Taiwan – why we fell in love

  • People are really, really friendly

Many times we have been looking at The Book and people have asked us if we are lost and helped us, or just chatted to us when we crossed the road and given us great advice. Our Taipei host, Fiona, made us so welcome, checked our itinerary each night and advised us what to do, how to get around, even gave us a lift to the port when we were leaving.

  • Coffee is cheap and tasty

Chains and non chains of coffee vendor are everywhere and they are all really affordable and blooming great! We have now gotten to be coffee snobs, with a penchant for mandheling coffee. Drip coffee and single origin is very popular and isn’t just a new thing, coffee shops have been around since the 1950’s. 

  • Tea is expensive but worth it

We saw tea being grown, then tasted it, learning how to make a proper brew it wasn’t as intricate as a Japanese tea ceremony, but we could taste the difference in the teas and styles. We are now tea snobs as well.

  • Taiwan is compact and bijoux with excellent infrastructure.

It is simple to travel around due to its size but also because of helpful signage and announcements in English, and stations having good maps of the local area. There is also the Ezy card,  which acts as an Oyster card,  being able to be used on all transport in Taipei, but you can also use it all over the country, brilliant and saves you money.

    • Excellent food

    Taiwan is reputed to have the best Japanese restaurants outside of Japan which is some compliment as the Japanese are so particular about their food. The seafood we had at Aquatic Addiction was some of the freshest we have seen outside of Japan, and that experience was one of the highlights of our trip so far. We have also eaten middle eastern food and Indian curries, and seen Mexican and Greek restaurants. Sadly no Georgian restaurants have opened yet. Also, night markets – see below

    • Night markets

    The reason we first got interested in Taiwan was for the night markets, and they are amazing. All so different, some just for walking and snacking, some with cafes, restaurants, all with an amazing variety of foods.

    • Environmental Diversity 

    Whatever you want to see you can get it within a short train or bus ride. We have experienced clear beaches, sulphurous thermal spas, volcanos, stunning mountains, blue lakes, with opportunities for hiking, cycling, or scootering! Just travelling around you see a lush, green landscape full of wildlife which is unique to this small and perfectly formed beautiful isle . 

    • Taiwan beer, mango beer and Best whisky 2015.

    These are just a few of the great alcoholic drinks we have had here, it is not a drinking culture, we rarely saw anyone drinking, but did manage to try enough beers and whisky to convince ourselves we liked it.

    • South and North Asia mix.

    There is the Asian living life on the street, but with an efficient infrastructure which makes this country a fabulous mix of cultures. It is cheaper to eat out than cook, so you see kids having food on their own which would seem strange at home, but is perfectly normal here. There are are street stalls everywhere, each having their own speciality, which we often don’t know due to the language barrier, but we have still enjoyed delicious food all over the country. 

    • Cultural diversity

    In a marked difference to other countries we have recently visited there is a refreshing vitality about the people, their fashion and sense of self. They all have individual style and are happy to be different to the next person having dyed hair, tattoos, and diverse fashion sense! There is also a refreshing sense of equality here, women are just as likely to be in positions of power in business and not just meant for the home (our views are from advertising and reading). It is also clear there is more sexual equality here, gay pride and gay rights are the most progressive in Asia and we saw gay couples being openly affectionate.

    • Train station food court

    At home a train station food shop is to be avoided at all costs, here it is somewhere to go on a Saturday night for dinner. The one at Taipei main station is the best we saw, it had sections for beef noodle soup, Taiwanese and curry. There were also many  Japanese restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops, with queues outside the popular places.  

    • Love of animals

    You see many strollers here and don’t know if they contain babies or pets. The Taiwanese love their pets, especially dogs who are often carried down the street as if they were little china ornaments.

    • Respect for elderly

    You are likely to see youngsters accompanying their grandparents on a stroll,  especially at the weekend. It’s the Asian respect for the older generation which we are finding more and more appealing.

    In the interests of balance (you know, like the BBC) the only criticism of Taiwan is there are not enough rubbish bins. That is it. Everything else is just peachy.

    So I think we can safely say that this is one of the best countries we have visited, and we are planning on visiting again.

        3.12.16 Hualien to Kenting

        In the free breakfast bun fight we threw together a fried egg and ham on top of grilled cheese on toast and felt quite Ready Steady Cook. 

        We got on our mini bus and did the usual trailing around hostels and hotels in town to pick up others, then we were on our way to Kenting. It is a national park in the southern tip of Taiwan, so sunshine should be guaranteed. 

        We had a few stops to make on the way so it wasn’t just driving all day in the minibus. There were a couple of Chinese blokes with us and a Canadian. The Canadian didn’t like Angkor Wat. Nuff said. 

        The scenery was stunning, the first stop was here. We are back to the mini bus on time. 

        Second stop was at Shitiping (I know, you couldn’t make this shit up!!!!) and the scenery was like this and were late back to the mini bus. 

        Third stop was the tropic of cancer and we were late back to the mini bus. 

        Fourth stop was here, it was some hump backed bridge. 

        Next stop was to see water flowing uphill, we weren’t late back to the bus. No explanation as to why the water was flowing uphill, you were just supposed to say Wow. 

        Lunch was next,  I thought I was ordering beef tendon noodle soup, I ordered cooked, sliced and dried beef tendon, it was soft and slightly chewy. Guy’s pork, veg and rice was ok. It is the closest to service station food we have come across.

        Next stop was a railway going into a tunnel, coz that never happens in this mountainous country! 

        But I did also have an amazing mango icecream so it was worth the visit. We were last back to the bus, again!By the time we got to Kenting we felt like proper Chinese tourists.

        The hostel is clean and lovely, even have towel swans in the room to greet us. 

        We need food and there is a night market outside our door so we wander up and down eating very unhealthy food, again. 

        A blurred photo of some white sausages we keep seeing, they are sticky rice sausages and tasteless. 

        French fries with ‘cheese’ sauce and ‘meat ‘ sauce,  not particularly Taiwanese but tasty.

        Potato and cauliflower cheese, yes that is broccoli,  we were so happy to see some broccoli!

        Fried chicken which has lemon juice on it, delicious. 

        Deep fried milk, this is sweet and delicious, would eat again!

        Finally sweetcorn which was hard and tasteless,  would not eat again.

        Back to room and we have a bunk each and a tv each! So we settle in to watch the English language movie channel!!!! I know!  We are so excited and settle down to watch Escape from LA (excellant sci fi with Kurt Russell’s tongue firmly in his cheek!) and Night before Xmas (made us a little sad, but was LOL at times). 

        Was ace to watch films again. 

        2.12.16 Hualien – Taroko Gorge

        …..we didn’t get a good nights sleep. Before I moan about it, I apologise to everyone I know who has kids and who is kept awake every night.

        The couple in the bunk below us arrive back at 11.30pm and shower and use the REALLY LOUD hairdryer and then go out again at midnight. They are back at 1.40 which wakes us and then have some fun time in each others company which keeps us awake. 

        Yes. In the bunk below us. They are presumably aware we are there as they said hello to us earlier. There is also another bloke in a single bunk in the room too. In case anyone is interested, they were quieter than the Shanghai couple.

        Their alarm goes off at 4.40am and is snoozed until it goes off again at 4.45am. Then one of them packs noisily and leaves.

        Our alarm goes at 7am and we dress and go for the free breakfast bun fight. Someone pops our bread out of the toaster before it’s done which angers me beyond reason but I suspect I’m tired.

        We catch the local bus with many other tourists to Taroko Gorge, the big draw here. There are many trails leading off the main valley and Al has chosen three to walk today. First is Shakadang trail a well marked route following a river which is a beautiful clear powder blue colour. We slowly overtake elderly Chinese tourists and marvel at the striated marble cliffs and boulders. 

        Its a lovely scene with the green vegetation on the mountains around us  and we are enjoying stretching our legs until a notice informs us the trail is closed due to typhoon damage.

        Back to the bus stop and up the valley to Yanzikou or Swallow gorge which is spectacular in its depth and scary in its height. Rock falls here kill tourists and all tour groups have hard hats on. We hug the cliff face and nervously look upwards.

        The final trail is Lushui, an old trail used by Japanese colonialists which winds through the forest. Signs warn us about wasps, bears and snakes but somehow we enjoy the trail.

        In the park toilets Al sees an enormous spider!

        For tea we cross the road and have some traditional Taiwanese food of pork with rice, sesame noodles, dumplings and green veg with pork. Its not the best looking restaurant but the food is fabulous.

         

        1.12.16 Taipei to Hualien

        Heavy rains on the corrugated iron roofs outside meant a bad nights sleep. The advent calendar we brought with us is at the bottom of my rucksack too.

        We are leaving Taipei and would be very sad about it if we didn’t know we were coming back. We buy train tickets for the slow train to Hualien which saves us £2.50 each but adds 1.5 hours onto our journey. Time is something we are rich in.

        The train is quiet with few passengers,  something we never saw in China. We stare at the wet, grey scenery and watch it become hilly, green, wet scenery. We crawl along the east coast where the rough sea is a deep blue flecked with white foam and lush mountains descend sharply. Beaches are strewn with washed up wood and unspoilt. Its a beautiful coastline and we are even treated to blue skies.

        After a bad exit to the wrong side of the tracks we find the hostel and dump bags. The hostel is very stylish, exposed concrete floors and wooden planks, retro distressed furniture and neon signs. We have a double bunk bed! Weird.

        Its a bad time to eat, between lunch and tea when restaurants are tidying up or preparing so we eat onigiri from 7/11.

        After doing our washing and booking the next few days its dark so we go to a nearby dumpling restaurant for fried curry and Korean spicy dumplings and corn chowder and swordfish and octopus soup. The dumplings are very good.

        We head back to the hostel, crash early and read looking forward to a good nights sleep…….