The main hostel facilities in a high-rise across the street from the main train station were fully booked, and the lady receptionist took us around the corner to the secondary facilities of the hostel. These rooms were on the second floor of a low-rise building, and the entrance was really inconspicuous, wedged in between the numerous street buffets and shops. Before the lady went away, she showed us a plastic basket and told us to “put shit” in the basket before we left, which later found its way into my book, as it was pure gold (the basket was meant for our sheets).
The next day we slept in quite a bit, and in the afternoon, we looked around the surroundings of the hostel and bought train tickets to Xincheng for the next day – our destination was the Taroko National Park. We asked a random guy at the train station where the ticket machines are, and not only did he show us to the machines, he basically bought the tickets for us (with our money), very polite and happy to help.
In the evening, we ate at a street buffet – which is very cheap in Taiwan, and as we found out, it is the best option for you if you are here only for a few days and don’t have a place to cook. Fair warning though – if you buy anything on the street, it will have meat in it (usually beef or duck). It is very hard to get any edible food, even in the numerous small food stores, that is without meat. The only milk products that you encounter are very expensive cheese and very, very, very artificially tasting puddings. You will also encounter eggs boiled in tea.
But other than that, it’s just meat, rice, and noodles. I am sure that if we had stayed longer, we would have found other options and alternatives, but in our two-weeks stay, moving about, we had to eat meat (which I normally don’t, but I am not fanatic about it), otherwise we would be stuck with instant noodles. It is also not always easy to get bread or vegetables. We came across a fruit-and-vegetables store just once during our stay in Taiwan, otherwise it’s usually just a small assortment of fruits and vegetables in the general food stores. But aside from the fact that every single meal comes with meat, the food on the street is very tasty, and you definitely won’t be disappointed with it. With bread not being readily available outside bigger cities, we later took the advice of a local guy and started eating the omnipresent instant noodles “as cookies”, i.e. dry – which is apparently a common practice in Taiwan.
We got up early the next morning and hurried to a gas station to get ethanol for our camping stove before we left for Taroko. We later found out that we had successfully bought technical gasoline instead and that it is not easy to get flammable ethanol in Taiwan – they use flammable gel instead.
We boarded our train to Xincheng and were pleasantly surprised by the quality of local rail service – clean trains, tickets for individual seats (without paying anything extra), and overly polite conductors. The first one, a girl, greeted everybody in the car and bowed literally into a right angle before she proceeded to check tickets. Riding south, we admired the green rice fields covering the flat areas around cities and villages, with little embankments between the individual fields. Rice fields are of course everywhere in Taiwan, even in the middle of Taipei, as we later found out.
In Xincheng, we bought some food, water, and a small bottle of whiskey to get any hostile parasites drunk, and set out for Taroko on foot.
Practical note – food and other supplies
What you can get anywhere:
Instant noodles, rice noodles, meat products, canned fish, dried fish, basic fruits like apples, bananas, and melons; water, soda, ice tea, especially green ice tea (without sugar, very good), beer, spirits.
What you can’t get that easily:
Potatoes, broccoli/cauliflower, or other staple/main-meal vegetables; cheese (if it is available, it is expensive) and other milk products, bread; ethanol for a camping stove.
What you won’t find outside big cities:
Sunscreen! The reason I guess is simple – locals don’t need it, at least not as much as pasty Europeans do 🙂 But you will at least get baby oil and similar moisturizing products without UV protection in smaller cities.
We had read a lot of warnings about potential dangers of drinking tap water outside bigger cities (one of them being typhus infection), but we drank tap water everywhere without any health consequences that we know of. We just avoided drinking water from streams. We bought a SteriPEN (UV disinfection device) before our journey, but we apparently used a wrong type of batteries, so we basically ended up carrying a useless dildo around 🙂
Tips for substitutes:
bread => dry instant noodles
ethanol => flammable gel – best used in a cut beer can, as it leaves residue – not very suitable for a regular camping stove