Friends! I’m excited to FINALLY share my travel diary along with a guide and some tips for traveling around Taiwan! Brace yourselves because this is gonna be a loooong, photo-heavy post 🙂
My mom and I flew to Taiwan in mid-June 2018 to visit my brother and his girlfriend and travel around the country with them. First off, let me tell you – June is truly not the ideal month to go to Taiwan! Me and my European body are definitely not used to the high temperatures and humidity during the Taiwanese summer and I have never before sweat as much as I have in Taiwan, not even during August in Alabama! 😀 Most of the time it was bearable but on one or two days I couldn’t really enjoy what we were doing because the heat really had me struggling. Also, June is one of the months of typhoon season during which it typically rains a lot. We were quite lucky because it only rained on around 5 of our 14 days there. For more tips on the perfect time to visit, see the end of this post!
If summer is the only possible time for you to travel to Taiwan, I’d still say do it because this country is just incredible. The landscapes and sights are so diverse, there’s mystic mountains, turquoise water, rain forests and buzzing cities…
Just a disclaimer before we dive in, me and my family are huge fans of nature, so if you’re looking for a guide to Taipei and the other large cities of Taiwan, you might want to look somewhere else, as I’m mainly focusing on the experiences we made outside of the cities 🙂
Our Travel Diary
Here’s what our travel route in these two weeks looked like. I had a lot of fun creating this little illustration 🙂
We arrived at Taoyuan Airport which is about an hour outside of Taipei. Because my brother and his girlfriend live in Taichung, we started off there and reserved Taipei for the end of our trip. On our first day in Taichung, we explored the city for a bit and went to the top of the National Taichung Theatre, a futuristic looking building in one of the more “chic” areas of the city from which you have a nice view of the sunset and the surrounding buildings.
Our first four nights we stayed in Taichung, going on trips to the surrounding areas during the days. Taichung is an interesting city, it has parts that are very western looking and modern (don’t these pictures above kind of remind you of New York?) and in other areas, it has more of a small-town / rural touch. I loved all the corner restaurants and fruit shops. We visited the Taichung Botanical Garden which has both a large outside area and a greenhouse part. Right next to the Garden is also the National Museum of Natural Science which I regret not having visited!
Our first trip outside Taichung was to a place called Shanlinxi, or Sun Link Sea, as it is “translated” into English. Shanlinxi is a forest recreation area in the mountains of Nantou county which is famous for the excellent Oolong tea that is grown there. It is about a two-hour drive from Taichung. The day we went, it was rainy and very foggy, so the mountains were wrapped in fog and everything looked very mystic to me. It was so beautiful!
Inside tip: Close to Shanlinxi, there’s also the Wangyou forest/Caodi wetlands which is basically a swamp with dead trees, a result of an earthquake (if I remember correctly what I was told about the place). You can park your car next to the teashop there (which you should definitely visit to take part in a traditional Oolong tea ceremony!) and take a minivan up the hill to get closer to the start of the hike. Be warned though, the minivan ride is not for the faint of heart! They drive up the hill super fast on a winding road and you basically fear that the van will tip over and fall down the hill any second. But it’s worth it! Just look at this:
The next day, we went to Sun Moon Lake, a popular spot for Taiwanese newlyweds during their honeymoons, located about 1.5 hours away from Taichung. It was still rainy, so the boat ride we went on was probably not as beautiful as it would have been in the sun, but I could still see why it’s such a popular place.
We also visited the Wenwu temple while at Sun Moon Lake, as well as took the cable car that connects the lake with the Formosa Aboriginal Culture Village.
Taiwanese temples are so beautiful and awe-inspiring. The photos don’t do them justice!
Riding the cable car above this forest, we could basically hear it brimming with life – birds, bugs, maybe even monkeys? It was incredible.
On our fourth day, we took a trip to Lukang where the dragon boat festival was taking place. It was a rainy day that ended with a visit to Chun Shui Tang, the tea house in Taichung that claims to have invented bubble milk tea! I have to admit, even though I usually try to avoid all animal products, including dairy, I fell in love with bubble milk tea. It’s SO good! And I’m kinda sad that it’s not a thing anymore in Germany (it used to be a huge trend a few years ago). In Taiwan, you can find a bubble tea shop on every street corner 🙂
The next stop on our travels was the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area. We took the train from Taichung to Chiayi and then changed on to a bus to Alishan from Chiayi High Speed Railway Station. We had a hotel room for a night in one of the hotels that is located directly in the park (which I sadly cannot recommend), so we had around one and a half days to explore the area. Unfortunately, it literally did. not. stop. raining… for two full days. We certainly made the best of it, bought rain capes and umbrellas and went off into the forest, in awe of its wonders <3 Alishan is an incredible place, even in the rain. Photos can’t do it justice. Speaking of photos, I couldn’t take my camera with me on our hikes because of all the rain and even taking phone photos was hard, so we don’t have a lot of good pictures from Alishan. But here are a few, nonetheless:
Don’t we look a bit like little forest spirits in our rain capes? 😀
The Alishan forest has an old railway train running through it. We didn’t use it but felt very much reminded of the Hogwarts Express! <3
This was one of the most impressive sights of my life: the Shuishan, a 2700 years old Giant Tree. It was way too tall to capture on photo. I love trees so much.
Before we were headed to the Kenting area on Taiwan’s southern coast, we made two stops in Tainan and Kaohsiung. We mostly stayed in these cities overnight but here are a few tips anyway:
In Tainan, I can recommend visiting the Hayashi Department Store, which was first opened during the Japanese colonial era in 1932. The beautiful five-story store sells exclusive Taiwanese foods, accessoires, homewares, stationary and other fun stuff and even has an observation deck that offers a nice view over the city.
In Kaohsiung, you can go on a 10-minute ferry ride from Gushan to the small island Qijin that offers a nice little pier, a night market, sea food restaurants and a beach. Also, visit the Monkey Mountain! Shoushan is a mountain in Kaohsiung’s Gushan district that is home to 800 Formosan rock macaques native to Taiwan. I can’t even begin to tell you how excited we were to see them up close!
Now, on to Kenting! Kenting is a large national park located in Pingtung County in Southern Taiwan. There are several bus companies that connect Kaohsiung and Kenting. We spent 2 nights in the area since it’s a great location for swimming in the ocean, too! To get around the southern tip, we rented two scooters and explored the area. It was so much fun and we saw so many beautiful landscapes! Here are some shots:
While in Kenting, my brother took us to the Qikong waterfall. We climbed up a steep mountain with the help of some ropes that were installed next to the waterfall. The waterfall features a number of pools that you can access on the way up and we took a much needed swim after climbing up the mountain in 35 degrees! It was so beautiful and such a special experience. The waterfall is kinda hard to find and I don’t think it’s very well known among (western) tourists, but I found directions for how to get there on this blog (scroll down to point 6). The vertical picture above shows the pool we swam in.
As someone who’s interested in the history of the Earth, I was very impressed by Kenting’s geology. A lot of the rocks and cliffs you come across throughout the national park were once coral riffs living under the sea that were pushed above sea level in the course of millions of years. So interesting!
We also drove our scooters to an overlook at the southernmost point of Taiwan and the view was just incredible.
After leaving Kenting, we made a stopover at the Foguangshan Buddha Museum, about 50 minutes away from Kaohsiung where we rented a car for the rest of our trip. The museum grounds feature a 40 meters high golden Buddha statue that sits upon a shrine which contains tooth relics of the Buddha.
After visiting Foguangshan, we set out for the east coast. Close to the city of Taitung, we went hiking in the Jhihben National Forest Recreation Area. We saw a bunch of macaque monkeys and enjoyed the tropical forest and some pretty views of the surrounding mountains.
On our way to Hualien the next day we also stopped at a place called Sansiantai or Platform of the Three Immortals. The platform is a little coral island connected to the mainland via arched bridges. When I saw this place I thought it kinda looked like it was located on Naboo, a planet from the Star Wars movies. Would you agree?
Ok, on to what I still consider my favorite experience of this trip. I would even call it one of the most beautiful experiences of my life! We saw whales! <3 Before my mom and I flew to Taiwan, my brother had heard somewhere that you can book whale/dolphin watching tours off the coast of Hualien and we immediately agreed to book one. The tour guide told us beforehand that they can’t guarantee we actually see any dolphins during the tour and honestly, we didn’t expect much and for the first 20 minutes or so we were just happy to be on a boat trip. And then suddenly people around us started to gasp and get excited and within two minutes we were surrounded by multiple pods of dolphins, some of them swimming directly next to and underneath our boat and some of them we could watch from a distance. I immediately started crying and couldn’t stop for about 40 minutes as this truly was one magnificent experience. We saw a few different species of dolphins and also what I assume was a group of either pygmy or false killer whales. We also saw flying fish which was so surreal because they floated above the water for at least thirty seconds straight!
I can’t post videos on here, so I made a gif! 😀
Our last experience before heading back to Taipei was a trip to Taroko National Park where the Taroko Gorge is located. The rock that can be seen around the gorge is mostly a beautiful marble and the water of the river is a really clear turquoise which together makes Taroko another insanely beautiful and surreal spot in Taiwan.
psst- I climbed this rock illegally!
We spent the last one and a half days in Taipei, visiting Taipei Zoo and climbing Elephant Mountain at night to see the iconic skyline featuring the Taipei 101 tower.
And then we had to say goodbye to our people and to this beautiful, multifarious place 🙁 Before I went to Taiwan, I had never been to Asia and I had never expected this region of the world to fascinate me the way it did. I will definitely come back and I miss it every time I think of it. Which is unfortunate because this post took me an insanely long time to write and I had to come back to it so often! It was worth it for the memories though 🙂 However… this post is still not over! Because what would a travel guide be without all those helpful tips?
Planning a Trip To Taiwan?
Here Are My Top Tips!
When to go
- Typhoon season lasts roughly from June to October, heavy rains are common (although not on the entire island).
- Plus, June to September are very hot and humid. If you have the possibility of avoiding these months, I’d recommend it (during July and August it is even recommend to not go hiking in the mountains due to the risk of landslides!).
- The best time of the year to travel Taiwan climate-wise, from what I’ve heard, are February-April as well as October (especially for the North), because it’s already / still warm but not as rainy and humid as during the summer months and there’s lower/no risk of typhoons.
- However, be advised that Chinese New Year and the Lantern Festival take place in February (and sometimes in March, too) and that they make up the main travel season for the Taiwanese. It can affect flights and accommodations and shops and attractions may be closed. However, my cousin visited my brother in February and still says that he was very lucky to have come during the Lantern Festival 🙂
- Another note: March to May is the prime time for Chinese tour groups to travel Taiwan. Be aware that attractions may be crowded 😉
Accommodation and Transport
View from our room at the Gogo Hotel, Taichung.
- We usually booked our hotel rooms on the go, 1 to 2 days before we would be staying in a certain city/town, via booking.com. It’s so easy and usually pretty cheap. The only hotel my mom and I booked before flying to Taiwan was the one we stayed at the first four nights we spent in Taichung. The Gogo Hotel was excellent but a bit pricey by Taiwan’s standards.
- Taiwan has a very efficient and pretty cheap public transport system consisting of trains, the high speed rail (HSR) and buses (most buses are operated by private companies, such as the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle service). Finding the right connections and stops and buying tickets is usually manageable if you do some research online beforehand (information online is available in English).
- You can also rent a car at most HSR stations or at the airport. The rates are relatively cheap compared to European or American rental companies.
- We also rented scooters several times which was particularly convenient for mountain areas, national parks and roads that run along the ocean. It was my first time driving a scooter and it was so much fun!
Riding our scooters along the Southern coast.
The Taiwanese <3
Taiwanese are some of the most friendly, considerate and polite people I’ve met in my life. Everyone we came across was hospitable and always happy to help. Because most Taiwanese are very polite and humble, they can appear shy or reserved to westerners. I personally found it very charming <3
I was also very impressed by how orderly and fast everything was running in Taiwan, especially in the bigger cities. For example, there are certain rules for how and when people are supposed to enter and get off trains and buses and all the people I saw obeyed these rules without hesitation to make everything as smooth as possible for everyone involved. As a result, it seemed to me like problems or irregularities are simply not a thing in Taiwan. Something like that would be unthinkable in Germany, haha! To be a nice tourist in Taiwan, you should follow everyone in obeying the rules 😉
Food and Night Markets
One of our favorite activities during our travels was going to street food markets and night markets and buying fresh fruit, juices and trying new-to-us snacks and dishes!
Some night markets that are more tailored towards tourists also sell meat specialties that can seem a bit bizarre to western eyes, just FYI (e.g. duck heads that were fried in their entirety and then sold on sticks to chew on).
I loved trying the more “harmless” dishes, however. Stinky tofu is a special kind of tofu that is fermented and has a really strong smell and I enjoyed trying that even though I prefer normal tofu 😉 I also had fried milk several times which tastes a bit like a very mild and sweet cream cheese that was fried… which is probably what it is but I don’t know exactly, haha! We had a type of savory pancake wrap filled with veggies multiple nights in a row at the night market in Kenting and it was so good!
On most street corners throughout Taiwan you’ll find open restaurants and buffets where you can choose from a large range of fried or steamed veggies, different kinds of meat and fish as well as tofu. I’ve heard beforehand that it’s very easy to find vegan dishes in Taiwan and that’s certainly true for these corner buffets as you can compile your meal yourself. However, at most restaurants where dishes are ordered à la carte it’s more difficult to find something that doesn’t include meat.
When Taiwanese people meet up to have dinner in a restaurant, the dishes are usually chosen together and are then ordered for everyone at the table to share. I love this! It creates a much nicer atmosphere than if every person just ordered their own dish.
On the upper left you can see an example of what I would typically get at a corner buffet: lots of different veggies and a whole bunch of fried tofu <3 Also: mango ice cream, bubble tea and yellow watermelon!
Ah, the sights and smells of Taiwanese fruit markets <3
Other Helpful Tips
- If you go during the hot months, bring sportswear for hiking! This is essential. I regret only bringing normal clothes instead of sportswear because I was just constantly SOAKED.
- I had the English language edition of the Lonely Planet guide to Taiwan with me and I cannot recommend it enough (although my brother and his girlfriend were our primary guides 😉 )! Aside from all the helpful tips on sights and activities, I especially loved the Understand Taiwan part in the back that teaches you everything from the history of the Ilha Formosa to the political situation and religious practices of today’s Republic of China.
- As someone who often gets allergic reactions to mosquito bites I strongly advise you to bring mosquito repellent! Trust me, just do it.
- Also, if you’re afraid of certain bugs and spiders, Taiwan will definitely be a challenge for you. You can do it, though! My brother and I are both afraid of spiders big time but even we could endure it, haha!
Okay, guess what…
I think that’s it! I hope you guys got a somewhat in-depth impression of Taiwan and that I inspired some of you to pay this wonderful country a visit (technically speaking, Taiwan is not a country but belongs to China, but, ehhhh.). If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below or drop me a message!