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Road Tripping Around Taiwan – 2 Week Itinerary + Reflections

Taipei

We had initially planned to visit Taiwan on our first big backpacking trip in 2012 but we just didn’t quite make it there. We had spent 2 months in it’s rougher around the edges neighbor, China, but didn’t set foot in Taiwan until 4 years later.

I’ll save you the suspense – I loved it there, I loved it when I was there, and now that I’m not, I look back on my time there fondly.

Reflections:

Taipei

Taiwan has a ton to offer for everyone. From large cities with restaurants specializing in all cuisines, bars, clubs to museums and historical sites. You will still find traditional night markets all over the island where you can rub elbows with locals while ordering the specialties of that region. As you get out of Taipei and drive around the island you will discovere national parks with gorges, and hiking trails, beaches with cliffside viewpoints over the ocean and lakes, temples, pagodas and historical sites galore.

While mainland China offers similar sites, the scale is not the same. In Taiwan (while the sites might be a bit less grandiose than the Foribidden City in Beijing or the Avatar like park of Zhangjiajie) everything is so much more accessible because you can drive across the entire island in just a few hours. No overnight trains needed, no super long bus rides. You can easily rent a car and have your own road trip adventure which allows you to explore all the tiny little towns in between.

When we spent 2 months in China back in 2012 we found the Chinese a bit rough around the edges – nonstop spitting outside, farting, coughing, talking loudly, not allowing for any personal space whatsoever – in Taiwan we found the culture and people not as overwhelming/overbearing. It was just easier to be there. It wasn’t as exhausting on a daily basis as mainland China. The English, though still weak, was better and the people who didn’t speak any English seemed to be more patient and sympathetic with us.

In our conversations with locals (through couchsurfing meetups and general interactions) we learned about the complicated relationship Taiwan has with China and how the local people feel about it. They don’t associate themselves as Chinese and think of themselves as Taiwanese, first of all. And what we were most surprised to find out was how open they were to discussing politics, unlike our experience in China with a young couchsurfer who simply tensed up at the sound of Mao’s name.

On to our travel itinerary:

2 weeks in Taipei:

We rented an apartment for 10 days in Taipei to get some work done. No sightseeing, just days of work. If you’re not working online, skip this part and just spend 4 days exploring the city. There is a ton to do there from hiking up the Elephant Mountain for sunset views, going to the viewing platform at Taipei 101, joining a food tour to learn about all the delicious Taiwanese goodies, going to the Sun Yat Sen Memorial, Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, out for an evening of hot pot, a night at the theater, etc. There’s a lot, and while it’s not our favorite Asian city – not exactly charming architecture, lots of traffic, meaning breathing in exhaust fumes on the streets, it is definitely one worth exploring.

My mom and aunt came to visit us for the rest of our time in Taiwan and we rented a car and set off on a major road trip!

Taiwan Road Trip Itinerary:

Day 1: Feb 26 Yingge + Taichung

Naturally with a late start to the day (as is always the case when traveling with family) we didn’t make it out of Taipei until past noon. It was a miserable cold and rainy day. Our first stop was Yingge – a ceramics village where you can walk around for hours marveling at all the different ceramic stores and masterpieces. The works are beautiful and the town makes for a good stop on your way out of Taipei. We didn’t actually buy any ceramics though, instead we purchased rain boots and a stick of black rice from a local vendor – or what we thought was black rice but was really congealed pigs blood mixed with rice, dipped in chili sauce, crushed peanuts and cilantro.

Regardless it was delicious and even my mom and aunt weren’t too horrified upon finding out what they were actually consuming. Taichung is another large city in Taiwan but we only stopped there for dinner on our way to Sun Lake.  If you’re going that way there’s an amazing Thai restaurant in Taichung where we really feasted.

Day 2: Sun Moon Lake

We spent the day at Sun Moon Lake, taking the gondola up for a view of the lake from above – not worth it on a super cloudy, misty foggy day by the way! We also hiked around the other villages and took the boats across the lake to different spots. We were there on a cool and cloudy, foggy day so the weather was not great but we still enjoyed our time around the lake. Somehow we got conned into an outrageously priced lunch meal when we ordered the large President’s fish which came in at a whopping $40 alone and was nothing special.

Day 3: Chung Tai Chan Monastery, Big Buddha, Lukang

big buddha

Near Sun Moon Lake there is the Chung Tai Chan Monastery – an amazing complex that we spent an hour or two walking around. If you’re traveling with my mom you will also spend a significant amount of time in the gift shop (here purchasing a wood bracelet and Pu’er tea). From there we drove to the Big Buddha – exactly what it sounds like and then onto the small town of Lukang for a quick stroll.

Day 4: Tainan, Lotus Pond – Kaohsiung

tainan Anping tree house

We had spent the previous night in Tainan and were ready to explore the city during the day! You’ll definitely want to spend a few hours strolling around, looking at the food markets and street stalls as well as the historical spots. We had a great lunch in a super basic and informal local fish restaurant where without any English exchange we pointed to everything we wanted and ended up with the most fragrant and delicious fish broth soup. A must see is also the Anping Tree House — essentially an enormous tree that has swallowed up a former factory/warehouse. You can walk around different platforms and really see the tree growth from all angles. As we were walking around the town we naturally got held up by my mom and aunt who both suddenly insisted they needed shoulder massages by a lady in the street who was giving massages using some sort of magical bean. Don’t ask.

From there, in a rush to make it before dark we drove on to Lotus Pond – an incredible pond with absolutely stunning pagodas. You’ll want to enter the mouth of the dragon and exit through the mouth of the tiger.

Climb up to the top for stunning views of the area. If you time this around sunset the lighting will be perfect for photography!

Day 5 & 6 Kenting National Park

At this point we reached the Southern most area in Taiwan – Kenting – we rented an awesome 3 story brand new townhouse here for 3 nights and were able to finally unpack a bit. We enjoyed a beach day just laying in the sand and taking a dip, and spent one day driving through the entire Kenting national park which offers absolutely gorgeous cliffside views of the water and the surrounding scenery. The night market in Kenting has tons of delicious food options and is a perfect place to sample lots of different dishes for super cheap.

Day 7: Baisha Bay & Taimali Park

We spent most of the day at the beach, some of us swimming, and me mostly taking photos of the hilarious Asian tourists that were taking ridiculous posing pics non stop for hours. From there we drove to Taimali Park – on the opposite (South East) coast of Taiwan where you see completely different ocean scenery – darker and more dramatic but nonetheless beautiful.

Day 8: Xiaoyehliu, Shanyuan beach, Chenggung, Sanxiantai

Day-8-Sanxiantai

This was a big day for us! We started with Xiaoyehliu – a beach side park with stunning and unique rock formations. We enjoyed a nice bottle of Prosecco by the water, meanwhile Dave slipped on a wet rock, fell into the water and injured his neck so that was the extent of his sightseeing for the day. We continued exploring as he made his way back to the car to rest and change. We made a quick stop at Shanyuan beach just for a few pics before heading to Chenggung for a seafood filled lunch. This small fishing village I read about in my Lonely Planet and it’s description of the fish market had me pencil this in as a must do. We pulled up to the local fish market, found a friendly lady running a restaurant and plopped down in the tiny makeshift stools. We ordered the ultimate feast with grilled fish, squid, two types of sashimi (with repeat orders) fish soup, rice, cabbage stir fry, shrimp, etc. It was all delicious and felt super local, fresh and authentic. I love these types of meals and these are super easy to come by in Taiwan. No English menu needed! Our last stop for the day was Sanxiantai which is a small island off the coast connected by multi arched pedestrian bridges. The spot is simply gorgeous. Once you get over the bridges there is a walking path around the small island which has dramatic scenery straight out of Scotland. This was one of my favorite places in all of Taiwan and I consider this a must do.

Day 9: Taroko Gorge National Park and Hualien

It was another cloudy day but we had Taroko Gorge on the mind. This is an enormous gorge that has tons of different hiking and walking trails as well as a central driving road through the gorge. Having the car granted us to freedom to explore the gorge at our own pace, stopping at all the scenic photo spots and joining the shorter walking trails. The gorge is beautiful and also a highlight of the trip.

That night as we got back to Hualien, starving, the Thai restaurant that I had picked out was closed – which seemed like a tragedy at the time, but actually was a blessing, because instead we stumbled upon the night market. There we really had a delightful meal. We ordered fish grilled in large rock salt which was nothing short of amazing. The fish was so tender and flavorful and required no sauce or extra seasoning whatsoever. We were first worried about being able to finish 1 fish, but quickly ordered another. It was THAT good. If you’re in Hualian head to the night market and look for the stall selling grilled fish in the beginning of the market on the right hand side. We also ordered grilled shrimp and deep fried crabs with basil – all amazing. Washed down with our own bottle of wine – this was an epic low frills meal.

Day 10: Quinchi Cliffs, Nanfangao Fishing Village

This was our last day of the road trip so we made our way back to Taipei, stopped at the scenic Quinchi Cliffs for views of the ocean and had another seafood fueled lunch at the local Nanfangao fishing village. We did unfortunately get stuck in a 30 minute traffic jam when road work was being done to clear a rockfall from the road but eventually we were on our way. In the fishing village we found a local restaurant where we were able to communicate what we wanted in a combination of hand motions and google translate. A great final day on the road.

We had one more day in Taipei to hang out in the city, and pack our bags to head to the Philippines next.

Overall I loved our time in Taiwan and find this to be a super underrated travel destination. You will not find too many foreign tourists in Taiwan and you are really able to have more a local experience. Also another added bonus — super fast internet. Taiwan has hands down had the fastest internet of any place on our travels! It was simply a pleasure to be a digital nomad there!

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