After three weeks in Taiwan, I can confirm that I love it. I found even the simplest of activities thrilling here, so beware (as the title of this blog forewarns) my tips are as simple as can be!
Almost everyone we asked recommended a stay of only a week or so in Taiwan, but it looked so beautiful in the pictures that we had to stay longer. (Also, being unemployed and wanting to stay that way for just a little longer easily persuaded us into extending our trip…) It’s true that you can probably see all of the ‘main’ cities of Taiwan in about ten days, but we’d definitely recommend spending more time here. There’s plenty to do, see and eat for a much longer trip.
We visited Taipei, Taichung, Jiufen, Hualien and Taitung. For me personally, though, I wouldn’t say that any of these places are ‘must-see destinations’. (Bear with me here, I still have all good things to say…) I would say that the cities that we saw are not vastly different from each other and I’d suggest that rather than planning your trip by destination, plan by activities. Here were a few of our favourite things to do…
Eat, Eat and Eat Some More
Taiwan has some of my absolute favourite food in the world. It’s not particularly unique or unusual – mainly lots of noodles, rice and barbecued food – but, it all just tastes so blummin’ good!
TIP: If you’re a bit of a picky eater and you’ve been putting off visiting Asia because you’re not sure about the cuisine, Taiwan is a great place to start.
This snack doesn’t really look like a burger at all, so it’s worth asking someone to recommend you a good place to try it so that you don’t miss it. A Taiwanese burger is basically stewed meat in steamed bread, but every time I ordered one I got something slightly different (all of which were fantastic) so be open to something different!
As the inventors of this drink, the Taiwanese have got a pretty great choice of Bubble Tea. It seems to be a local staple, with every other person sipping one of these baby’s while they walk to work. There’s something for everyone as well: fruit teas, milky teas, chocolates teas, bubbles, no bubbles, grass jelly, coconut jelly, extra sugar, extra ice. There’s no excuse not to try one!
Mango Shaved Ice
1. Look for the mountain of orange sorbet. 2. Order. 3. Eat. 4. Repeat.
Visit the Night Markets
The night markets are such a great thing to do in the evenings. I think we went to a night market every other evening at the least! There’s great food, cool shops and plenty of people watching to do.
See the Temples
Honestly, I was starting to avoid temples by the time we reached Taiwan – I thought I’d seen them all! However, the temples here are very different to the rest of Southeast Asia, they’re extremely colourful and detailed. Depending on what time you go, as well, you can see locals coming to sing religious songs which is a great experience.
Take a Drive (Or A Cycle)
Taiwan has some amazing scenery, especially on the east coast. Hop off the bus for a day to take a drive and I promise you’ll see some amazing mountains, rivers and valleys. And, for those who also don’t like cycling uphill, you’ll find most trains allow bicycles onboard, so you can skip the tough bits. (There’s no shame in it either, everyone seemed to be doing this!)
Meet the People
Almost every blog I read about travel in Taiwan seems to mention how lovely the people can be. So, I suppose this will just sound like a broken record but… the Taiwanese people are great! We did encounter the odd bit of staring occasionally, as with lots of countries where you look a bit different, but in general we were made very welcome.
In a restaurant where there was no english menu, we had a waiter that was willing to translate the dishes for us with what little english he knew.
When I was sick, one of our hostel hosts found us a hospital and translated all the information we needed to share with the doctor into Mandarin.
When our motorbike broke down, another host fixed it with help from her neighbour.
And, when our motorbike broke down again, an old man passing by rang a mechanic who came to pick us up in a truck a few minutes later.
Hop on the Public Transport
I know, it doesn’t sound exciting, but it is! You can get around the whole country by bus and train in a matter of hours and for just a few quid. Most tickets can be booked on the day, though it’s best to do it in advance if you plan to travel by train on a weekend.
Tip: Buy an ‘I-Cash Card’ from 7 Eleven or Family Mart and top it up with credit to travel. It’s really easy to use and you can refund whatever you don’t use on the card at the end of your trip.
Take An Impromptu Trip to the Hospital
So, obviously this is not a ‘must-see’ place, but I couldn’t not mention my experience as it was so good. When I was under the weather, I went to a hospital in Taichung and I was so well looked after.
After a little wandering around with a confused look on our faces, we were passed between a few nurses until we eventually reached an English-speaking doctor. We were seen within twenty minutes and had all the necessary tests done. When we explained we wouldn’t be in the city to receive the results in person, a very kind nurse offered to give us the results over the phone. And, the whole thing (consultation, ultrasounds, x-ray, blood test and pills) costed only £75.
Note: My number one choice of healthcare in Southeast Asia – yup, I’ve got sick enough to have a favourite – is still Phyathai 2 Hospital in Bangkok, but if you’re in Taiwan and need a check-up, you’ll be equally well looked after.
There are actually a tonne of exciting activities to do here, like visiting islands and going surfing (but you’ll have to read a much more adventurous person’s blog for that kind of stuff.) As I said, everyday life is perfectly thrilling and beautiful in Taiwan.
So, in conclusion, go to Taiwan, eat everything, take as many forms of transport as possible, meet some nice people and feel free to get sick if you really want to. I think that about rounds things up…