We flew into Taipei from Japan and gave ourselves three days to explore the best of the city. Our first day was spent checking out the sites of central Taipei including the Presidential Palace and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Taiwan has been under the control of the Dutch, Japanese and more recently, the Chinese and therefore the culture and history of this island is incredibly varied. Tensions have accelerated recently with China through the deployment of Chinese aircraft in and around Taiwanese air space and the scrambling of Taiwan fighter jets in response. No chance of a sleep in with all that going on above you!
Whilst in Taipei we also went to see the Taipei 101 Tower (previously the tallest building in the world) and hiked up Elephant mountain which provided us with amazing views over the city.
A visit to Taiwan would not be complete without a visit to its famous night markets and we visited Shilin and Huaxi markets whilst in Taipei. Vegetables wrapped in bacon, peppered pork buns, bubble tea and barbecued skewers are a definite must-try!
After Taipei we took a bus down to Sun Moon Lake and stayed there for 2 nights. After renting a rather feminine bicycle, complete with a basket over the handlebars, we completed a 36km cycle around the lake. Said to rank in the 10 most breathtaking cycle routes in the world the views certainly do not disappoint. There are numerous cycle paths that take you so far around the lake, but to truly experience the scenery it is best to pick up Highway 21 which circles the whole lake. Whilst the uphill roads are tough on the legs, the downhill sections and the bends meandering the lake definitely make up for it. After a full day of cycling we tucked into a well-deserved meal at the suitably named Moon Cafe and we both enjoyed a mug of sweet osmanthus green tea watching the sunset. An incredible cuppa!
Heading further south down the west coast we then arrived in Tainan. We stayed at hostel 77 which served the best tasting coffee in the world (well that I have tasted anyway). Continuing with the cycling theme and still with a sore bum from Sun Moon Lake, we rented two bicycles and explored the city. Tainan is the former capital of Taiwan and as a result there is a plentiful supply of historic buildings and temples. One of the temples that we passed was holding some kind of festival and the locals were celebrating with all-kinds of food offerings to their temple God including skinned pigs, roasted chickens with hats on and some kind of bird decorated in lettuce!
Tainan flower night market is also a must visit whilst in the city. The size of it is massive and beats all Taipei night markets hand down. However, it was simply too packed to really get a feel for the market. Although, we did both eat a Taiwanese Pizza which was different but really good.
The southern tip of Taiwan and Kenting National Park was our next destination. We actually stayed in Hengchun which provided us with a great base to explore as well as a 40 inch plasma tv on the wall in our room. However, first we needed a beach day having spent well over 6 weeks on the move. We ventured down to Little Bay and had pretty much the entire beach to ourselves!
After a night of discovering more great Taiwanese food (meat filled pancakes this time), we rented mopeds first thing in the morning and set out to explore the national park. I was a little rusty on two wheels having not used a moped since Vietnam and I put a big dent into the Union Jack on the front of my British themed moped after a slight mishap whilst parking! Nevertheless, we had a great day driving along the coastline and the scenery was fantastic!
We had heard that Taiwan was one of the best and safest places in the world to hitch-hike and therefore we decided to travel up the east coast this way! You can read Part 2 of our Taiwan blog, see our hitch-hiking adventures and watch our Youtube highlights here – Two weeks in Taiwan Part 2 (Hitch hiking the East Coast and Taroko National Park).