Planning for Taiwan - any comments?

Old Jul 6th, 2010, 01:00 PM
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Planning for Taiwan - any comments?

Here's my first pass at an itinerary (listing overnights) for the Taiwan leg of my RTW. Same background info as for the Japan and Korean legs: I'm early 60s, solo female. I'm not really into big cities, neon, nightlife or shopping - although I love markets. I also love mountains, waterfalls and rocky coastline, and I'm interested in architecture, religion and especially food. I prefer crafts - glass, textiles, ceramics, jewelry - to fine arts. Note that based on advice from the guidebooks I'm doing cities on the weekends and countryside during the week.

Thu Oct 21: Arrive Taipei at 11:05 am, take the train to Tainan
Fri Oct 22: Tainan
Sat Oct 23: Tainan

Sun Oct 24: Travel to Sun-Moon Lake. I considered Alishan instead, but as best I can tell the mountain railway hasn't recovered from last year's typhoon, plus it may be a bit late in the year. I'm thinking train to Chuanghua, mountain railway to Shuili, bus to Sun-Moon, although I've seen a reference to a new highway which might mean there's now a bus from Tainan - the English-language on-line transport information for Taiwan isn't nearly as good as for Japan and Korea.
Mon Oct 25: Sun-Moon Lake

Tue Oct 26: Bus to Taipei, train to Hualien
Wed Oct 27: Hualien - visit Taroko Gorge by taxi
Thu Oct 28: Hualien - visit Taroko Gorge by bus

Fri Oct 29: Train to Taipei - maybe visit hot springs at Beitou
Sat Oct 30: Taipei - museum and temple day
Sun Oct 31: Taipei - day trip to Pingxi - scenic railway and waterall
Mon Nov 1: Taipei - day trip to Jiufen and Jinguashi on the coast
Tue Nov 2: Fly to Hong Kong for R&R

Input welcome! Especially regarding Sun Moon Lake, or an alternative - I've read that it's getting a great many visitors this year.
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Old Jul 6th, 2010, 01:08 PM
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I've only been to Taipei, and that was some years ago now. The Palace Museum is an absolute must-see. I spent most of a day there.

I spent some fascinating time at the jade market. At the time, it was temporary tables set up under a freeway overpass. No one really spoke any English there. Indeed, relatively few people in Taipei spoke English. I expect that has changed.

I've heard the countryside is really beautiful, so I'll be interested in your report.
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Old Jul 6th, 2010, 01:21 PM
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A hectic city like HK is one of the last places I'd recommend for R and R.

As for Taiwan, I can only comment on Taipei. Surprised to read that the touristy places like Taipei 101, CKS memorial, the Grand Hotel and a night market are not on your agenda. Even if big cities are not your thing, I'd include these sights.

Taiwan manufactures alot of coloured glass objects which make great souveniers. These are not like to tacky coloured glass objects you find that are make in China and sold virtually all over the world. The glass that comes from Taiwan is a solid piece with the colour infused into the glass. There is (or was) a good shop in the CKS memorial that sells these products. Shops at the Grand Hotel and at the airport also had these handicrafts surprisingly at virutally the same prices but the selection at the CKS memorial was far superior.

thursdaysd, what are your favorite places, you've travelled alot. How many countries have you visited?
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Old Jul 6th, 2010, 01:22 PM
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Yes, the Palace Museum may take all of that Saturday, and is a big reason why I wanted to visit Taiwan. Then I started reading and discovered that there was a lot more to see.

I love jade, so thanks for the tip. I think the market has grown - LP says it's "perhaps the largest market for jade and other semi-precious stones in Asia"! And those are very portable souvenirs...
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Old Jul 6th, 2010, 01:33 PM
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justshootme - by R&R I mean I'm not planning on a lot of sightseeing, as this is a return visit. I'm going to try to chill out, eat and drink, maybe do a little hiking on the outlying islands. A day trip to Macau is as energetic as I expect to get.

Number of countries - I think I'm at around 55 before this trip, which will add four or five.

Favorite places - so many - first thoughts: London, Paris, Lviv, Portugal, France, Austria, Sicily, northern Romania, Slovakia, Laos and Cambodia... Really I don't think in terms of favorites, more places I'd be happy to revisit (like India and Sicily and Nice on this trip) which is a long list.
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Old Jul 8th, 2010, 01:16 AM
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Hi,

I live in Taipei (I'm Taiwanese-born, Australia-raised), so thought I'd throw in my two cents:

- Expect to buy fake jade at the jade market. Not even locals will buy jade at that market expecting to get real jade, or a good price, unless they're with someone who really knows their jade.

- The Flower Market right opposite the Jade Market is a lot of fun on the weekends. The Taiwanese have treat growing potted orchids as an art.

- If you're into tea, you could consider exploring some tea farms in the countryside. The Tea Masters blog has a lot of ideas
http://teamasters.blogspot.com/

- If you're interested in buying some tea as gifts or souvenirs, the brand Wang De Chuan has a great selection and beautiful packaging. I recommended this brand on my blog, if you care to read more:
http://www.thejadedtourist.com/2010/...n-wang-de.html

Enjoy your trip!
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Old Jul 8th, 2010, 08:27 AM
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Thanks for the warning, hopeless_nomad! I'm not a shopper, so a reason to look not buy is welcome. I'll certainly take a look at the flower market as well, and the two blogs.

I am interested in tea - white or green, not black - and it's a toss-up whether to visit Pingxi or a tea growing area. Might depend on the weather.
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Old Jul 8th, 2010, 09:56 AM
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Also since you mentioned you're interested in food, I thought I'd throw in a suggestion for Taiwanese cuisine. It's a sit-down restaurant, not a stand or market stall.

The place is called Ao Ba, and it's a modern but authentic restaurant that serves Taiwanese dishes. It's popular with Taiwanese families -- my own family eats here pretty frequently.

Don't be put off by the fact that it's a "chain". There are 3 or 4 locations throughout Taipei, but it's definitely not a franchise.

The menu is in English with pictures, which always helps!

If you're interested in trying it, I posted a suggested menu on my blog. (Not to be always promoting my blog, but I wrote it for a reason!)

http://www.thejadedtourist.com/2010/...in-taipei.html
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Old Jul 8th, 2010, 11:45 AM
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hopeless_nomad - so nice to get input from someone living in Taipei! I can't follow your menu exactly as there's only one of me (terrible for eating Chinese meals, I know) but it's given me some ideas.

While I have your attention... Would you advise trying to make a reservation for Sun-Moon Lake? I'll be there Sun & Mon mid-Oct, but I've read that it's getting a lot of visitors this year, although I think they may be mostly day-trippers.
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Old Jul 8th, 2010, 08:39 PM
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In Sun Moon Lake, the LaLu is the top place to stay. It's very expensive, and can get booked. Fenisia (I think that is the spelling) seems to be the second favorite -- quite new and very popular among expats. There are lovely hikes among the tea plantations above the lake. You have gorgeous views from there.

Tourists from Mainland China are everywhere, but, yes, they can be daytrippers. Even so, things get crowded.

Taroko Gorge is stunning. If you stay at the new Silks Palace, I believe they will pick you up from the Hualien train station and bring you to the hotel, which is one of two within the Gorge. At least, the hotel did so for us 18 months ago, but the management was different. Anyway, it would be worth it.

The Jade Market is great fun, but I only shop for souvenirs, not real jade. The adjoining flower market is full of beautiful orchids; both under the freeway and only on the weekend. Hiking around Taipei is also fabulous. You might enjoy Buffalo Meadow in Yangmingshan National Park. The silver grass should be in full 'feather' by then and it is really pretty.

At the top of Jiufen, there is an old tea house. You can get some snacks there too, and if you have a clear day, more great views. Jiufen is also crowded with tourists these days. The rock formations of Yelihu are fairly close by.

Not far from Jiufen is the Juming Museum. He is Taiwan's most famous living artist, and this place houses his personal collection, notably his huge bronze tai chi sculptures. Worth the trip, but you might want to hire a car and driver to take you there. Ask your hotel, or try Edison Tours and see if they can arrange it.

The National Palace Museum is amazing. Try to spend the bulk of your time there around lunch time, as the tour groups will be mostly gone during those hours. You can buy a joint ticket to the NPM and the Aboriginal Museum across the street.

Taiwan is a foodie paradise. Ao Ba is a great suggestion for Taiwanese food. For Szechuan, I like Chili House or Kiki's. Shanghai Shanghai is another good choice. Beef Noodle Soup is a Taiwanese favorite, so be sure to try that while you're visiting. If you need a change of pace and want Western food one of the best restaurants I've ever been to anywhere is Flavors -- terrific Swedish food, right there in Taipei!

You can tell I love Taiwan. I'm an American who has lived there twice. We're just moving away and I miss it already.
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Old Jul 8th, 2010, 09:50 PM
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Thanks for the input, jgmc. I'm sure those Sun-Moon Lake hotels are lovely, but they are way, way out of my budget. I might just swing the Silks Palace, but I'm not sure it's worth the stretch to stay in the gorge. I usually stay in Lonely Planet's lower mid-range, or Fodor's cheapies.

I hadn't heard about the silver grass - that does sound pretty. I love spicy food, so am glad to see the recs for the Szechuan restaurants.
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Old Jul 9th, 2010, 02:20 AM
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Sorry OP, I've never been to Sun Moon Lake, so can't help you there! You could try doing a search on TravelPod.com to see where other budget travelers stay...

I forgot to mention earlier that if you're into tea, you can also take the sky tram or gondola from Taipei to Maokong, which is up in the mountains and home to a lot of tea houses and plantations. The gondola ride is 35 or 40 minutes and only NT50 each way, so about US$2. You can take the gondola from the Taipei Zoo subway stop on the brown line. Once you get to the top, there's a directory with all the local tea houses. I recommend getting some deep fried sweet potatoes and some tea.
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Old Jul 10th, 2010, 05:05 PM
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A good friend of mine loves the Leader Hotel in Taroko Gorge -- I should have mentioned it earlier. Check it out at tripadisor and see what you think. Taroko is so pretty -- it is nice to stay there if you can.

In Yangmingshan, you might also enjoy seeing the fumaroles -- bubbling sulfur springs. It is a nice time of year in YMS, and so close to Taipei! You can take a bus to the visitor's center, and then smaller buses to various locations. There are almost always people in the visitor's center who speak reasonable English.
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Old Jul 10th, 2010, 08:27 PM
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Thanks for the suggestion for the Leader. Unfortunately, according to Lonely Planet I'd have to pay for a double. Plus, both google and firefox are warning me to have nothing to do with its web site!

I'm finding that there really is a lot to do on Taiwan. I'm surprised there doesn't seem to be more western tourism - none of the usual suspects run tours there, for instance.
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Old Jul 12th, 2010, 06:18 PM
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Too bad if the Leader has an untrustworthy website. Maybe someone on tripadvisor can tell you how they booked...

Yes, Taiwan is an overlooked destination. Few beaches? average shopping? no royal history? But it does have beautiful mountains, friendly people, amazing food, an unparalleled museum, an almost totally safe environment, a lovely coastline, busy temples, folk festivals.... I'm a fan!
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Old Jul 13th, 2010, 07:41 PM
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This is useful as I'm planning to go there myself for the first time next year. A place that caught my eye is Yehliu, just 35 kms from Taipei: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yehliu
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Old Jul 17th, 2010, 09:06 PM
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I am currently living in Tainan as a tour-guide, and I am surprised (and yet happy) to see you will be staying in Tainan for three days! LOL

On your first day, you want to travel to Tainan directly from Taipei airport? There should be no train for this route. You may wish to 1) take a free shuttle to THSR (Taiwan High Speed Railway) and take it to Tainan, or 2) take a shuttle bus from the airport to Taichung, and then transfer to another shuttle bus (or train) to Tainan.

Tainan to Sun moon lake - there is no direct bus either. You can take train to Taichung and then transfer to Sun Moon Lake through the newly developed highway. There is a direct bus from Sun Moon lake to Taipei.

Taroko Gorge: we usually spend half a day in Taroko gorge. You can visit some lovely trails within it, but I am not sure if two days will be too much for you. I would suggest you spend another day visiting other part of Huakien.

Hot spring: Most hot springs in Taipei are Japanese style, which means you will have to be totally naked to get inside. If you still want to swear a swimming suit, you can go to the public hot spring right next to the hot spring museum.
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Old Jul 18th, 2010, 08:37 AM
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Welcome to fodors, Feymao_Bappin, and thanks very much for the input. Some questions:

Tainan - it's really only two days in Tainan - do you think there's not enough to see for two days? I read somewhere that there was a bus from Taipei airport to Tainan - do you know if that's true? Otherwise I was going to take a bus to the HSR station at Taoyuan.

Tainan hotels - maybe you have some advice on where to stay? I wanted to stay at the Cambridge on Minzu Rd., but it seems to be full for my dates. Is the La Plaza on Chenggong OK?

Tainan to Sun Moon lake - I was thinking of riding the mountain railway from Chuanghua to Shuili on the way - do you think it's not worthwhile?

Taroko Gorge - there seemed to be plenty of trails, but I was also thinking that the day I have a taxi I'd like to drive part-way up the coast highway.

Hot springs - are they single sex or co-ed?

Thanks.
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Old Jul 21st, 2010, 12:51 AM
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Just returned from Taipei and visited the public hot springs in Xibeitou. The public hot springs are coed and you can wear a bathing suit. Don't forget a cap. There are three pools with different temperatures of hot water and 2 pools of cold water. The cost was NT 40 for 90 minutes. I believe the pools close at 10am, 1pm and 4pm to prevent visitors from staying all day to avoid any health problems.
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Old Aug 21st, 2010, 03:04 PM
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Hi
I went to Taroke Gorge last year and stayed at Leader Village. It's not a fancy hotel but nice and peaceful. You can get off a stop BEFORE Hualien and arrange for hotel to pick up at station (all prices are on their web site)
please note not all trains stop at this stop as there are express trains catered to people want to do daytrip to Taroke from Taipei - it is entirely doable. We arranged a taxi through the hotel next day to tour the gorge then dropped us off at Hualien station in the afternoon, again prices are on the web site.
Note that the 'day' is short inside the national park - it gets dark soon after 4 pm (this was in May), not suitable to walk anywhere that's why many people do a day trip instead.
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