“Remember what Bilbo used to say: It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” -JRR Tolkien

…Well, with very little planning, another foreign teacher and I were swept off to Taiwan for Lunar New Year. Christy teaches the class next door to mine and arrived in Korea around the same time. A few weeks ago at lunch she asked me randomly, “so where are we going for our 4 day weekend?” The next thing I knew, we were trying to learn Mandarin and had nothing booked but the flight home. I have to say this method of travelling is very stressful in Europe, but on such a short trip to a small, island country with amazing things to see everywhere and great public transportation it works beautifully as long as you have an open mind. Luckily Christy and I both did and it was an awesome trip!

We headed straight for the train station to get tickets to Hualien, a small beach town about 45 minutes away from the Toroko Gorge. We had about 3 hours to kill so we hit the streets in Taipei. We were very fortunate to be right next to a beautiful peace park with pagodas, shrines, ponds, fountains, and all that gorgeous Asian park stuff.

We kept walking to discover the presidential palace and a traditional Asian market before heading back to catch our train.

Our hostel in Hualien was one of the best I’ve ever stayed at. The checkin desk was actually a bar and the place was busy with lots of people our age. Christy headed to bed early, but I decided to stay up at least till midnight since it was New Years Eve. Good thing I did! I met a bunch of people who were renting scooters and heading out in the morning to see the Gorge, which had been our plan too.  Midnight came and the whole town set off all their fireworks.

The next day 6 of us set out on our scooters: Kelly & Marie (dude), a couple who met teaching in Korea and are now teaching in Taiwan, Attila the totally Euro guy in tight pants from Holland, Ben the white skater guy with a fro from Louisiana, Christy, and myself. First off let me say that I was terrified of these scooters, but my favorite travel quote I accidentally made up once is, “I’m  not without fear, but conquering that fear is fun!” Turns out they are soo fun and now I want one if/when I ever move back SF.

This day made my top 10 travel days ever! Not only was the weather perfect (as it snowed in Seoul), but the group dynamic was perfect, the scooters so fun, the gorge unbelievable, and everything came together perfectly. There are no words to explain the beauty of this place.

We drove all up and down the gorge and on the way back stopped for some hiking. I think we did about 3-4 hikes and they ranged from “old ladies are doing this” to “I hope I’m climbing straight up this rock for a reason.” There was even a really rickety, scary foot bridge we had to cross at one point.

We only decided to head out when the sky got dark and we got hungry. We all ended the day with an amazing Chinese food dinner and a Betel Nut (which I highly discourage you from trying- google it).

The next morning Christy, who is from Oregon, and I decided we wanted to watch the sun RISE over the Pacific Ocean so we took our scooters out to find a good spot on the beach. We almost got eaten by guard dogs on the way, but it was worth it.

We did some exploring in Hualien and headed back to see more of Taipei. A friend from the hostel, Chris (who’d hiked the whole gorge rather than joining us because he’s a hippy) met up with us in Taipei for dinner, a night market, and a bar. We did some more exploring of Taipei and hit up the tallest building in the world, Taipei 101. Well, if I’d gone about 2 months ago it would have been the tallest. Stupid Dubai. It was still pretty cool…

We decided to end our trip by continuing to almost miss our train, bus, and flight. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to travel without that happening, but we made all of them (miraculously). Yes, a lot of things were closed because of the holiday and it may not have been the best time to go but we were able to see tons of cool stuff on our 4 day weekend in Taiwan. There’d been lanterns and festivals everywhere we went and I’m glad to have spent Chinese New Year in a Chinese… sect? It was definitely not as well kept as Korea (few are), but Taiwan had an awesome feel to it. The weather reminded me of Mexico and the people were hands down the friendliest people ever. They practically fell over themselves trying to help us even when we didn’t look lost. I really enjoyed Taiwan and found out I’d missed out on some awesome scuba diving in the south and great hiking in bamboo forests, so I think I might have to try and go back sometime! But then again, I say that everywhere I go.