Traveling in Taiwan
Updated: Dec 12, 2019
Taiwan is sometimes overlooked as a holiday destination. Yet it's an island full of adventure, brimming with mouth watering food, beautiful landscapes and cities that capture the heart. In every corner you'll discover cultural treasures and meet locals who treat you like family.
Food, glorious food, now this is where Taiwan sells itself. If you haven't heard already, Taiwan is famous for its nights markets. Imagine a street in the big city, lit up with arcade machines and imagine a concourse of voices beckoning you to come "have a taste" as smiling vendors wave you over to try their local delicacy. Now book your flight and this is where you'll find yourself. The line of vendors stretches far beyond where the eye can see and all of this comes at a fraction of the price it's deserving of. Worthy mentions are steamed buns that warm your heart, refreshing ice cream with crushed peanuts in a wrap and stinky tofu (you'll smell it before you see it). I definitely recommend trying stinky tofu, it's an experience you won't forget.
If you're a fan of Tapioca then Taichung is the place to go. The city on the west side of Taiwan is easily accessible by bullet train and this city is famous as the birthplace of Tapioca. Although many stores lay claim to where exactly it started, one store in particular is most widely recognised as the original store, Chun Shui Tang. But be warned the wait to get a seat is long so you might be better getting the drink to go.
Taipei is the capital of Taiwan and it's where I stayed for the duration of my trip. Taiwan is a small island with excellent bullet train connections so travelling across the entire island can be done in just a few hours. If you decide to visit or stay in Taipei here are my top recommended spots for you. Visit elephant mountain, where you can hike up a small trail to appreciate the iconic cityscape of Taipei. Visit the National Palace museum, to immerse yourself in Taiwan's history and lay your eyes upon national treasures. Spend a day exploring Ximending where you can find all of your souvenirs. Nearby Ximending you'll also find an ice cream shop called Snow King Ice cream where you can try Kaoliang ice cream, a Taiwanese speciality, the owner will make you pay upfront as she'll tell you you'll be too intoxicated to pay after! Safe to say, I couldn't stomach the whole thing but it was worth the experience. Furthermore Taipei 101, although I do recommend this gigantic building as it's 101 floors high, I did not go here as all my days in Taipei were cloudy. These things aside, Taipei has so many unique restaurants and it's a relatively small city making it easy to explore, so even if you don't choose to stay in Taipei, it's worth a trip to.
Jiufen is just a day trip away from Taipei and this was perhaps my favourite destination in all of Taiwan. Adorned with red lanterns and little shops that stretch up the Old Street, it creates an atmosphere that feels like you've been sent back in time. It's no wonder this treasure inspired Miyasaki's "Spirited Away". Looking back at the history of Jiufen we see that it has a strong Japanese influence as it was one of the first places the Japanese took over for the short period of time they ruled. This makes Jiufen a truly unique place as it feels as if the cultures have woven together. You feel this especially in the midst of the town where you'll find a tea house called A-mei. Here, they serve rather expensive tea with a side of Japanese sweets, but the ocean view and the chance to escape the hustle and bustle, makes it worth every penny. Along Old Street there are many vendors, you'll be spoilt for choice when it comes to food. I especially enjoyed the vegetarian vietnamese red "meat" balls. You'll also be sure to find the perfect gift in one of the many stores. But be sure you stay until nightfall as the street is especially beautiful when the lanterns are all lit up.
Taiwan is one of the places in the world where you can experience a mud bath. The region famous for an authentic mud bath is tucked away to the south west of the island in a place called Guanziling. It is a little tricky to get to from Taipei but well worth the effort. First hop aboard the bullet train to Chiayi, from the bullet train station you'll need to get to the main city, show your train pass to the bus driver (bus number 7211 or 7212) and you can board the bus for free. From the city centre, near Chiayi station, you can walk to a bus stop to then take a bus to Guanziling, this bus stop was not so easy to find and isn't marked on Google Maps (so here is a link). With the mention of Google Maps, in Taiwan the times for travel are often incorrect, from Chiayi to Guanziling it says it takes 3 hours but it is more like 1 hour. I often resorted to blogs for advice on how to travel around Taiwan as Google Maps could be rather unreliable. Nevertheless it's a long trip, so I recommend booking accommodation in Guanziling. But the spa is worth the journey, we went to Toong Mao Spa Resort, where we could bathe outdoors (in swimsuits) in muddy water, and even bathe in green tea and have little doctor fish nibble our feet clean. Plus the views were breathtaking.
Although I really enjoyed Taiwan, looking back I think I chose a bad time to visit. I went near the end of August, prime typhoon season and with our luck it rained almost everyday and a category 5 typhoon struck in the middle of our trip. The typhoon season for Taiwan stretches from June to October so I would avoid the island between these times. The best time to visit Taiwan is in winter or spring when the weather is much milder and more comfortable.
Overall, I definitely recommend adding Taiwan to your list of places you need to visit. Despite all the amazing adventures we had there, the thing I loved the most about Taiwan were the local people, they were just so friendly. Our taxi driver gave us a handful of recommendations especially when the typhoon was coming and one lovely woman gave us soup when our bus was delayed. But one thing you mustn't forget when you visit, you cannot leave without trying the famous pineapple cake!