We love Taiwan!
It had been on our travel radar for a number of years, but somehow had never got around to it. A shame because we have been missing a lot!
Perhaps part of the reason for not coming before, was that even the basic planning proved difficult. Unlike SE Asia and say Japan, information seemed a little thin on the ground. It quickly became apparent that the Rough Guides, Lonely Planet etc. guidebooks were of limited value. A lot of our initial information I gleaned from surfing a few blogs on the country.
The single most useful resource I found was http://www.discovertaiwanadventures.com It was set up very recently by an American couple living in Taiwan who are keen to promote Taiwan to western tourists whom, perhaps, like us, because of the language barriers, were reticent about coming. One of the owners, Crystine has been immensely helpful in helping me in planning our time in the country answering all of my many questions, and providing lots of suggestions as to how to make best use of our limited time on this trip.
The website is full of information ( and some great photos). The tours offered are reasonably priced and I have no doubt will be of a very high quality. We travel independently, more or less permanently, and rarely engage agents or operators but this one really is a breath of fresh air, their primary aim being to ensure people have good time in their adopted country rather than just selling yours. Even though we travel independently most of the time, I do feel that Taiwan is the sort of place where engaging with an operator at the planning stage and for tours for some parts will really add value which is exact what we will do when we make a return visit.
TRANSPORT & COMMS
On arrival bought an Ecard on arrival for 500 New Taiwan dollars which enables us to use the MRT, buses etc. in Taipei. Taiwan is one of the most connected cities in the world with free public wifi just about everywhere but I also bought a 4G SIM with unlimited data and $150 of calls, valid for 7 days for $500 (£12).
We flew AirAsia to Tayouan airport, now my favourite airport in the world! Spacious, extremely well designed, it was a pleasure to use!
This was a very short trip of seven days. The idea being that if we liked it, we may return for a longer visit. My initial thought was to split our time between Taipei and Tainan but Thursdaysd had suggested Taroko Gorge was definitely worth a look a view endorsed by Crystine. So we decided to split our time 3 days in Hualien for the gorge and The East Coast Scenic Area and the remainder would be spent in and around Taipei.
On arrival at the airport, armed with our aforementioned eCards we got the excellent MRT into Taipei Main Station in the centre of the city (35mins).
I had booked our train tickets online a couple of weeks in advance ( very necessary) and picked them up at the booth in Taipei Main Station. It is massive and the travel hub pretty much for the entire country. It would become our hub for travel when we returned to the city in a few days as we were staying close by.
Our train to Hualien left exactly on time, very comfortable and took around 2.5 hours.
We decided that to maximise our limited time in Hualien and around, we would rent a car. We chose Avis, as I am a Privilege Member and got a good deal. Driving is easy, roads are quiet, driving standards high. We navigated using Googlemaps on an iPhone ( with the 4G SIM) - Easy peasy, if a little strange after the mayhem of Vietnam.
We absolutely love this country and do regret not planning to stay longer. The people are wonderfully friendly and so welcoming. More so than I ever expected. Taiwan, even with the language barriers, is certainly one of the friendliest countries we have ever visited, even with the. Everyone we have met has been incredibly helpful to us. The Taiwanese people really are the most welcoming people!
There are so many incredible sights to see , stunning scenery, incredible temples and the food is sublime. Transport is cheap and incredibly efficient and it really doesn't take that long to master the intricacies of the MRT, train and bus systems.
I will follow this up with a brief trip report and more detail and photos on our blog.
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We love Taiwan!