Paul and Rita's World Tour 2006/7 - 


 All Taiwan
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(From the cover of our Lonely Planet guide book)...
Ilha Formosa, the beautiful Isle, is a modern society steeped in Chinese heritage, a land of tropical islands and mountain retreats, neon-lit noodle bars and teeming night markets.  Whatever you crave - a soak at a hot spring, a temple hopping itinerary - this is the only guide that puts it all in one book, from the practical to the inspirational, let us connect us with Taiwan.    (Mmmm, perhaps I copied too much there.  Nobody reads this crap anyway, I bet nobody even notices!)).  

History:   Lots. More specifically, inhabited for over 10,000 years and invaded frequently by the Chinese and Japanese, less frequently by the Dutch.  Once, in fact.  Language: Mandarin Chinese.  Population: 22.5 million, 98% Han Chinese, 2% indigenous  Monetary unit,  New Taiwan Dollar, 1GBP = NT62 as at 16/11/06.  Toilet situation:. Outlook: Fair to middling:  Actual: Good, mostly western style, clean and functional, BYO toilet paper and once used put it in the bin provided, not down the toilet.

UK Foreign Office Travel Advice 


Diary shortcuts - click on item to jump to section

16th - 18th Nov 2006 - Taipei - Taipei 101, temples, markets.
19th Nov 2006 - Tienhsiang in Taroko Gorge
20th Nov 2006 - Hualien
21st to 24th Nov 2006 - Kenting
25th Nov 2006 - Kenting to Kaohsiung, Tainan and Chiayi
26th Nov 2006 - Chiayi and Fenchihu
26th Nov 2006 - Taipei to Seoul


Thu 16th November, 2006

We had booked a hostel on the internet again, this is becoming a habit!  But Taipei doesn't seem to have a lot of cheap accommodation, and arriving later in the day we wanted to make sure we didn't have to traipse around looking for vacancies.  The directions to the hostel seemed even more simple than those for the Tokyo hostel, catch the Evergreen airport bus and get off at the 12th stop.  After a couple of beers and wines on the flight, I thought it could be difficult keeping track and counting the stops, especially if the bus didn't stop at some of them.  But we needn't have worried, the stops were number and the bus stopped at all of them, and just to make sure we didn't miss our stop, the bus driver told us when we got there.  Talk about failsafe.

We found the Taipei House International Youth Hostel a few yards from the bus stop, up on the 11th (top) floor of the building, on a busy street.  We had a friendly reception, and were soon in our room, with a small double and a single bed.  Quite tired after our long day, although we had only gained one hour, so after a brief shopping trip for essentials, we soon retired.

Fri 17th November, 2006

Slow start to the day, sorted our stuff out, yet again, and did some stuff on the computer.  There was no wifi, but I could connect my laptop to the internet in the reception area.  

Needed some exercise, and despite it looking pretty warm out there, walked to the Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world, a few miles away.  Found a bar/restaurant called The Brass Monkey on the way, popped in for a quick beer and to check if it was any relation to the one in Dawlish.  Dawlish? Where's that?  Good point, well put. I explained it was a place somewhere in the 19th century.

Checked out the Xintian temple on the way, not far from our hostel.  Its a fairly new temple, but looks old and traditional, and is one of the busiest in the city, especially on this day for some reason we couldn't understand.

The Taipei 101 is certainly a tall building, although I'd argue with their claim that it can be seen from anywhere in Taipei, we walked for at least half an hour before we saw it.  The street's were busy with cars, buses and many scooters, which were also parked on ever available space along the roadside and elsewhere.  Had to keep your wits about you as they would often ride their scooters down the paths, although they did seem to try and avoid us.

One disappointment about the 101 is that the observation deck is only on the 89th floor, that's a bit of a cheat.  It was 350 NT to get to the 89th, and for an extra 100NT I got to climb the stairs up to the open air 91st deck, from where the view was better because we didn't have to peer through misted or dirty windows, as on the 89th.  I guess they dont clean the windows too often up there, 350 metres above the ground, but I did see the window cleaners cranes on the 91st, so it's not like they had to use a ladder!

We had lunch in the food court in the basement, a huge place, described in our guide book as one of the best in the world.  Not quite sure I'd go that far, but there was a fairly impressive range of offerings, although most of the food counters only had menus in Chinese.  I found a curry stall and had a fairly good chicken curry, if a little Chinese in style, Rita went for a vegetarian noodle with veg soup, both really good.  

Caught the MRT (mass rapid transit) back towards our hostel, with a change at Main Station, the busy hub of the MRT system.  The stations were clean and well organized, so despite the crowds everything moved along smoothly.  Passengers even queued to get on the trains, and the ticket machines were easy to understand and use, and cheap, too.   We had to walk 10 minutes from the MRT to out hostel, stopping on the way at a quiet back street restaurant for a drink and some snacks, compliments of the management.  The place is going to be closing down in a week or so, and the owner and his brother were moving to Beijing to run a new restaurant on Tiananmen square, so we took his new address and promised to visit him next time we're in Beijing.  I'm sure we'll be back there sometime in the future.

Sat 18th November, 2006

Went back to our friendly back street restaurant for lunch, ramen (noodle soup) with pork slices and a very dodgy looking egg, along with a sort of omelette. Desert was a small bowl of creamed rice, made with black rice. We're a bit wary of egss since we read about Thousand Year Eggs.  They're duck eggs that are covered in straw and buried for 6 months until the yoke turns green and the white turns to jelly.  Traditionally, they should be first soaked in horses urine before burial.  I dont think that's what was in our noodle dish, but I'm not going to dwell on the thought.

Checked out the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial, a large hall containing a large bronze statue of the revered leader.  Set in a large square, along with the National Theatre and National Concert Hall.  The square is used by lots of groups of youngsters, practising dancing and music, good to see.

Arrived at the famous Longshan Temple after dark, so couldn't get a good look at the amazing decorations, although it was lit up to some extent and was still a fascinating place to see.  Very busy with worshippers, nobody took any notice of us walking around as they went from point to point within the temple with their incense sticks.  I found a a sign in the entrance to the temple, with instructions on how to worship.  I'll put the photo on the website soon.  It also has instructions on how to toss Jiao, two roughly crescent shaped stones(?) that are thrown to answer questions and requests, and depending on how they land, the answer is yes, no, or question not properly asked.  

After the temple we wandered around the surround streets where we found the night market, known as the Snake Alley because of the snake charmers who practice their art there sometimes.  Its full of foods stall, boutiques, sweet shops and massage shops.  Real massages, not a front for something less wholesome.'


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Sun 19th November, 2006

Checkedc out of our hostel and caught a bus to the central train station, where we bought a special 2-week ticket, which allowed us to make 7 train journeys around the island.  I was amazed at how easy it was to buy, that sort of ticket can take hours if not days to buy in some places, with lots of form filling, passport checking, photos, etc.  It took less than a minute, just handed over the money and he gave us our little ticket book.  Most impressed.

Caught the next train down the East coast to the small town of Sinchong, from where we got a taxi up to the village of Tienhsiang, high up in the Taroko Gorge, a National Parks and one of the top tourist attractions of Taiwan. The cheapest room we could find was at the Tienhsiang Youth Activity Centre, NT$1900 for a double room. We could have opted for the dorm beds, but they seemed very spartan, with just a mattress on the floor.  Evening entertainment also seemed spartan, so we bought some noodles and beer from a small stall near the bus stand and had a queit night in.

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Mon 20th November, 2006

Went for an early morning walk down to the temple and pagoda across the ravine from Tienhsiang, the pagoda was not quite as impressive close up as it looked from a distance, but gave a good view of the Taroko Gorge from the top, or at least the small section of the gorge you could see from here.  The gorge cuts through the granite mountain range for 20km, with sheer cliff faces rising up to 3700 metres.  The road up the gorge clings to the sides, with many sharp, breathtaking bends, and also dozens of tunnels, cutting through the edges of the gorge and also proecting the road from rockfalls.

After checking out of the hotel at 10am, Rita waited with our luggage at the hotel while went off to walk the Paiyang trail,  a short walk to a three stage waterfall. The walk started with a 380 metre tunnel, with no lights and plenty of dripping water, before following a river for a mile or so, through several more shorter tunnels and eventually arriving at the water falls.  They're apparently at their best just after heavy rainfall, i.e. not now, but were still quite impressive.  There were also a wide variety of butterflies along the pathway, of all shapes and size 

Caught the Hualien bus from Tienhsiang, slightly scary ride down the gorge, I think the driver was trying to break his personal best record for fastest descent, but we were treated to some great views of the gorge on the way down, even if it was uncomfortably close at times.  Once at Hualien, as it was getting on, we decided to stop there for the night, finding a fairly reasonable hotel for NT$800, the Chan Taj Hotel.  It was in our guide book, didn't have an English sign outside, but as we stood across the road from it looking at the map and trying to figure out where it was, the manageress came across the road and invited us in.  How lucky was that!   For dinner we stopped at a Mongolian hotpot sort of restaurant, not sure what they called it as they didn't speak any English.  Sunk into the table were heated stock pots, with a small control dial on the side of the table. We were given a plate each of various vegetables and seafood, and also a plate of thinly sliced raw meat, beef for me, chicken for Rita.  The idea was to put the raw ingredients into the pot and cook it yourself. Great fun.  Got some laughs and smiles from the locals as they watched us, but I think we sort of got it right in the end.  Tasted pretty good as well.   

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Tue 21st November, 2006

Up early and caught a  train down to Taitung, crossing over the tropic of Cancer on the way, we left our bags at the station and nipped off to the Peinan Cultural Park for a couple of hours.  Its where the Puyuma tribe lived 5000 years ago, and was only discovered in 1980 when they were digging for the new train station.  They discovered hundreds of coffins, made from stone slabs.  Theres a good museum there with relics form the excavations.

From Taitung we caught a train around to Fangliao, then a bus down to the tourist town of Kenting, the busiest tourist hotspot of Taiwan, and by that I mean Taiwanese tourists, not just foreigners. Checked out a number of hotels but couldn't get anyone to lower their prices, even when we said we wanted to stay for several nights.  Finally found a good room for NT$2000 for 3 nights.  Once we had moved into the room, discovered that not only did we have satellite TV with films and news channels, and air-con, but I also discovered a fast internet connection port in the wall.  Bargain.

Didn't get up to much in our three days there, I cam down with a bug of some sort which took me out for a day or so and didn't feel like doing much.  Still, it was nice and warm and we had time to relax.  Back to Itinerary 


Sat 25th November, 2006

Busy day travelling, bus North to Fangliou, train to Kaoisiang (?), another train to Tainan, 3 hours walking tour of city and finally train to Chiayi.  Back to Itinerary 

Sun 26th November, 2006

Probably the wrong day to do it, but we leave tomorrow so we had no choice, caught the Alishan Forest Railway up to Fenqihu, a climb of 1400 meters.  According to our guidebook, its one of only 3 steep grade (did they mean gradient?) alpine trains in the world.  I think the other two must be the narrow gauge trains to Shimla and Darjeeling in India, both of which we've travelled up on, so that means we've done them all now.

The reason it was probably the wrong day ot do it was because, being a Sunday, everyone else decided it was a good place for a day trip, and it was packed.  There were a few walking trails around the town, but we spent our few hours there wandering around the market.  The train back down was even more packed than the train up, but we somehow managed to get seats for the 2 hour ride.  Nice views when we could see them, though. 

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Mon 27th November, 2006

Caught the 9:30am express train back to Taipei, arriving at 12:30. Had to wait an hour at the bus terminal for the airport bus, and eventually made it to the airport at 3pm, just in time to check in for our flight to Seoul. Another whole day of travelling.  Never mind, we'll have time to relax in Seoul. 

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