Travelling in Taiwan

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel in Taiwan. Flying into 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. 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. 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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel in Taiwan. Welcome to Taiwan

This was not my first visit to 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 to Cruise

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. 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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling in Taiwan. Keelung Port

You can find out all about the cruise in my next post, A Scenic Cruise to Okinawa.

Returning to Taipei

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel in Taiwan. Art Installation K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel in Taiwan. Art Installation

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 dampener in the middle of the building on the 89th floor that’s designed to absorb strong winds. It’s actually the largest wind dampener in the world!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel in Taiwan. Taipei 101 Wind Dampener

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travel in Taiwan. Taipei 101 Lift Ceiling

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling in Taiwan. Hazy Day View From Taipei 101 K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling in Taiwan. Hazy View From Taipei 101

I do think that it looks better at night though.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling in Taiwan. Night View From Taipei 101

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. Until I 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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling in Taiwan. Maokong Cable Car

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling in Taiwan. View From the Maokong Cable Car

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 some 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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling in Taiwan. Window on China Mini Road K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling in Taiwan. Window on China Mini Airport

My first impression was cute. It’s 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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling in Taiwan. Window on China Taj Mahal K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling in Taiwan. Window on China American President

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling in Taiwan. Window on China Indigenous Acrobatics K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling in Taiwan. Window on China More Indigenous Acrobatics

Even when they had to play Fire Limbo.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Travelling in Taiwan. Indigenous Acrobatic 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 it easy to travel in Taiwan 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.

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7 Myths About Hong Kong

K in Motion Travel Blog. Myths About Hong Kong. Sunset on the River

As a major financial hub and transit point in Asia, Hong Kong is often talked about around the world. You’ve probably heard a lot about it, especially in recent months. Unfortunately, some of the things you’ve heard are not entirely correct. Luckily, this list of myths about Hong Kong has been compiled by a local to make sure that you never get caught out with less than reliable information!

Safety and Financial Myths About Hong Kong

Myth 1 – Hong Kong is Unsafe

This is a fairly new line of thought, given the volatile political situation and ongoing protests in Hong Kong. It is true that radical factions among the protester ranks have resorted to violence. It is also true that the police have resorted to violence. Both groups are mainly directing their violence at each other. Or at property.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Myths About Hong Kong. Bricks on the Road
Protest aftermath

Despite what you may have heard in the media, these protests have not made it unsafe for people in the city to go about their daily life. They certainly haven’t affected the major tourist areas. In fact, protesters want tourists to keep visiting.

If you do happen to stumble onto a protest site, protesters will happily direct you away from the ‘danger’. They want to make sure that you’re going to be safe.

Pandemic Update

While the rest of the world struggles with the pandemic, things returned to normal in Hong Kong last month, after over 3 months of non-enforced social distancing, school/government closures and aggressive testing. Foreign nationals are currently not allowed to enter Hong Kong due to the pandemic. This ban will remain in force until at least September. Once the city reopens to foreigners, hotels and airlines will no doubt be pulling out all the stops to get tourists to use their services. That could mean super cheap deals for everyone!

Myth 2 – Hong Kong is Prohibitively Expensive

There’s no denying that Hong Kong can be expensive, but you’d also be surprised at how easy it is to travel through or live in Hong Kong on a budget. Basically, it can be as expensive or as cheap as you make it.

If you spend all your time eating at western-style restaurants, things are going to get expensive rather quickly. However, if you opt to eat at local Cha Chaan Tengs, things will be a lot cheaper. You can make things even cheaper by shopping at local markets and cooking for yourself.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Myths About Hong Kong. Local Market
Local Market

There are also many things to do in the city for free. Take a look at this article to learn more about free and budget-friendly things to do in the city.

Social Myths About Hong Kong

Myth 3 – The Local Language is Mandarin

It is a common misconception that the language spoken in Hong Kong is Mandarin. Mandarin is actually spoken by many in Hong Kong as a third language, after Cantonese and English. This is mostly thanks to a law put in place in by China in 1997, making it a mandatory subject in all schools.

Many people in Hong Kong have ancestors from the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, which was previously known as Canton. That means that the majority of the population speaks Cantonese as their mother tongue. Many historians believe that Cantonese is the only Chinese language spoken today that is close to what was spoken during the Dynasties. This is a point of pride for a lot of Hong Kongers, who may get a bit annoyed if you try to speak Mandarin to them.

If you don’t speak Cantonese, your best bet is to use English. English is the second official language in the area and is very widely spoken. It is also used as the medium of instruction alongside Cantonese, in all but a few local schools.

Myth 4 – Hong Kongers Are Unfriendly

I’ve heard this directly from many people that have visited the city. While it is completely untrue, I can see why people may come to that conclusion. One thing that you need to know about Hong Kongers is that they may not place much faith in their ability to speak and understand English. This can make them shy away from interacting with visitors. Or make them seem aloof when you try to engage them in conversation.

On the flip side of that, locals that do speak English well will often swoop in to help travellers that seem lost or need help communicating. The average Hong Konger will always rush to help someone in need, regardless of where you’re from. They’re also the kind of folks that would chase you to give you back your belongings if you accidentally left them behind.

Logistical Myths About Hong Kong

Myth 5 – There are Skyscrapers Everywhere

Everyone has seen the iconic skyline photo of all the skyscrapers in Hong Kong. While it’s true that there are many skyscrapers in the city, they aren’t everywhere. Hong Kong’s land area is a little over 1100km² but more than 70% of that area remains undeveloped. 40% of the land in Hong Kong belongs to the Country Park system of nature reserves. These reserves have hundreds of hills within their boundaries. That means there are more hills than skyscrapers in Hong Kong!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Myths About Hong Kong. Hills and Skyscrapers

Aside from the hills, Hong Kong also has some distinctly different landscapes within its borders, from forests to innercity parks with waterfalls and gardens.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Myths About Hong Kong. Bamboo Forest K in Motion Travel Blog. Myths About Hong Kong. Inner City Waterfall

As well as rivers and reservoirs.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Myths About Hong Kong. River K in Motion Travel Blog. Myths About Hong Kong. Reservoir

There are even wetland areas and a UNESCO listed Geopark. And don’t forget its world-famous deep water harbour.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Myths About Hong Kong. Victoria Harbour

Myth 6 – There Is No Public Transport To The Peak

This one originated somewhere in internet land, perhaps perpetrated by people trying to send business the way of the Peak Tram. If you haven’t heard of The Peak, it is the colloquial term for Victoria Peak, one of the city’s hundreds of hills. Many tourists flock to the Peak Galleria to get the iconic skyline view they’ve seen in so many pictures.

As you would imagine, the area is pretty much a tourist trap. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t several transport options besides the overly-priced Peak Tram. As of May 2020, there are in fact 3 bus routes that meander up the hill to the terminus behind the Galleria. Taxis also make the trip up the hill. So I can say with absolute certainty, that this myth is completely false! Why would a city that has excellent transport links everywhere else, not provide transport to their biggest tourist trap? Doesn’t make sense, right?

Myth 7 – Get A Free Ride on the Airport Express With an Octopus Card

This one can also be found on the internet and is also completely false. For those of you that are not aware, the Octopus Card is Hong Kong’s transport card and can be used on buses, ferries and trains. While it does offer a small discount over buying physical tickets, it does not offer any free rides. As much as we all wish it did.

Have you heard any other myths about Hong Kong? Let me know in the comments.

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