For many travelers, heading outside Taipei into the north gives them their first taste of how big this little island is. It's not just that there are mountains reaching up to 13,000 ft (3886m). It's that those mountains – and their valleys and meadows – seem near endless, and that around every corner is a rustic hot-spring village, forest reserve or indigenous hamlet.
Using a mix of coastal trains and tourist buses, you can see much of the north, but having your own wheels, whether two or four, lets you strike closer to the soul of the region, traversing precipitous, cross-island highways, stumbling upon time-warp townships, and pulling over at roadside stalls to taste fruit fresh from the orchards. But remember: the north is a big place. While the blue magpie can fly those few miles in no time, the winding road takes a bit longer.