Taiwan, you have won our hearts.
We spent a total of 19 nights in Taiwan to kick-off our RTW trip! Our initial plan was to spend 4 nights in Taipei before heading around the country starting with the east coast and working our way clockwise around the island by train until we made it back to Taipei. We made it to Hualien, a city about 3 hours by train southeast of Taipei. We were supposed to spend 3 nights here before continuing our tour around the island. We stayed here for 4 nights and then decided our time was best spent in and around Taipei for the remainder of our time in Taiwan. We are not totally sure what made us decide to ditch our plan to see the whole country and head back to Taipei, but this is exactly what we did. We are a big fan of Taiwan and know we will be back one day to explore the rest of the country that we missed this time around. We do regret not seeing more of the country, but we are also happy that we took it slow and got to explore every inch of Taipei.
Taipei (15 nights), Hualien (4 nights), Keelung (day trip)
Things We Liked
FOOD, friendly people, street food, non-street food, night markets, cleanliness, bubble tea, Taipei 101, mango snowflake ice, ease of transportation, sense of safety, and a lack of tourists (it felt authentic and not just another stop on the “backpacker trail”).
Things We Disliked
Lack of public trash cans, no napkins at restaurants, stinky tofu, and unbearable humidity/heat (we knew it would be hot but we downplayed how oppressive it would really be). We also could have skipped the toilet themed restaurant, The Modern Toilet, and been completely content.
We will end up writing about all of our highlights in their own blog posts (we just have so much to say)!
1. Night Markets
The night markets of Taiwan are out of this world. In fact, they’re so incredible that there’s no way a few paragraphs in a ‘hightlights’ reel could ever hope to do them justice. Which is why a full post will be coming in the near future – fully dedicated to breaking down our night market experience, market by market, delectable street eat by street eat.
For now, know that Taiwan is home to dozens if not hundreds of night markets. Vendors wheel in booths, closing down entire blocks of the street. They serve everything from live seafood, to fried insects, to the stinkiest of tofus and these markets happen every night of the week, rain or shine, all throughout the cities. Locals and tourists alike stroll the streets, filling up on $2 portions of some of the strangest and most delicious foods imaginable.
There are very few experiences in life that compare to the beautiful chaos that is a Taiwanese night market. Whatever fears we had about clean kitchens or food safety standards before setting out on our journey were certainly concurred on the streets of Taiwan. These night markets are worth the trip to Taiwan alone and we will most definitely be back.
2. Muyumugi Gorge
Everyone goes to Hualien to go to Taroko Gorge, the biggest tourist draw in Taiwan. We were no exception. When asked what else there is to do in Hualien there was not much else people recommended. Scott’s Taiwan research led us to Muyumugi, just one bus ride and a few miles of walking later, to the best swimming hole I have ever seen. The water was crystal clear and it was the perfect relief for the oppressive heat and humidity. Scott wrote more on our on our time at Muyumugi in another post.
3. Food Courts
When someone recommended we try a food court in Taiwan we almost laughed. We both immediately thought of the mall food courts from back home with crappy food and Cinnabon on every corner. Fortunately for us, our food court experience in Taiwan was not like this. Their food courts had sections for just about every type of food (beef noodle section, Indian food, Japanese food…) and you could wander around for an hour before looking at all the menus. These food courts were impressively big and always packed. They are scattered around Taipei and we had the best and biggest one just 10 minutes from our apartment making it easy to get some good, cheap eats quick. Scott has more on this topic in another post!
1. Taroko Gorge Tour
We signed up for a tour of Taroko Gorge, one of the most popular places to see in Taiwan. Our hostel set us up on a tour and told us it would pick us up in our hostel lobby between 8:10-8:40 am the next morning. We woke up early and went down to the lobby around 8 or so…ready to go adventuring! As time went on we realized they might have forgotten to pick us up, but we had no idea who to call or how to get in touch with the tour operator. At about 9:15 am the hostel receptionists showed up and realized what had happened, called their boss (who knew English), and tried to figure out something for us. They offered us a half-day private tour for just a little more money than the full-day tour we were supposed to be on. At this point we were frustrated and felt as we were being cheated out of our full day of adventures so we declined. Instead we decided to stay an extra night in Hualien and try to take the full-day tour we had originally signed up for. We wish we had done the half-day tour and been done with it!
The next morning the tour guide did in fact pick us up. We were on a tour with 5 others and nobody knew English (including our guide). Our guide would tell the car a bunch of interesting facts (I assume the facts were interesting at least) for 20 minutes and then say to us “to the left there are mountains” before continuing on in Chinese with more facts. It left a little something to be desired. A lunch break was taken in the middle of the day to an expensive and really terrible buffet. We were done and ready to head home before lunchtime and could not believe we had another 5 hours to go! As mentioned in a previous post, we learned maybe all day tours are not our favorite thing. Exploring Taroko Gorge was amazing and beautiful, but we never seemed to escape the feeling of being prisoners on this tour.
2. National Palace Museum
With 700,000 pieces on exhibit some people call the National Palace Museum “The Louvre” of Asia. It is on every list as a must see place in Taiwan. We made the semi-long journey (a long metro ride and long walk) to the museum, paid our admission and were ready to see all of the things. Turns out that we just weren’t that interested (most of the explanations were in Chinese) and I got a migraine while at the museum. We were most excited about locating the “meat-shaped stone” which is a piece of jasper that has an uncanny resemblance to a piece of braised pork belly. We saw this work of art on Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover: Taipei and knew we had to find the prized piece. After walking through the entire museum and not finding it we did a quick google search before we learned that this piece is on a rare loan to the Asian Art Museum in San Fransisco. What a let down!
Total Number of Nights: 19
Languages: Chinese and Taiwanese
Currency: $1 USD = 31.34 New Taiwan Dollar (NTD)
Number of Miles Traveled: 9,392 miles (including our flights from the US)
Number of Miles Walked: 156.9 miles (average of 8.26 miles per day)
Steps Taken: 337,605 steps (average of about 17,769 per day)
Transportation Used: bus, train, plane, metro/subway, and 9-passenger van
Type of Accommodations: apartment (2) and hostel (1)
Number of Beds: 3
Number of Items Lost/Ruined: 2 (Scott left his fancy collapsible water bottle on the train and I ended up with a ripped skirt beyond repair)