Hola internet family – how are you? 🙂 I’m in a very chatty mood as I pen this piece, so excuse the excessive smiles smattered across this page. Oh well, I digress! Onto Taiwan, a tiny island nation just off the coast of China. My brother visited Taiwan on an exchange program back in 2006 – he’d been pestering Vid and me to go and explore the country ever since! It’s been on our travel radar forever, but this year it finally happened! 🙂
If you follow us on social media, you probably know we were invited to Taiwan to shoot a TV series with Discovery Channel and TLC Asia. We had so much fun hanging out with the crew and exploring the country. Most of the crew grew up in Taiwan. So they showed us li’l villages, beach towns, and historical cities that wouldn’t ordinarily feature on tourists’ radars. So here we are doing what we do best – accumulating ALL the local knowledge we garnered on our trip to Taiwan and consolidating it in one article for you guys 🙂
Taiwan is the ideal country for a short road trip because it’s possible to explore the length and breadth of the island in less than 2 weeks. Taiwan is an interesting country – it lacks the grandiose panoramas of New Zealand or South Africa but its strength lies in the micro-experiences tucked at every corner. Bustling markets selling dozens of kinds of tea eggs, shrines that are hundreds of years old, friendly and gregarious locals, coffee plantations, romantic hillside escapes, and adventure sports.It’s unexpected and charming. This is the Far East, as you’ve never seen it before. If you like going off-the-beaten path, Taiwan is the place to be.
Here’s a detailed itinerary for a road trip in Taiwan:
Day 1: Fly into Taipei
Chances are you will fly into the bustling metropolis of Taipei. Taipei is great city to start off your road trip in Taiwan. Don’t rent a car just yet. Stay in a centrally-located hotel and explore the city on foot.
We stayed in a hotel suggested by the Discovery crew. Yo Tong Hotel isn’t fancy but boasts of a location that is second to none. It is located in the middle of Taipei’s bustling ‘East District’. Starbucks and Zara are in the same building and every shop you could possibly want is less than a 5 minute walk away. The basic rooms can get noisy and a bit cramped, so opt for their ‘VIP’ room. We chose room no. 320 and loved it.
Days 2-4 Explore Taipei
Taiwanese people are obsessed with food (always a good thing!), so there are vendors, restaurants, and cafés at every corner. Here are some of our favourite places to explore and eat in the city of Taipei
- Walk around the East District : The East District is perfect if you want to shop on your trip to Taiwan. There are tons of high-street stores jam-packed with fashion and beauty buys. Pharmacies such as Watsons, Cosmed, and SASA are extremely popular for the latter. Taipei is mecca for shoppers and there are no two ways about it.
- All that shopping is bound to leave you exhausted. Don’t forget to stop for a glass of tea – there are tea stalls at every corner and you can pick from extensive menus featuring Green tea, dozens of bubble teas, and milk teas. The Taiwanese love their ginger milk tea during winter months and I couldn’t get enough of it. Nom!
- Shilin Night Market: You’re in Asia, of course you need to visit a night market or two. Don’t forget to visit the legendary Addiction Aquatic at the Shilin Night Market if you love your seafood
- Ice Monster: I love shaved ice desserts and no one does it better than the Taiwanese Ice Monster. Their patented shaved-ice desserts are works of art – think flavoured shaved ice, jelly cubes, velvetty ice cream in every bite. We chose the coffee sensation (no prizes for guessing who placed the order 😉 )
- Top of Elephant Mountain – If there is one place in Taipei to get a perfect view of the city, head to Elephant Mountain. A short hike brings you to the top of this “mountain” (it’s a hill really :-)) where you can enjoy an amazing view of the city with the iconic Taipei 101 standing tall over the city.
Day 3 Drive to Taichung County in Central Taiwan
This is when your road trip in Taiwan starts in real ernest. Pick your rental car from the Taipei airport and drive to Taichung, an easy 4 hour drive away from Taipei. You will notice a change in scenery as soon as your leave the city. Taiwan’s countryside is very different from Taipei – farmlands will greet you almost as soon as you leave the city.
The drive to Taichung city is an easy one. There are tons of restaurants and service centres on the way. For a typically Asian experience, stop at a 7/11 to grab some tea eggs and coffee. Once in Taichung, check into your hotel for 3 nights. We stayed at Hotel 53 – it had spacious and clean rooms and a great spread for breakfast. The pièce de résistance? Their 24 hour ice-cream and pastry buffet. Errr not too good for the waistline, but can’t complain! 😉
Once you’re all settled in, head to Taichung’s city centre for the evening. The centre is a maze of Cosmopolitan eateries. Expect to find French, Italian, Mexican, and Turkish restaurants – there’s definitely no shortage of choice. For the next few days, you’ll have access only to Taiwanese food. So this is a good time to sample a different cuisine 🙂
Days 4&5 Paragliding, Coffee plantations, hillside getaways in Taichung
There is definitely no dearth of activities and things to do in Taichung. Here are some of our favourites. We did EVERYTHING listed below but feel free to pick and choose based on your preferences:
- Bike along Highway 139: Cycling is a bit of a national hobby in Taiwan and Taichung boasts of some of the most scenic bike rides in the world. So if you’re environmentally conscious or just want some excercise, rent a bike for a day and go biking along Highway 139
- Oysters are the local speciality in Tai Xi township: drive down to sample oyster omlettes, stir-fried oysters, oyster soups – the list is endless.
- Go paragliding in Nantou: Nantou is a bit of a paragliding hub. If you seek an adrenalin rush on your travels, then we’d definitely recommend going paragliding here. Floating over cities, hills, lakes, and temples is an amazing experience and one we won’t forget for a long time. It was our first time paragliding and we loved it 🙂
- The Taichung area also boasts of coffee plantations, which got Vid all excited. Gu ken coffee plantations in Yun Lin county NEED to feature on your road trip of Taiwan. Here it’s possible to try pluck beans and taste Taiwanese coffee in terrace cafés overlooking the valley
- Optional: If you have more time, we’d recommend a romantic hillside getaway in a coffee plantation in Yun Lin. It’s perfect for a 1-2 night stay because the environs are lush green and there’s a nip in the air because of the altitude. Look at these li’l teepees we spotted, which are actually hotel rooms:
Day 6 Sun Moon Lake and drive to Hengchun
Most tourists who visit Taiwan find their way to the Sun Moon Lake. The famous lake is extremely scenic and an easy pit-stop on your way to Hengchun. If you start early, you could also rent a bike to ride around the glistening Sun Moon Lake. Once you’ve taken photos and relaxed by the lakeside, it’s time to drive to Hengchun Township at the southern tip of Taiwan. The drive is easy but it takes 4-6 hours to reach Hengchun.
The city is famous for the moon lute, an old instrument that is slowly dying out. Thanks to the Discovery crew, the two of us actually got to visit a school where the moon lute is taught and took a shot at learning it. The kids at the school taught us for a couple of hours – I don’t need to say it but that lesson ended in failure 😉
Days 7 and 8: Explore Pingtung County and Hengchun’s Historical Old Town
Hengchun is the main town north of Kenting.
- The city walls of Hengchun’s Old City, over a 100 years old, reminded me a bit of Dubrovnik in Croatia. The walls are well preserved but under-rated. We did not see any other tourists during our time in Hengchun.
- Don’t forget to try one of the dozens of seafood eateries when you’re in Hengchun. For dessert, try the legendary Taiwanese green bean soup that is only available in this area. This sweet soup can be served both hot and cold (with ice on top). It’s comfort food for kids and adults alike in Hengchun
- Hengchun is also home to the Checheng Fuan Temple, a sprawling temple dedicated to the God of Earth and Fortune. It has a history for more than two hundred years. The temple is quite the architectural marvel – make sure you visit it. Don’t forget to hop over to the neighbouring market for dozens of Taiwanese speciality eggs – tea eggs, duck eggs, salty eggs, herb eggs, and preserved eggs.
Day 9 Kenting National Park
Kenting National Park is the highlight of a visit to Southern Taiwan. It also offers some scenic coastal drives, for those of you on a road trip of Taiwan. Kenting National Park is famous amongst tourists and locals for its lush green stretches, hot pools, sand dunes, and amazing beaches. The sand dunes are quite underwhelming but the beaches offer some great opportunities for relaxation and water sports such as surfing and diving.
Our favourite part? The hidden forests which boast of gigantic trees with intertwined roots and its hidden limestone caves. Check out some photos for these marvels:
Days 10 & 11: Drive to Taitung and go Hot Air Ballooning
Taitung, a large county in South East Taiwan, is an easy 3 hour drive away. The drive passes through sylvan stretches of countryside and coast. This area, with its beaches, tropical weather, and palms, is often called the Hawaii of Taiwan. But very few tourists or locals make it here! Drive to the numerous driftwood factories at the top of a hill for an excellent panoramic view of the area.
Once in Taitung, don’t forget to visit a chicken farm to try freshly-made Taiwanese egg rolls. There are loads of chicken farms in the area but we visited Lu Jia chicken farm, famous for its coffee shop (we hunt them down 😉 ) and mulberry vinegar. Taitung is also home to one of our favourite experiences in Taiwan – hot air ballooning. Floating over paddy fields with mountains in the distance is an incomparable feeling. Our balloon made its way through suspended clouds and landed in a bright green paddy field, where chilled champagne was waiting for us. Aah, fun times 🙂
When in Taitung, stay at Queena Plaza Hotel. It’s a newly built hotel in the middle of all the action.
Day 12: Day trip to Taimali via the golden needle mountain
Taimali is a rural township that needs to feature on your road trip around Taiwan. This is true Taiwanese rural hinterland and there’s beauty galore.
This is also custard apple territory. You’ll spot loads of shops and orchards along the drive – make sure you sample one (or like us, a dozen!) because they’re scrumptious. Taitung and the surrounding area also gives visitors a great opportunity to to acquaint oneself with the tribes of Taiwan and the aboriginals’ way of life. We tried several dishes from the Amis tribe who reside on the east coast of Taiwan. Here they are in all their glory:
Day 13: Drive back to Taipei
That’s it. A road trip around Taiwan that will introduce you to so many facets of this underrated country. Drive back to Taipei and drop your car at the airport before you fly back.
OPTIONAL Days 14-16 Kinmen Island
If you, like us, like to linger in new countries and really get your teeth stuck in then there’s more. Take a short flight to a Taiwanese island after you return your car. Kinmen (pronounced Jinmen) is a military island that is just half a kilometre off the coast of mainland China. Once there rent a car or an escooter to explore the island. We stayed at Golden Lake Hotel, which was a great and luxurious base for explore Kinmen Island.
Unlike most islands, Kinmen isn’t famous for its beaches or resorts. Instead it boasts of a long and fascinating military history. Here are a few fun things to do on the island
- If being suspended from ropes is your idea of fun try the military ropes course. Both of us tried it and Vid completed it. But I chickened out midway 🙁
- Kinmen has war bunkers at every corner – they offer a fascinating peek into lives of soldiers and civilians during harder times. Make sure you visit a few bunkers on your trip to Kinmen Island.
- Taste Kaoliang Liquor, native to Kinmen. This strong liquor (58%!) is made from sorghum and wheat and is extremely popular on the island. Just go to Kaoliang Liquour factory for free samples 😉
- Check out Kinmen’s historical houses: there orange coloured houses look like they belong in another world. The entire island is dotted with villages that have these houses that seem to have walked straight out of a postcard.
- Ever heard of knives carved made out of mortar shells? Master Wu’s knives are a bit of a legend on the island and perfect for your home if you like souvenirs you can actually used. We bought 2 for our kitchen 🙂
- Go to the local market on Kinmen Island. You’ll spot rice noodles drying on the roadside, bright red lanterns, and temples. Walk around as you try local specialities – peanut candy, sesame candy, fried oyster dumplings – nom 🙂
- Visit a peanut candy factory: Want to taste the most decadent nibbles made out of just peanut and sugar? Visit a peanut candy shop – we won’t judge you if you pick 10 boxes for yourself 😉
A SURPRISE POST for you if you made it to the end 🙂 here’s a Photo Essay on all the behind-the-scenes action from our TV show with Discovery Channel and TLC Asia in Taiwan 🙂