Taiwan Round Trip

Why did I choose Taiwan as one of my holiday destinations and why it is worth going there? Because of two Couchsurfing girls that talked about it in such an awe and amazement that I decided I will check myself if they are right. Both were Taiwanese what explains why they wanted to promote their country. I wanted to see if Taiwan, as for me a separate country, is really worth seeing and I would cancel the rest of my trip and stay there for a month, as some people do according to the girls. Well…it is a nice place to visit, but I did not cancel my holiday plans and stayed longer there. Overall I spent 8 in Taiwan during which I managed to do a round trip. The island is about 400km long, what is not really that much.

I started with Taipei, the capital. When I landed the 1st thing for me to do was to get a SIM card and then the transportation one. EasyCard used for the local transport is an amazing invention. You just charge it and then use for subway or buses, not only in Taipei, but also in other cities. Another one I visited was Taizhong, and the card worked there too! At the airport I was also waiting for my friend to arrive, so I had about 4 hours  to figure everything out. Getting a SIM card is a peace of cake 🙂 I am lost without google maps and addicted to Internet, so I need such a card immediately 🙂

The first day in a new place is always kind of getting to know it, so I cannot say I did a lot of sightseeing back then. However the 2nd day was more intense. I was supposed to meet the couchsurfing people who accepted me for 2 nights, only at 9pm. That means I had the whole day of wandering around the city. I left my luggage in a locker at a central station, what was not difficult to use and find a free one. Then I started to walk around the city. When I travel I prefer to walk a lot than use subway, as in such a way I see much more. When you are underground you cannot admire the landscape. Taipei as a capital is well-developed and you can easily move around within it once you get to know how the transportation works. What I mostly love about Asian countries, is that there are so many parks surrounded by the skyscrapers, that it creates an amazing view for me! I just love sitting down on a bench in a park and admire the view around.

That was the 1st sightseeing day around the central station area, Peace Memorial Park, The Chang Kai-Sheka mausoleum, DaAn Park, Taipei 101 building and Tamsui district – north Taipei – a place full of street food, situated by the river with calm and relaxed atmosphere. You can feel you are a bit outside of the city, that is quite busy when you are in the center, as most of the cities are. That day I did 18 km by foot. At 9 pm I met the couchsurfing couple that was supposed to host me and the evening I spent with them was about exchanging life experiences. Like most of people who do couchsurfing, there are interesting human beings and very international as I was hosted by a Serbian guy and his Taiwanese girlfriend. As the guy is European, between me and him there were not a lot of differences. He’s working in Taipei as a programmer and speaks Chinese! That is great! I have never met a European (till that day) that learnt and uses on daily basics Chinese or any other Asian language. Just the thought of learining all of these symbols makes my head spin 😉  In my opinion most of young people now work in IT, and in his case it’s incredible he came all the way from Europe to study Chinese a few years ago, then met his girlfriend and now he is living and working in Taiwan. The only thing he was complaining about was the traffic jam. During the peak hours, in many European cities, especially capitals, you also get it, so not a big deal for me. The evening with them was an interesting one, and exactly what I expect from couchsurfing, as for me this whole concept is not only about free accommodation, but a way to get to know new people with whom I can share my life experience&observations and in return they share theirs. The flat they were living in was quite old with a very interesting architecture, I would say built around  1950s or 1960s.  That’s also another advantage of couchsurfing, as instead of staying in a hotel, I am able to see how normal people live and work in a different country. It’s so great they are willing to share a bit of their life with you and I am grateful I was able to see  Taipei through locals 🙂

The next day, that would be my third day in the capital, I went to Yangmingshan National Park. It is situated a bit north from Taipei, but it only takes just a subway and a bus to get there. Unfortunately it was raining that day, so it ruined my trip a bit. What I noticed about the rain in Taiwan is that when it happens it’s just unpleasant. It was April,  quite  warm, so I cannot say I was terribly cold, couldn’t see anything during my trip and was looking for a place to hide. I knew that probably next time I will not come back to Taiwan that quickly, so I wanted to make the most of it. F*** the rain! 🙂 I said to myself that even though it is raining, I am still sightseeing the park. I went inside, walked around and I did not allow any of the bad weather to ruin my holiday! I had an umbrella anyway 🙂 Yangmingshan National Park is a nice place to visit, and I would call it just a green park that you can relax in from a big city life. There were some waterfalls, lots of amazing paths to walk by and many green areas surrounding it. Morover everything was so beautiful because of the spring season! The rain made its nature even greener than it usually is. I spent there just a few hours as unfortunately it did not stop raining after 10 minutes :/ Yeah, wishful thinking… Waiting for the rain to finish wasn’t a good idea, so I just took a bus down to the city center, where to my surprise, it wasn’t raining. The rest of the day I spent wandering around different Taipei districts.

In the evening I went to see Taipei 101, very popular and one of the highest buildings. The tower is about 500m and when you look at it, it makes an impression of being created from boxes that are put one on another. An amazing building with an impressive view, especially during the evening when it gets dark and you can see how the city looks like with all of its lights on. That day was a bit cloudy, so I could even observe the clouds going through the building. I mean they were literally passing through the building, what also made an incredible impression!

My next stop was Hualien, just about 200 km from Taipei and I chose the city because it was close to another National Park I wanted to see. I managed to find couchsurfing there too, a guy that could host me for two nights. This time the person was a  Taiwanese student, and it was a new experience for me to sleep on a floor, on a mattress that was incredibly thin. Anyway I have to admit finding people who would host me there was very easy and very quick. Was it because I am European? I never really asked hosts why they accepted me. So the next day I woke up very early, because I wanted to get the first bus that goes from Hualien to the national park. It was at seven in the morning. To do so I left the flat around 6 a.m. This is called travelling and not wasting a single minute! 🙂

The bus that goes into the Taroko National Park is very convenient, because it has several stops there and you only need a daily ticket to move within the park. It goes around every hour, what seems to be not that often, but when you are sightseeing all these touristic spots in the park, you find it easy to catch the bus back or to another spot. The only thing that happened during that day was that the bus stopped in the middle of the park. There were some works being done on the rocks. It may happen that not everything goes smoothly when you travel. Sometimes you may get stuck in a place for some time. I knew it was only for my safety, so I didn’t get angry because I’m aware that in such places security and protecting tourists is the most important things. I prefer to be stuck in the bus for about 30 minutes before it moves further, than having a rock fall on my head later on. I am a patient tourist wanting to enjoy my holiday and not rushing anywhere. 🙂 I had the whole day to spend there, and a bit of inconvenience was not a big problem. Unfortunetly I could not say the same about my companion. Anyway the views I had later on made everything up! 🙂

After Hualian, where in the city itself there was not much to see, I went to Kenting. A city totally south. Before writing about Kenting a few more words about Hualien. The city is a good spot if you want to visit the Taroko National Park, and it has a big adventage as the locker is just next to the train station where you can leave your bag for almost the whole day. It does not cost a lot of money, I don’t even remember how much that was, but I remember it was open till 10 PM. So if you arrive in the morning, you can leave the bag there and go sightseeing. I do recommend the park, but as for the city itself it only has to offer an ocean coast. Anyway wandering around is still a good idea.

Kenting now, where there is another National Park, to be more specific – Kenting  National Park. 🙂 I wasn’t even aware that I booked a hotel just next to its entrance. The idea occured to be great, as I am a person that loves walking around and admiring nature. In there I had a national park just around the corner. The hotel was 4 km up the hill from the city centre, however its owners were so kind that they would drive me down whenever I wanted to and pick me up when I wanted to come back. When you spend two nights in one place it means you have one full day for sightseeing.  Mine started from the Kenting National Park, that had to offer lots of lovely landscapes. Some of its spots looked like jungles! Later on, in the afternoon, I went down to the city centre, as it was only 4 km away. I love walking, so I decided not to use the owners to drive me down, but I my own legs. Kenting city centre has several beaches. The weather that day was really nice, sunny, quite hot and there were not a lot of people by the beach, because it still was not a holiday season. I relaxed there, had some lunch and then went back to the beach to watch the sunset. Later on, when the evening started, I walked the main road, admired the night market, street food, and the area full of people where I still felt incredibly safe. In my opinion Kenting is a kind of a holiday spot for Taiwanese. To get there from Hualien wasn’t very easy, because first of all I had to take a train and then change it into a bus in Fangliao. I thought it would take me at least eight hours to get there. It occurred I managed to do so in six, so I cannot say that moving from one place to another in Taiwan takes very long time. For me it was bearable. In my opinion you can easily move from one city to another within this country.

So after spending two nights in Kenting  I took a train north and got into Taichung. My last stop on my Taiwan trip to-see list with another couchsurfing experience. The host was incredible. Even though I was only one night in the city, as the next one I was taking a flight to the Philippines, he spent the whole day with me. And it was on a Monday! I arrived on a Sunday evening and completely did not expect my host to take a day off in order to hang around in the city with me. However he did. 🙂 In that case I did not have to put much effort into checking what to see in Taichung, because I already had a guide and this guide took me to a lovely and colourful village, and later on to the Gaomei Wetlands that I just loved from the beginning and they made a huge impression on me. There, for the first time, I saw so many crabs! What was also amazing was the fact that you could take a walk in the wetlands. Next to all these crabs, if you wanted to. It is a pity I did not manage to see the sunset there :/ Maybe next time? My host also took me to a place where you could eat really good and cheap. That is why, if you see a city through a local’s eyes, you get to know much more about it. And you experience tasty food 🙂

And that was it. The same night I was taking a flight to the Philippines.

My overall impression about Taiwan is that it is very easy to move around there. The lockers are everywhere, so you can store your bag whatever you need to and just go sightseeing. I found them usually in subways and train stations. The biggest problem I had was finding bins in the cities, so the garbage I was usually keeping with me, in my small backpack. I did not want to throw it on a street as some Taiwanese do. Then I was either asking people in the shops to throw it away or taking it to the hotels/hosts. I found some trash bins at the stations, but cannot say that was enough. I am used to having bins every corner. Thank you Europe 🙂

Another thing I noticed was that buildings are very dirty.  I would say they were built around 1950s, but looks like nobody ever renovated them and nobody cares. The dirt for sure comes from the dust or pollution around, but when it comes to the air I can’t say that you found it difficult to breathe in Taiwan or that cities are so polluted you have to wear a special mask. I didn’t observe anything like that.

What is very important, or even the most important to me, is that I felt incredibly safe. People were so helpful and kind, even though their English is not that good, that I could stay there. 🙂 It is amazing how well-developed the country is. I liked it very much, especially the EasyCard that you use not only in Taipei, but also in other cities. Such a card is centralised, and you do not need to figure out how to buy bus tickets or subway ones again in another city, as the card you already have works there. I really would like to have such an option within the country I live in. Who knows, now there is Schengen area that I just love, so maybe one day there will be Schengen transportation card? 🙂 I would love the idea 😀 I support all inventions that make people’s life easier!

When it comes to some surprises or something that could ruin my trip I wouldn’t say there was a lot. I could only mention the rain in the Yangmingshan National Park, what was a bit annoying, but I have no influence over the weather, and one day of rain really isn’t something that will make me feel sad or angry. Second thing that happened to me was a lady who gave wrong information. I know she didn’t do it on purpose. It was when I was going from Hualien to Kenting. She sold me two train tickets and said to change the train. What was interesting and funny about the second train ticket, was that the train number was the same on both. Time for a change was only about three minutes. Anyway I got off at the station she told me to, came up to conductor to figure out the second ticket and ask about the second part of my trip. To my surprise he said that the train I was supposed to take just left. I quickly realized I should have never left the train from the beginning of my trip. My lesson to be learnt – to listen more to myself and instead of guessing just ask over and over again till I get rid of all of my doubts. What was good in this situation, was that I did not have to buy another train ticket for the next train going to my destination. Conductor allowed me to take the next train using the ticket I already had. In Europe they would tell you to buy a new one :/  And the second good thing was that the next train was within one hour. That means I did not have to wait long to reach my destination. It could have been bad, there could be only one train a day going to the place I wanted to go! And that’s all I could mention that did not go according to my plan. So really, nothing 🙂

Is the country expensive? That is a question very often asked by the travellers. For me it was not. Out of 8 nights I spent in Taiwan, 5 were couchsurfing, what means not paying for accommodation and in the same making my trip less expensive. Hotels cost me around 20 euros per night (breakfast included). When it comes to food, I would say for 10 euros you can eat a good dinner or lunch. When it comes to transportation, trains that I was taking to move from one city to another were about 10 to 15 euros for a distance of 200-300 km. Subway in Taipei and busses in Taichung depend on a distance you make. In Taichung if you move around within 10km it is even free!

So looking at how much time I spent there and what did not go according to my plan, I need to say everything went really smoothly in Taiwan. Is it easy to use its transportation, easy to get to information if you don’t allow any misunderstandings to happen, 😉 easy to find yourself when you’re lost, and very easy to do a round trip around Taiwan within 8 days. In my opinion everything is easy there, as their EasyCard is 🙂

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