Living in Okinawa, Taiwan is a must. The flight is short, the country is beautiful and the food is delicious. Within two hours you are taken away from the slow island life and transported in the hustle of completely different country. Still, 7 days in Taiwan, or anywhere really, is never enough. There are things that I wish we could have fit in but when spring break is only a week long, you have to take what you can get and make the most of it. We enjoyed Taiwan and all it has to offer. We had 6.5 jam-packed days of trekking, eating and photographing with a half day for a hangover recovery!
Our flight landed at 9am. What a perfect time right?! You are able to leave the airport, get settled in and start exploring by noon. We headed to our car rental and immediately set out on oureast coast adventure. Our destination for the day was Hualien City. We allotted ourselves around 7 hours a day to reach our resting points. Each would take approximately 3 hours to drive straight through but we wanted to leave time for photos, eating and getting our feet wet (literally, it rained often) in Taiwan’s beautiful landscapes.
A little warning about driving in Taiwan: They are not part of the Geneva Convention. This means that technically an Internationals Driver’s License is not recognized, as the kind man in the Okinawa License Office told me. However, we talked to our car rental agency through email prior and as long as it had a Chinese translation they were not concerned. Please do the same so your whole plan isn’t squashed within an hour of your arrival! We used CarPlus and loved them.
There isn’t much in terms of major sites along this route, we did stop at a quiet temple with a mountain backdrop on one side and a huge factory on the other. Otherwise just be prepared to want to stop at every pull off and take in the beauty of it all.
Once in Hualien, enjoy the city. They have a great night market with food and carnival games, tasty restaurants and a few bars. Eat the spicy grilled corn and the pepper bun, called Hujiao bing.
We stayed at AirBnB’s for the most of this trip. For Hualien, I recommend 林(Forest) place. We stayed here for two nights. Loved the location and Forest was a perfect host.
We picked Hualien for many reasons but the main one was the proximity to the Taroko National Park. This is the top travel destination in Taiwan, besides Taipei and upon entering you know why. Just …WHOA. The whole gorge is about 11 miles long. Don’t do this trip thinking it will take you about a half day to do it. We spent from sunrise to sunset in this park and left still wanting more. Soaking in every detail we could. Pictures don’t do it justice, so you should totally go and check it out.
This park is huge, a day won’t cover everything so prepare a list of trails you want to hike and make sure they are open. 2 of the 3 trails we were interested in were closed! Check their website for details. That being said we hiked 2 of the 3 trails… hmm. Wade and I are more of the “ask for forgiveness type.” My mother can attest to this, with our elopement and all.
We gobbled up an amazing western diner-style breakfast at Country Mother’s heading out of Hualien before our long day. Make sure you eat well and bring snacks and water. There isn’t much inside the park, plus you may not get to it depending on the road conditions.
For dinner, we ate pork dumpling soup. We were on the hunt for soup dumplings but… language barriers. However, this soup was incredible and I craved it several times on the rest of our trip. I couldn’t tell you a name but in my map there is a pin.
Back in the car! This day was lots of fun, we finished driving most of the east coast and actually ran out of sunlight at the end of our trip. It rained of course but as a general rule, this is what happens in Taiwan, so just go with it. (Late summer, early fall is the best time to go) Our end destination was for Taitung City. To get there we decided to weave back and forth from Rt 9 to Rt 11.
After leaving Hualien we came across signs for a tourist spot, Lintienshan. Yea, we weren’t sure what that was either. Turns out it was an old logging village, founded during the Japanese occupation. We enjoyed walking around and it was free. Free is good.
Lunch was delicious at 我的咖啡廳 (My Cafe). They serve traditional Taiwanese/Chinese food.
Rt 9 is lined on either side with mountains and is actually the more traveled road of the two. It leads you through little villages and towns, where you will find gas stations and food. Rt. 11 has steep cliffs on one side, crystal colored water on the other. How does a person choose between the two!?! We didn’t and you don’t have to either. In fact, I insist you don’t because our favorite roads were the ones we took to get from one to the other.
Towards dusk, we came upon Shihtiping. Truthfully not too much to see here, especially being from New England. This major attraction had huge rocks with some crashing waves. I wasn’t impressed but hey, I was also getting POURED on so my mood may have been affected.
Instead of Shihtiping, I wish we had time to go to Liushidanshan. Apparently, it is a beautiful farm, that blooms orange day lilies from August to September. Great views of fields and mountain. :::sigh:::
We stayed at JJ’s place in Taitung city. Just a room with a bed, all we needed. The city was dirty and didn’t have much going on for tourist. We did arrive after sunset and left before sunrise, though, so we may have missed something. I would recommend staying in Donghe Township. It was cleaner, a little closer and had a really good vibe.
Annnnd we’re back in the car. This time will be our last day with it. The weather wasn’t crazy cooperative until today so we planned to make the most out of it. Our destination was Maolin county. I do wish we had an extra night here. There was still so much to see.
We continued our east coast drive down Rt 9. We crossed the island to drive down some of rt. 26 on the west coast and entered Kenting National Park. This area of the island is flatter and has more farm land. The fruit grown here is unique and delicious. Kenting National Park is also where you are actually able to swim. Taiwan does not allow many spots for swimming along the east coast. The tides are strong and just like the land, there are steep dropoffs within the ocean.
We ate a yummy bagel sandwich lunch at Here149 cafe, located not far from the park.
We visited a “temple”. I don’t know the name of this one either. When I translate the name is says “Urban and rural car system.” HA! Either way, the grounds were great to check out. The details inside were just as beautiful as the outside.
We started driving to Maolin County. A beautiful section of Taiwan with more great hiking trails, waterfalls and lots and lots and lots of butterflies. In the winter ( Nov – Mar) billions of purple butterflies can be found here.
For dinner, we hit up the night market in the next town over, Qishan. This was my favorite night market. I believe it is fairly new but we had some really tasty food here. Little fried donuts, fresh fruit juice (you can find this at most markets, I wish we didn’t wait so long to try it.), an ice cream peanut brittle cilantro filled crepe, the list goes on. It was great and worth the 10-minute drive from our room.
We stayed at Rabbit Paul BnB. Named after the owner’s rabbit, we loved this BnB. The surrounding area was rice paddies and you could hear a running stream from our window.
We left our room with a little extra time but mainly used the highway to get to Kaohsiung City. We dropped off our trusty car right at the train station and hopped the bullet train to head back to Taipei. The train took a little over 2 hours to get there; very convenient. From there we dropped our bags and headed straight for an expat bar!
From Maolin to Kaohsiung take about an hour on the highway. There are tolls on this road but you won’t have to stop and pay them. Each car has a sticker that gets charged and you pay after dropping the rental. Our total for the trip was NTD $102, which equals about $3 bucks American.
Expat bar : On Tap. Great food, great beer, too many shots. ? I love expat bars when traveling. Sure, local bars are fun and it’s great to get to know the locals, but talking to locals after a few drinks can be hard and even tiring. Sometimes it is nice to sit and talk to other English speakers about their experiences in travel and moving abroad. We let loose here and with a tinge of regret since we spent the next half of the day recovering. oops.
We stayed at Cyrille’s studio apartment for our time in Taipei. It was in the Da’an district which I highly recommend. A college area of the city with great restaurants, near some sights, including Taipei 101.
We nursed our hangovers in the morning then headed out mid-afternoon for some recovery food. We took it slow this day, given the circumstances but often Wade and I just wander city streets with no real goals. Maybe you shouldn’t do this in some parts of the world but I love South east Asia for this reason. I just always feel safe.
Beef Noodle and beef wrapped pancake at Pin Chaun Lan. Good stuff, perfect hangover food.
Taipei 101 was great. Even in the fog. It was nice up there for sure, but there is a “secret” starbucks on the 35th floor. Not the same as the 85th floor but in the fog, it might have given clearer views of the city for photos plus it’s free! Otherwise up on top there is a 360 view of the city and mountains.
I’m sure you have been wondering, “where are those soup dumplings?”. Well we went to the place everyone goes, Din Tai Fung. It’s good, worth the hype.
The rest of the night we roamed around the 101 area, Da’an district and watched the dancers practice at National Dr.Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.
This was my second favorite day in Taiwan. There are lots of things to do in Taipei and Wade and I are planning to go back to stay in the city for a long weekend but this week we wanted to do some hiking.
Seeing as we lost a solid morning yesterday we decided to wake up for sunrise and climb the tiger mountain Trail. What a great surprise right in the city. We took a cab since it was so early. The whole trail took about 40 minutes. Most travelers do the “Elephant trail” but we wanted something a little longer and a little quieter. The end of the trail will lead you to a bustling street market where you will find locals selling and purchasing their meat, veggies after getting their hair cut. ? ?
After a quick breakfast at a coffee shop, we headed to the zoo for the Gondola ride to Maoking. The ride takes about a half hour and raises you high above the city. We took the first ride of the day at 9am, which I recommend, we were able to roam the tea village in the quiet before the loads of tour buses.
We spent our few remaining hours sipping local tea and walking the trails in Maokong, before heading to the airport.
Whew, that was a lot. We had a great time in Taiwan, but I can’t lie, I was saddened many times on this trip because of the weather. I couldn’t do the country justice in my photos. Not only is the scenery amazing but the local people both Taiwanese and the aboriginals were so kind to us. We will be heading back for a long weekend before we say goodbye to Okinawa. It is hard not to go back with the flight so convenient and short.