsui, forget the bus and opt for one of the small ferries that ply the river. You can swipe your MRT card to get on board.
Getting there: Get out at the Danshui MRT station on the Red Line. For Fisherman's Wharf, take red bus 26 just outside the MRT station, or a ferry departing from Tamsui Ferry Pier. To get to Baishawan, take any Keelung-bound bus, also from the MRT station.
3. Best night market: Keelung
There is an amazing juice selection at the Keelung Night Market.
Courtesy LWYang/Creative commons/Flickr
Northern Taiwan's largest port sees few tourists, which is just one of many reasons to make the short trip over. The hill in Zhongzheng Park is a great place to start. It is a vantage point for surveying Keelung city and the surrounding ocean.
Zhuputan Temple at the top of the hill is the focal point of Ghost Month activities in Taiwan held in the seventh lunar month. Next to the temple, you can enjoy the view from a slightly surreal Buddhism-themed children's amusement park, which includes a 22-meter-high Kuanyin statue with stairs leading up to multiple floors inside.
In the afternoon, choose between a boat trip to the cliffs of Keelung Island, or a visit to Yehliu, a windswept cape featuring hoodoos and other rock formations.
Hungry yet? Finish up at one of Taiwan's best night markets. Named Miaokou, or "temple entrance" after the fine temple at its heart, this market is also one of the most visitor-friendly markets in Taiwan, with English signage indicating each stall's specialty.
Complete with the crowds that make strolling in night markets one of Taiwan's defining experiences, this is one of the best places to take part in "re nao" or "hot and noisy atmosphere" -- a sure marker of a good time.
Getting there: Frequent trains depart Taipei for Keelung. A number of private bus companies also operate buses to Keelung from Taipei Main Station, or from bus stops along Zhongxiao East Road. Ferries to Keelung Island depart from Bisha Harbor and buses to Yehliu leave from near the Keelung train station.
4. Riverside hot springs and aboriginal culture: Wulai
Just don't drink too much millet wine.
Courtesy Connie Ma/Creative Commons/Flickr
Free riverside hot springs, aboriginal food and drink and waterfalls all in a picturesque river valley only a stone's throw from Taipei -- Wulai is a day trip that's hard to beat. Once home to the Tayal, an indigenous tribe once known for their tradition of face tattoos, Wulai is the closest aboriginal village to Taipei.
As you navigate the market strip upon arrival, check out local specialties such as roasted wild boar, raw pickled pork, steamed fragrant rice in bamboo tubes and river shrimp that are eaten whole.
A bottle of xiaomi jiu (millet wine) will help it all go down. Word of warning: you might already be light-headed from the free samples handed out by persistent vendors.
After the market, cross the bridge over the river and find a spot in one of the natural hot spring pools or makeshift saunas. If the heat gets to you, just flop over into the cool river and then return to the heat for another round. There are more hot spring resort choices here than in Beitou and a wider range of quality.
Getting there: Bus 1061 departs every 15-30 minutes from Xindian MRT station, taking about 40 minutes to Wulai.
5. Vertical escape: Pingxi
The famous railway tracks at Pingxi.
Courtesy billy1125/creative commons/flickr
With so many trekking regions in the greater Taipei area, why did Pingxi make the list?
Well, for starters, between your treks you get to hop on the old-school Pingxi Rail Line, a single-track railroad previously used to transport coal. The seven stops along the 12.9-kilometer track boasts quaint old villages that take visitors to times of the past.
If you want waterfalls, this is also the best place. The trail from Sandiaoling Station boasts three of Taiwan's highest. The second one, where you can climb under a rock overhang and peer down the valley from behind the waterfall, is a real treat.
At Shifen Station, don't miss Shifen Waterfall, a 40-meter-wide beauty, the broadest in Taiwan.
Last but not least, for some heart-pounding fun, try climbing the crags at Pingxi Station, the town that is otherwise known for its mass lantern releases during the Lantern Festival.
Metal ladders and steps carved into cliff faces lead you hundreds of meters upwards for dramatic views.
Getting there: Trains for depart Taipei hourly for Ruifang. At Ruifang, transfer to the Pingxi Rail Line. Some of the stops on the Pingxi Line, including Jingtong and Pingxi can also be accessed on bus 1076, departing hourly from Muzha MRT station.
6. Golden mining towns: Jiufen and Jinguashi
Don't miss the picturesque scenery at Jinguashi.
Courtesy Lian Chang/Creative Commons/Flickr
The once booming mining towns of Jiufen and Jinguashi are alive and kicking again these days.
Crowds of domestic and international tourists flood here to enjoy stunning views of the Pacific, fine trekking opportunities, shopping and snacking.
The focal point of Jiufen is Jishan Street, a narrow market strip that twists through town. Everyone is eager to sample Jiufen's specialty, the squishy taro and sweet potato balls that are served hot in sweet soup or cold over shaved ice.
If the food-mad crowds get to you, stop for a break in one of the quiet teashops-with-a-view or move on to Jinguashi.
The Gold Ecological Park at Jinguashi details the mining history of the town. The park's Benshan Fifth Tunnel will take visitors into the mines to give a feel of how miners worked in the past.
Jinguashi's visitors also flock to the Gold Waterfall where minerals in the water give it a golden shine. Add to this ruins of a Japanese Shinto shrine that are evocative of Greece and you have a genuinely unique destination.
Getting There: Bus 1062 departs regularly for Jiufen and Jinguashi from Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT exit 1. Alternatively, take the train to Ruifang, then a bus just in front of the train station. Passengers might clear out at Jiufen, but all buses do continue up the mountain to Jinguashi.
Editor's note: This article was previously published in 2012. It was reformatted and republished in 2017.