Bedsitting in Taiwan
21 May 2015
Taiwan, just a stone’s throw away from China, is in many ways a completely different experience. A friendly, bright country with immaculate transport links, it beckons with an array of attractions natural, gastronomic and man-made.
While its economy is largely domestic and insular, and for some residents their salaries are worryingly lower than 10 years ago, the country carries on at a slow steady clip. Even in Taipei, drivers, pedestrians and even animals aren’t as harried as in other capital cities. Food is aplenty in Formosa (the old name for Taiwan) and we had no shortage of good grub close to wherever we stayed.
For this trip, Mackerel chose to experience a range of atypical accommodation.
AIRBNB, TAIPEI 台北
Our first port of call was Taipei. We chose an Airbnb apartment to spend our three nights in the city. It was centrally located, two MRT (subway) stops from Taipei Main Station and the apartment block itself was within shouting distance of the Zhongshan Elementary School (中山国小) MRT station. Close by was Shuangcheng Night Market, a little food street brimming with suppertime goodness. And we found a liquor store in the area selling Taiwan’s excellent award-winning single malt whiskey, Kavalan.
Our apartment was a simple studio, with a large bed, a couch and a tiny sink. No place to cook, but then again, food is never a problem in Taiwan. Our proximity to the city centre allowed us to make day trips to places like Tamsui (淡水) and Beitou (北投) and still come back with plenty of time to explore the night market and catch up with friends.
MAGIC BEAN B&B (奇豆民宿), HUALIEN 花莲
We took the Tze Chiang Limited express train to Hualien after three solid days of feasting in Taipei.
We were booked in for two nights in Hualien, mostly to catch the wonderful Taroko Gorge, weather permitting. Hualien is a rather staid city, a lot plainer, and smaller than Taipei.
In fact, the #1 restaurant on Trip Advisor is a Mexican restaurant, Dos Tacos! We just had to try it. It was surprisingly good, and the margaritas left us reeling.
Little did we realise that we arrived in between a series of minor earthquakes in the area, certainly the townsfolk didn’t show it. In fact, our breakfast place (we had a 50NTD voucher from our B&B) to spend on brekkie was called, ‘Plave A Warm Kitchen.’ Magic Bean has our vote for the cleanest, friendliest room on our trip. It has a great bathroom, comfortable bed, and is decorated rather wackily with traditionally garbed women and pockets of Chinese poetry. Perhaps reciting it would cause a beanstalk to spring up outside our room.
Taroko Gorge, though, was magic enough. The weather started out well, then turned rainy, but we managed to trek around a bit, and returned home suitably sated from a day up in the mountains.
DULAN 98 (都兰98), TAITUNG 台东
Dulan has been touted online as a ‘local tourist’ spot, a backpackers getaway on Taiwan’s east coast. Long since discovered by surfers, Dulan is a one-street town where the local 7-11 gets the most business.
The much touted Sugar Cane factory proved to have a dud of a band on the weekend we were there. Fortunately, the local craft market was a little more amenable and inventive, drawing on designs from an Aboriginal tribe, the Amis.
Our digs were simple. A private room in a backpacking hostel. There are no hotels in Dulan, so the town still retains a sleepy, congenial feel. So sleepy that a number of restaurants were not open, even on a weekend!
At night, the bar across the street rang out with rowdy dart players and endless goodbyes into the wee hours. Cars would seem to speed up as they tore through the town. Motorbikes shuffled to a stop to buy a late beer or cigarettes. Tour buses stop on the outskirts of Dulan long enough to see the famous ‘Water Running Up,’ Which is, exactly what it says. Technically speaking, it’s a geological oddity, but practically speaking, it’s really nothing much to look at. Better to spend a morning wandering amongst the colourful rocks on Dulan’s beautiful black sand beach.
锄禾日好, CHISHANG 池上
Our last stop was a hostel - or what the Taiwanese refer to as “homestays” or 民宿 - in ChiShang, just a few stops away by train from Taitung City. To be specific, we stayed in a converted shophouse close to the train station. The byword for our minsu was ‘cosy.’ Which really meant tiny. It was comfortable, but we had to do some creative maneuvering just to find enough space to open our suitcase.
These homestays are typically found only if you do a Google search in Chinese. They don’t show up on the regular hotel booking sites. On the plus side, the location of our hostel made it very easy to rent a bike, amble to the train station and find a late night snack from a street vendor.
The real reason people stop in ChiShang, though, is to cycle on the numerous roads that bisect lush padi (rice) fields. After the confines and constant heights of skyscraper Singapore, we were taking in great gasps of countryside, rescuing fallen tomatoes from the vines (and eating them) and stopping every few seconds to photograph the padi.
More importantly, not staying in a hotel throughout our trip made us feel ‘closer’ to the country, if that’s even possible. We interacted in smaller circles, made friends with strangers and opened ourselves up to new and wonderful stories.