Since arriving in Taiwan last Saturday I’ve travelled from the highest peak to the aqua ocean. I’ve driven through marble gorges and over fluffy clouds, hiked mossy mountains and cycled jade-coloured lakes. Taiwan has surprised me and consistently charmed me. I’ve got a few days left getting to know this country but these are my highlights so far.
Beitou Hot Springs
After my 14-hour journey with Cathay Pacific to Taipei I was met by Michael from My Taiwan Tours who was to be my driver, guide and best friend for the week. My flight had gone smoothly, I’d particularly enjoyed the extra legroom and plumper pillow you get in premium economy, but Michael had a tempting suggestion to get my day of sight-seeing started.
“Have you been to a hot spring bath before?” he said.
I hadn’t, not one like this anyway. Taiwan is bubbling with hot spring activity so Michael took me to Beitou just outside of Taipei for a private hot spring experience. The Japanese style spa had rooms you could rent by the hour with a hot spring bath, a cold bath and a shower and toiletry area. Soaking in the warm waters was one the best things I have ever done after a long haul flight.
A homestay is a popular form of accommodation in Taiwan but I was a little apprehensive about my first – I had no idea they could be so luxurious. In Hualien I stayed with a carpenter and his wife in a gorgeous room above their workshop. The bedrooms and communal area were filled with the furniture the owner had handcrafted, and all of it was available to buy if you wanted to take it home with you.
After a very sound night’s sleep I was greeted by fresh fruit, warm cashew nuts and a cup of tea, which I consumed in the cosy living area with the other guests and owners. It certainly felt homely.
Fishing for your supper
In Hualien we got to fish for our supper as that evening’s activity was shrimp catching in the river. I have never fished in my life and it became apparent very quickly that I wouldn’t be catching any shrimp until I knew what they looked like. With a head torch and net in place I waded through the river trying to spot the reflection of the tiny shrimp eyes. Eventually I caught just one – but it was a very big one! The team from Wilds Taiwan were more practised and managed to fill a net with shrimp, which they then set alight on the fire and we consumed whole. I don’t normally eat seafood, certainly not with their heads on, but had to try the fruits of my labour. I can’t say I loved it – it was a bit like eating a fishy bug! Also thrown on the bbq though were Taiwanese sausage, pork, chicken wings and calamari, which I consumed with gusto! We washed the meal down with some Taiwan beer and finished the night with a sing-along – Taiwan style.
Top of Taiwan
Yesterday we crossed the central mountains on the central cross-island highway. This has to be one of the most spectacular drives of my life – the sapphire blue sky framing the mossy green peaks. We weren’t completely lazy though – we got out of the car to hike the last few kilometres to the top of Mount Shihmen and then celebrated our efforts.
Cycling Sun Moon Lake
Remember that serene picture I saw on London Underground that got me thinking about Taiwan? Well, I got to recreate it for myself. CNN recently voted the cycle trail around Sun Moon Lake one of the best in the world and it certainly felt good to ride it yesterday.
The lake is a popular attraction for couples (the soft, misty light is very romantic) and we met one engaged couple posing for photos on the water’s edge.
There are highlights I don’t have photos for too – such as the moment a stranger insisted on buying me sweets when he realised I was a visitor to his country and when the team from My Taiwan Tour sought out travel sickness pills for me as I felt ill on the first day.
I have tried foods I have never heard of and tasted things I wish I hadn’t. But the Taiwanese love food (the night markets are exceptional) and Michael and the team are dedicated to finding me a local delicacy I will love. I’ll let you know how that goes..
So I shall return to my exploring and look forward to discovering more of Taipei. Thanks to all who have shared your tips so far and for following along with my #TaiwanTour. You can find all the latest updates by following me on Facebook or twitter and see some more of my daily highlights on the Taiwan Tourism UK Facebook page.
I flew to Taiwan in a very comfortable premium economy seat with Cathay Pacific – a full review of that experience will follow soon.