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April 26th 2009
Published: May 13th 2009
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Ten days in Taiwan

A rough outline of our route round Taiwan, mainly by train (some buses and taxis).

Had you asked me a month ago for my opinion of Taiwan, I would have said 'factories, made in Taiwan, and not sure what there is to see'...Now however, the answer would be full of enthusiasm and complimentary words!....I am a fan, and hopefully I can covey why. I spent my Easter holiday doing a round trip in ten days with my flat mate in Hong Kong, Amy.

Having arrived from a city (Hong Kong), we wanted to get straight out of Taipei, so we got on a train and headed south to Tainan on the West coast. It was a lovely town, and easy to get to on the bullet train in 1.5 hours. Most of the tourist spots were various temples, but it was interesting to walk around.

Next stop was down to the South of the island after a change of plans - it quickly became a 'plan by the hour kind of trip!'We had intended to take the cross island highway, but lack of buses, bad roads, and no international drivers license, we had to change route, so got a train to Kaoishung and a taxi to Kenting national park where we spent 2 nights. We went on a nice walk, saw some monkeys, sat on the beach, and hired a taxi for 4 hours at 2000 TWD to show us round the South coast - it isn't really walkable or cycle-able - car is the only way. We saw some beautiful spots, and got to the most Southern point. The coastline was stunning - well worth the trip. At night Kenting completely changes and becomes a market town with crowds flowing in both directions.

Next stop on from Kenting was a bus journey to Fangliao and a train to Taitung. In Fangliou we had a little time to kill so we had a drink in a street cafe, that was just the front of someone's house. The owners were friendly and offered us some local tea. Our broken English and Mandarin conversations were amusing. Taitung gave us another entertaining communication moment, whilst trying to hire a car...it got the point where they invited me round the counter, to look at the computer, on which they had typed what they wanted to say into an online translator, and I typed my reply - quite innovative I thought!

Not stopping for long in Taitung, a short train ride later and we were in Chihshang....a little unknown beauty. Off the train and into a fairly desolate small town, that felt slightly ghostly, and we asked where we could sleep through mime. We got sent down a street for '2 minutes'....ten minutes later, and we mimed to another local sitting on the street, and he pointed across the road, before getting up and showing us - front doors wide open, he walked through to the back and called someone. I loved being in such a trustworthy place with a community feel. A little old lady came out who could speak some English, and pronounced "my husband" beautifully and proudly, which I thought was sweet. We attempted to stay budget and sleep there the town, where she was based, but later realised we were probably asking to sleep in her house - it wasn't quite clear! We negotiated a price, and the husband drove us up to their actual hotel/house on the hill which was big and comfy for the night. We named them our Taiwanese grandparents for all their looking after....they drove us back into town to show us where we could cycle round the lake, and took us into a cafe to inform them that we would be needing some dinner later!

In Chihshang, a highlight was cycling through the rice paddies. Rice paddies meeting the mountains on the horizon, it was fantastic and incredibly green. A memorable scenic cycle! In the evening we bought some noodles from a lady in a quiet street and cycled up to our house for dinner. Up early and back on the bikes, we couldn't resist one last ride through the rice paddies to fix it in our memories forever, and ended it with a scenic breakfast by the lake - our favourite bubble tea, a spring onion pancake and some freshly sliced pineapple. They are definitely not used to tourists in Chihshang - it is not listed in our lonely planet guide, and even the police car shouted hello over the loud speaker!! Brilliant!

Another stop on the route back up North was Rueisui, for a dip in the hot springs that pop up all over Taiwan. They were a bit too hot for us, but supposedly beneficial, full or natural minerals.

Up the East coast there are 2 highways, the inland highway that runs

These traditional dumplings lured us into a local restaurant...but we couldn't order anything....so a lovely lady offered to help and we trusted her to order us what turned out to be a delicious dinner!
parallel to the train line, and the coastal highway. We were limited to the train, but from Rueisui, we took a taxi across to Jici volcanic beach on the coast, joining the other highway, and what a spectacular journey it was, up high looking across the mountain range.

Yet again, a stranger came to our rescue; the taxi driver took us to the campsite we had planned to stay at, but it happened to be deserted, so we asked him to take us somewhere else nearby to stay. He had to ask a local lady, and led us up a winding road. We came across a lovely country house/hotel, that had space for us, but being in the middle of nowhere we tried to ask if there was dinner or breakfast there - not even a 7-11 nearby to keep us going! Luckily it was a respectable establishment and there was dinner, but none the less, the taxi driver handed us a bag of fruit and snacks! What a legend.

Next step up the east coast was Taroko gorge, a stunning national park. Aside from the abundance of tour buses driving through, it was a fantastic and dramatic. We completed a 20km walk from Tienhsiang village where we were staying, to the start of the gorge and felt incredibly small being towered over by the rocks. There were some very impressive water falls as well, and some beautiful clear blue pools. On the second day at the gorge, we walked to a powerful waterfall with a suspension bridge over the top, which provided the perfect spot for a scenic breakfast.

After returning to Taipei from Taroko Gorge, we didn't have intentions of hanging around in the capital, so we ticked off a trip up the worlds tallest building with a trip up the 101, which is relatively expensive, and requires a non-cloudy day, but a must do really - the free audio guides provide some good information. Once we returned nearer to sea-level, we took a local train for about an hour to Rueifang, and a bus ride up to Jinguashi, a pretty park are on the hillside, which would have been beautiful had we not been in the clouds and rain! The gold mining museum and history behind it was interesting. Luckily the weather improved once we got a bus to the hillside town of Juifen, and wandered the small cobbled streets with food stalls and local stores. It was a lovely pretty town, with lots of tea houses and views across to the coast. An interesting snack we tried was a pancake with shavings of nut brittle, lilac ice cream, and optional coriander! Surprisingly tasty! It's funny - many Hong Kong locals continually talk about "snacks" in Taiwan - they certainly are popular, but there's a lot more to do than "snack"!

The last relaxing morning was spent at Danshui, the furthest train stop away and a lovely seaside area where we enjoyed another scenic breakfast and a stroll by the sea in the sunshine!

Overall, Taiwan has left a lasting positive, happy impression on me. It is cheap, the people were incredibly friendly, I practised my Mandarin, and saw some beautiful varied scenery. I definitely agree with the tourism tag line; "Taiwan touch your heart". I'd happily go back one day.

J x

Additional photos below
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Water CaltropsWater Caltrops
Water Caltrops

These were interesting snacks being sold on the side of the road -they look like bulls horns and have something like water chestnut inside.
Night marketNight market
Night market

The night markets are full of snacks

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