It was a restless night. I was awake for what felt like most of the night, still energized from my experience on the train earlier, and excited about the following day’s adventures. When morning did come, I wasn’t tired. We got ready and headed to the 7-11 down the street to get some waters and snacks for the day ahead.
While we were dead set on going to Taroko, we still weren’t entirely sure how we’d get there. In all the other countries we went to, an international drivers license wasn’t needed and there were practically no road laws. Every website and forum online stated that we would need one for Taiwan if we hoped to rent a motor bike. Undeterred, we decided to try our luck anyway and hope for the best. We decided our best option would be to go back to Hualien Station (just one stop from Ji’An, and the hub to go to Taroko) and talk to some of the vendors offering motorbike rentals. As it turned out, some of the vendors were willing to rent motorbikes to foreigners without an international drivers license…for a severe upcharge. That was until a friendly man named Paul handed us his business card and gave us a great deal. Transport to and from Taroko? Check!
We filled up with gas, got breakfast at the Aqua Cafe, and headed out. It was just under an hours drive to the National Park. For the last 15 minutes of the drive, we could see the fog covered mountains that awaited us. We stopped in at the visitor center to grab a map and were informed that there had been a lot of rain the night before and most of the trails were closed for repair, but we would be allowed to take the scenic 45 minute drive through the park. I would have been slightly disappointed had the drive not been one of the most spectacular moments of my life. Truly one for the books.
The vines I saw on the train ride were within touching distance from my head. They hung down from the thick foliage surrounding the road. I don’t think I could have counted all the waterfalls if I tried…I guess that rain storm was just preparation for an incredible showcasing of mother nature. Large tour busses struggled to round the tight corners and squeeze through the water dripping caves. Definitely rent a motorbike if possible. We were able to see so much more of the park being on our own rather than with a tour group. Plus, there really is something magical about driving through leaky caves getting splashed with water.
We spent several hours taking in the serenity of Taroko before heading back to town. We returned the bike, grabbed a pizza, and made some chaotic plans to get back to Taipei in time for our flight tomorrow. We would be leaving at 7:30am, and getting to Taipei way too early, but all the other trains were sold out, and better to be too early than too late. Our next adventure would take us to our last country before heading back to the United States. It was bittersweet, but Taiwan had given me some incredible experiences and growth. I am so thankful.
Preparing for our departure south made for a chaotic morning. We had planned to take an 11am executive train to Ji’An station, one stop past Taroko where we were going the following day. Not only did we arrive at the main station too late, the train had already been sold out since the night before. Although it would take an hour longer than the executive train, there was another train leaving in 45 minutes and turned out to be significantly cheaper. We got some snacks and boarded.
I watched our location on Google Maps as we rode through the foggy mountain landscape. Seemingly in the middle of no where, waterfalls trickled from rocky cliffs, vines crawled through trees and dangled from branches, and nature lived in peace and solitude. I would have loved to stop the train just to spend a few hours exploring but a grander experience awaited ahead.
The long train ride offered the perfect opportunity to catch up on some audiobooks and ponder life’s wonders. I had come to Asia in part for spiritual growth, and I felt the connection to my inner self grow exponentially while in Taiwan. I looked back on my tumultuous years prior with nothing but a deep understanding of their importance. It felt as though I was sitting inside the protective vessel of my body, indulging in the magic that surrounded me, absent of the mind that once took over my life. I felt overwhelming amounts of gratitude, significance, love, excitement, purity, and happiness. I had experienced moments like this in meditation, but they always subsided with time and rarely occurred this intensely. I marinated in this state of bliss while I watched the countryside pass by the window. Four hours had passed and we slowed to a stop at Ji’An station.
Our hotel was less than a mile from the station, so with 2 backpacks and now a third bag carrying our Muay Thai gear, we walked to Fang Yi B&B. It was located on a small side street just off a main road. There were no distinctive markings outside the building, but we were able to find the entrance. A girl in her twenties greeted us and gave us “house slippers” before welcoming us inside. Her english was impeccable and she greeted us by name. Her name was Stacy. The home was owned by her mother, who rented out multiple rooms upstairs. The home was filled with exotic furniture, large crystal statues, and photos of her mom’s dancing career. The entire place felt like home. Starving from the train ride, we checked in and looked for a place to grab some food.
On Google Maps, I noticed a little cafe located nearby called the Aqua Cafe. Little did we know that Taiwan would become home to the greatest waffles and lattes of all time. The inside of the cafe had an under the sea vibe, with blue and white walls and window murals of the ocean. The owner was so kind and created a true masterpiece for our late lunch.
We woke the next morning, well rested and ready for the day. There was only one coffee shop open but it ended up being a great spot to grab some breakfast. It was a little more expensive than everywhere else we had been traveling, but severely inexpensive for a first world country. We had no plans for the day, and while looking at Google Maps, we saw a marking for Huashan 1914 Creative Park. After doing a little more digging, it seemed to be worth checking out. We mapped out how to get there (again, praise Taiwan’s Metro system), and we were on our way! (TIP: Get the day pass when using the Metro! It’s cost effective if you’re planning on a busy day and you’ll get coupons to use throughout your trip! Including one for Taipei 101 which we used)
The Creative Park was located just across the street from Zhong Xiao Xing Sheng Station. It started to rain as we made our way to the exhibitions, but there were plenty of cute little shops to spend time in while we waited for the storm to pass. From handmade miniature wood figures and giant beetles preserved in clear plastic, to upside down houses and 3D museums, there’s plenty to do and something for everyone. We spent a couple hours walking around before heading to a nearby mall to grab some lunch, and then going back to our hotel.
In the evening we went to Taipei 101, the world trade center in Taiwan and home to the worlds fastest elevator. Just how fast are we talking? 38MPH fast. It only takes 40 seconds to reach the top, and there is no lacking in the ear popping mild motion sickness department. But the ceiling of the elevator offers a “sky full of diamonds”-esque show to keep you entertained.
We waited until it was dark outside so we could view the city lights, and from 89 stories up the view did not disappoint. When purchasing our tickets, we were given coupons to use at the shops and vendors located at the top, including specials on mango beer and souvenirs. The 89th floor is the viewing floor, but visitors are also allowed on the 88th floor, which boasts luxury items for sale for the uber wealthy (like you’re ready to drop 400k USD on vacation for a giant globe kind of wealthy). All kinds of novelty items were for sale, from huge amethyst geodes and fluorite fountains to carved coral thousands of years old.
World’s tallest gemstone coral
Before I knew it we had already spent several hours at the trade center and didn’t get back to our hotel until almost midnight. The following day, it was time to head south towards Taroko National Park.
We checked out of our hostel in Phuket at 2pm and took a taxi to the closest bus station. The airport is pretty far from town and Taxi’s were charging 800 baht to get there. Getting to the bus station only cost 400, and then another 100 from the station to the airport. It was a long bus ride considering the distance due to traffic and frequent stops to pick up other passengers, but we arrived at the airport plenty in advance for our flight.
We flew Nova Airlines to Taipei, with a layover in Bangkok. It was a late flight, departing at 11:30pm, and arriving in Taipei at around 7am. The Phuket airport was run down, and poorly maintained, but new terminals are scheduled to be opened in September 2016. Our layover was in the middle of the night and sleeping on the second plane proved to be near impossible. After a long night of travel, we arrived early the next morning and quickly made our way out of the airport. Immediately, it was as if I had been transported to another world. Was I still in Asia? Taiwan was so advanced and clean. Their public transit seemed so organized and efficient, which was a vast improvement from the lawless roads of Thailand. There are buses every fifteen minutes to Taipei Main Station, where we would be taking a train to our hotel. It was a little under an hour before we made it into town. The main station was flooded with people but we navigated through the crowds to our line and made it to our stop.
We stayed at MetroStay Plus Shihlin Station. It is located on a bit of a side road, but in a safe section of town and very close to the train terminal. The room was small but comfortable and clean. Due to the early flight, we couldn’t check in at the hotel when we arrived, so we relaxed at a coffee shop around the corner for a couple hours until our room
was ready. We were exhausted from our lack of sleep, so we took a long nap in the afternoon, headed out for dinner and then relaxed at the hotel for the rest of the evening to prepare for the following days adventures.
Plans have been made and tickets have been purchased!
On June 17th, we will fly to Bali, Indonesia from Vancouver. We’ll stay roughly five days, at which point we will fly to Phuket, Thailand. My goals in Thailand are simple: personal growth, business development, and life experience. The balance of these goals is what I would label my own recipe for all encompassing success. Your recipe may be different from mine, and may morph over time as your circumstances change. Although I may seem to just “go with the flow,” I trust that there is no such thing as the wrong path. You and I are consistently in an experience of enjoyment and learning. Occasionally, we get so distracted by thinking we must plan everything that we forget to just “be.”
A recent example would be that for the past month, we had been preparing for a different journey entirely. However, we refrained from buying tickets. We held off until three days ago, when hours before we made our purchases, we drastically changed destinations. Taking this new route would require some sacrifices, but the shift felt necessary. It didn’t take much pondering to be convinced.
The sequential preparations for our new destinations all landed in my favor. I got an unbelievably affordable new storage unit that would fit both my car and the contents of my other storage unit, my airline miles covered the entire cost of my ticket and insurance, and currently 5 days before my trip, I have almost everything organized and ready to go. If you are unsure of something, ask yourself for the answer and it will reveal itself, because the answer is already known. You will know when you’ve been met with the next piece to your puzzle.
Five days and counting!