Travels in Taiwan
For a popular destination, Taiwan truly surprised me with the diverse experiences it had to offer.
Some days, I felt like I’d stumbled into an Asian folktale complete with stout wooden buildings, red lanterns and an overwhelming array of street food. Other days, I was utterly wrapped up in modern comforts, like unlimited shopping, round the clock transport, and crowded restaurants with excellent dishes. In a single day, we had weaved through the clouds from a freezing 3200m mountain through a deep gorge, to end up in wide beach covered in marbled pebbles.
If you’re looking for an easy and safe trip to Asia, Taiwan’s a great starting point. Besides a stunning array of nature parks, the country also boasts large temples, monasteries, and of course, the National Museum that houses the Chinese Imperial Treasures. These are the highlights from the trip.
Jiufen (九分) – A mountainous town by the sea with sweeping views of the East China Sea, narrow alleys, a bustling night market with exceptional food, and the iconic A-mei Teahouse (阿妹茶楼) that inspired the bathhouse Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Try the peanut ice-cream wrap! The cilantro, peanut candy, thin rice paper wrap and freezing shaved vanilla/yam ice cream somehow combined to form one of the most memorable Taiwanese street eats ever.
Sun Moon Lake – the largest lake in Taiwan and it is peppered with temples that you can access with ferry tours. Also, there is a theme park featuring the indigenous culture. Frankly, I’m not a huge fan of theme parks, but the views from the cable car, decent array of thrill rides, forests and reconstructed tribal homes made this a worthwhile stop.
Hehuan Mountain (合歡山), Taroko Gorge and Hualien – at 3,400 metres, this isn’t the tallest in the country but it’s conveniently located within the Taroko National Park, which makes road trips through the Taroko Gorge and outwards to Hualien particularly smooth. If you’re lucky, you might catch a sea of clouds from certain view points. If not, there are still decent long hikes around the area, plantations and a fantastic herbal chicken soup restaurant in the area. There is nothing more fulfilling than warm chicken soup after a long day driving between freezing peaks (5 degree Celsius in winter).
Transport – This was a family trip, so we hired two drivers who also served as top notch guides. For Mandarin speakers, finding a guide/driver is a breeze, but don’t fret if you can’t understand the language. It’s possible to enjoy the country with a printed travel guide and rental, but take note that road signs and warnings are in Mandarin as well.
Language – From the interactions I had, it appears that there aren’t many English speakers, but the Taiwanese are a gracious bunch who would make an effort to help. Also, with listed prices, obvious signs and clear queues, there isn’t much need to bargain or beg.
Accommodation – There are plenty of guesthouses and hotels, so there’s no lack of places to stay. However, the popular ones fill up fast during peak season, so make a prudent advance booking if you already have a route in mind.
Overall, Taiwan was magical, relaxing and unforgettable. It’s also much easier to navigate and experience than Southeast Asian cities. It eases you gently into its rhythm and lets you make your own discoveries at your own pace.