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Published: August 29th 2015
On my very first night of travelling I was in a hostel room in Poland, talking to a South Korean girl and a Taiwanese guy telling them what my world travels involved. When I mentioned that in Asia I would be going to both of their countries, the South Korean told me where to go to and what to see, however the Taiwanese guy looked at me and with a serious expression said that his country I should miss it out as it wasn’t that exciting and not much to do. 7 months later I’m on my last night in Taipei after a whistle stop tour of just over a week in Taiwan and to be honest I sort of agree with what he said, to a certain agree.
Whilst in Korea I had a message from Jane a girl that I had met earlier in Thailand a few months back saying that she was off to the Philippines and that I had to be there so we could have a catch up. The dates she gave me was cutting it fine and I was determined to see Taiwan and with the time available I would be in the country for 8 days only. Would that be enough time to see as much of Taiwan. Only one way to find out! Trouble started when I got to the airport and I was asked if I had proof of onward travel, which everyone needs to enter the country seemingly. Although I had heard that most countries want this from foreigners, Taiwan was the first to actually ask for it, but with a bit of bluffing and some sad eyes, the airline girl sort of felt sorry for me and let me sign a waiver form and I was on my way. Finding the host was quite easy and only because their subway is one of the smallest and straightforward I’ve seen in my travels which gives an indication of how big the capital Taipei is. In fact Taiwan isn’t that big as a whole and is about the size of southern England below London so not that big. Saying that its a busy old place as the hostel was in the downtown area and for a Wednesday afternoon it was packed with people! Hostel was an amazing place looking more like a hotel but a hell of a lot cheaper and was put on the 5th floor in a dorm but with no elevator. Lots of stairs to keep my fitness up, especially when leaving the place and you found you forgot something it was a long trail up. The first night I was shattered after still recovering from the alcohol induced states from Korea, so it was me time to chill, relax and watch a Chinese film with subtitles! The next day after a free breakfast I decided to hit the tourist trail and see what Taipei had to offer. I knew that I was going to be leaving the next day so had to fill the day up with as much as possible, so first on the list was the National Museum and if you are into Chinese Art through the ages, from pottery to strange piece of paper then this is the place for you! Not me though, especially as I found out later that the majority of exhibits were from the Forgotten City in Beijing that the Chinese had sent over to Taipei during the first half of the 20th century for safe keeping and they hadn’t really been given back. I’m sure someone in China would have realised by now. The front of the museum had even been built and designed in the shape of the Forbidden City entrance. So much for learning about Taiwan’s history, they are obviously more interested in their Chinese culture. From there it was a subway ride to elephant mountain where I had been told that I could get a perfect picture view of the city. 40 minutes uphill walking in the heat produced a very sweaty bloke but I made it to the top with a lot of stairs and the view was spectacular, with a clear sky and hardly any pollution. I actually spent most of my time up there talking to an English couple who had arrived just after me, who were amazed that there would be someone from their country at the same time. He was teaching English in Taipei and had only a few weeks left of his contract and was with his girlfriend who had come to join his to spend his remaining time with him until he left. He talked of his love for Taiwan and how amazing the country was with the people, countryside, cities and mountains. After the easier climb down from elephant mountain I walked along to Taipei 101 which is the second tallest building in the world. Obviously this is posted everywhere that it maybe only the second tallest but it still ha the highest restaurant in the a building in the world and the fastest lift as well. Basically saying its not the size that counts, its what it can do thats more important!! The building itself was impressive in size and loads of tourists outside taking pictures so I joined in, but to go to the top and see the sights was roughly £10 which was a little expensive and having already seen the views from Elephant mountain I was happy to just stand next to it
The heat from the day and the imposed detox for the week was another night in, but decided to look at finances and realised that I was actually doing okay for a change instead of my panic mode of working out savings I could chill, but thought that I should actually start using other methods of accommodation, especially if I was to be going to Australia where it was a little expensive. Couchsurfing is a website where people advertise their house for travellers to stay in for free. I had activated an account way back in Russia but had never used it yet and now was the time. I looked around the nearest cities and attempted several people but they all declined me as I had no references at all. One person did reply and accepted me to stay the following night. Derma was a Taiwanese wife and lived in Keelung, a small city north of Taipei and had a house on the outskirts. I travelled up by train and was met by her and she took me to her favourite cafe with her best friend. This is something that is normal on couch surfing where they try and find out if you are a mass murderer with strange tattoos before allowing them into their house. Derma and Angela her friend were absolutely nice people although Derma was a little quieter and shy but I think that I passed the test and after the meal was taken to her house, she explained that her husband was in Tokyo and that she would be moving over to be with him in the next couple of months, her home was in a state of being packed up but was still comfortable with 2 crazy adorable cats. She sat me down with a map of Keelung and roughly told me where to go and see and set me off on exploring mode. She did explain that she was to go to her parents in law that night and she would be back late so gave me a set of house keys and off I went. Keelung is not really that exciting to be honest, and I was only there for about 2 hours when I realised that I had seen most of the place so headed back to an empty house and chilled. Next morning Derma was awake early and took me for a typical Taiwan breakfast and gave me hints of where to head for next. She then took me to the train station dropping me off for my next destination. My first experience of couch surfing was not the best after I had heard stories of wild alcoholic times with hosts, mine was more of here’s a bed and hope you have a good sleep. Derma was talkative but only when you prompted her with questions, Im not sure if it was to do with shyness or lack of things in common. Don’t get me wrong she was a really nice person and tried her best to give suggestions of what to do in Taiwan and explained a lot about the country so I’m grateful for her allowing me to stay in her home.
On the suggestion of Derma I headed to the second biggest city of Taiwan, Kaohsiung. Even now I’ve just had to get a map out to remind myself of what the place was called. If the subway in Taipei was simple then this city was even easier, with only 2 lines of metro for the whole place. How easy was it to get lost at all? I got to the hostel and was given the lowdown of the accommodation and straight away went out to the common area to find out who was around. There was a crazy dutch guy who had been travelling for a year which for a 20 year old was impressive. It was already late afternoon and being a traveller suggested that we get beers in and so that was the end of my 4 day detox. The common area soon filled up as they could hear 2 drunk europeans having fun and I must admit it was a really good night without even venturing outside the hostel. Next day with a muffled head, another English guy, Andy suggested that we should go out and see if there was anything out there in the city worth seeing so we went on a 2 hour walk round the harbour area which consisted of building sites, with a german girl joining us. To say that there it was not the most exciting of cities is an understatement but still we got fresh air in our lungs and walked out the alcohol from the night before. Another night of alcohol was in order as told to us by the dutch guy but the evening was a bit quieter then the previous night and a hell of a lot earlier finish.
Next day Andy had said he was off to Tainan so I decided to follow him as time was getting short in the country before I would have to leave. So heading on a cheap train, we arrived in the old capital and set up in the hostel that we found randomly. We then decided that it was feeding time after dropping our bags off and set off to find a decent restaurant/cafe with Andy taking the map and me following, which we found after half an hour of walking. It was a few streets of cafes and the smells and the amount of people suggested that it was a popular area. Sitting in one of the busiest ones we found ourselves talking to a 10 year old boy and his sister who wanted to speak English and by god he could speak English really well, even translating for his mother who explained that her son took extra lessons in English on an evening and it showed. He was a bit too inquisitive and wanting to add us on his Facebook which me and Andy both declined. Not long after this the heavens decided to open up and down came the rain, which happened not long after we got back to the hostel. So an evening catching up with emails which was spent with no alcohol this time and an early night. The next day I woke up early and I met up with a guy that I had talked to online from the previous night and he wanted to show me round his city which I accepted. Cole turned up on his scooter and he was on holiday in his home city from Perth University in Australia. His english was perfect and was the ideal host. He knew where to take me and told me the history of places and for the first time since arriving in Taiwan I was actually interested in the country.Obviously being the old capital it had a lot of things to look at Cole also took me to his favourite places as well. I guess a local guide instead of relying on trip advisor does make a city better to discover and I was tempted to stay in Tainan another night but after discovering that my laptop had been left in the hostel in Taiwan I was keen on getting to another city before heading back to the main capital and so that afternoon met up with Andy who was heading to Taiwan anyway, which I should have done anyways instead of going to my next place which was Taichung. A smaller city with no subway at all, I arrived at the station to a tourist information site asking for the nearest hostel and spent the night in a all Chinese hostel. One of the quietest nights I’ve had in a while with no one speaking English, at least I managed to catch up with parents on FaceTime so all was good. I did get out to do a bit of exploring and there was not a lot to see, with the nearest interesting point that I would have gone to about 15 km away. Not a lot say say about Taichung except that it had a decent 7/11 nearby the hostel! Back on the train the next day to head back to Taiwan and the same hostel to have one more night and get reunited with my laptop. On arrival I was minutes away from a night market tour which I joined onto with the host from the hostel explaining that it was not a tourist night market but more for the locals and full Taiwan food stalls. The different types of food was explained to us as a group and I was brave enough to try several before I was full and realised that I hadn’t spent much money but before wee knew it the tour was over and we all headed back to the hostel. Although it was my last night I wasn’t really in the mood for one last blast of sightseeing or a heavy night. So an early night with the next day just chilling before heading off for my flight to the Philippines and to see Jane.
Overall impressions of Taiwan is probably the same as the guy explain on the first night in Poland. Taiwan is a major power in Asia however for the size of it there’s not really a lot to see or do. It’s totally tourist friendly with signs everywhere and a transport system that is easy to follow and Andy probably described it best by saying….. “It’s a bit bland”. The highlight was definitely Tainan but that was due to having a local to explain and show me around. For me it was another country that I had visited and with a lot more to go, it was time to head off…..
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