What are some destinations that inspire you to travel further, that are relatively safe, have bicycle-dedicated highways, endless oceans, surfing and mountains with the greatest street food eats? I can wholly say that there’s one country that fits this description to a T, and that’s Taiwan - a clear underrated destination in Asia.
If hiking, surfing and cycling are what you’re looking at then Taiwan is the perfect adventurous destination to start with. You can explore Taiwan in 7 day, 10 days or a week via this itinerary and it won’t be enough to cover the place but this should give you an introduction on what it feels like to venture to these hidden gems in Taiwan.
After digging a bit about the Taiwanese past and talking to a few locals, I found that the Taiwanese have a strong cultural appeal to Japan. If you visit streets in Tainan or Taipei, you’ll notice bilingual store signs in Mandarin and even Japanese with many traces of their legacy left behind.
Afterall, to the southwest of Okinawa, Taiwan was Japanese soil for about 5 decades until 1895 and the end of WWII. On the other hand, they do not want to be associated with the Han Chinese and are deeply anti-communist, holding strong pride to their beliefs as a true democratic country which they have fought long and hard to determine their own future.
Adventurous Guide to Taiwan: 10 Days or Less Itinerary
Start with Taiwan’s Second Largest City: 1 Day in Kaohsiung
We started our journey in Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s industrial port city and the second largest city. The flights to Kaohsiung are often cheaper than Taipei and makes it easier to travel to the East Coast towns in Taiwan. On our first day, it can be overwhelming to land in Kaohsiung - the traffic, smog, and big buildings reminded me of China’s Shenzhen.
However, it is also a great place to sort your bicycles if cycling is what you want to do and explore the street food scene.
Visit Liuhe Night Market
Not as popular as Taipei street market, but gives you a great introduction to Taiwan’s street food, games, entertainment and everything that you can find in one place. There are 138 stalls in Liuhe Night Market, most of them serve snacks and provide entertainment and games for recreation. You’ll come across tasty seafood from all kinds - squid, prawns, crab, shrimp, octopus and every other weird “snacks”.
Walk Alongside The Love River and visit Kaohsiung’s Central Park
It is quite nice to walk alongside the promenade and feel the winds of the city especially at sunset. One of my favourite things to do when I visit a city is to have a look at the country’s local parks. I am a big fan of walking spaces and it is particularly nice to see locals from all walks of life come out to use public spaces for different reasons - probably one of the best places to people watch as well.
Ride a Bicycle on The East Coast
I had wanted to experience cycling on Taiwan and before my trip I reached out to a bunch of shops and surprisingly this shop in Kaohsiung was the only one who conversed with me in English and it was easy to organise logistics with them. They’re called Oya (歐亞單車行) Bike Shop. It is located in Sanmin District near Hebei 1st Road. You can drop him and e-mail ‘[email protected]’ to make reservations or if you have any enquiries. The bike rental per day costs around $10 per day - includes, helmet, panniers and tools.
You can arrange to drop off your bike at a different location such as Kenting or organise a different plan. They offer customised bike ride packages covering route planning, bike and support car rental and even accommodation. The Taiwan government has made it easy for people to cycle in their country especially along the east coast roads with the home-grown brand Giant and sprawling network of dedicated path so organising a cycling trip comes in effortlessly.
Where to stay in Kaohsiung?
Nice Hotel (Stayed here as it was clean, affordable and breakfast was provided)
Cycle Along The East Coast and stay in an Ocean Villa: 1 Day in Fangshan
Leave the sprawling city behind and head on East towards the coastal rural townships of Taiwan in Fangshan, known for its famous Aiwen mangoes. It is a complete contrast to the stunning locales in Taiwan with its black sand beaches and beautiful coastlines.
Just a stone throw from Kenting, make a pit-stop in Fangshan, Pingtung County in Taiwan at a guesthouse called Tiny Greece for Santorini-like views. The Tiny Greece homestay had all the workings of a quaint guesthouse with oceanfront views facing the Fangshan beach. It was the perfect place to stay in a cabin, take a bicycle ride to a mixed rice mom-and-pop-stall and savour the sweet mangoes that are known in this little county.
Where to stay in Fangshan?
Tiny Greece (No points for guessing that I stayed here and it was really nice - loved it!)
Surf Up in Kenting: 2 Days in Kenting
Leave early in the morning on your bicycles and head towards Kenting, one of the most spectacular and pristine places that I have ever seen in Taiwan. The journey to Kenting on a two-wheeler is a special one - you’ll experience strong headwinds, breezy balmy bays and white sandy beaches free from crowds along the East Coast.
The waters are remarkably blue and this is a prime destination for snorkelling, wildlife spotting and even surfing.
Explore The Seaside Cliffs
The eastern landscape is dominated by high sea cliffs, beautiful gorges, rice fields and stunning mountain ranges. You’re not meant to rush through the seaside cliffs which is why cycling up to these panoramic ranges can feel like you’re the first person to discover these locales. There are plenty of BnBs, good roads and seaside wooded villages that could look like the Australia of Asia.
Go to Baisha Beach where ‘Life of Pi’ was shot
When I went to Baisha beach, a truckload of Chinese tourists alighted from their bus making this otherwise-nice beach too touristy. Baisha means “white sand” in Chinese. This is because this 500 meters-long beach sand is originated from white shells.
Ironically, it was not as pristine as other places. I would suggest visiting this place only as a pit stop and to see the film’s portrayal of a Mexican beach that was shot in Taiwan.
Explore Kenting National Park and Fongchuisha Beach
The landscapes boasted by Kenting National Park are far and wide and covers a large area. It is divided into two parts by the long and narrow Hengchun Longitudinal Valley Plain that extends from north to south.
In the Henchun Peninsula, you will come across Fongchuisha beach which lies at the midway point between Eluanbi on the eastern coastline and Jialeshuei. Its surrounding regions are mainly comprised of coral reefs, with this being the only spot where the soil is a compound of red clay and sand. The sandy terrain is formed due to continuous erosion by wind and rain water. The views are stunning and you get to see unique landscapes such as sand cascades, sand rivers and sand dunes.
Surf in Jialeshui Beach and Stay In The Quirky Winson House
Set against a backdrop of green lush mountains, riding the waves in Taiwan is described as the surf of the world-class and the Hawaii of the east, thanks to its seasonal typhoons.
Head over to Kenting National Park, Jialeshui Beach where it is located on the east side of the park. With great winds all year round, and a stunning variety of waves with all the right facilities, the beach caters to all levels of surfers. Stay in the quirky Winson House and be treated to stunning views of surfers in action as you enjoy your hearty breakfast.
Where to stay in Kenting?
Mangyi Inn (Absolutely wonderful place - the rooms were well decorated, cosy, seashell-themed and quite quirky!)
Winson House (For Surfing!)
The Fishing Town of Taitung: 1 Day in Chenggong
With a population of 20,000 the town of Chenggong is the largest community between Hualien and Taitung cities and is also the location of the largest fish market in this area. The town is filled with seafood restaurants selling the freshest fish you are likely to try anywhere.
Visit The Sanxiantai Arch Bridge
The Sanxiantai 8-arch bridge looks like a set that came out straight from the Game of Thrones. It is a giant dragon bridge that stretches across the sea. Sanxiantai became an offshore islet due to wave erosion.
It used to be a military control zone, but was designated as a Scenic Area by former National Assembly Member, who recommended the eight arches which echoes the story of “Eight Mortals Crossing the Sea”. You can spend couple of hours hiking around the area and go all the way to visit the lighthouse. The gusts of wind shook us when we were there and it was not safe for us to go all the way since we visited in February, but in summer it is completely possible to complete the trek, take a break and watch the waves crash to the shore.
Taiwan’s Tribal Village, Pisirian
Pisirian is a simple Amis tribal village which comes from the name “goat-herding”. Large driftwood serves as support in the architectural structure of the Pisirian Cultural Center. The thatched roof is matched with irregular white walls. The entire architecture is the embodiment of the Amis culture, with a tropical twist.
The tour is led by the passionate kids from the tribe, who will guide you through their fishing life or how they smoke the flying fish, and you will get to visit the eleven pieces of illustration scattered around the village.
Where to stay in Chenggong?
Camping at Taiwan’s Scenic Spot: 1 Day In Shitiping
Picturesque and stunning in every view set against the rugged wall of the Coastal mountain ranges, Shitiping is a coast rich in coral reefs, tropical fish and intertidal zones and probably one of the best places to watch nature in action, pause and spend some quiet time facing the sea.
There are days worth exploring every single cliff, rocks and natural formations if you’re a geology nerd but if you’re here to swim, you can jump off the cliffs. However, do note that the east coast currents are super strong and the corals are often sharp, hard and dangerous.
Stay at the Shitiping Camping Ground
The camping ground is the right mix of comfort without being too overdeveloped. It has nice grassy areas with some shaded canopy and rugged areas. It costs about $25 for two people (TWD800). Most of the campsites are large to medium sized wooden A-frame structures with bathroom and showers (even hot water!)
Set amongst the rugged walls of the Coastal Mountain Range, the campground is a perfect blend of camping comfort, without being too developed. It has several nice, grassy areas with some shade trees and landscaping that compliments the unkept, more rugged areas. The campsites themselves are mostly large or medium sized wooden A-frame structures always set up near clean, well supplied bathroom/showers (with hot water!!!)
The campground is connected to a walkway and a fishing site where you can find a small market with fresh seafood and few restaurants. There are no supermarkets or food and beverage at the campground so you can only find basic and small markets but that’s the allure about visiting places like these where you can kick-back relax and make do with little finds.
Where to stay in Shitiping?
Shitiping Camping Ground: You can call them at this number to arrange for booking but I think it is possible to walk in: +886 922 211 336
Head Towards Hualien: 2 Days in Qixingtan (Chisingtan) Pebble Beach and Taroko National Gorge
Spend Time in Qixingtan Pebble Beach
How often do you come across pebble beaches with sweeping views and the wide blue Pacific ocean staring back at you? Locals have a well kept secret in Hualien and hardly tell people about it. The sands are a mix of black and white.
This is the kind of beach that might be listed as one of the most stunning landscapes in the world. In the daytime, the Qingshui cliffs (清水斷崖) can be seen in the distance and in the evening this is an ideal time for stargazing. The shore is dotted with white and black gravel that is smooth to the touch.
Go Hiking in Taroko Gorge National Park
I didn’t get to visit Taroko Gorge National Park because of the earthquake which struck the region on the night that I was there. But because you’re in Hualien, it is a shame if you don’t visit the national park. I would recommend visiting Qixingtan beach early in the day and spending the rest of your 1.5 day in Taroko Gorge National Park.
Created by the continual rising of the mountains combined with the erosive power of the Liwu River, Taroko Gorge with its tall, almost flat walls are a wonderful creation on its own. Besides the gorge, other attractions include aboriginal settlements, temples, museums, and numerous hiking trails for you to experience the true beauty of mountainous eastern Taiwan.
Where to Stay in Hualien?
Where to Stay in Taroko Gorge?
Spend The Last Day in Taipei: 2 Days In Visit Taipei
Gorge on Street Eats at The Shilin Night Market & Raohe Night Market
There is no place quite like Shilin night market where you have the best array of street food in Taiwan under one roof. Located in Taipei’s Shilin District, a mere 70 metres from MRT Jiantan Station between Dadong Rd, Danan Rd, Wenlin Rd, and Jihe Rd. The alleyways is a food haven filled with street snacks and almost all type of food.
I first tried Shilin snacks in Kuala Lumpur when they had a franchise, and I know they’re famous for their XXXL spicy fried chicken and oyster soup. Many of these finds are available here from XXXL Fried Chicken to Tempura, Bubble Tea, Oyster Omelet and even Stinky Tofu.
If you prefer smaller night markets that are friendlier and more authentic, pay a visit to Raohe Night market.
Take a Day Trip To Jiufen
I watched half of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away and I realised the anime movie was inspired by Taiwan’s old mining town, Jiufen. A quick history: Jiufen was founded during the Qing Dynasty, and only nine families lived in the humble, secluded village then. The villagers ordered and purchased supplies in nine portions, hence it was called Jiufen (九份), or “nine parts” in Mandarin.
Visiting the village, you’ll come across tea houses, souvenirs, old bath houses and several ancient and see the architecture of the buildings that was influneced by the Japanese during WWII. Jiufen is just a short train ride from Taipei’s main train station and it is pretty easy to hop in and out here.
If you happen to stay here at night, don’t forget to hike Mount Keelung, a dormant volcano overlooking the entire coast of Taiwan and Jiufen. It takes about 1 hour to complete the trek but the views are well worth it. .
Visit Shifen Waterfall, Asia’s Niagara Falls
While you’re there, visit the 40 metre tall waterfall that creates a rainbow as it splashes into the lake, widely regarded as the most scenic in all of Taiwan. The waterfall is located 30 minutes away from Shifen Old Streets by walking along either side of the tracks in the northeast direction.
Explore Nightlife in Taipei
Go back to Taipei and end the trip with a bang - there’s nothing more fun than partying the night away in Taiwan’s busiest capital. This is also a way to pat yourself on the back for leading up the journey with an adventurous start from cycling to surfing and hiking.
The guys at Culture Trip has a decent round-up of the best partying spots in Taipei featuring speak-easy style bars, rooftop bars, lounges and even places where student hangs if you’re looking for a budgeted one.
Where to Stay in Taipei?
Getting Around in Taiwan and Other Travel Tips:
Buses: Buses are everywhere in Taiwan and is pretty easy to get from one place to another. There are connections between cities with services running nearly 24 hours a day. The average fare for a trip is only around US$1. If you’re planning a sightseeing trip, feel free to have a look at this website of the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle Service. It offers 42 bus routes to more than 100 tourist destinations around Taiwan where trains/buses aren’t able to reach
Trains: Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA), Taiwan’s railway system is an island-wide network that covers more than 1,400 kilometres, offering the most convenient way to reach all major cities and towns. If you’re heading to the east coast (Taitung, Hualien, Kaohsiung, etc.), this is your best option and please note that you can bring your bicycle on certain carriages when you’re taking the train. It is best to go to the train station to make a booking. We took our bicycles from Hualien to Taitung when there was an earthquake and it was fast and easy.
Hitchhiking: Hitchhiking is possible - it makes it relatively easy in Taiwan. I hitchhiked twice in Taiwan - one with a furniture junkyard seller and another with a lorry driver. We had no choice because our bicycles gave way at some of the mountain roads.
Renting a Scooter: Scooter rental places are next to most all train stations in Taiwan. Some scooter repair shops also rent them. Kaohsiung, Hualien and Taitung counties accept international driver’s permit but places like Taichung and Taipei only accept Taiwanese Scooter License. You can ask your hotel to help you with the arrangements as well. In my opinion, cycling is still a better option for 1/3 or 2/3 of your journey - it is not too fast and not too slow - you get to enjoy the scenic points along the way and still get a bicycle-dedicated lane.
7-Eleven has everything: If you're lost or stranded anywhere, you can get used to 7-eleven. They are not like the dingy low-quality ones back home, but over here it is clean, well-stocked and even has postal and train/bus ticketing services and everything that you need.
Mobile Simcard: There are four main telco providers in Taiwan: Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan Mobile, FarEasTone and T Star. The recommended ones are the first two - Chunghwa Telecom and Taiwan Mobile - you can buy their 10 or 15 day mobile package.
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