October 29, 2007
First Trip in Taiwan - Discovering the Real Treasure
It was about this time of year, many moons ago, that I took my first trip around Taiwan.
Back then I couldn'speak a word of Chinese, let alone read anything. Looking at a place name was like trying to decipher a war time code. Nevertheless, a good friend and I decided that there must be more to Taiwan than the city, so we picked up a copy of an English language guidebook (I can'say which one, but think solitary celestial body), and marked out a route.
We planned for ten days, and it was an ambitious plan. Head from Taipei down to Ilan then on to Hualien. Visit Taroko Gorge then head to Chitou in the center of the island before spending a few relaxing days in the beach town of Kenting in the south.?
We planned to do the whole trip by bus, not only because we assumed it would be extremely cost effective, but also because we figured we would get to see a lot more of the countryside. We were right on both accounts.
Our initial worries about the language barrier were unfounded. Although trying to say the romanization in the guide book did produce some blank looks, we always had the location to point to in Chinese to help us out (if you do buy a guidebook to Taiwan, make sure the place names are written in Chinese). True this makes buying a ticket a bit more hassle than in an English speaking environment, but it makes getting the ticket more rewarding and more of a travel experience. It'even more rewarding when you actually arrive at the place you intended!
The bus system in Taiwan is excellent; cheap, efficient and it really is possible to get anywhere. True some of the mountain roads are not for those who get travel sick easily, but it is a great way to get around and really see the island.
The staff at every bus station we encountered were very helpful, even if there was not much English involved (it'easier now with most destinations being marked in a romanized form at bus and train stations), and this really set the tone of the trip. The friendliness of the people.
Wherever we went, people went out of the way to help. From trying to buy meals, to the hotels, to the bus staff, it was much easier than we had thought it was going to be.
One example of the friendliness came at a very posh hotel in Chitou. By luck, we had managed to get a free stay, although at the time, we didn'know how posh it was. Meekly entering the plush marble lobby carrying our backpacks, looking somewhat ragged after a few days on the road, no one batted an eyelid. They insisted on taking our backpacks to the rooms for us and the manager later came to the outdoor heated swimming pool to make sure we were enjoying our stay (I gather not many foreigners made it to this hotel, but still it was a nice touch).?
So although organized trips can be fun, if you have the time, get out and explore Taiwan on your own. It will be more challenging, but I think the reward of successfully getting around the island by yourself make it worth while.
You will also get the chance to meet more Taiwanese who are, after all, the real treasure of Taiwan.
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