10 days in Taiwan this March

My husband and I are planning a 10-day trip to Taiwan in mid-March, starting in Taipei. We’re interested in culture, art, scenery, and food, and a hot spring spa would be a treat. We’re planning to travel by train when possible, and are thinking about 3 days in TPE & vicinity, a night or 2 in Taroko, a couple in Tainan, and whatever else we could fit in on the northwestern coast.

Is this too ambitious? Any other suggestions that would give us a similar combination of city & countryside? We prefer to absorb what we see rather than tagging every base. Would we be better off having a tour company put this together for us, or just arrange it on our own?

If you prefer to absorb rather than tagging every base it would probably be better to put most of the trip together yourself. I think your planned three stops would give you a great taste of what Taiwan has to offer, and you could easily take up all 10 days just in those areas without adding more places. My personal experience of getting to Taroko leads me to advise caution on travelling there by train. Make sure you get a train that stops in Xincheng, not at the nearest city, Hualian, which is much further away than you need to go. Taroko is quite difficult to get around without some form of private transportation, so hiring a taxi or signing up to a tour might be a good idea there. Leader Village is a nice place to stay leaderhotel.com/blw/leadervi … epage.html

There’s definitely no need for a regular tour company as most are geared to Asian tourists who have very different ideas of what a cultural tour entails. Transport in Taroko is actually not bad anymore with the Tourism shuttle program. You can also look at staying here, as the owner will take you up the gorge with a bike and pick you up at the end. Really enjoyable way to see it.

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Tribe Asia does specialized tours to aboriginal areas if you are interested in that. Run by a foreigner.
tribe-asia.com/

The new Lonely Planet for Taiwan should be out in February. We have a new walking tour for Qing and Japanese-era Taipei, a walking tour inside the Unesco-award winning Bao’an Temple, loads of new food listings, including a dozen cafes reflecting the city’s great coffee scene, full information on the new tourism shuttle routes, and a so on.

There is not much on the northwestern coast if you mean Taoyuan, Hsinchu, etc. The north and northeastern coasts are much more scenic and there are lots of places you can go. Many tourists go to Pingxi and Jiufen for example. I personally would shorten my stay in Tainan and go for Alishan instead. There’s a tourist shuttle bus (www.taiwantrip.com.tw) route from Chiayi all the way to the Alishan Forest Recreation Area. During March you get the additional bonus of the cherry blossoms. But you want to book early if you want to stay close to that area.

Seriously, Hannes? Alishan? Swamped with Chinese tourists, and offering expensive subpar accommodation with just okay access to nature.

There are some amazing areas in the Alishan area, and lots of chances to stay in homestays in tiny villages, but the tourist village itself is garbage.

Traveling by train is definitely a great way to see Taiwan and you can see quite a bit in 10 days. A few points that you may want to consider:

When visiting Taroko, the Xincheng (Sincheng) station is closer but the trade-off is not all the trains stop there and some of the trains that do stop there are slower. The free tourist bus or a hotel shuttle (sometimes you can get them as part of the hotel package) may be faster to or from the Hualian station.

The train ride from Hualian to Tainan is less than 6 hours on a direct train but I think that there is only one direct train a day, Tze Chiang 312 (departs Hualian at 15:27 and arrives in Tainan at 20:38). That same train stops at Ruishui (Rueisuei), a great alternative spot for a visit to a hot spring. Many of the guest houses can provide transport to and from the train station.

The Alishan train from Chiayi should be running by then, at least up to Fengqihu.

Taking the High Speed Rail from Tainan or Chiayi directly to Taoyuan with a bus connection to the airport can save a few hours of travel time.

[quote=“Mucha Man”]Seriously, Hannes? Alishan? Swamped with Chinese tourists, and offering expensive subpar accommodation with just okay access to nature.

There are some amazing areas in the Alishan area, and lots of chances to stay in homestays in tiny villages, but the tourist village itself is garbage.[/quote]

It’s a bit like Taroko, the mainland tourists come and go at certain times of the day and when they are gone you have the place almost to yourself on weekdays (ok, maybe not during sakura season). For example, after the sunrise, all those tourists take the train back to Zhaoping, and the place is almost deserted after that. I like Alishan much better than Qingjing or Sun Moon Lake. Of course the greater Alishan area is much more attractive with many trails, bamboo groves, tea plantations, etc. but for that you need more time and your own means of transport, unless you hire a taxi driver or find a friendly homestay owner who shows you around.

Btw for those who don’t know yet, the Alishan Forest Railway will be running from Chiayi City all the way up to Fenqihu again starting next Tuesday. Always wanted to do that. I like Fenqihu and the surrounding area. The rest of the line is still being worked on, they are building tunnels so that still can take some time.

So, MM, that means you like Tainan better than Alishan? :ponder:

I liek Starbucks better than Mr Brown but neither are worth recommending to a tourist when there are excellent alternates. That’s what I, and you must know, most of the expat population thinks of Alishan.

The couple are here for ten days. They will get plenty of nature in Taroko, and down the east coast, and probably on some day trips around Taipei. No need to waste three days on something as mediocre as Alishan.

[quote]
So, MM, that means you like Tainan better than Alishan? :ponder:[/quote]

Is that a serious question? Of course I do. Great temples, old neighborhoods and street food. Which is exactly what the couple are looking for.

I liek Starbucks better than Mr Brown but neither are worth recommending to a tourist when there are excellent alternates. That’s what I, and you must know, most of the expat population thinks of Alishan.

The couple are here for ten days. They will get plenty of nature in Taroko, and down the east coast, and probably on some day trips around Taipei. No need to waste three days on something as mediocre as Alishan.

[quote]
So, MM, that means you like Tainan better than Alishan? :ponder:[/quote]

Is that a serious question? Of course I do. Great temples, old neighborhoods and street food. Which is exactly what the couple are looking for.[/quote]

Not sure about calling Alishan mediocre, I (a long-term expat, yes) liked it when we went there two weeks ago and the tourists we came across seemed to like it too, Mainland Chinese and Westerners. We saw lovely tea plantations, a nice sunset over a valley with a sea of clouds, took the train of course, saw a really beautiful sunrise (first time for me without clouds blocking the sun), saw plum and cherry blossoms, stayed in a super comfy room of the Alishan House, saw some impressive giant trees, ate some indigenous food, met really friendly locals, and I talked to some very nice tourists from mainland China too (they are not all evil, you know; and I didn’t mind them standing beside me when watching the sunrise).

Tainan is an interesting city, sure, but I don’t feel it’s that great and that different from other cities in Taiwan. You could also say that you can experience great temples, old neighborhoods, and street food in Taipei.

My experience of the tourism shuttle bus in Taroko is that it’s still dodgy. You can’t buy day tickets on the bus (might be able to buy them at the visitor centre at the entrance to the Gorge? I don’t know. The only other place to buy them is in Hualian), and the driver won’t give change. On the buses we caught the drivers didn’t stick to the timetable, which will come as a very inconvenient surprise to many tourists from developed countries. The drivers also speak absolutely zero English. Not surprising for rural Taiwan, but again this could be difficult for Western tourists, and even non-Western ones - I found myself translating for some Japanese tourists. I seem to remember they have some weird system where you have to give the driver your ticket back when you get off. As probably Taiwan’s number one tourist attraction, the transportation and general infrastructure in Taroko has a way to go yet, sadly.

Thanks, everyone. Your information–and debates–are invaluable.

Thoughts about Lukang? A Taiwanese expat here said we shouldn’t miss it. However, she hasn’t lived in Taiwan for a long tome. Worth it?

If you do stay two days in Tainan, I would skip Lugang, unless you are really into old temples, old neighborhoods, and street food.

Is Lugang better than mediocre Alishan? Mmhh…, don’t think so. :wink:

I’m sorry to hear that Petrichor had a frustrating experience at Taroko navigating the transportation system. It can be tough to get information on the ground. But I think if you are prepared with some basic information in advance, you can enjoy this beautiful area easily using public transportation or a bicycle.

Here is a page on the park website has all of the information you need in English for the public bus and the tourist shuttle bus (download the excel file).

It clearly explains that the drivers do not make change. This is the case on every bus I have ever taken in Taiwan. Yes, you need to keep your ticket for when you get off. This is the rule on all buses in Taiwan outside the city. If you lose your ticket, apologize profusely and the driver will rarely if ever make you pay again.

According to the schedule, you can only by tickets for the shuttle bus at Hualien Railway station. This seems incredibly stupid. So just take the regular public bus.

It is much more convenient to get off in Xincheng (Taroko) near the gorge rather than 20km away in Hualien.

Consider renting a bicycle from the Giant shop next to the station. Ride up early in the morning (6am) before the tour buses arrive.

Lukang is similar to Tainan. I would choose Tainan. Consider doing the City Paddle with Barking Deer. barking-deer.com/citypaddle.htm

The town of Alishan is a grotesque tourist trap. Avoid at all costs. However, if the Alishan train is running up to Fenqihu, it would be well worth taking. It is one of the most spectacular train rides in the world. Fenqihu is touristy but pleasant compared to Alishan.

You should also consider a stop in Dulan near Taidong for chilled beach vibe. Saturday nights are especially good for the music at the Sugar Factory Cafe. Tiehua Music Village in Taidong is also good. Check the Friday Taipei Times for listings.

You could also consider going to beautiful Orchid Island.

You should really also go to one of Taiwan’s many hot springs. Beitou (Taipei) is very accessible. Zhiben in Taidong and Guanziling in Tainan are also possibilities. There’s an incredible amount to to do in Taiwan. I’d suggest a day in Taipei, followed by a couple of days in Taroko, a couple of days in Dulan, two in Tainan and a side trip for a hot spring.

My experience of the tourism shuttle bus in Taroko is that it’s still dodgy. You can’t buy day tickets on the bus (might be able to buy them at the visitor centre at the entrance to the Gorge? I don’t know. The only other place to buy them is in Hualian), and the driver won’t give change. On the buses we caught the drivers didn’t stick to the timetable, which will come as a very inconvenient surprise to many tourists from developed countries. The drivers also speak absolutely zero English. Not surprising for rural Taiwan, but again this could be difficult for Western tourists, and even non-Western ones - I found myself translating for some Japanese tourists. I seem to remember they have some weird system where you have to give the driver your ticket back when you get off. As probably Taiwan’s number one tourist attraction, the transportation and general infrastructure in Taroko has a way to go yet, sadly.[/quote]

In dulan, try Setanta House (taiwanese-secrets.com/taitung-hostel.html

Don’t get why you guys are so harsh on Alishan. Who cares about the village and the tourists, you still got the scenery, the trees, the cool refreshing air, the train, the tea plantations, the sunrise/sunset, etc.

And then you suggest Dulan of all places to visit on a 10-day trip? :unamused:

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Hannes have you been to Dulan? It’s Taiwan’s only real arty hippy village, a place with a real alternative culture based on carving, music and aboriginal heritage. It’s organically growing not dictated by the ministry of culture. It’s unique and set in a beautiful area, with a good local beach, and has a good range of food and accomodation. It’s also English friendly and becoming a centre for the emerging surf scene.

It’s a place to meet cool Taiwanese and foreigners, immerse yourself in natural beauty, and hang out in a genuine community.

Feiren, I would suggest 3 days in Taipei. One day should involve a morning hike in Yangmingshan followed by hot springs in Beitou. There’s a shuttle bus between the two. Get off at the Beitou Folk Art Museum. Lovely Japanese era teahouse, and hot springs next door with beautiful views.

Since the couple are interested in culture I suggest a puppet show or Taiwanese opera at the theatre on Dihua Street.

Tamsui is also worth a visit. Get off at Hongshulin Mrt station and walk there along paths through the mangroves. Outstanding natural views if the emerald Guanyinshan across the river.

Yeah the last one, Sea Art Hostel, is excellent. Outdoor shower in a private garden bower. They also have scooter rental.

I agree that if you visit Tainan you can skip Lukang. The glass temple there is amazing though.