Taiwan, part 2 – food & rail

A tree during sunset in 228 Peace Park, Taipei
Sunset in 228 Peace Park, Taipei

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).

228 Peace Park, Taipei

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.

Piccadily Circus, Taipei :-)
Piccadilly Circus, Taipei 🙂

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.

Flatiron Building, Taipei :-)
Flatiron Building, Taipei 🙂

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.

Rice fields (photo taken through a train window)
Rice fields (photo taken through a train window)

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.

One long crosswalk in Xincheng
One long crosswalk in Xincheng

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

228 Peace Park, Taipei
228 Peace Park, Taipei


Taiwan, part 1 – arrival

The east coast looking north from Shitiping, Hualien

“And we’re off!” joyfully flashed through my mind as I was looking at the station through the window of a bus leaving for Prague. Finally. We were leaving for New Zealand.

It was the end of winter in 2013 and our long-standing dream finally came true. My girlfriend and I were finally headed somewhere outside Europe. The first stop was Taiwan.

The main thing we wanted to see in Taiwan were its beautiful national parks. Discouraged by the requirement to arrange permits for various areas of Taiwan’s national parks up to a month in advance, we had decided we were just going to wing it, as well as everything else on this beautiful island. Make it sort of a getting-to-know visit. It turned out to be a good idea for the most part and certainly made our visit more interesting.

Taroko National Park
Taroko National Park

We got on board an early morning flight with China Airlines from Prague to Amsterdam and then from Amsterdam to Bangkok, where the leaving passengers received instructions – first in Chinese, but there were a few English words clearly audible throughout the monologue as well, in a nice succession: “…engine…blow up…get out…start crying.” Judging from the reaction of two girls a few seats back, I was not the only one who heard that. Contrary to the stoically delivered information of doom, the engine didn’t blow up, and after a short break in Bangkok, we made the last leg to Taipei. This journey from Prague to Taipei was my first time flying, and I spent much of the time looking out the window. The highlights were the snow-covered Tatra Mountains (Tatry) in Slovakia and the meandering reddish rivers and dustroads of the same color in the green rainforests of South East Asia. And of course the ocean. We flew around Himalayas at night, so perhaps next time. I also have to give it up for China Airlines, an absolutely great experience.

The front gate of the National Chiang Khai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei
The front gate of the National Chiang Khai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei

We repacked at the Taipei airport and left the unnecessary stuff at the left luggage office. Our wing-it approach hit the first minor obstacle when we asked the lady at the information desk where the nearest campsite was. Well, as we later found out, there are about seven campsites in all of Taiwan. Apparently, camping is not big here. But we probably weren’t the first ones to have come unprepared, and the lady produced a list of hostels and called one of the cheap ones for us. She and her colleague were very nice about it, which we later found out to be typical for Taiwanese people – very nice and accommodating people, ready to help anyone anywhere. You don’t even have to ask – they just see a foreigner with a map looking for a way and they help on their own initiative. That was something new for us, a very pleasant surprise indeed. A side note for those who have visited SE Asia before – it is not like in Thailand or Cambodia, where the act of helping is usually the start of a more or less elaborate scheme to extract money from you; in Taiwan, the helping is sincere, selfless.

Since the airport is not in the city itself, we got on the shuttle bus from the airport to the city. The journey took about forty minutes, if I remember correctly. The bus dropped us at the train station in the center, and we started looking for the street with our hostel. At this point, we already stank quite a bit since we hadn’t showered for almost two days and didn’t change our clothes at the airport. Also wearing pants was not a good idea, especially since we came straight from the freezing temperatures back in Europe to a very humid climate with temperatures around 25°C. But as I stated above, the Taiwanese are very nice people, and despite our appearance, it didn’t take long and a nice lady asked us what we were looking for. We showed her the address written on a piece of paper by the airport information lady. The nice lady thought about it for a while, during which another 5 or 6 people joined our little orientation session. Finally, after a brief discussion with the others, the lady took us to our hostel and even gave us her business card, saying we could contact her in case we needed anything. This was another one in the long line of selfless, hospitable acts we were yet to encounter during our stay in Taiwan.

The inconspicuous entrance to our hostel – a tiny door among many shops and street buffets

Practical note – maps and orientation

We bought a map back in the Czech Republic, but there is no need for it – you can get very good free maps at the airport or at any information center around the island, both bilingual (in Latin and Chinese scripts) and in Chinese script alone. We ended up using these free maps.

We got by fine with English, a Chinese dictionary, and hand gestures. The main touristic points, stations, and public transport connections are English-friendly. Since the maps were bilingual, it was easy to figure out when and where the buses go at small bus stops as well, despite the timetables being only in Chinese characters.

Many people speak English in Taiwan, and those that don’t are patient and nice enough to communicate with using hand gestures, schematic drawings, and a Chinese dictionary. With the exception of the oldest generation, they all know Chinese (the primary language being Taiwanese), as we have been told by locals.

Taipei 101 from the Elephant Mountain
Taipei 101 from the Elephant Mountain