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.

        6.12.16 Kenting to Tainan

        We checked out and crossed the road to the bus stop. A taxi driver shouted at us but we smiled and pointed to the bus stop. In the hotel behind it, we bought two tickets to go to Kaohsiung train station and the lady explained we needed to wait for 20 minutes and pointed to a sofa. Al waited and I popped to 7/11 for bananas. The taxi driver shouted at me again and I smiled and said we had bus tickets. Half way down breakfast the taxi driver appears in the hotel lobby and chats to the lady who sold us the bus tickets. ‘Kaohsiung, Kaohsiung’ he shouts at us. ‘No money, no money’. I point to the bus timetable and look to the lady for help. She seems to say its fine so we show him the tickets and watch as money crosses the counter between them. Bags in the boot we head off. He shouts at us ‘bus three hour, taxi two’ and we smile. We pass another hotel and he stops in the road and shouts. It occurs to us that he’s going to fill the cab. 10 mins later and with five of us in the car we leave Kenting. 

        As all taxi drivers do the world over, when the meter isn’t on, he drives at full speed. Tap, tap, tap on the accelerator as we constantly lurch forward, heads bobbing back and forth, stomachs reeling as if we have been punched. He undertakes trucks using the cycle lane, switches lanes in heavy traffic at high speed, answers calls on his two phones (shouting, obviously) and constantly fiddles with his dashboard.

        I find him fascinating. He constantly touches the back of his head, smoothing his hair. He has a good luck charm hanging from his rear view mirror which has a bell on it. Sometimes as we speed round a bend he grabs it so it doesn’t ring, sometimes he will ring it himself. He sits upright in the drivers seat but with the back lowered. His seatbelt is across his lap but the diagonal chest strap is behind him against his chair. His default communication method is shouting. He checks his mobile every few minutes. He seems frantic.

        Later, after a fellow passenger has got out and paid we stop at a big junction. The driver pulls out a massive bundle of banknotes and with a level of OCD that I can only aspire to, carefully irons out all the creases of the banknotes with his long fingernails and meticulously folds each note precisely in half before adding it to the bundle alongside notes of the same value, facing the same direction. The car is rolling forward the whole time,  slowly inching across the white line, encroaching into the junction. I’m relieved when the light changes and he floors it.

        We arrive exactly two hours after we left but have aged more than two hours. I’d rather have taken the bus.

        We buy train tickets to Tainan and a random sushi selection and board the old but spacious carriage. I love the old Taiwan trains as you have so much room between seats.

        The journey is only 50 mins which now seems hardly any time to settle in and enjoy the scenery. 

        Our hotel is across from the station, a big, fourteen floor, curved building which is past its heyday, but is clean and we have an ensuite!

        In the afternoon we complete a twelve temple walking tour with a cake stop. The temples here are located within residential areas and busy, giving them a vibrant feel. They are also old, with dark wood interiors, faded murals and aged statues. Tainan was founded by the Dutch and used to be the capital of Taiwan and the temples give a real feel of history to the city. We have already seen a few temples on this trip and are sad to say that recently we are uninterested in sights that would have fascinated us three months ago but we really enjoy visiting the temples this afternoon.

        Tainan is also renowned amongst Taiwanese for its food. For tea we go to a recommended restaurant which serves many of the local delicacies. We try oyster omelette, milk fish stomach, tao zi noodles, sweet potato leaves, steamed rice cake, meat dumplings and shrimp rolls washed down with white gourd tea. It is not spicy or herby but sweet and delicate food with great fresh ingredients. 

        Stuffed, we walk home but unfortunately pass a cupcake shop and as its three months since we left, celebrate with cupcakes and a Guinness brownie.

        5.12.16 Kenting

        We walked to Kenting National Park in hot, sunny weather. Even the cows were soaking up some rays.

        Then we went to the beach. There was just us and 5 surfers. About 3pm other people arrived and by sunset there was almost 30 people.

        We ate local Hakka cuisine in the evening.

        Then we had a beer and watched Anchorman 2. We laughed a lot. We’re loving seeing movies again.

        4.12.16 Kenting – Sunday at the Beach

        In two days it’s three months since we left. Alison likes hot weather and although I have freckles, feeling the heat of the sun on your skin is one of lifes simple pleasures. When we crossed Siberia we’d be liars to say thoughts of sunshine never came to us.

        Where sea and sand are warmed by the sun, happiness occurs.

        Today we go to the beach!

        The sand is smooth underfoot but the beach is steep so those glass like aquamarine blue waves have a dangerous undertow. Perfect for British paddling. It’s hot. Thirty degrees. Factor 30 required for those with pasty English skin.

        We assume salamander position and soak up the warmth. 

        Waves crash noisily against the beach. What a beautiful hypnotic sound.

        Wispy clouds cross the sky followed  by the sun’s ark.

        The peace is broken when a huge lizard jumps onto my leg. I cooly usher it off.

        Home for a shower then back for sunset, accompanied and enhanced by cold Taiwan beer.

        We step out of the hotel to the Night market outside for food. 

        Taiwanese sausage and chips.

        Meat pancake and spring onion pancake.

        Xiaolongbao. 

        A chat with a zebra.

        Finally, home for a movie in English. Keanu Reeves in John Wick.

        Spoiler Alert! – someone kills his dog, he kills everyone.

        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.