Taiwan is known for many things. It was the first ‘China’ to hold a seat at the UN (1945-1971) and it has some of the best hiking in the world. You’ve also probably heard about its amazing street food and booming electronics industries. But mostly, it’s just a really cheap, cool place full of friendly and helpful people. I’ve visited many times. Here’s a little flashback to just one of the times I went travelling in Taiwan.
A little Bit Of Background
Just to set the scene, in 2013 my father had been diagnosed with cancer and didn’t know how long he had, so he decided to travel to some new countries with me, against his doctor’s orders. Both my father and I wanted to go to Vietnam, but the doctor, who was eventually swayed on the ‘no travel’ order, advised that Vietnam was a no-no.
East Asia For The Win
We had to go to places with the medical equipment and know-how to deal with any issues that may arise. That meant about half of South East Asia was a no-go. East Asia was looking pretty good though.
Making a Plan For Travelling in Taiwan and Japan
I had been trying, unsuccessfully, for weeks to convince my dad that we should go to Japan. No matter how much I sang the praises of the country and it’s people, dad just was not as enthusiastic about it as I was. That was until I found an awesome deal in internet land.
Grabbing a Deal for Travelling in Taiwan and Japan
The deal included return flights from my home in Hong Kong, to Taipei in Taiwan, then a cruise from Taipei to Okinawa in Japan and back. Dad had never been on a cruise, so he was sold on that idea.
This was not my first time travelling in Taiwan, so I already knew how much of a wonderful place it was. Dad was also impressed. As he had stayed with me previously in China, he was using this as his basis for comparison. He noted that people seemed to be much more friendly and helpful in Taiwan than China. We had been stopped no less than two times when taking transport and asked if we needed help getting anywhere. Something that had definitely never happened to me in years of living in China.
Getting Ready For a Scenic Cruise to OkinawaWhen Travelling in Taiwan
As we had arrived in the afternoon and our cruise was due to depart the next morning, we decided to stay in Taipei New City 新北市, which was closer to the Keelung Port than Taipei. One thing I had noticed on previous visits to Taipei, was that everything gets eerily quiet around 10pm.
Silent Streets When Travelling in Taiwan
No cars on the roads, no pedestrians on the footpaths. All that’s left open after that time are copious amounts of Family Mart and 7eleven convenience stores. This was amplified in Taipei New City, effectively making it a ghost town after 9pm. That was fine as we hadn’t planned on doing anything but having dinner and relaxing anyway.
The next morning, dad wanted to get to the port as early as possible as our boarding information said that we should be there two hours beforehand. We ended up sitting around in the small terminal building for a very long time before boarding.
You can find out all about the cruise in my next post, A Scenic Cruise to Okinawa.
Returning to Taipei for More Travelling in Taiwan
We returned to Keelung after the 4 days on the cruise. This time we had decided to stay closer to the Taipei city centre as there were some things that we wanted to see there. The first of them being Taipei 101. If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s the tallest building in Taiwan and the tenth tallest in the world.
Travelling in Taiwan – Taipei 101
I had already visited the Taipei 101 building on a previous visit to Taipei but my dad was eager to visit, so off we went. On the way, we came across some interesting sculptures and signs on the footpath.
As far as buildings go, Taipei 101 is quite an interesting one. When it was completed in 2004, it was the world’s tallest building. It held that title until the Burj Khalifa came along in 2010. As Taipei is in both an earthquake and typhoon (cyclone) zone, it was made to be strong, yet flexible.
That means there’s a huge damper in the middle of the building on the 89th floor that’s designed to absorb strong winds. It’s actually the largest wind damper in the world!
Another cool thing about Taipei 101 is its lift, which takes you from the 5th to the 89th floor in 37 seconds. It was the fastest lift in the world for a little while. Let’s say there was some ear-popping going on during the ascent. I guess that’s why they dimmed the lights and made the ceiling of the lift look like the night sky.
As it is one of the very few high rise buildings in the city, Taipei 101 is quite noticeable from almost anywhere in the city. That means you can see most of the city from the observation deck on the 89th floor. Unfortunately, you have no control over haze level during your visit.
I do think that it looks better at night though.
Travelling in Taiwan – Maokong Gondola 貓空纜車
Not far from the city centre in the Wenshan District is a cable car called the Maokong Gondola. I believe ‘mao kong’ translates directly as ‘sky cat’. I wondered if the fact that the gondola line starts at the Taipei Zoo had anything to do with the name.
I later realised that the service runs to a place that was renamed to Bakan (Japanese)/Maokong (Mandarin) during the Japanese occupation. It’s previous Hokkien name meant ‘cat surface’ due to the copious amount of civet sitings on the nearby mountain.
You can see Taipei 101 to the right as we first started moving away from the city. As we got further up the steep incline, the buildings started to almost blend into the hills.
The entire line for the Maokong Gondola is just over 4 kilometres long, but it’s very scenic. You can also use the Taipei Metro card to ride on it. These days it’s around NT$100 which is cheaper than public transport in most Western and Central European cities.
Travelling in Taiwan – Window on China 小人國主題樂園
Now I’m a bit of a fan of theme parks. I guess I got that from my father because he tasked me with finding a theme park for us to visit while we were travelling in Taiwan. Dad had enjoyed Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park when he had visited a few years prior. We had also visited the Happy Valley Theme Park in Shenzhen and found it to be neither a valley, nor happy. That’s a whole other story for another post. Maybe. Point is, we weren’t really sure what to expect from Taiwan’s version of a theme park.
My first impression was that it was cute. It was no Disneyland, but the attention to detail was pretty amazing. I mean, look at the righthand side of the road where ‘people’ are dealing with an ‘accident’. Or the details of the airport. It put a smile on my face.
Then there were some famous landmarks from around the world. Probably the most entertaining part of the day at the park was the indigenous acrobatics show. These guys were amazing and seemed to be enjoying what they were doing.
Even when they had to play Fire Limbo.
There really wasn’t much in the way of exciting rides though. In fact, they all looked like kids rides. That would make sense seeing as the Chinese name of the park is literally ‘Little Person National Theme Park’.
Final Thoughts on Travelling in Taiwan
As someone who speaks Mandarin, I’ve found travelling in Taiwan to be easy every time I’ve been there. I suspect it may be a bit harder if you don’t speak Mandarin, but it does seem that people who do speak English will approach you to see if you need any help. I’d definitely recommend Taiwan as an easy to navigate, budget destination sure you bring you joy.
A Lot of Hills For Hikers Travelling in Taiwan
Taiwan is also an amazing destination for hiking. It has nearly 300 mountains over 3000m. There’s even a list of the Top 100 over 3000 or 台灣百嶽 that mountaineers aspire to reach. I’ve made it to two of them myself and can confirm that hiking to these hills is an amazing experience.
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