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Three Fascinating Weeks in Terrific Taiwan

Three Fascinating Weeks in Terrific Taiwan

Old Nov 20th, 2023, 04:56 PM
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Three Fascinating Weeks in Terrific Taiwan

We just spent 5 weeks in Asia, 2 weeks in Japan and 3 weeks in Taiwan. Since there doesn't seem to be a lot of info on Taiwan here I will summarize our 3 weeks there.

Taiwan is a small island about the size of the state of Maryland. It has a complicated relationship with China. "Currently, Taiwan's political status is ambiguous. China currently claims it is a province of the People's Republic of China (PRC), whereas the current Tsai Ing-wen administration of Taiwan maintains that Taiwan is already an independent country as the Republic of China (ROC) and thus does not have to push for any sort of formal independence." Conversations with the citizens were interesting. We mostly spoke with younger people who disliked the Chinese govt and felt quite secure that China would not attack and they wouldn ot have a "Hong Kong '' like situation. I hope they are correct.

The people are warm, friendly and couldn't have been more welcoming. They loved that we were visiting from the US. While there we saw very few westerners and only heard American voices 3 times. Most tourists are locals or from other Asian countries, especially Singapore. Younger people spoke pretty good English, older people either didnt or tried.

We traveled with a private driver, driving on our own and via trains. They have a terrific infrastructure and their metros are efficient, clean and inexpensive. Roads are great with English signage and google maps on the road did pretty well. We did not drive in Taipei but in other cities there wasn't a lot of traffic, so our drives into them, to pick up or drop off a rental, were easy. Drivers are polite and drive pretty well relative to other countries we have driven in.

Our itinerary was as follows:
Flew EVA Air from Tokyo Haneda Airport to Taipei Songshon Airport which is right in town - nice flight and airline

Taipei 4 nights
North Coast 1 night
Taroko Gorge 3 nights
Taitung 2 nights
Kaohsiung 4 nights
Tainan 3 nights
Mountains 1 night
Sun Moon Lake 2 nights
Taichung 2 nights

Flew EVA again Taoyuan Airport 45-60 minutes outside Taipei in Taipei to Osaka - again a nice and easy flight.

Days 1-4 Taipei -- I was underwhelmed with Taipei. Of the many Asian capitals I have visited, Taipei paled in comparison. Also we had just spent 8 nights prior to Taipei in Tokyo which I love, so perhaps that influenced my opinion.

We arranged for a private guide for 2 half days, though the half days were 7 hours+ . Eric Liu was an excellent guide, informative, interesting, easy to spend time with and clearly loves his country.
He showed us both the major sites and local life in Taipei. He explained the metro system and provided an interesting perspective on the govt and political situation.
Highlights included:
Longshon Temple - Founded in 1738 by Han immigrants from Fujian, this temple has served as a municipal, guild and self-defence centre, as well as a house of worship. As with most temples in Taiwan, Longshan has been rebuilt multiple times after destruction by earthquakes, typhoons and even bombing in the last days of WWII.
The temple enshrines Guanyin and other almost 100 gods and goddesses that attract countless worshippers who come to pray for the good fortune, health, and even seek their true love by its effective matchmaking god.

Eric explained the many customs and ins and outs of those praying. He gave an overview of the practices of a complicated syncretic belief system, which comprises Buddhist, Taoist and folkloric elements.

We visited the Bopilao Historic Block, the current version of which was built during the era of Japanese colonization following its victory in the 1895 Sino-Japanese War. It’s now largely a venue for art galleries, most of which were still closed.

Multiple markets with so many fruits and veggies, many new to us. I really liked the custard apples. Then to the meat section -- and on and one. Finally we moved onto clothes and high end malls that surround Taipei 101 which was until 2009 the tallest bldg in the world. It's quite striking and can be seen from everywhere in Taipei. Today it is the tallest bldg in Taiwan and 11th tallest in the world.

Lastly we took a long subway ride to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and the adjacent National Theatre and Opera Hall. All of these buildings are immense.
The architecture of Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall is inspired by Tiantan in Beijing. The four sides of the structure are similar to those of the pyramids in Egypt. The material is white marble. The roofs are decorated with deep-blue glass as part of the reflection of blue sky and bright sun. It adds a touch of grandeur. The garden is planted with red flowers. As a whole, the colors of blue, white and red express the National Flag and the spirit of freedom, equality and brotherhood.

Exhausted, we head back to our hotel to collaspe!

Fabulous metro infrastructure

Longshan Temple

Longshan Temple

You get espresso with your coffe -- Eric our great guide


Taipei 101

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial


Custard Apple

Lots of fruit and beggies

Market

Fabric

Last edited by Moderator1; Nov 22nd, 2023 at 03:02 PM. Reason: Corrected itinerary per authors request
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Old Nov 20th, 2023, 06:51 PM
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Great start, stunning photos!

When you say there is a "complicated relationship" with China, that is being polite. There was a revolution in China in 1929, when three factions came together to overthrow the ruling elite: Farmers, Communists, and the Military. It was decided that the Military would keep the stockpile of weapons. After the revolution succeeded, the Military led by General Chiang Kai Shek of the Kuo Min Tang (KMT) Party wrested control. They stabbed the other groups in the back.

When the Communist Revolution took place in 1949, the KMT Party fled to Taiwan where they remained in exile. The KMT is still the ruling party in Taiwan. Abject bitterness remains.

I am far from being an expert in the subject, so if I got anything wrong, somebody please correct me. Most of what I know comes form reading Man's Fate (La Condition Humaine), the 1933 novel by Andre Malraux who lived in China at the time and helped the revolutionaries. Later, Malraux went on to fight in the Spanish Civil War.
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Old Nov 20th, 2023, 07:55 PM
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shelemm -- Indeed. Not only is the history long, complicated and brutal, but the present is complicated.
I forgot to mention we had two Taiwan originals, Bubble tea which originated in Taiwan in the early 1980's. Apparently there was a "war" between 2 shops as to which actually invented it. We had bubble tea at one of the two. Din Tai Fung, also originating in Taiwan and specializes in soup dumplings and noodles, & has multiple locations in Taipei. We ate at the one that is right across from where the original was located. Long lines at many of them in Taipei.

Bubble tea - not my favorite.

Din Tai Fung -- is an international chain now. This is the third one we have eaten in--Santa Monica and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia are the 2 others.

Last edited by yestravel; Nov 20th, 2023 at 07:58 PM.
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Old Nov 21st, 2023, 03:54 AM
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Does the quality at DTF hold up in the various locations?
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Old Nov 21st, 2023, 04:30 AM
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Great report and wonderful information of a place less visited, at least on this site. And fabulous photos, too!
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Old Nov 21st, 2023, 06:15 AM
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Originally Posted by shelemm
Does the quality at DTF hold up in the various locations?
Its hard to compare as the time between visits is pretty long. We did order some dishes suggested by out guide in Taipei which we have not done the other locations. It was delicious in Taipei.

Progol -- thank you! Not expecting many followers on this and it gets lonely if no one comments!
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Old Nov 21st, 2023, 06:29 AM
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Your photos are gorgeous - I love all the bright colors!

I'm not an Asia fan, but I'm finding your report very interesting and look forward to more.
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Old Nov 21st, 2023, 06:44 AM
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October 13 - Today is our second day in Taipei with excellent Eric. We decided instead of doing museums and monuments to instead spend a day learning about a typical day in Taipei. Once again we purchased a day pass for their metro. It’s a great bargain at 150NT$ about $4.60 US. Today we did about 6 rides, 2 of them being 40minutes to the end of the red line, Tansui & return.

We began our exploration on Dihua Street, the oldest street in Taipei, dating back to 1800’s. It’s rows and rows of stores selling anything and everything. Eric was great ​at pointing out various food products and identifying the large array of herbs. The street was bustling with locals doing their shopping. I had been told not to miss mango shaved ice and to share a small. No kidding, it was as big as my head and delicious. Since mangoes are not in season, the mango was frozen. I bet it’s even better with fresh mangoes.

From there we ventured into one of the oldest markets in Taipei. I like markets but I have to say I generally find them moderately interesting. This one was incredible. I have never seen so many unknown food items. After exploring the oldest market we visited the newest market, recently opened. Quite the contrast, but equally fascinating.It also had a jam packed food court. Some stands had long lines.

Next we had a decision as to whether to go to an onsen town or to Tansui and walk along the river which we chose to do. After a 40 minute metro arrived we arrived to Tansui where locals were enjoying a lovely day. Again lots of commercial shops, one after another selling so many food items. I tried Taipei ice cream and it doesn’t hold a candle to Japanese ice cream. H​ub sampled a delicious sausage. There was music and people dancing. Interesting side point, tour buses in Taiwan play karaoke on a big tv screen. Glad we are not taking any tour buses this trip. We spent a couple hours ​strolling the walkway and then back via the river walk. Fun afternoon!

Evening was at the Raohe night Market which was packed. Night markets are a "thing" in Taiwan, but I found them waaaay too crowded to enjoy. Plus there is limited to no seating and I dislike eating a meal standing up. I think it's best to go earlier in the evening, not after 7 as we tended to.

Dihua Street, the oldest street in Taipei,

Dihua Street, the oldest street in Taipei,

Shaved Mango

Beautiful fruit dispalys

Dihua Street, the oldest street in Taipei,


Window display

Dihua Street, the oldest street in Taipei,

Tansui

Crowded metro during rush hours

Songshan Ciyou Temple - ancient temple dedicated to veneration of the goddess Mazu. is right next to the Raohe Night Market.

Lots of fried food on sticks at night markets. Raohe Night Market sampling
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Old Nov 21st, 2023, 07:47 AM
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Thanks for this report! We are thinking about going to Taiwan next year so this is great timing! Loving the pictures.
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Old Nov 21st, 2023, 08:25 AM
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Melnq8 - thanks for following along. I hope you enjjoy this TR half as much as I enjoyed your TR.

valgalchi - Good luck with your planning. I hope this TR helps some. happy to answer any questions.

Oct 15 -- Itís off to the hills & north coast of Taiwan today. After 4 days in Taipei we hit the road. Our driver​/guide, was Sean, educated at the Univ of Kentucky of all places. About 45 minutes after leaving Taipei we were at Yehliu Geo Park. Incredible place with moon like surface and rock formations. Otherworldly!​ I will do one post with just the photos from this incredible site after this post.

After spending time exploring the park we left for Shifen Waterfall, a ledge cascade waterfall. Total height is 66 ft and 130 ft in width. Lots of climbing up and down steps for the various views of the falls.

Then onto Pingxi Sky Lanterns, where we wr​o​te our wishes on 4 sides of the lantern and launched them into the sky. Fun experience​, if a bit touristy. I read after the fact that is very bad for the [size=13px]environment.
. We ran into a small festival with a few stands and of course, lots of food.

On the way to Jiufen, our overnight stop, we stopped at a mining exhibit and passed the ShueiNanDong golden waterfalls located right beside the road. After seeping thru mining areas and contacting with sulfur, arsenic and copper ores, the water is transformed into golden acidic mineral water with a hint o a tiny bit of orange. Sean said people can​'t touch the soil or drink the water in the area.

​That evening we walked around Jiufen, a very steep mountain town in northeastern Taiwan. It's known for the narrow alleyways of its old town, packed with teahouses, street-food shacks and souvenir shops. Its pretty much a vertical town & as a result,OMG, the steps! My poor knees were crying for relief. It's definitely a picturesque place and I would have loved to explore some more the next day, but that wasn't going to happen after climbing 100's and 100's of steps in the evening.
​​​​​​​[/size]

Our driver/guide Sean

Locals in the park

GeoPark (separte post with more photos)

GeoPark

waterfall


Buses are decorated so tht the riders can find their bus

Lanterns

Golden waterfall

View from our stay in Jiufen

Steps, steps and more steps

Breakfast in Jiufen

Temple way up the hill from our stay - walked half way and knees, said, nope!
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Old Nov 21st, 2023, 08:38 AM
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An amazing place to see is Yehliu GeoPark. I don think I have ever seen anything quite like it. It's about 45 minutes north of Taipei, so an easy day trip if you wish. "Yehliu is a cape on the north coast of Taiwan. It’s known for Yehliu Geopark, a landscape of honeycomb and mushroom rocks eroded by the sea. Well-known formations named for their shapes include the Queen’s Head and Dragon’s Head. The park is also home to birds such as ospreys and little egrets. In the village of Yehliu, the elaborate, 19th-century Baoan Temple was built using materials from an abandoned boat."











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Old Nov 21st, 2023, 09:31 AM
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I am so happy to see your report on Taiwan! We love traveling in Asia but havenít been to Taiwan yet. I look forward to reading your future posts.
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Old Nov 21st, 2023, 10:03 AM
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Completely thrilling! I have looked into Taiwan, but didn't know about some of these places. You seem to have captured the fun, awe, and culture so well. Looking forward to more.
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Old Nov 21st, 2023, 01:04 PM
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You make a place that never interested me so enticing.
And the pics! Wow. I remember old fashioned TR’s that were so 20th century.
thx for taking the time and letting us ride along.
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Old Nov 21st, 2023, 01:18 PM
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This continues to amaze me! Your photos are SO evocative and it really does inspire me to figure out how to get here someday!

Fabulous report! A++!
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Old Nov 21st, 2023, 02:00 PM
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HappyTrvlr - We counted and we have been to 11 Asian countries - number surprsied me. Taiwan is very different than al of them. It's a beautiful and diverse country.

shelemm - I don't think a lot of people know that much about it. Planning it was a learning experience. Thank you for your comments!

alison -- That's so nice of you to say. Thank you! I learn about new places to visit from TRs so hope mine provides food for thought as well as perhaps future travels.

progol - you never know where your travels will take you.
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Old Nov 21st, 2023, 05:48 PM
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OMG, I just looked more closely at Yehliu GeoPark - what an amazing place! It looks unlike anything else and really fantastic.
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Old Nov 21st, 2023, 08:31 PM
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Lots of bridges

Suspension bridge
Originally Posted by progol
OMG, I just looked more closely at Yehliu GeoPark - what an amazing place! It looks unlike anything else and really fantastic.
It was truly amazing. I don't think I have ever seen any place quite like it.

Oct. 16 - Sean, our driver/guide, picked us up in the morning and we took off for Taroko Gorge. We went via Taipei & then down the east coast. It was a moderately interesting drive with lots of interesting conversations with Sean who grew up in Taiwan, but went to America at 16. He first went to Seattle where the weather drove him away! His father knew someone in Kentucky so off he went to college there.

The main highlight of the drive to the Taroko gorge is close to Hualien, Qingshui Cliff, which reminded me a touch of the coast of California. The cliff is more than 1,000 meters high and drops almost vertically into the sea. The highway snakes along its curving face more than 20 kilometers, with the sheer cliff rising on one side and a sheer drop to the ocean on the other. Quite beautiful. Taiwan was named Ilha Formosa by the Portuguese -- it means beautiful island and indeed it is.

Sean dropped us at the Chailease car rental in Hualien and then led us back to our hotel before bidding us a fond farewell. One piece of advice: if you rent a car, be sure to have your International Driver's License. First place we have ever been asked for it.

Oct 17 - Today is to be Taroko Gorgeous Day! So many people suggested it would be easier to travel with a driver, we figured get a driver for the one day to better understand the parking, the road and various trail closings. Due to the typhoons there were road closures with timings for opening and closing inexplicable to me. The website translations were confusing. Also some trails were being repaired and closed in parts or all together. Turns out the gorge is pretty easy to navigate and once there the road closings were clear. I knew it would not be a problem on our own the next day.
Taroko National Park is free as are all national parks in Taiwan. The gorge is spectacular and has a lot of tourists, both Taiwanese and foreign. But it wasn't ever really crowded anywhere we went. The driver gave us the lay of the land, pointed out where to park for various trails and took us to areas where there was no parking so we could explore while he waited with the car.
Taroko is famous for its spectacular mountains and marble canyons. Cliffs and canyons stretch along the Liwu River. After millions of years of wind erosion, the marble rocks were exposed and cut by Liwu River, creating impressive grand canyons. From Qingshui to Nanhu Peak, the drop height is 3,742 meters. While there are always waterfalls of varying size, right now they are full and small ones can be seen throughout the gorge due to the typhoon a couple weeks ago. Along our way we saw suspension bridges, temples, caves and spectacular scenery. I was constantly stretching my neck to look up or look down into the gorge. It was a mostly cloudy day with peaks of sun here and there. This made for evocative grey clouds around the mountaintops and often fog lying on the peaks.

We did several hikes/walks and loved the changing scenery. One famous walk is the 9 Tunnels walk. As we were doing the 9 tunnels walk it suddenly got very windy. I thought I was going to get blown into the gorge and wondered what was going on? The walk is well signed and sure enough there was a descriptor explaining the reason why the sudden wind gusts.

After our return from Taroko Gorge, we took a drive in our rental car to see the local sights. At the top of the list was the Lonely Planet-recommended Jing Si Hall in Hualien. This temple/complex is the headquarters of the Tzu Chi Buddhist organization, which has a presence in 128 countries and a focus on charitable work. The grounds and the buildings are spectacular. The people came over to us to talk and tell us about their mission. Lovely women and enjoyable to meet them.

Our plan was to have dinner in Hualien. Ha! best laid plans and all that. After driving around the outskirts along the sea, and it was fine. Then we finally turned into the downtown where a restaurant was located -- forget it! Not a parking space to be found anywhere. The streets were lit up with neon and heaving with locals going about their evening activities. We circled round and round going further and further away from the restaurant and finally gave up. We were disappointed and we headed back to our hotel.


Qingshui Clifs

One of the many bridges in Taroko Gorge

Female lion is always on the right of the bridges

Note the female lion has her paw on a baby lion

Some sun in the Taroko Gorge


Suspension bridge at the Toroko Gorge

Gorgeous gorge

Tianxiang in the Taroko Gorge. Note the indigenous stylings on the modern bldg. There a 7-11 store, ubiquitous in Taiwan, on the ground floor that sells food and sundries to hikers and other visitors to the gorge.

Tzu Chi Buddhist organization

Tzu Chi Buddhist organization

Tzu Chi Buddhist organization

Tzu Chi Buddhist organization

Tzu Chi Buddhist organization

We are Family

Asian buffets for breakfast are an assortment of anything you could think of. I got quite attached to the lobster noodle soup. Had it every morning we were at the Gorge.

Hualien lights

Okay - we were on the 20th floor or something like that. This was on our balcony -- a "sling" to use should we need to evacuate! Couldn't imagine and thankfully we didnt need it.

Here are the directions to sling yourself over the balcony -- see you later...or never

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Old Nov 21st, 2023, 10:01 PM
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What a fantastic trip report: not only your written descriptions, but also the many wonderful photos and their captions. Thank you for taking the time to post this!
Looking forward to more.
The last entry (so far) with the fire-escape contraption is quite the symbolic cliffhanger!
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Old Nov 22nd, 2023, 02:19 AM
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Great stuff yestravel. We loved our very brief time in Taipei and Hualien and your report is tempting me to return to explore further. Some Aussie friends booked some BC flights from London to Sydney in the sale earlier this year and got a really good deal. I am hoping that is replicated next year if we make it there to visit our Australian family.
Other than Taipei , Hualien & Taraoko, which were the stand out places for you?
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