COUNTRY VISITED #33
TAIWAN IS MAGIC. Before visiting Taiwan, I hadn't done that much research about things to do or places to see, I wanted it to be a spur of the moment, spontaneous type of trip. It turned out, Taiwan is the perfect country to do this in. Just turn up, jump on a train, a bike or bus and explore this brilliant space. It's the type of place that makes you feel as if you have visited 12 beautiful countries in a few days. There is just so much packed into this small island, plus it's extremely easy to get around. It's amazing how you can be in an exciting, busy city at one hour of the day, then be surrounded by mountains, volcanoes or lakes by the next then touching the Pacific Ocean and soft sand a short time after that. Taiwan truly took my breath away and I already can't wait to get back.
CAPITAL CITY: TAIPEI
POPULATION: TAIPEI (2.6 MILLION) TAIWAN (OVER 23 MILLION)
CURRENCY: TAIWAN NEW DOLLAR (TWD) FOR EXCHANGE RATE CLICK HERE
LANGUAGE(S): MANDARIN & TAIWANESE HOKKIEN
SIZE: LENGTH (394km - 245mi) WIDTH (144km - 89mi)
WHERE TO GO
PLACES TO VISIT: TAIPEI - MAOKONG - YANGMINGSHAN NATIONAL PARK - SHIFEN - WULAI - JIUFEN - BEITOU - HUALIEN COUNTY - TAROKO NATIONAL PARK (TAROKO GORGE) - TAITUNG COUNTY - TAICHUNG - RAINBOW VILLAGE - ALISHAN - TAINAN - SUN MOON LAKE - KAOHSIUNG - KENTING NATIONAL PARK
THINGS TO DO:
STAY AT A RETREAT:
Situated in the lush, green gardens of the North or in a quiet Eco-village of the South are idyllic Wellness, Yoga and Detox retreats. I found the ways of Taiwan very calm and laid back which makes the country an ideal place to stay at a secluded Health Resort. I recommend Ananda Marga Yoga Wellness Center in Tainan. The prices are very reasonable and the peacefulness of the retreat goes hand in hand with the relaxing environment of Taiwan.
VISIT SUN MOON LAKE:
In beautiful Central Taiwan lies the enchanting Sun Moon Lake. The large, clear blue fresh-water pool is surrounded by pretty hills and mountains making it a treasured scenic beauty popular with both locals and tourists. It's a perfect place for cycling and exploring, offering plenty hiking trails, boat trips and mesmerising views. The area holds important focus on aboriginal life where you can learn about the culture, history and try aboriginal foods. There's even an aboriginal represented theme park Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village connected by the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway (cable cars).
The colourful capital is a city that has something for everyone and plenty of fun things to do. You will find authentic food markets, trendy shops, vibrant night spots, lush green spaces, stunning architecture and also well connected day trips. Taipei surprised me so much of how great it was and how easy it is to get around! The metro is excellent, the people are really friendly and it's a place that shouldn't be missed during your travels in Asia.
EXPLORE THE NATIONAL PARKS:
Taiwan is home to 9 stunning and unique National Parks spread around the country meaning you're never really far from one of them! Yangmingshan National Park is closest to Taipei (parts of it are still within city limits) and is where you will find volcanoes, sulphur pits, hot springs, waterfalls, numerous hiking trails and parks to explore. Some others that are situated a little further away include Taroko National Park (home to the famous Taroko Gorge), the stunning Yushan National Park (the largest in Taiwan) and Kenting National Park (in the very south of the country, home to white sand and coral).
Kenting National Park - Yushan National Park - Yangmingshan National Park - Taroko National Park - Shei-Pa National Park - Kinmen National Park - Dongsha Atoll National Park - Taijiang National Park - South Penghu Marine National Park
EAT & DRINK:
Enjoy fresh street food at the night markets, delicious Bubble Teas at Tiger Sugar, sweet treats at dessert cafe's, amazing toasted sandwiches at Toasteria Cafe or try something different and eat at a themed restaurant like the Modern Toilet Restaurant. Where else could you eat 'poop' ice cream?
SEE THE NORTH:
The north of the island is lovely and green consisting of wild terrain, mountains and some impressive waterfalls. The small towns of the North are very easily accessible from Taipei and can be visited through fun day trips from the capital. You can travel around the areas smoothly, one by one, all the way to the North Coast and Guanyinshan National Scenic Area which is a stunning part of the country! From Taipei, tour the scenic town of Jiufen and enjoy the authentic market, tea houses and hill-side scenes. Head to Shifen to visit their stunning waterfall and release your own Chinese lantern. Make sure to stop at Pingxi during the wonderful Lantern Festival where hundreds of lanterns turn to stars in the sky.
TRAVEL DOWN THE EAST COAST:
The perfectly blue east coast of Taiwan is where you will find dramatic cliffs, stunning nature and tropical beaches. Travel by train to Hualien County where you will find Taroko National Park to see the popular Taroko Gorge, then the plunging Qingshui Cliffs and the beautiful Qixingtan Beach. Make your way to Taitung County through the East Coast National Scenic Area where you can enjoy surfing, snorkelling, diving and even hiking, hot springs and white water rafting. From Taitung City, you could make your way to Kenting National Park in the South, home to some of the countries best beaches.
GO TO THE RAINBOW VILLAGE:
Rainbow village is situated near Taichung and has to be seen to be believed! Bright, vibrant painted houses with multi-coloured roofs make up this cute village. They were painted by a brilliantly talented old veteran soldier who still lives in the once soon to be demolished town.
VISIT THE CAT VILLAGE OF HOUTONG:
Up in the north of the country lies Houtong, a village that has been overrun by lots of feline cats. It would make a fun day out for cat lovers and something a bit different from the Cat Cafe trend around the world.
TOUR THE MUSEUMS:
Taiwan is known for their excellent museums! There are multiple ones to visit around the country including other historical landmarks. People are known to go to Taiwan for the sole purpose of visiting the National Palace Museum in Taipei.
RIDE THE CABLE CARS:
The cable cars of Taiwan are really fun. They're not just a ride but a mode of transport to the next exciting place. They provide a fun and fast trip plus epic views from all around! Make sure to ride the cable car from Taipei Zoo Station South to Maokong (the Moakong Gondola) or the cable car in Sun Moon Lake known as the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway.
SEE THE PANDAS:
No trip to Taiwan would be complete without spending a day at Taipei Zoo! It's huge in size and experience and is actually the largest in Asia. It's home to pandas Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan and their cub which was the first panda to be born in Taiwan.
OVERALL COSTS: FAIRLY CHEAP (I ONLY FOUND FOOD TO BE A LITTLE MORE PRICEY THAN NORMAL (COMPARED TO MY SOUTH-EAST ASIAN TRAVELS))
DAILY BUDGET: nt$1200 (£32) THIS WAS COMFORTABLE, I COULD OF DONE IT FOR LESS
ACCOMMODATION COST: HOSTEL (STARTS AT nt$200 £5) BUDGET HOTEL / GUESTHOUSE (STARTS AT nt$700 £17.50) MID RANGE HOTEL (nt$1000 £25)
TIP: YOUR STAY WILL BE EXCESSIVELY MORE EXPENSIVE DURING THE WEEKEND COMPARED TO DURING THE WEEK.
TRANSPORT COST: UBIKE RENTAL (BICYCLE) (FREE OR nt$5 £0.15 FOR THE FIRST 30 MINUTES THEN nt$10 - nt$40 £0.25 - £1 THEREAFTER) MRT (METRO)(AROUND nt$20 - nt$60 £0.50 - £1.50 PER JOURNEY) BUS (STARTS AROUND nt$15 £0.40) RAILWAY (STARTS AROUND nt$15 £0.40) TAXI (STARTS AT nt$70 £1.75) HIGH SPEED RAIL (TAIPEI - TAICHUNG nt$700 £17.50 TAIPEI - TAINAN nt$1300 £32)
TIP: PURCHASE AN EASYCARD WHILE THERE. THEY CAN BE USED FOR THE METRO (MRT), BUSES, BIKE RENTALS, TRAINS ANDD CONVENIENCE STORES. CAN RECEIVE SOME DISCOUNTS.
FOOD & ALCOHOL COST: FOOD COURT MEALS (START FROM AROUND nt$80 £2) CAFE (START FROM AROUND nt$100 £2.50) RESTAURANT (START FROM AROUND nt$200 £5) FAST FOOD (COMBO MEALS AROUND nt$100 £2.50) STREET FOOD (nt$30 - nt$300 £0.75 - £7.50) BUBBLE TEA (nt$30 - nt$60 £0.75 - £1.50) COFFEE (nt$25 - nt$150 £0.60 - £3.50) BEER (STARTS AT AROUND nt$60 £1.50)
VISA REQUIREMENTS: MANY COUNTRIES RECEIVE A 90 OR 30 DAY VISA EXEMPTION WHEN THEY ARRIVE CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS
ONWARD TRAVEL: RETURN TICKET IS NOT NECESSARY
The best thing to get while in Taipei is an EASYCARD (they can be purchased at the airport, MRT stations and convenience stores). The cards can be topped up and used for the metro (plus discounted prices), shops, Ubike rental, trains, buses and parking. I found it extremely useful while in the capital.
Ubikes (bicycle) are situated at all MRT stations and can be used by all. You need to register before rental.
For all train and bus journeys, I just turned up on the day and booked then and there - the staff are always extremely helpful. Taipei Main Station links to the MRT, Railway, High Speed and Airport lines.
BOOKING ACTIVITIES: JUST TURN UP IN PERSON OR BOOK ONLINE FOR ANY ACTIVITIES. MANY ATTRACTIONS WERE CLOSED ON MONDAYS.
BEST TIME TO GO: SPRING TIME - AROUND APRIL
SUMMERS ARE HOT, HUMID & WET - WINTERS ARE COLD-ISH WITH SNOW IN THE NORTH
I TRAVELLED THERE IN JANUARY AND ALTHOUGH IT WAS A LITTLE COOLER, MANY SIGHTS AND EXPERIENCES WERE LESS CROWDED SO I WOULD RETURN THAT TIME AGAIN!
DO'S & DON'TS:
ALWAYS: DRESS RESPECTIVELY INSIDE TEMPLES - REMOVE SHOES WHEN ENTERING SOMEONE'S HOME
NEVER: BRING SHAME ON A LOCAL OR EMBARRASS THEM IN PUBLIC (LOSE FACE) - MAKE JOKES OR COMMENTS ABOUT DEATH
POLITE PHRASES:NI HAO (HELLO) - XIE XIE (SYEH SYEH) (THANK YOU)
MEMORABLE TO ME
DON'T MISS: TAIPEI 101 - A THEMED RESTAURANT - SUN MOON LAKE - KENTING NATIONAL PARK - BUBBLE TEAS - EAST COAST NATIONAL SCENIC AREA
MY HIGHLIGHTS: TAIPEI ZOO - ELEPHANT MOUNTAIN - QIXINGTAN BEACH - SHIFEN FALLS
FAVOURITE FOOD: BEEF & TOMATO NOODLE SOUP - SWEET POTATO BALLS - SHAVED ICE WITH TAIWANESE FRUITS
BEST PHOTO OPPORTUNITIES: ELEPHANT MOUNTAIN - TAIPEI 101 & AROUND - SHIFEN - RAINBOW VILLAGE - XIMENDING (TAIPEI) - SUN MOON LAKE - EAST COAST NATIONAL SCENIC AREA
MY POSTS ABOUT TAIWAN
3 DAYS: TAIPEI
DAY 1: If it's a clear day, go to Taipei 101 and see the staggering tower up close. Head to the 5F for tickets to the Observatory Level for ultimate city views and learn how the building was built and how it withstands earthquakes and typhoon weather. Afterwards, eat local food in the fancy food court on the basement level then have a coffee outside and enjoy the buzz of the area. Later, check out some traditional culture by visiting some Chinese temples in the city. At night, go to a Night Market (Shilin, Raohe or Huaxi) for dinner and bubble teas.
DAY 2: Rent a Ubike and cycle around the city. Stop off at Chang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall and Liberty Square, Huashan 1914 Creative Park and the National Palace Museum. Have a take-away street food picnic lunch at Daan Forest Park or continue cycling all the way to Tamsui along the river. Late afternoon, head to Elephant Mountain to hike to the popular viewpoint for sunset. It's a satisfying trail and shows excellent city views including the stunning Taipei 101. At night go to Ximending and explore the vibrant, neon streets. Eat at the Modern Toilet Restaurant and catch a late movie.
DAY 3: Jump on the MRT and go to Taipei Zoo for the day! See the panda family that lives there and enjoy the green space. Jump on their shuttle bus service to the South Station where you can ride the cable car (Maokong Gondola) to Maokong. Visit a tea-house, the temples, enjoy the street food or go on a hiking trail. At night, have cocktails at a rooftop bar for the last of the city views.
1 WEEK: TAIPEI, THE NORTH & TAICHUNG
Follow the itinerary above for Taipei then spend a day using the Railway Line to explore the North. First, head to Ruifang Station where you can purchase a day ticket for the Pingxi Line. From there you can get a bus to Jiufen for the day and/or jump on the train to go to Houtong (Cat Village), Shifen (Shifen Waterfall & Lanterns) and Pingxi (Old Street and Lantern Festival).
Once you have spent time in and around Taipei. Take a bus or train to Taichung making sure to go the Night Market and Rainbow Village. Afterwards, jump on the bus and spend your remaining time at the mesmerising Sun Moon Lake.
Follow the two itineraries above then after you have spent time in Sun Moon Lake, head back to Taipei to catch a train for the East Coast. Enjoy Taroko National Park, Qingshui Cliffs, Qixingtan Beach and the East Coast National Scenic Area.