Our Itinerary – Taiwan

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Taiwan, I’d spotted a photo of Taroko George on Pinterest then Skyscanner’s “Everywhere” option told us we could get there for pennies from Vietnam as a detour on our way to the Philippines, I was sold.

It was strange but fun for me to explore and experience a country that I knew very little about, had done zero research for and had no idea what to expect.

I’m sure we could have found a more efficient route, or cheaper hotels if we had booked further ahead, and no doubt we probably missed some of the main tourist attractions but we absolutely loved our time in Taiwan.

We arrived in Kaohsiung and spent 3 nights exploring the city and the nearby Lotus Lake, while getting used to the unique (and sometimes strange) Taiwanese food.

From there we traveled north along the West Coast to Taichung. We spent 4 nights there including a very lazy Christmas Day, and a day trip to Sun Moon Lake.

Next was Hualien on the East Coast, our favourite town in Taiwan, 4 nights was perfect to see and do everything. The costal parks are stunning and the nearby Taroko National Park was our best day in Taiwan.

Finally we ended up in Taipei and got to see the incredible Taipei 101 New Years Eve firework display. We also made the most of the metro system and got out of town for a few days. We spent 5 days in Taipei and still didn’t see everything.

The national train system operates as a giant circle around the edges of Taiwan, our route wasn’t exactly streamline but it didn’t feel like a hassle traveling in Taiwan.

I’ve also written a post about all the boring details like average costs, visa requirements, currency, and everything else you should know when planning a trip to Taiwan, click HERE to read.

Costs & Useful Information – Taiwan

Taiwan isn’t nicknamed the heart of Asia for nothing, it has so much character and it’s completely unique compared to anywhere else we’ve been. This tiny little country should certainly be on any Asia itinerary. Here’s a few things that will help you plan the perfect trip:

Get out of Taipei: It is absolutely amazing and you could easily spend a full week in Taipei, but there are other parts of Taiwan worth visiting too. See our itinerary HERE for some ideas.

It’s not cheap: It was a surprise to me how expensive things cost in Taiwan, we spent an average of £72 per day between both of us, of course we could have done it cheaper if we really tried. We had just came from Vietnam which is super cheap, so that may have altered our opinion of what was cheap and what isn’t.

Getting Around: The train is you best choice in Taiwan, it’s cheap, reliable and regular. Tickets can be bought from machines in any station up to 10 days in advance and there is an English speaking option for tourists.

Accommodation: We traveled over Christmas and New Year so the price we paid for hotels was slightly inflated to an average of £40 per night, although I didn’t mind too much because everywhere we stayed was superb.

Visa: UK passport holders are allowed to enter for up to 90 days but you must have your outbound flight booked before you try to enter.

Vaccinations: At the time of writing (January 2018) there are no vaccinations or anti-malaria medication required.

Dress Code: Ladies generally cover their chest and neck, although legs are completely exposed. I got stared at a few times in a low cut t-shirt.

Money: The currency in Taiwan is Dollar and there are lots of ATM’s everywhere. I had heard of a few tourists having their credit cards rejected but my UK issued MasterCard worked every time. Exchange rates in January 2018 below:

£1 (GBP) = $40.85

$1 (USD) = $29.23

€1 (EUR) = $35.81

Taroko George – Taiwan

Taroko National Park is the largest park in Taiwan, it stretches from Hualien in the East all the way to Taichung in the West. Taroko George is the most visited part of the park as it is easily accessible as a day trip from Hualien.

It is possible to visit from Taipei as a day trip but it’s a very long day and you miss out everything else Hualien has to offer, see our Hualien post HERE.

Points of interest within the park:

Swallow Grotto: it’s a long way down to the river below, the view is incredible as long as you’re not scared of heights.

Eternal Spring Shrine: Built in honour of the hundreds of workers who died building the essential east-west highway.

Shakadang Trail: Walk along far enough and you’ll reach a point where you can dip your hand in the pure blue water.

Qingshui Cliff: Where the park meets the ocean at a dramatic angle, perfect selfie spot.

Echo Valley: Shout loud enough and you will hear your own voice echoing back.

KK-Day Tours Review:

The tour cost us £32 and we pre-booked online 2 days before. the night before the tour we were sent a photo of the bus that would be picking us up and an exact pickup time.

the bus arrived exactly on time and Toby was a fantastic tour guide, his English was perfect and he was very enthusiastic about the park. lunch was included in the tour, we had 3 options to select from, I had veg fried rice and Sean had beef noodles, both were great.

Because of the location of the park and the distance from one site to another, I would certainly recommend joining a day trip from Hualien, KK-Day tours is a great budget option and the mini bus is much more personal than the gigantic coaches we saw driving about.

I would recommend KK-Day tours to anyone who asked, you can book online HERE.

Hualien – Taiwan

Hualien was our favourite town in Taiwan, it has a small town feel but still has lots to do and it’s popular with tourists visiting the famous Taroko National Park.

Things To Do:

1. I’ve done a separate post on Taroko National Park, it really shouldn’t be missed on any trip to Taiwan. Click HERE to read.

2. The beach front walkways and parks are absolutely beautiful on a sunny day, Nanbin Park and Beibin Park are both worth a visit. Bicycles can be hired for most hotels if you want to go a little further.

3. The Hualien Tourist Night Market is more like a carnival, there is music playing, everyone is in a great mood, and there are lots of fun games to play. The food at the market also ranges from traditional Taiwan food to more western food aimed at a tourist palate.

4. The Pine Gardens are a nice place to spend an hour or so, entry is $50 and the park consists of old Japanese war buildings, including a bomb shelter. Most of which have been turned into shops or cafes, the park is small but very pretty and overlooks Hualien to the right and the ocean to the left.

Places To Eat:

A few steps outside our hotel, just on the corner of Fuxing Street and Datong Street there are three outstanding restaurants, we visited all 3 during our 4 night stay in Hualien, it was difficult to pick our favourite because they were all great, but if we had to choose, we’d probably say the Thai place.

Thai restaurant – A-one, (Closed on Mondays)

Mexican restaurant – Dos Tacos, (No.1 on TripAdvisor)

Ivory Coast restaurant – Africa,

Hualien also has a whole host of local canteen/self serve type restaurants where you can buy a good meal for next to nothing, along Zhongshan road.

Getting There:

Hualien has its own airport and train station, the train to Taipei is around 2 and a half hours, with plenty of trains throughout the day.

Where To Stay:

I booked the Unique Holiday Hotel on Hotels.com for £25 per night, it was basic but clean and had an ok breakfast. The location was ideal.

Kaohsiung – Taiwan

Taiwans second biggest city, Kaohsiung is often overlooked by tourists, but its full culture and character, a perfect addition to any Taiwan itinerary.

Things To Do:

If you’ve ever googled Kaohsiung you will most likely have already seen photos of the iconic lights at Formosa Boulevard metro station. The lights are before the ticket checking points so you don’t need to buy a ticket to get in.

The Love river snakes its way through the city, pedestrian and cycling paths line both sides with various parks and seating areas along the way, on a sunny day it’s a perfect place for a gentle stroll or a long walk depending how energetic your feeling.

The Holy Rosary Cathedral next to the banks of the Love river is said to be the oldest in Taiwan, we weren’t dressed appropriately so we didn’t actually go inside but the building was very beautiful on the outside.

The Hakka Culture Museum is also on the river bank and its free to enter. It’s not very big but is full of information about the Hakka people and their migration to Taiwan.

Lotus lake was about a 1 hour walk from the centre of the city, although there are public transport options available, just check google maps. We enjoyed the walk after being cooped up on the flight from Vietnam. Surrounding the lake are various temples and monuments, we didn’t go inside them all, just the ones that especially caught our eye. We were particularly impressed with the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas.

Kaohsiung Night Markets:

Like every other city in Taiwan, Kaohsiung has its fair share of night markets, they are a good place to pick up a cheap meal and people watch. We visited the following 3 markets;

1. Liuhe Tourist Night Market, this one is very touristy and focuses mainly on sea food, its open every night and gets really busy at weekends.

2. Ruifeng Night Market, less touristy but bigger and more choice, our favourite in Kaohsiung although it’s not open every day.

3. Nanhua Night Market, less food choices and more clothing options, lots of scooters driving though way to fast, we didn’t really rate this one.

Getting There:

The main train station is located right in the heart of the city, there is also a metro line (red line) running direct to the airport, it costs $35 per person and comes every few minutes.

Where To Stay:

We stayed in the Kiwi Express hotel, it was small but very clean and breakfast was great, rooms were £24 per night on Hotels.com and breakfast was pretty good too. It’s location is good for the metro and main train stations.

Taichung – Taiwan

There’s no doubt that Taichung attracts visitors mainly because of its proximity to Sun Moon Lake, I’ve done a separate post HERE on a DIY tour to the lake from Taichung.

But it’s not just a one trick pony, Taichung is a nice city in itself, with lots to offer.

Things To Do:

Animation Ally is exactly that, an ally in Taichung covered in animations, it’s pretty cute and even though it’s a bit out the way we were still glad we saw it. It’s short and you only need about 15 minutes there.

Even though your not allowed inside the city hall, it’s still a building worth making a short detour to see the European style building.

Taichung park is absolutely beautiful on a sunny day, it’s a fairy decent size for a city centre park and is a central meeting point for joggers, dog walkers and families having picnics.

I’m not sure the name of the river side park because it’s written in Chinese, but enter where Dacheng Street meets Liuchuan West Road. It’s a really pretty little place, the whole park was lit up at night but I’m not sure if that’s a permanent feature or just a Christmas thing.

The Cultural park on the east side of the railway tracks is still a work in progress, although I’ve got really high hopes for this place when it’s finished. We walked around but didn’t enter any of the buildings due to construction work.

Where To Eat:

We were stereotypical European tourists and ate at the German Christmas market a few times which was great.

The night market was ok but honestly I wasn’t a big fan of the street food in Taiwan so we didn’t have much to eat there.

We much preferred the canteen, self serve type cafes dotted around the city, mainly only open during the daytime.

We treated ourselves to one expensive meal on Christmas Eve at IL Volo Pizza, a really nice Italian restaurant. Try the mushroom pasta.

Getting There:

Taichung has a normal and a high speed railway station as well as its own airport. Shuttle trains run from the HSR station and the airport to the main station regularly.

Where To Stay:

The Cloud Hotel worked out at an average of £40 per night, but we splashed out a little bit, knowing that we’d be there for Sean’s 30th birthday as well as Christmas Day.

The room was amazing, absolutely brand new and spotless, we had a spa bath in the room and a great view over the city from our 12th floor window. Breakfast was good and there were free snacks all day in the lobby.

Sun Moon Lake – Taiwan

Sun Moon Lake is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Taiwan. People either visit for the day from Taichung or spend a few nights at the lake. See our Taichung guide HERE.

A day trip option from Taipei is also possible but it’s a very long day.

How To See The Lake:

The most common way to see the lake is to cycle, to cover the whole circumference takes about 4 hours. The trail is clearly marked and reasonably flat, there are lots of bike rentals close to the bus stop.

If you choose to walk the circumference then you probably won’t get all the way around in one day, unless your a supersonic fitness lover (where not).

If all that seems like too much hard work then you can buy a hop on hop off boat ticket for the full day, ferries will take you from one part of the lake to another at regular intervals.

Where To Eat:

There are lots of options for various budgets, ranging from 7/11 to super fancy hotel restaurants.

We really enjoyed the Moon Cafe, the food was reasonably priced, especially their combo meals and the restaurant overlooks the lake.

Getting There:

From Taichung is really easy, there’s a direct bus that leaves every 45 minutes or so, travel time is between 1 hour 30 minutes and 2 hours depending on the time of day.

Click HERE for actual timetables.

You will need to buy a ticket from inside the shop before you board. A return ticket is $350 per person.

The bus stops at Shuishe Visitors Centre a few steps back from the lake.

To get back to Taichung the bus leaves from the same place it dropped you off (but on the opposite side of the road).

Where To Stay:

There are plenty of accommodation options available in Sun Moon Lake although much more expensive than Taichung city. Depending on your budget, a day trip could be more suitable.

Taipei – Taiwan

Taipei is the capital city of Taiwan, it has so much to offer and plenty of visitors to Taiwan never leave Taipei during their vacation.

Things To Do:

1. The Taipei 101 building dominates the skyline, its currently the second tallest building in the world, and can be seen from miles away. The ground floor is a food court, then up from that there is a few floors of shopping mall, then offices and at the very top is an observation deck, waiting time can vary and tickets start at $600.

2. The Xiangshan Hiking Trail is a free alternative to the Taipei 101 observation deck, and personally I think it’s better because you can actually see the Taipei 101 building in your photographs! Xiangshan is the very last stop on the red line, exit the station and walk all the way through the park until you get to the other side and follow signs for the trail. It’s not a long hike but you will need some basic fitness.

3. For a perfect sunset photograph, join the dozens of tripod owners along the river banks at Yanping Riverside Park, there is a cycle trail and outdoor gyms along the way, the perfect place to spend a warm evening.

4. The National Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall is a very unique looking building compared to traditional Taiwan architecture, it’s more Chinese in style and is surrounded by beautiful gardens, the changing of the guards ceremony attracts visitors from all over. It’s flanked by two traditional buildings (the convent hall and theatre) and in front is an old arched gateway. Easily accessible on the red or green lines.

5. The Presidential Building is worth a short detour, your only allowed to walk past and not allowed to stop and take photos, but photos are allowed from the other side of the road.

6. The botanical gardens are free to enter and open daily, the central pond is home to all manner of birds and other wildlife. There’s also a herb garden which is quite interesting. Take the metro to the CKS memorial hall and walk about 15 minutes.

7. The Bopiliao Historical Block close to Lungshan Temple (an overrated temple for me) is a real step back in time to the old Taipei. The whole street has been restored to its former glory, and though we couldn’t read a lot of the Chinese plaques, we still enjoyed wandering in and out of the old houses. Entrance is free, 5 minutes walk from the Lungshan Temple Metro Station.

8. Heading slightly north of the city, following the red line to Beitou Station, you will find Beitou park and natural baths, and a little further on the Thermal Valley hot springs. The hot springs are too hat to bath in, and the volcanic sulphur gives them a stink that can’t be seen on photographs. It’s an absolutely incredible site to see, especially if you haven’t seen this kind of thing before. The minerals in the water make it a bright blue and the steam makes it look like something from a fantasy movie.

9. Shifen Waterfall is a full day trip from Taipei, like everywhere in this magnificent country, the water is a crystal clear bright blue. Located in Shifen (a beautiful old town famous for lanterns – you can buy one for $150). The hike to the waterfall is only around 45 minutes and is mostly flat with a few steps along the way. To get there you need to take a train from Taipei main station to Ruifang ($135 return) then take the tourist train along the Pingxi line ($80 for a full day ticket) to Shifen then walk back on yourself through the old street and follow signs to the waterfall.

Where To Eat:

If your staying in New Taipei then you will love the Rio Restaurant, we ate here on New Year Eve and paid around $320 each for 5 courses.

Most other nights we are at the Taiwan Buffet next to our hotel, it’s open till 11pm and is a self serve canteen. The price is pennies and the food is wonderful.

The Taipei 101 food court is surprisingly a really good budget option, take the entrance opposite the metro station. It’s absolutely huge with so much choice, although can still be difficult to find a seat during busy periods.

Getting There:

The express train from the airport takes 38 minutes and costs $160, the slower train costs $130.

The main train station is in the centre of the city and you can take a direct train from anywhere in Taiwan.

Once you get to Taipei, the metro system is fantastic, we used it every single day. It’s really easy to use, and ranges from $20 to $50 depending how far you are traveling.

Where To Stay:

Taipei is so huge that you can’t be next to everything, and the metro system is so good that you don’t need to be in the centre anyway.

We stayed at the Xinshe Hotel in New Taipei, we paid a ridiculous price for our first night as it was New Years Eve, then around £30 per night after that. Luckily we had Hotels.com reward points to offset the majority of the first night.

The hotel was really nice, and breakfast was good, the beds were huge and there was a bathtub in the room. It was only 5 minutes away from Taipei Bridge metro station.