My Taiwan Travel Guide: Road trips, Coffee Shops, Night markets, Parties and then some

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View From Top of the Elephant Mountain
View From Top of the Elephant Mountain - Photo credits: Manali Mane

Taiwan was pretty much a last-minute trip for us. We had planned for Bali to celebrate the New Year. However, due to Mt Agung eruption, we had to cancel our plans. We started looking for other options as we only had two weeks left for cancelling the Bali flight and deciding on another place. Since our flight to Bali was via Taiwan that was a cheap and easy option. We changed our tickets and got a round-trip to Taiwan instead. This is how we decided on Taiwan as our New Year Destination. We weren’t sure if this would be as great as we thought Bali to be but we took our chances and were hoping it surprises us. It very well did! And here’s my Taiwan travel guide, based on my experience.

Impressive Public Transportation!

Public transportation is pretty impressive in Taiwan. I had a couple of options from the Airport to get to the hostel in Taipei – Taxi’s, Bus, MRT, THSR (Taiwan High-Speed Rail). Not just locally but commute to different cities within the province is super convenient and everything is accessible via public transportation. I found this ultimate guide which was very helpful in getting an idea of how to decide our commute in Taiwan. For two days I had no car and was exploring on foot. Everything was at a walkable distance or accessible by either MRT or bus. Uber and yellow cabs are also other options but we had a difficult time due to the language barrier.

I called an uber to drop me to the car rental on my 3rd day. I spent 15 mins explaining to the driver where I was, to which he only kept saying “I don’t know”. That’s all the English he knew. The road signs were in English but their pronunciation made it difficult to communicate. It helped to a certain degree and after waiting for 20 mins, my ride was finally here.

There were Yellow Cabs everywhere in the city. On one night when we were out partying in Ximending and had to go to a club called Taboo that was 15 mins drive away, we decided to get a cab. Our driver didn’t know English, so we ended up giving him hand signals to indicate left, right and U-turn!

Before deciding on driving to Taroko Gorge I looked at an alternative way of getting there which was by train to Hualien county. It’s 2hrs of a scenic train ride and a taxi from the station to the Gorge costs 200 NTD one way. That was another cheap option.

So basically, every place is accessible via public transport, which was pretty cool.

Stay at Great locations!
Colourful Airbnb houses In Kenting, Taiwan
Airbnb In Kenting – Photo credits: Manali Mane

We were overwhelmed by the options we had for our stay. Taiwan has really cool, quirky hostels all over. So deciding on places we wanted to explore helped in eliminating potential options. All our accommodations were super cheap and at a convenient distance from MRT’s and/or bus stops. My experience with the stay in Taiwan was 10/10 in terms of safety, hygiene, cleanliness, convenience, and communication.

Taipei has a variety of themed hostels. This was my first time staying in a hostel, so I was pretty excited. I was staying at Space Inn Hostel in the heart of Ximending. This is a space-themed hostel. Extremely clean, hygienic, safe, in a good location and fun.

Our stay at Kenting Dajian Mountain Leisure Cottage, was another good choice because it was right in front of Kenting Beach and close to Kenting Night Market, Kenting National Park and 10 mins drive away from Heng-Chung township.

Roaders was the only hotel that we booked since everything was sold out at that time. The hotel is pretty hipster and in the hub of Taipei City. It’s about a 15-minute drive away from Taipei 101. Which is what we were looking for.

Relaxing in Roaders hotel; Taiwan travel guide
At Roaders – Photo credits: Manali Mane

Roadtrip in Taiwan is a must!

Driving in Taiwan was one of the most incredible experiences and now I know why a road trip here is a must. The beauty of this place lies in how well you can explore it. With the most amazing roads (minus the traffic), appealing coastline, astonishing views of coffee and orange fields, magnificent Temples etc – can’t miss it; which is why it is an essential part of my Taiwan travel guide.

I was driving on the East to Hualien which is approximately a 3 hr drive from Taipei. You drive through remote areas that have sharp turns, one-way roads (some of the two-way roads were blocked due to construction, so they were only allowing one-way traffic at a time), unexpected grotto’s and about 38 tunnels on your way and the view of the Pacific Ocean, once you enter Hualien. The challenge was using a GPS here. It took me a day to get used to the GPS fucking up and re-routing.

Driving on our long road trip to Kenting which is in southern Taiwan is another adventurous ride. It’s an 8 hr long drive. The exquisite view of the coastline decked with windmills, coconut trees, the highways overlooking the ocean – can’t miss it. The roads were pretty isolated, so whenever we would miss a turn, exit or take a detour (for coffee or pee break) we had to take a less traversed road which took us through remote areas surrounded by fields and narrow lanes. Driving with one person guiding from the outside was the only way to make it through these roads.

Road trip to Kenting,Taiwan Travel guide
Driving in Kenting – Photo credits: Manali Mane

I remember driving to Rainbow Village where GPS took us from a secluded area which had a narrow, one-way road surrounded by a cornfield. So we had to be careful about the vehicle coming from the opposite direction and the ditch on the side of the road. I had my friend guide me as I was worried about tumbling on the side of the road into the field with no idea on how to communicate with the towing people, considering not everyone in Taiwan speaks/knows/understands English.

Rainbow village, Taiwan
Rainbow Village – Photo credits: Manali Mane

Finding the cutest Coffee shops in the most unexpected nooks and corners of the city

Next up on my Taiwan Travel Guide is Coffee Shops! As coffee lovers/addicts we love to explore new coffee shops and their coffee. And if you are one too, this is the place where you will not be disappointed. Gu Keng in Taiwan is the coffee hub and has a huge coffee plantation. Something we were not aware of and was definitely a surprise.

While walking back from 228 Peace Memorial Park, I came across this coffee shop called Bean there Cafe. A mix of modern and traditional, this coffee shop also had a library, so you could sit and read a book or buy one as well, and of course, amazing coffee.

Interior of Bean There Cafe in Taiwan
Bean There Cafe – Photo credits: Manali Mane

On our way to Kenting, we wanted to take a coffee break so we looked for a nearby coffee shop and came across LambKin coffee shop in Zhudong township. This was a small easygoing town and we had no idea what to expect from this coffee shop. In the middle of a residential area surrounded by old dilapidated buildings – a cute, little, quirky coffee shop. Their menu had no English translation, so they were translating the menu into English words to us. Communication was definitely one of the biggest problems we faced in Taiwan.

Interior of Lambkin Coffee shop
Lambkin Coffee shop – Photo credits: Manali Mane

Coffee culture is growing in Taiwan and apart from some really good coffee, you will see some really top-notch coffee shops with an offbeat decor, warm environment and welcoming people.

Thank god for Nightmarkets!

This was yet another element that confirmed that Taiwan indeed has it all. Food, drinks, hookah, dance, street shows, music everything. Night markets here are a blessing. With the variety of food, you can never starve here (As long as your food preferences are flexible). I got a chance to visit Shilling, Ximending, Shifen Old street and Jiufen Old-street.

Ximending Market in Taiwan
Ximending Market – Photo credits: Manali Mane

All the night markets have lots of restaurants, street food, shopping, malls etc. I was in food heaven and went crazy trying as much as I could! The one restaurant that personally caught my attention was Modern Toilet in Ximending. This toilet-themed restaurant has a variety of food options to choose from and has appetizing food served in a not so appetizing toilet pot. However, I was never out of food during my stay in Taiwan as I always had options right next to me. Every Night market is different in its own way. Ximending is more commercialised with big shopping malls and fancy restaurants which I didn’t see in Shiling Night market, Jiufen or Shifen old street. Shilling Night Market is more laid back and has more street food options, game stalls, and shopping stalls. Whereas Jiufen Old street still has the essence of Japanese style which reflects through its architecture and also the view of Keelung Outer Sea.

Menu and counter top in the Modern Toilet restaurant in Ximending
Modern Toilet in Ximending – Photo credits: Manali Mane

Shifen Old street has souvenir shops everywhere and a majority of them sell lanterns, so I got their traditional lanterns with a message engraved on it – one for me and my friends. After walking a little ahead I see a railway track where people were lighting the lanterns. It’s one of the touristy things to do. I was engrossed in taking pictures of the whole chaos until we heard a loud whistle and the next thing I see is people getting off the track and on the side. It was an absolutely functional railway track with the train approaching. I would have never imagined the spot to be so famous for lighting a lantern.

Shifen Old-street, lighting the lantern on railway tracks
Shifen Old-street, lighting the lantern – Photo credits: Manali Mane

Apart from the night markets, I also saw a lot of small food stalls everywhere around the city just like in India.

Taiwan knows how to party!

On other note, Taiwan definitely knows how to party. There are a lot of clubs and pubs in the city. For new years, we wanted to look for a crazy place to bring in the New year and be close to Taipei 101.

The downtown area near 101 has two buildings called ATT4fun and Neo. Taipei 101 is right in the middle of these two buildings. Both the buildings have some really great clubs like Elektro, Wave, OMNI, ROOM 18, The Show Box and WAX.  All these clubs are in one of the two buildings except for OMNI and they have a cover charge with the first drink free of cost. We paid around 1500 NTD cover and our first drink was free. After that, it cost us around 200-300 NT per drink. Whenever we went clubbing or to a pub, the place would always be packed and the crowd would be at a very different energy level.

Half an hour before fireworks, we stepped out of the building and found a spot in front of 101.

Coastline, Gorge, Hot springs, Beach, Parks – the Taiwan travel guide has got everything…

The Coastline on the east of Taiwan, near Hualien
The Coastline on the east of Taiwan, near Hualien – Photo credits: Manali Mane

Taiwan is Blessed with the wonderful coastline which is hidden from the main city. So when I drove to Taroko gorge, Kenting, Taitung, Jiufen old street is when I got to see it and I was definitely stunned. I really liked how they have a perfect balance of City-life and to get away from the business, a drive to Hualien, Kenting, Taitung is just what one would need. On my drive to Taroko, I got an uninterrupted view of the coastline from Quingshi Cliff which falls on the way towards the Gorge.

On the Way to Taroko Gorge, Taiwan
On the Way to Taroko Gorge – Photo credits: Manali Mane

During our stay in Heng-Chung and Kenting, everything was available at a walkable distance from our Airbnb. We were looking for some good food and drinks by the beach and while we were drinking coffee at Migu Village, the owner of the shop suggested a place called Three Fools which is on Kenting beach. Sitting on the beach and enjoying some Taiwan beer with barbeque chicken and prawns was refreshing.

Kenting Beach, Taiwan Travel Guide
Kenting Beach – Photo credits: Manali Mane

In Taipei, night markets and parks are at a walkable distance or easily accessible via public transportation. On my first day in Taipei, I walked out of my hostel to get some breakfast and came across this small shop on the side of the road and decided to try the local breakfast. I ordered by looking at the pictures on the menu as there was no English translation. Their traditional bread-sticks are the best. I got a to-go and kept walking until I saw a park called 228 Peace Memorial Park. It was my first day and I was already loving it.

228 Peace Memorial Park, Taiwan
228 Peace Memorial Park – Photo credits: Manali Mane

Taiwan has some amazing Hot Springs. In December it’s pretty cold here which is a perfect weather to visit Hotsprings. Beitou Hot Springs is the famous one which is around 30 mins away if you take an MRT from Taipei Station. It’s one of the radium hot springs in the world and is supposed to be therapeutic. Wulai Hot Springs is another famous hot spring in Wulai district. There are few others in Yilan County and Miaoli County. Well, we just did not expect for Hotsprings in Taiwan so we were pretty amazed!

Extravagant Fireworks!

A lit up building in Taiwan
Before the fireworks – Photo credits: Manali Mane

My expectations were set after seeing Burj Khalifa fireworks in Dubai on New Years last year. And I only wanted it to be even more mind-blowing. I had heard of Taipei 101 fireworks to be impressive. We got out of Elektro club around 11:45 PM and squeezed our way through the crowd to find the closest spot to see the fireworks. As soon as the countdown started our heart started thumping because we knew we were about to experience something exhilarating. The whole thrill and the wait just made it even better. And the fireworks went on for 6 mins. We totally forgot to wish Happy new year to each other. We realized it only after the Fireworks!

A building in Taiwan litup with fireworks during New Year's
After the fireworks! – Photo credits: Manali Mane

Exploring Taiwan has been an escapade that really surprised me. Even though there were some roadblocks, the journey is what made it fun. There were times when we would get frustrated with the way things were, but that’s the beauty of being in a new place and accepting it for what it has to offer. The end result was a remarkable experience! I hope my Taiwan travel guide will help you make your experience just as memorable.

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