Fresh off the plane from Singapore, we have said farewell to my Filipino family and my parents, we are back to being on our own again.
Welcome to Taiwan
So what did we know about Taiwan before arriving here, well we knew all about the political situation between Taiwan and China and that only 20 countries recognise Taiwan as an official country because of the One China policy implemented by the Peoples Republic of China. It is seen as a renegade province of China but from what we knew beforehand it sounded and looked like any other country.
Taiwan was actually set to be our longest stay 1 month and 1 day, mainly because we accepted a 2-week volunteering opportunity teaching English in an Elementary school.
What did we do?
So we landed in the afternoon and made our way to the city centre to check in to our Airbnb, the international airport is around 45 minutes away with a bit of traffic. So our Airbnb booked was not what we were expecting and it seemed like the listing was no longer available so possibly we were the last people to stay here. It wasn’t the nicest place but it would fine for our stay… well that is what we hoped. Turned out that Karaoke is very popular here, we could hear people signing until 6 am very clearly. This meant after one night we had got no sleep, so left and booked a hotel nearby which was a 100 times better but you we could still hear the faint sound of kareoke.
Hop on off bus
We found a deal on Klook for cheap tickets for the hop on off bus and as the weather seemed to be terrible all week we thought it would be an easy way to see the city while keeping dry. It rained a lot but we were able to just about see the main sights from the view of the bus deck, we stayed on for the whole of one of the lines. The second line we got off at the Taipei 101 bus stop. Due to the poor weather and the fact we could not see the top of the building we decided to not go up the tower. We ate some noodle soup in the shopping centre opposite and then made our way back on the bus. Overall it was nice to see the city but the rain was terrible and didn’t help.
East Metro Mall
We had a list of things to buy, so headed to this mall which was a mall under the city, well it was basically situated in the metro between two stations with many shops along the walkway. It was a good place with many options for a good price.
More rain when we went back again so decided to just find a viewpoint to see the tower, so went up into the mall opposite and went to the top floor, no one was there and someone left the fire exit open so we went out. We ended up having a perfect view on the rooftop with no around.
A short trip on the MRT to the end of the line brought us to the Makong Gondola aka the cable cars. The cable car is situated right next to Taipei zoo. We made the short walk over from the MRT and paid 240 NT round trip for a glass floor gondola or shall I say Crystal cabin as they advertise it. The journey is quite long as we paid to go to the very end, your ticket only entitles you to go to the stop you paid for you can’t like most others in the world get off and look around at each stop and get back on, you would need to buy separate tickets. It was still pretty foggy so the views of the city were cloaked in a blanket of mist but it was still an enjoyable ride with the added benefit of being able to see right beneath us through the glass. Being right next to capital city we did not expect to see such amazing scenery and it felt like we were in the countryside as we travelled over the forests. Once we arrived at the very last stop we went for a walk around, and then stopped to have some tea at the very many tea houses. There is a lot to choose from we went with one with a view. Price was high as expected, with the nice view and being far from the city.
After the makong gondola, we decided to go see some animals in the zoo, we couldn’t believe how cheap the entry fee was we paid 60NT that works out to be about £1.50! They even have pandas! so we managed to see a couple of pandas along with many other animals, it was raining so wasn’t the most pleasant experience but we spent some time there and then made our way home.
Ximending shopping district
If you need to buy something then chances are you will find it in this area, full of markets, and shops everywhere along with lots of tasty treats. This is a very touristy area and lots to see and wander around the alleys filled with people selling all kinds of things.
We spent 5 nights at the beginning and 3 nights at the end of our time in Taiwan, and it rained for all those days, so we did not see as much as we planned to but this gives us more of a reason to go back, well back when the weather will be better.
After Taipei we took a trip down to Hualien, this city is situated on the East coast of Taiwan, a very small percentage of the population live on the east coast, which also meant that train seats get booked up quickly but luckily if you need to get there and there are no trains you can buy a Combo ticket, the bus from Taipei takes you to Ludong from here you board a local train to Hualien. This works out cheaper and is only a little longer than a direct train so wasn’t too much trouble.
What is there to do:
Taroko national park
One of the main reasons to stay here is to plan a trip to Taroko national park. There are not many places to stay near to the gorge and Hualien is the closest main area to give you options for accommodation, shops and restaurants. So from Hualien you can either plan your own transport or hire a driver, you can even take a train then hire a bike near to Taroko. We decided to take the tourist shuttle bus which departs from Hualien station and makes many stops throughout the national park. We saw temples, mountains, gorges, waterfalls and wonderful landscape. This is a very beautiful place and thorougly recommend it if you visit Taiwan. It is just about possible to do a day trip from the capital if you don’t mind a long day and rushing around.
Dongdamen Night Market
Hualien is known for great food, a mix of Taiwanese delights, Chinese food and some interesting aboriginal dishes. We opted for the eating everything, so we walked around choosing random stalls to try things and decided that it was all very food. Some of the best food we have had since we left to go travelling, we really enjoyed some meaty noodles, along with stuffed chicken with rice, and some tasty milk tea which is a speciality in Taiwan.
Coast- Nanbin Park
A walk along the east coast on one of the beaches, now there aren’t many sandy beaches here but it was nice to see a pebbles beach once again, these tend to be quite common in the UK. A great place to wander around and stare out at the sea and then look back at the mountains.
We took the train from Hualien down to Taitung which was about 2 hours away, a nice easy train ride with scenic views from both sides of the carriage. The hotel owner picked us up from the train station and took us to the hotel as he was dropping off a friend at the same time. The hotel we booked was a little out of the centre but it was cheaper, firstly something we noticed in Taiwan is the lack of towels in hotel rooms we were given a little cloth and the previously the hotel gave us what looked like big tissues. We requested a proper towel and he came back later with one. There was breakfast included but it was a 25-minute walk to go get it… Strange idea. We soon found that we were the only guests and not even any staff stayed in the hotel so it was just us for 3 nights in this big building.
What is there to do:
Zhiben hot springs
We jumped on to a bus bound for the hot springs there is a fairly regular one an hour bus throughout the day that takes you straight there. We, unfortunately, assumed that the bus stop named hot springs would be surrounded by hot springs we were very wrong. We went into some of the hotels and found you had to be a guest to use theirs or many places were closed up, seemed to be low season. Luckily a friendly restaurant owner saw we were in need and took us across to a public hot spring which would have been 30 minutes walkway called Toyugi Hot Spring Resort & Spa. This place was perfect it had many pools and jacuzzis to try out, each one had a different temperature so if you like hot hot hot and then super cold you are in luck, but I liked it just in the middle a warm jet on the back felt pretty nice. Although something you need to consider is that you have to wear a swimmers cap on your head which is not the most comfortable or flattering piece of fashion to sport around.
Seaside and Forest Park
We took a taxi and walked around the seaside and forest park for the day, unfortunately we did not get rent a bike which we should of as the park was big and very beautiful to walk around. The seaside park links up to to the forest park which we also walked around with many lakes and wonderful views to enjoy while we spent a lovely afternoon there.
We took the train from Taitung over to Tainan which took us from the east coast to the west coast we passed through one of the main cities Kaoshung in the south to get to Tainan. Once we arrived in the city we took a city but the driver did not know the address and dropped us off of the wrong side of the road which meant a long walk to get to the Airbnb. The Airbnb was in the east district which was fairly far from the main areas of the city but we were close to a shopping centre and some good food.
What is there to do:
Eternal Golden Castle
We took the tourist shuttle bus that was basically a city bus that stopped at most of the tourist areas around the city. The Eternal Golden Castle had an entrance fee of 50NT each, there was a moat that surrounded the castle grounds. The tunnel cut through the sloped area into a large empty space which was a square garden.
We got back on the bus and headed for Fort Zeelandia which was a Fort built over ten years from 1624 to 1634 by the Dutch East India Company. The walk to the Fort took us along the food markets that were dotted along the street. At the fort there was another entrance fee of 50NT, they had some musicians playing clasical music. The view was nice from the top of the watchtower but very busy so quite tricky to get up the small staircase.
The last stop on the bus was the sunset platform which was basically a platform on the beach, this enabled many people to come and watch the sunset. It was pretty busy with people coming to watch the sun go down, it was a nice area to chill out for a bit and take some nice photos.
The next part of our trip took us to Lukang for the volunteering part of the Taiwan journey you can read all about that here. Volunteering in Taiwan.
Back to Taipei
We went back to Tapei for a few nights before heading to Australia. In total we spent 1 month in Taiwan and explored quite a lot of country along with experiencing culture and people. We can safely safe that this has been an amazing time, we did not know what to expect when we first decided to come to Taiwan. The hospitality of Taiwanese people has been amazing and we have felt so welcomed. It has been awesome experiencing the travel side of Taiwan but also the normal life and will always remember our time here.