Gold is not the most precious, happiness is worth much more
It took ages, but I finally managed to type up the second part of my Taiwan post. In the first part I introduced some special places to you and told you about precious moments I spent on the island. I shared some experiences with you and told you what amazed me about the place. I also included some personal recommendations of places and activities you shouldn’t miss if you ever get the chance to go.
And today I will complement this personal angle with some hard facts to prepare you for a trip to the island.
We flew with Eva Air, one of the most awarded airlines in the world, with a direct connection from Paris. The flight took about 13-14 hours from Paris, which is long, but in the end passes relatively quickly, especially considering that Taiwan is literally on the other end of the globe from a European perspective, past India and China. Eva Air is the main domestic airline in Taiwan, and member of the Star Alliance group (of which Lufthansa is also a member). The company is one of the very few airlines awarded 5-stars by SKYTRAX (which makes it one of only nine airlines in the world, none of which are from Europe). Moreover, the airline ranks 6th in the global JADEC security ranking, which contributes further to its popularity in the entire Asian region. The only European destinations the airline serves are Vienna, Paris, London and Amsterdam, but there are connecting flights from Germany via Lufthansa, Germanwings, Air Berlin, Austrian Airlines, KLM and, alternatively, Rail & Fly, which covers the entire German rail network and extends up to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. We flew economy class, and had a genuinely good experience, not least due to the fact that we had a bit more legroom than you would expect in economy. The time on board went by pretty quickly, the whole flight was easy and painless.
Random Fact: Due to the fact that the Taiwanese are crazy about all things Hello Kitty, the airport had a giant Hello Kitty Lounge. We even saw Hello Kitty planes (best link ever!)!! Unfortunately they tend to fly only between Taiwan and China, but I found consolation in the Hello Kitty menu in the airport restaurant, complete with Hello Kitty dessert. I can’t help it, I think that’s all really cute.
Having arrived in Taiwan, you have several options for transport:
trains, metro and cars.
Taiwan has a well maintained network of train tracks and roads – perfect for a road trip! The major cities are linked by regular train lines as well as by a super modern high speed train. Which takes you from the the North of the island to the South in 90 minutes. For all cities and locations in between it makes more sense to take a regular train or a Taiwan Tour Bus. However, the most fun option, at least on the east coast, is driving along the marvelous coast by car, and then into the mountains. The east of the island is very mountainous, with a great number of national parks, which also means there are fewer public transport options, as there are generally fewer large towns and mostly little villages in the area.
The major cities are almost exclusively located on the west coast. It really makes a lot of sense to rent a car when heading east – I guarantee you will feel a string urge to stop and take in the beauty of your surroundings more than once. You can then easily drop off the car in Kaohsiung or Taichung and head on by train. In Taipei you certainly won’t need a car. The best way to get around in the capital is the metro, which will save you time, money and energy.
We were pleasantly surprised by how affordable public transportation is despite the high standards everywhere on the island.
Unfortunately we did not stay in private apartments, so I have no experiences to share with you in that respect. However, we did stay in several hotels. Just like with the public transport infrastructure, the standards for hotels, which tend to be rather westernized, are very high indeed – as are the prices! While the price level is not quite as high as, say, London, it is by no means lower than in Berlin. That said, we booked most of our accommodation when already in Taiwan, and found some rooms up to 70% cheaper than the prices we found when we researched the situation in Germany before our trip.
This is typical for Asian countries: accommodation prices for domestic travelers tend to be substantially lower. If you are not averse to a modicum of risk, I highly recommend booking your hotel only for the first night or two. You’ll get much better prices for the rest of your stay if you book spontaneously in Taiwan.
My top pick from the hotels we stayed at would definitely be the Silks Palace Hotel in Taroko National Park (unfortunately we stayed there only for one night). It was simply perfect: pool on the roof, incredible food, rooms with outstanding view on the mountainous landscape and the river and – nothing else, just nature. At night you can gaze at stars from the jacuzzi, watch a movie (in english) in the hotel’s own outdoor cinema, or just unwind in peace and quiet. This place was truly magical, and an ideal break for us on our road trip!
In Taipei we lodged at W Hotel, my favorite address when it comes to city trips, and essentially my favorite chain in general. Once again, I was not disappointed. With hindsight I feel we may have picked the best address in town, as the W is right in the heart of Taipei, with a breathtaking view over the city, which will feature in a separate blog post very soon.
The Taiwanese kitchen is in many ways rather similar to the Chinese cuisine, which means plenty of dumplings (best address: Din Tai Fung) and rather heavy dishes (or, as my boyfriend calls it: ‘real food’). Generally speaking, the cuisine is more on the spicy, savory side, much less fruity than in Thailand, for example. Apart from dumplings, another very popular specialty is Mango Snow Ice, which is essentially kind of a giant sundae with mango ice cream, mango pieces, mango sauce and flaky yoghurt ice cream. Delicioussss! Another must-eat, or rather must-drink, is the famous bubble tea, which was invented in Taiwan. It tastes so much better in the country of its origin, incredible. Also, make sure to try some Taiwanese green tea! You will find plenty of tea houses, which specialize exclusively on tea ceremonies. If you happen to pass one of those (e.g. Jiufen), make sure to participate in a ceremony. I think you will find it’s really worth it!
A trip to the supermarket is an exciting adventure in Taiwan. The shelves are full with colorful sweets, exotic juices (asparagus juice, anyone) and a wide range of teas. I loved the local black tea with milk, in fact I really miss it now. Taiwan is located right between China and Japan, so there are many Japanese products available in Taiwan, which makes it all even more fun for western visitors. We encountered a lot of interesting, exciting and tasty food in this country, not only in restaurants but also on night markets like Shihlin. These markets offer delicacies for a bargain, from noodles in all shapes and forms and salade to loads of deep-fried dishes which most of the time I couldn’t even properly identify. My favorite were the sweet potato balls, and the plentiful fresh juices. Yummy!
Having said that, there were some local specialities that I could not warm to at all, namely stinking tofu and snake dishes. Plus, the Taiwanese seem to love food in pudding shape and consistency, somewhere between solid and liquid. That took a bit of getting used to, but I really got into it. If you’re up for trying exotic dishes and enjoy culinary adventures, look no further than Taiwan when planning your next trip.
By the way, vegetarians, rejoice! A large part of the Taiwanese population lives on a vegetarian diet, which is reflected in the wide range of veggie dishes and restaurants. In other word’s, it’s also a perfect for you if living meat-free is you thing!
When it comes to shopping, you truly get your money’s worth here in Taiwan. You will want for nothing. Apart from some great bargains on the night markets, my highlight were the local Taiwanese designers, spearheaded by Jamei Chen, Shiatzy Chen, Loranzo, Douchanglee and Agaric Garden. Most of the interesting brands are available at Eslite Shopping Center, which was originally a 24h bookstore that has gradually turned into kind of a mall over time. The store supports local designers by offering a dedicated boot with designs made in Taiwan. If you are looking for a special souvenir or present, or if you simply love beautiful clothes, you’ll definitely find something special in the Eslite Center.
Talking about shopping, I also like the East District very much, the are surrounding the Zhongxiao Dunhua station. It is a great region to stroll around and to explore the many little shops like Ampm, NLF, and so many more. The area was a real highlight for me, I found some genuinely cool and unique labels and designs there, some of which I would not have dared to wear myself. I saw tons of great clothes with a 90s twist, and was struck by the wide range of destructivist clothing as well. Generally speaking, the dominant fashion on the streets is stylistically somewhere between COS and Urban Outfitters. But it does not stop with clothes. The Taiwanese have a huge affinity for make-up – especially Korean make-up! I could have spent my last cent on masks and make-up over there. Apart from the popular Korean brands, there are also a number of awesome Taiwanese brands like for example L’Herboflore and Sexylook, which specialize on treatments and masks. For me as a blogger, Taipei was a real highlight. I wish I’d have had more time (and money) to spend. There was so much to discover in this city. The whole trip would have been completely worth it for Taipei alone!
In collaboration with EVA AIR