A cheap ticket and an old wish to visit Taiwan made my decision.I have 5 points of interests that I will visit so I decided to divide this post into 2. In the first part, I will share my experience arriving in Taipei and visit Hualien. Asia is totally different from my homeland so I’m very excited to get to know a new culture. Sure there are over 90% Chinese people in Taiwan but they are not the same from the mainland China. They want to make peace with China but they think they are separate from them. However, as a tourist, it’s not important for me. Most words are only written in Chinese even in Museums but Taiwanese know these problems and they help tourists out with many things. Even if they don’t speak English sometimes they often still understand.
One time I didn’t have a bus card. Instead of bothering the driver to buy me a ticket the woman behind me just charged her card twice so my bus fare was charged to her. “Welcome to Taiwan! It’s my honor to invite you sir” she said, I was surprised and just said “xiè xie”-thank you. (“Ni hao” means hello.) These two words can bring you very far by the way. Wherever I go I learn how to say hello and thank you. People appreciate this small effort and are more likely to help whatever you need.
Taiwan is a very well organized little country. It is smaller than my home country Switzerland but there are almost 3 times more people living in Taiwan. Still, the bus from the airport has a free seat. The train system is a bit different (you can read my train experience further down) but, I think overall it is just better organized so that all the people there can live peacefully on this small little island. In this way, people don’t complain about overpopulation or at least not that much like they do in Switzerland.
This is an exhibition for tourists. It is just one example to show how busy and lively Taiwan is. By the way, there are 23 Mio. people living in Taiwan and only 8 Mio. In Switzerland. I also checked the standard of living there. Actually, they earn on average only 30% of what Swiss people earn but due to cheap prices they can afford 80% of what Swiss people can afford. That means the country is more efficient and I’m sure we could learn a lot from Taiwan.
Taipei is huge and there is a very good public transport that brings you everywhere you wish to go to. But first I check out my surrounding. I stay at a hostel close to Zhongxiao Fuxing. Many Restaurants can be found in this area. I’m keen for some pasta. Yes, I know I should eat local food. As a traveler who is already staying 10 months in Asia, it’s allowed to eat some pasta instead of rice once in awhile. I actually find some really amazing black Spaghetti with local clams at a place called la Gondola. By the way, the local clams in Taiwan are absolutely delicious everywhere but I will talk about it later.
The next day I meet a friend from Couchsurfing and visit the famous restaurant, Din Tai Fung. It serves really amazing food and it is totally worth it to wait 30 min. to get a table.
The Elephant Mountain offers a nice view on Taipei if the weather is nice unfortunately, there are no elephants in sight. However, the stairs are elephant-ish long.
I visit a few museums the following days. Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall was established in 1980 and is built in memory of the president of the Republic of China, which is Taiwan.
The museum is interesting and big but many things are not explained in English. So I often have to guess by the numbers and by the pictures what have happened in the history of Taiwan.
But as I stroll around the museum for sure there are a lot of different information and I can totally recommend the two of them if you are interested in the history of Taiwan and it’s democratic way of thinking.
“I believe that a country’s greatness does not lie in the people’s wealth, but in the people’s happiness” – Dr. Sun Yat-sen
I go to Taipei Main Station and hope it will be easy to find a train to Hualien. But I’m surprised the next four trains are booked out. So I have to wait until 3 pm. I’m sure there would be buses to Hualien as well. But I decide to try a train in Taiwan.
When I board the train I quickly realize why it’s always booked out. The train has only one floor and not many seats and they are very comfortable with lots of space. I enjoy the ride through the country. It takes two hours to Hualien. We pass the countryside and cities along the way. It started raining pretty badly and so I decide to take a taxi although my hostel is only a 10-minute walk from the station. The FH hostel is quite new and great. The owner really cares for the guests although it’s a bit annoying that she want me to try all Taiwanese food which by far is not all good. Duck blood cake is only one example.
…There is a place for laundry a bit down the road. I go there and cannot figure out how this machine works. Although it’s written in English I don’t understand where to take the detergent from. Apparently, it’s inside the machine and it asks for the amount after I press “Start”. But how would I know this? Nobody press “Start” before putting detergent. Well, I ask a deaf and dumb Taiwanese which is the only person on the street. He acts like he doesn’t understand which is common as most Taiwanese do not understand English. So I am not aware that he is deaf. So I just point on the machine and use google translate: “no detergent?”. As every Taiwanese, he is very helpful even though he doesn’t know either he is not ignoring me and walk off. He shouts awkwardly to the back. At this point, I realize that he must be dumb or something. But finally there is a woman coming out and as I show her my translation of “no detergent” she just pushes “Start” and there I can adjust the amount of soap and the temperature. That’s what traveler sometimes encounter. I say “xiè xie” and go for a walk at the river until the machine is done…
For dinner, I go to a dumpling place which the owner of the hostel recommends. I especially like the light, Xiao Long Bao. I can eat dozens of those. The place is in Zhongshan Road direction harbor a little bit further down from Mcdonald’s on the right side. Just order different kinds of dumplings. If you are not into pig ears don’t worry you won’t miss out if you just forget about them. I guess in Europe they put them in sausages. There I like them more. But the dumplings are amazing and soo cheap you really should not miss out those. As I pass Mos Burger on the way back I wonder how their burger is. But as I’m stuffed with Xiao Long Bao I can’t try it. The following day I try them and they are by far better than Mcdonald’s which is not too difficult to excel but still, it’s worth a visit. Also, they use rice patties which I never had. For dinner, I have a hot pot at my hostel. I enjoy having a local meal with local people and some traveler as well. I can totally recommend FH hostel in Hualien.
The next day I go for hiking in the mountains surrounding Hualien. I go to a place called Mukumugi I enjoy swimming in the natural pool. It is actually not that cold like you would expect a mountain river. The little fish in the pool come to clean the skin of my feet. For free so forget about the fish spa.
There is a shrimping organized by the hostel. I take part and try to catch some shrimps. I hardly find them. I’ve seen 6 in about 2 hours but could not catch any. Fortunately, as the guide caught many we still had a nice meal.
I actually haven’t seen the guide during shrimping. I guess he has a secret place where there are many shrimps to catch. Because I cannot imagine that he caught so many in the same time. I think nobody from the other participants caught more than one shrimp.
Of course! I also visit the Taroko National Park. I plan a whole day for it. There are possibilities to go for longer hikes. But I’m only interested in visiting the region and not for an ambitious exercise one day is totally enough. There are beautiful rivers, canyons and so on.
A day pass for the bus gives me the freedom of hopping on and off any public bus in the national park.
After this I continue to the south of Taiwan… check out part two of my trip. Thanks for reading!