A Travel Guide to Miaoli, Taiwan’s Slow Travel County

A guide to Miaoli in Taiwan

Miaoli is an off-the-beaten-track city and mostly rural county of the same name. It is on the nwest coast of Taiwan between Hsinchu to the north and the more popular Taichung to the south.

Miaoli is known for slow travel, so it does take more time to reach and enjoy its main attractions, which include Lion’s Head Mountain, Nanzhuang Old Street, Dahu Strawberry Farms, Tai’an Hot Spring, and Flying Cow Ranch. It also has one of the highest percentages of Hakka people in Taiwan.

In this article, I’ll cover all the logistic for visiting Miaoli, including how to get there, where to stay, it’s most famous and lesser known attractions, best tours, what to eat, and more! 

Miaoli Introduction

Close up of an enormous strawberry
Giant strawberry grown in Dahu, Miaoli

The Taokas Taiwanese aboriginal tribe were the original inhabitants of Miaoli. Han migrants pushed them away or assimilated them and found that the area’s fertile soil was suitable for farming. Common products today include persimmons, Chinese pears, pomelos, peaches, plums, taro, sweet potatoes, strawberries, and tea.

The name Miaoli comes from Pali in the aboriginal language. Han settlers chose the characters 貓貍 (Maoli), as the Hakka pronunciation of them is similar to Pali. The characters were later changed to 苗栗 (Miaoli).

In 1950, Miaoli was made into its own county separate from Hsinchu, with Miaoli township as its seat. In 1981, Miaoli township was upgraded to a city.

A large round gray and white building in the style of a Hakka roundhouse
Hakka Roundhouse in Miaoli

Many Hakka people (客家人), who make up 15-20% of the population of Taiwan, live in Miaoli. This makes Miaoli a good place to experience Hakka culture in Taiwan, along with Taoyuan, Hsinchu, and Kaohsiung.

Hakka’s main attractions are somewhat spread out. This means most visitors visit Miaoli with a specific attraction or two in mind, rather than touring the whole county. Most of Miaoli’s worthwhile attractions are in Miaoli county, not Miaoli city.

Miaoli’s rural regions have many minsu (local guesthouses), where locals go to kick back and relax. Cittaslow has even designated two townships in Miaoli (Nanzhuang and Sanyi) as official places for slow travel.

Getting to Miaoli

Nick Kembel inside a strawberry-shaped bus stop, poking his head and spreading his arms out the window
That’s me in a bus stop in Dahu

Since most visitors only make it to one or two places in Miaoli, you’ll need to look up the specific transportation information for the place you want to visit.

Miaoli’s sights are spread out and buses to them tend to be slow, so many visitors hire a driver or rent a car for exploring Miaoli. Read my guide to renting a car in Taiwan for details.

Miaoli’s High Speed Rail (HSR) station is just north of Miaoli city. This would be a logical place to start your car hire. See my guide to booking HSR seats.

As for the slower but cheaper regular train (TRA) (see my guide to reserving TRA tickets), Zhunan Station (竹南站) is best for getting to places in the north of the county, like Lion’s Head Mountain and Nanzhuang Old Street. From there, take bus 5805 or 5806 (swipe EasyCard, 1 to 1.5 hours). Learn how to buy your train tickets in this article.

You can also take this bus from Hsinchu HSR Station to Lion’s Head Mountain, but it will drop you at the Hsinchu side of the mountain.

Going south from Zhunan, the train splits into a coastal line and an inland line. The latter goes to Miaoli Station in Miaoli City center. From there, take bus 5656 to Dahu for strawberry picking. There’s no bus to Tai’an Hot Spring, which is a 30-minute drive from Dahu.

For Flying Cow Ranch, you can take a taxi or bus there from Tongxiao Station on the coastal train line. See more info about getting to Flying Cow Ranch here.

Where to Stay in Miaoli

Two kids looking out a hotel room window at the balcony, with some carved walls around it
My kids in our room at Quanhua Temple, Lion’s Head Mountain

At Lion’s Head Mountain, it is possible to sleep in Quanhua Temple. See my Lion’s Head Mountain article for the details.

For Nanzhuang Old Street, we loved our large room and balcony facing the forest at Heaven Bird B&B (see on Booking / Agoda).

If you stay in Dahu for strawberry picking, I recommend Cai Mei Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda), which is the best rated, or Ci Meng Rou Resort Villa (see on Booking / Agoda), which has a pool.

A Taiwanese woman sitting in a green hot spring tub with wooden roof covering above
My wife at King’s Resort

If you’re traveling by car, then I recommend staying in Tai’an Hot Spring village after picking strawberries in Dahu. We really loved our stay at King’s Resort & Spa (see on Booking / Agoda). It is a very friendly, family run hotel with kid-friendly hot springs.

Onsen Papawaqa (see on Booking / Agoda) is Tai’an’s fanciest resort. Even if you don’t stay there, consider visiting for their excellent outdoor hot spring.

Some visitors to Flying Cow Ranch choose to spend the night at Flying Cow Accommodation (see on Booking / Agoda) for the full ranch experience.

A red barn house-style accommodation with trees around it
The farm-style accommodation at Flying Cow Ranch

Top Things to Do in Miaoli

I’ll cover Miaoli’s main attractions below, going roughly from north to south.

Looking down at the orange roof tiles of a temple with misty mountaintops in the background
Lion’s Head Mountain

Lion’s Head Mountain (獅頭山) is one of the coolest hiking destinations in Taiwan. Lion’s Head is more of a big hill than a mountain, and the trails are not very difficult. These trails lead to around a dozen interesting temples, some of which are partially built into caves.

The mountain is located right on the border between Hsinchu and Miaoli. The Visitor’s Center and a few temples are on the Hsinchu side. You can hike over the mountain to the Miaoli side, or there’s a road connecting the two sides if you’re driving.

A prayer wheel with staircase of a hiking trail going up behind it
Hiking trail on Lion’s Head Mountain

The Miaoli side has the more impressive temples, including Quanhua Temple (獅頭山勸化堂), which you can sleep in. There’s quite a lot to know about how to get there, the hiking trails, and how to spend the night there. See my Lion’s Head Mountain guide for all the details.

Note that the buses on the Miaoli side (usually bound for Nanzhuang) won’t get you right to the temple. You’ll have to hike up around 30 minutes from the nearest bus stop.

A narrow old street in Taiwan with vendors on either side
Nanzhuang Old Street

Just 10 minutes away from Lion’s Head Mountain by car in Nanzhuang, Nanzhuang Old Street (南庄老街), also called Sweet Osmanthus Lane (桂花巷 or Guihuaxiang) is one of the most atmospheric Old Streets in Taiwan. This is a daytime market where you can sample local specialties (see the “What to Eat in Miaoli” section at the end.

Nanzhuang is quite small and doesn’t have much else to see or do. If you’re driving through, an hour or two is enough, or spend the night if you just want to have a quiet night – that’s what Miaoli is all about.

A large round gray and white building in the style of a Hakka roundhouse
Hakka Roundhouse

In Zhunan city in the northwest of Miaoli, beer lovers may make a pilgrimage to this Taiwan Beer Factory, where you can see huge beer bottle statues out front.

There isn’t much to see or do in Miaoli City. Maolishan Park (貓貍山公園) has some historic relics and old train tunnels that you can cycle through. North of the city, beside the HSR Station, Miaoli Hakka Round House (臺灣客家八音戲曲推廣中心) is a small Hakka museum modeled on the famous Hakka roundhouses (土樓) of Fujian province in China.

If you’re driving from Lion’s Head Mountain to Dahu, consider stopping at Shitan Old Street (獅潭新店老街), a smaller and lesser-known Old Street with some cute cartoon murals.

Nick kembel and a Taiwanese strawberry farmer posing for the camera and holding up a box of strawberries
That’s me with a strawberry farmer in Taiwan

Dahu (大湖) is synonymous with strawberries in Taiwan. The strawberry picking season is December to April. Dahu’s strawberries are unusually large, juicy, and delicious.

There are dozens of small farms in and around town where you can pay for DIY picking. Here’s my guide to Dahu.

A boy kneeling down and harvesting a strawberry by cutting the stem with scissors
My son harvesting strawberries in Dahu

Dahu Wineland Resort (大湖酒莊) in the middle of town is also a must-visit. There you can taste all kinds of strawberry flavored foods ranging from normal (strawberry cakes, mochi) to weird (sausages, noodles).

They also sell strawberry wine and beer. You can even pick strawberries right beside the center.

A Taiwanese woman and her two kids posing in front of a giant strawberry statue
Dahu Wineland Resort

Tai’an Hot Spring (泰安溫泉) is one of my favorite hot spring villages in Taiwan. It’s situated in a remote, picturesque valley, but there’s no bus access. See my hot spring recommendations in the “Where to Stay in Miaoli” section above. Read my Tai’an Hot Spring guide.

Consider stopping at Xishuikeng Tofu Street (洗水坑豆腐街) on the way (see “What to Eat in Miaoli” section below).

A hot spring pool with calm water and wooden roof above
Hot Spring at King’s Resort & Spa
A young girl feeding some goats through a wooden fence on a farm
My daughter feeding animals at Flying Cow Ranch

Flying Cow Ranch is one of the most famous leisure farms in Taiwan. Its claim to fame is that it actually looks like a real North American or European farm, with cows, sheep, goats, and so on. If you’re used to seeing farms in Western countries, this farm won’t excite you much. You won’t find exotic animals like capybaras, like at many other leisure farms in Taiwan.

Try to time your visit for one of the fun activities, like walking with ducklings. The farm is quite large, so get there at least 30 minutes to one hour before the activity starting time. You can buy your tickets here and spend the night on the farm (see the “Where to Stay in Miaoli” section above).

The courtyard of a traditional Hakka Chinese house in Taiwan
Traditional Hakka house at Matsu Village

If you do want to see capybaras, though, there are a few at Hobbit Valley (哈比丘茶樹森林). The main attraction at this remote leisure far, though, is the Hobbit Houses, straight out of Lord of the Rings. You’ll need a car to get there. Here are other places to see capybaras in Taiwan.

There are several smaller attractions around Tongluo, which is just south of Miaoli city. You can see cherry blossoms in season at this park, take wedding photos here, or see a tea farm and buy tea at Tongluo tea Factory (台灣農林銅鑼茶廠).

Learn about Hakka Culture at Taiwan Hakka Museum (臺灣客家文化館) or see a nicely preserved Hakka House at Matsu Village (台灣影城 / 媽祖村). Walk or cycle across Tongluo Skywalk (九華山天空步道). Lastly, Green Fantasy Forest (格林奇幻森林) has castles and other unusual structures in the forest.

A small car for tourists on the railway line
Shengxing Rail Bike

Sanyi (三義) in southern Miaoli is Taiwan’s most famous woodworking center. We were quite impressed by the artworks in Sanyi Wood Sculpture Museum (三義木雕博物館).

East of Sanyi, Shengxing Station (勝興車站) is a cute old wooden train station, where visitors can ride the Old Mountain Line Rail Bike into a former train tunnel. It’s very popular among locals, especially on weekends.

Three columns of a damaged red brick bridge
The Remains of Longteng Bridge

Near Shengxing Station, the Remains of Longteng Bridge (龍騰斷橋) is one of Taiwan’s most iconic landmarks. The red brick bridge was partially destroyed by a devastating earthquake in 1935. You’ll need a car to get to Shengxing and Longteng Bridge.

South of Sanyi, Chateau in the Air (天空之城景觀餐廳) has a castle and manicured gardens. Flame Mountain (火炎山 or Huoyanshan) is a popular hiking spot.

A red stone valley with hazy plains in the distance

Best Miaoli Tours

There are no organized tours to Miaoli. For a customized visit, you’ll need to either hire a driver or rent a car.    

You can find some deals on entrance tickets for some attractions in Miaoli on Klook, like these discounted tickets for Hobbit Valley, Flying Cow Ranch, and Green Fantasy Forest.

How to Plan Your Miaoli Itinerary

An old wooden train station
Shengxing Station, Miaoli

Many travelers spend part of a day visiting a few attractions in Miaoli while traveling down the west coast of Taiwan. For example, driving from Taipei, they might stop to pick strawberries in Dahu and then sleep in Tai’an Hot Spring or continue on to Taichung, which has the famous Feng Chia Night Market (read about other famous night markets in Taiwan here).

Others come to Miaoli specifically for hiking Lion’s Head Mountain, and maybe even spend a night in the temple there.

For adventurers, one trip I recommend is to take the HSR to Hsinchu Station or regular train to Zhudong Station, rent a scooter there, then drive to Lion’s Head Mountain via Beipu Old Street, the giant Buddha at Emei. Spend the night at Quanhua Temple, visit Nanzhuang Old Street the next day, then drive back.

What to Eat in Miaoli

If you spend the night at Lion’s Head Mountain, you can enjoy simple vegetarian meals served in the temple, by donation. There are also a few food stalls selling snacks around the temple and hiking trails – watch for the dried olives!

close up of a bowl of shaved ice with fruits, honey, and rice balls on top
Shaved ice with sweet osmanthus honey, fruit, and tangyuan

On Nanzhuang Old Street (AKA Sweet Osmanthus Alley), you can taste the alley’s namesake flower in honey here, where they pour sweet osmanthus honey on shaved ice with fresh fruits and tangyuan.

Close up of a bowl of dried tofu chunks with green onions and chilis
Dried tofu on Nanzhuang Old Street

On the same street, also try Hakka specialties like mochi here, bantiao (半條 or wide rice noodles) from multiple small restaurants, and dried tofu (蒜滷豆乾) at this famous shop.  

Close up of a bowl of noodles with pink sauce, egg, and cucumber slices
Strawberry noodles at Dahu Wineland Resort

In Dahu, it’s all about strawberries. At Dahu Wineland Resort, you can enjoy dozens of different strawberry flavored meals, not just desserts but even bigger snacks like noodles with strawberry sauce, strawberry steamed buns, and strawberry-flavored sausages. Wash it down with a strawberry beer or wine.

A young girl biking a pink popsicle that has slices of real strawberry in it
My daughter with strawberry popsicle in Dahu

In Tai’an Hot Spring, you may be limited to the restaurant in your hotel, but we really enjoyed our meal at King’s Resort. If you’re driving in, stop at Xishuikeng Tofu Street (洗水坑豆腐街) for stinky tofu.

Stacks of yogurt containers for sale in a shop
Fresh yogurt for sale at Flying Cow Ranch

At Flying Cow Ranch, you can buy farm products like fresh yogurt and milk or dine at the small restaurant on site.

In Miaoli City, Ying Cai Night Market (苗栗市英才夜市) runs every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Miaoli Events

Clusters of white tung blossoms on a tree
Tung blossoms in spring in Miaoli

December to April is the strawberry harvesting season in Dahu. The roads in and out of the small town can become totally packed on weekends, so try to visit on a weekday if you can.

On the 15th day of the Lunar New Year, the same day as the Lantern Festival, the Bombing of Han Tan Ye street parade takes places in Miaoli City, similar to other sometimes dangerous festivals happening in Taitung and Tainan (Yanshui) on the same day. You can also expect to see some beautiful lanterns around that time.

In February, you can see cherry blossoms at Tongluo Pyrostegia Venusta Park (銅鑼炮仗花海公園) in Tongluo. Xieyun Temple (協雲宮) and Liantai Wonderful Sound Sanctuary (蓮臺山妙音淨苑) in Shitan also have them.

In April and May, white tung blossoms (桐花) blooms and fall of the trees like snow. One good place to see them in Miaoli is Matsu Village (台灣影城 / 媽祖村). These flowers are often associated with Hakka culture.

Also in April and May, it is possible to see fireflies in Miaoli. This Mandarin article introduces six places to see them in Miaoli (use GoogleTranslate or copy-paste to GoogleMaps to find them).

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