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crellston Jul 1st, 2017 10:05 PM

One week in Taiwan (is not enough!)
 
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).

OUTLINE ITINERARY

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.

TRANSPORT

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.

loncall Jul 1st, 2017 11:17 PM

Sounds great. I am looking forward to hearing more.

tripplanner001 Jul 2nd, 2017 02:04 AM

Another traveler who's discovered the beauty of Taiwan! I'm looking to hearing more, especially your time in Taipei. I too was there for about a week back in 2012 as part of a longer Asia trip but did not made it out of the capital metro area.

Kathie Jul 2nd, 2017 07:52 AM

I, too, have had just a week in Taipei. I'd love to return and see more of the country.

kja Jul 2nd, 2017 01:59 PM

Thank for your report, crellston! I’m considering Taiwan for my next trip, so I know I’ll be returning to this very helpful message and your blog in the next few months.

CaliforniaLady Jul 2nd, 2017 06:37 PM

Thank you for the intriguing post. I have also been considering Taiwan for my 2018 trip, and your insight may have tipped the scales. I have some questions:

1. If one does not rent a car in Hualien, what are the alternative transportation modes? I drove solo in Japan, and I don't want to do it again.

2. How are the prices?

3. What exactly did the travel company do for you, that you could not do on your own?

4. How is the culture different in Taiwan than PRC?

5. If you had more time in Taiwan, where would you go?

thursdaysd Jul 2nd, 2017 06:47 PM

So glad you enjoyed Taiwan. Real shame you had to cut Tainan but sounds like you will be back.

CaliforniaLady - i did Taroko Gorge two ways, one day with a car and driver arranged through my hotel, and one day with the public bus. My feeling about Taiwan, especially the temples, was that it was "authentic" in that it was still attached to its history in a way mainland China was not because of the Cultural Revolution. Unlike crellston I found Lonely Planet adequate except for non-street food.

Nywoman Jul 6th, 2017 12:57 AM

Am eagerly awaiting your trip report. I am arriving in Taiwan in October before my trip to Japan. Had originally planned one week, but may consider more time on my return.
Am using miles to fly first class on EVA only availability was Taiwan and since flights to Japan are so inexpensive that's what I decided. Also it's nonstop from New York

khtodd Jul 6th, 2017 01:08 AM

We have had Taiwan on our list for a while.. Good to hear you confirm it! My wife and I know the Taipei airport like the backs of our hands as we usually connect through there as we fly EVA to Asia most times since they have some of the best prices out of NY. For instance, our current trip to Vietnam cost about $1000 round trip all in oer person.

crellston Jul 6th, 2017 01:48 AM

Before start on a TR I will try and address a few of the comments and questions firstly CaliLady:

Hualien - alternative transportation modes? Self driving is easy, esp with google maps. Road manners are excellent, signage good.

- A scheduled shuttle public bus also departs from near the station (but allegedly are a little unreliable.
- There are also scooter hire places at the station - no chance!
- Taxis seemed the preferred option for many. Cost, around 2-3k NTD for a half / full day
- Tours are also available - the site I mentioned above I think charge around $100 pp

2. How are the prices? Not as expensive as I imagined. Food is on a par with say Thailand, very reasonable an v. Good. Taxis are cheap (and always use the meter). Rail travel again, is exceptionally good value. Accomodation, I would say, 40-50% cheaper than equivalent, mid range places in SEA.



3. What exactly did the travel company do for you, that you could not do on your own?
- didn't actually take any tours with discovertaiwan. The owner, Crystine is genuinely keen to promote tourism to western traveller. She was exceptionally, helpful in helping me plan our trip, which I was find quite difficult, given the paucity of information available. She made suggestions, both for areas to concentrate on for our merge 7 days and places to focus on within those areas. The guidebook I had was both out of date and lacked any in depth info.

4. How is the culture different in Taiwan than PRC?

- never having been to PRC, I can only comment on my experiences and interaction with mainland Chinese people mostly at home and when travelling (both in business and as a tourist). Without being disparaging to the entire PRC nation, let's just say that I found the Taiwanese, despite the language barriers, exceptionally friendly, helpful and welcoming. As friendly a people as any we have found on our travels.

5. If you had more time in Taiwan, where would you go?
- haven't really put much thought to that except that we didn't see all we wanted to see in Taipei. The west coast and the interior has some amazing scenery and maybe cross island hike. Train down to the south - Keelung, Tainan, sun and moon lake, Alishan NP, Kenting NP.

Apologies, I am suffering from a bad case of Borneo Belly today! Back soon!

crellston Jul 6th, 2017 02:12 AM

Perhaps TMI? :-)

Thursdaysd - it was a hard decision between, Tainan and Hualien. The latter just seemed to fit transport wise and we were likely to be seeing a lot of temples etc. elsewhere on this trip. Tainan is a definite for our next visit. I used RoughGuides rather than LP. Possibly my last time ever to buy a guidebook!

Khtodd - a very long time since we have flown Eva, but I have fond memories. We will likely use them via Taipei when we next visit our Aus family in Sydney.

I think it was you that mentioned you were looking forward to the heat in Hoi An - if so, visit Taiwan in July - it is savage!!

Nywoman and Kathie. We had just the week too. Taipei could have easily taken up all that time. Last week we found the heat and humidity really draining with temps in the high 30s Celsius. We found ourselves flagging by early/ mis afternoon. Always a welcome relief to get back into the MRT for some AC!

We may well return in October (when the weather is more temperate) on our way back to England. Apparently, the weather is much more manageable then, at least for us sensitive brits who are not used to it! Although the weather in England at the moment is apparently very similar - what is going on??

khtodd Jul 6th, 2017 04:02 AM

Yes, we find EVA to be very pleasant. On this last trip, my wife and were both able to sleep for about 7-8 hours, in coach no less.

Yes, I said was looking forward to the heat, and I certainly got my wish. It was about 100F with a heat index of about 120F for the entire time we've been here until yesterday when there was a huge thunderstorm and the heat broke. Today was just in the mid 80sF.

But, I find if you're dressed appropriately, and stay indoors or relax by the pool during the hottest time if day, it's quite bearable and dare I say pleasant. I don't think my muscles have ever been so relaxed without a massage.

khtodd Jul 6th, 2017 04:11 AM

Also, we've gad similar weather this time of year in HK also, so your experience in Taiwan is not surprising. When I look at photos of us walking around HK this time of year about 6 years ago, it looks like we jumped in a pond with our clothes on.

To me, my biggest fear in going to Taiwan this time of year is typhoons. When we went to HK, we just missed one by 1 day. A trip to BKK a few years ago (connecting through TPE) a typhoon hit the day we were leaving and not knowing if they were going to cancel the flights, we changed our tix to Sing Air and went through Singapore, adding about 6 hours to our trip. Then, 2 years ago we were returning home from Sing via TPE and a typhoon hit as we took off for our connection home... So our averages have not been good!!!!! I'm glad you had no problems this year.

jacketwatch Jul 6th, 2017 06:41 AM

EVA air is highly rated per skytrax, # 1 this yr. I think.

We want to go to China and a few other places but what about getting to Taiwan from China. Are there travel restrictions due to the political differences? I was thinking of doing RT air ORD-PEK and exploring around from there say to KL to see friends but if we go to Taiwan can we re enter China to return home with a Taiwan stamp in our passport?

MmePerdu Jul 6th, 2017 07:15 AM

Following along with interest, have been considering Taiwan for my next trip to Asia. I, too, have found information a bit thin online and appreciate the website resource.

CaliforniaLady Jul 6th, 2017 08:13 PM

crellston - Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I take it that the Taiwanese do not spit in the street, as do their mainland neighbors. Sorry, I couldn't resist. In any case, you now have an entourage that want to visit Taiwan. Hope you're feeling better.

thursdays - That was an interesting point about why the culture is different in Taiwan than PRC. I often wondered why the Taiwanese that I have met seemed to be critical thinkers, and now I know why.

crellston Jul 7th, 2017 07:35 PM

No they don't spit in the street! Quite the opposite. There are signs everywhere on the MRT, hotels, shopping malls reminding people how to behave. Don't talk loudly, don't have your personal stereo to loud, give up your seat to someone less able etc.etc. There seems to be something inbuilt into the national psyche to distance themselves from the people on the mainland.

It is very easy to spot the mainland Chinese, of which we only came across a few, by their behaviour! I read somewhere that tourism from the mainland has been decreasing of late, probably at the behest of Beijing.

As an aside, for background for anyone visiting either China , I would recommend reading the Anthony Grey novel, "Peking" based very much in fact is is an account of one mans journey through China from the 1920s to the 1970s. Anthony, a Reuters bureau chief Peking also wrote an autobiographical account of his two years under house arrest in Peking.

kja Jul 7th, 2017 07:58 PM

I just ordered Grey’s book – thanks!

CaliNurse Jul 8th, 2017 03:00 PM

Hope your Borneo Belly is resolving, Crellston!!
In which area of Taipei did you stay? Would yu recommend the hotel for either of your destinations?
A friend recommended the Daan Park Dandy (how's that for alliteration!?) Taipei hotel, nice neighborhood, close to Metro. Thoughts?
I've been interested in Taiwan for several yrs. It's a long but nonstop flight on EVA Air (which was excellent for getting to VN) San Francisco and Taipei.
(For you fellow Californians with One World Miles, Cathay Pacific flies the route as well, with one brief stop in Kong Kong.)

jacketwatch Jul 8th, 2017 03:43 PM

Your description of how Taiwanese behave reminds me of Singaporeans as well as their feelings towards mainland Chinese!

I used your link to ask my question about passport and visa issues and got a prompt reply. No problem with a US passport so that is helpful to know.

Following!

thursdaysd Jul 8th, 2017 05:10 PM

"I read somewhere that tourism from the mainland has been decreasing of late, probably at the behest of Beijing."

Interesting. When I was there in 2010 it was increasing. I wouldn't say the mainlanders seemed that popular.

crellston Jul 8th, 2017 05:22 PM

We stayed at Taipei M Hotel. A five min walk from Taipei Main station. It was ok, a decent price, a little tired but the staff were good and it was a fantastic location for getting around on the MRT. Proximity to and MRT station is key and Taipei Main Station is at the centre of the country's rail network, the cities bus network ( another easy way of getting around. We mostly used the MRT - so easy, so convenient and so cheap. It is so quick to get around the city by MRT, that I feel it doesn't matter that much where you are as long as it is close to an MRT station.

M Hotel was decent value , but paying a little more I feel would have yielded better results.

Holland Windmill B&B I would strongly recommend to anyone staying in Hualien - I reviewed on TA and Booking.com. It is really quirky but very tasteful. Everything was a s perfect as it gets in a hotel and the people running it, mostly spoke English ( a big plus) and were so helpful and friendly. Breakfasts, home cooked by mum, were varied, delicious and plentiful.

KJa - if you ever plan on visiting Vietnam he also wrote another epic "Saigon" in a similar vein. Starting in the 1920s under French colonial rule and ending with the ejection of the US from the country in the seventies.

kja Jul 8th, 2017 05:29 PM

Thanks, crellston – I’ll keep that in mind!

Nywoman Jul 9th, 2017 06:52 AM

Crellston,
Hope you are fully recovered. I land in Taipei October 13th, if my spine surgery goes well, which it will. Hard to keep an old broad down. May be we can have a GTG.

Talking about the fact that tourism from the USA is scarce, is no surprise. When I went to the Taiwanese building in NYC I went in and asked for the tourist office. The guard asked me what did I want, I replied information. Then I was given a phone and received the 10th degree. Felt I was in a Communist country, eventually a young woman came down to the lobby with a lot of information.
It was not a hospitable experience. The explanation was that the Consul General was on the same floor therefore people could no go up.
She was lovely, it seemed to me that they could set up an information area in the lobby, which of course I suggested.

Am happily reading your information.

crellston Jul 12th, 2017 04:53 PM

I am fully recovered after 24 hours of not leaving the room! Anyway, I am clearly just typical male wimp when compared to "an old broad" planning such a long trip after spine surgery! Good luck with the op and best wishes for a speedy and full recovery.

A gtg would be great if we do make it back in October. If we do we would likely arrive on the 17/10 but I am struggling to find reasonably priced and timed flights. We will arriving back in Bangkok after a long flight from NZ so don't really relish another long flight straight off. If only I had th foresight to fly into KL, things would have been much simpler ( and cheaper!)

I have just about finished our blog post re Taroko gorge and will post a mini TR and link here shortly. In the meantime carolyn has posted something on our initial impressions https://accidentalnomads.com/2017/07...-love-hualien/

kja Jul 12th, 2017 05:28 PM

Glad to hear you are fully recovered, crellston!
And I agree -- kudos and best wishes to Nywoman.

crellston Jul 13th, 2017 05:42 PM

Thank you kja.


TAROKO GORGE

I think I covered the transport options in my response to CaliLady above. We opted for a rental car for a couple of days to visit the gorge one day and the East Coast Scenic Area the next. Our time in the gorge is covered in our most recent post on our blog @ https://accidentalnomads.com/2017/07...-marble-gorge/

Renting a car is the most time effective way of getting around. Not especially cheap by UK and probably US standards, we paid around £50 pd with Avis, the only international brand in town. There are smaller operators around but I doubt many speak English and I have not had good experiences in the past with small rental businesses.

The driving is really easy. We had picked up an unlimited 4G Data sim at the airport for around $15 very fast and worth every $ . It enabled us to use googlemaps to get around (although not all places showed up on google) I highly recommend getting a card on arrival even though you can also sign up for free countrywide wifi in advance we were using it all the time.

The Taroko visitors centre is a little sparse but the staff were very helpful in pointing out where to go and where not to go.

It is normally possible to drive the entire length of the gorge and a spectacular and beautiful gorge it is. However we found our way blocked due to a rock fall part way. Not being sure how long it would take to clear we decided that, given the time, we would dust our visit short and head to Quingshi cliffs, another not to miss sight.

Driving the gorge is easy and the drive is wonderful but to fully appreciate the gorge it is necessary to get out and walk a few of the trails. We did a couples Shangkadang and Swallows nest. There were a couple of extra ones on our list that we missed due to the rockfall. Such is life! Guided trips are available I think cost around $110 pp and I am sure we would have seen a lot more than we did.

Being quite keen hikers, if we had had more time and we had visited at a cooler time of year, I am sure we would have stayed longer and taken some longer hikes in the area. take plenty of water, a good hat and sunscreen!

Hualien is the only logical place for visiting Taroko. We had great accommodation at Holland Windmill B& B - highly recommended. Food in the town is different, very good and very cheap. Taxi are metered and cheap and reliable for getting around the town. We found it invaluable to stay at a place where some English is spoken. Made life a lot easier.

A post re the East Coast Scenic Area will follow shortly.

kja Jul 13th, 2017 05:52 PM

Too bad about that rock fall ... except, of course, that you weren't right there when they came down! ;-)

Are there hikes through the gorge that aren't particularly challenging? As a solo traveler, I've had some rather scary slips or other near disasters on recent trips, and so am trying to make sure that I only take relatively short (maybe 2 hour) hikes where I am likely to encounter other people and where the paths are relatively easy.

tripplanner001 Jul 14th, 2017 02:17 AM

The gorge sounds like a great place to spend a few days. Your photos look fantastic too.

Nywoman Jul 14th, 2017 03:58 AM

Thank you Crellston and kja for your good wishes.

Have now booked Holland Windmill B+B October 18 and 19. As far as the Gorge am planning on hiring a driver for the day. My hiking is generally confined to the canyons of NYC. Reading Kavey's account she managed a shortish hike so who knows I might write in my TR that I hiked the Taroko as well.

Since I have to return to Taiwan from Japan I may add a few days on the backend of my trip. Am still in the planning stages for both countries.

crellston Aug 15th, 2017 07:04 PM

I finally got around to post about our time in Taipei on our blog. https://accidentalnomads.com/2017/07...rip-to-taipei/

Didn't get to see as much as we planned due mostly to the heat. We knew it would be hot but not how hot. A few weeks later we are in an almost as hot Bangkok and have more or less got used to it.

Happy to answer any questions I can - at least if the hopeless wifi in the Ibis Riverside Hotel permits me!

I am also just about finished on a fodors post on Sulawesi, Torajaland and will post here soon. For now let's just say we loved our time there.

kja Aug 15th, 2017 07:15 PM

Thanks for the update! I plan to study your blog carefully as I decide where to go next.

Good luck dealing with the heat!

CaliNurse Aug 15th, 2017 07:19 PM

Thank you for the photos and narrative, Crellston. Love it...the national cabbage!!!
Mrs C looks pretty cool, considering the temps!

thursdaysd Aug 28th, 2017 05:02 AM

Hi crellston - another possibilty for a return trip:

https://stewieoverseas.com/experience-kenting-taiwan/

Kavey Sep 9th, 2017 05:39 AM

Oh just found this thread, and want to add a big ditto. We spent just 5 nights in Taiwan in January this year and definitely want to go back. We did 3 nights in Taipei and 2 nights in Taroko Gorge, here's my mammoth post on Taroko: https://www.kaveyeats.com/2017/07/tr...onal-park.html

We loved our time in Taipei too, I have another post written several weeks back but in a queue to publish, later this month probably.

We met a fair few Chinese mainland visitors, one of whom approached me to chat and it took me several minutes to realise why she was so confused when she asked me my favourite city in China and I told her I'd never been, except for Hong Kong and Macau which we'd be visiting next. Because in my mind Taiwan is its own country even if we are too scared of China to officially admit that! ��


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