Written By: Ryan Nielsen
When I think of traveling the world, countries such as France, Spain, and Switzerland always come to mind. Breanna was able to backpack through those countries last summer (and left me behind) but we will save that for another post. I have never been to Europe but I have been to many countries through Central America and the Caribbean. Each country is beautiful and has it's own unique qualities but there's one that has made a big impact on how I live my life.
I lived in Taiwan for the month of July in the summer of 2016. Thanks to the OCU DOERs program, I was able to learn mandarin at Soochow University and help teach English conversation skills to Taiwanese High School students. I am extremely grateful not only for the opportunity to be a part of the program but due to the DOERs foundations endowment (plus other scholarships I received), I actually was paid to go on this trip! I know… don’t hate me. I am very thankful and I am really going to miss the opportunities a university can provide.
The trip consisted of 14 students going to Hualien, Taiwan to teach students conversation skills for two weeks. In addition to the two week teaching program, students could add another two weeks to learn as much mandarin as you can. Of course, I opted for the extra time in a new country! Myself and five other students flew off on 1st of July to Taipei, Taiwan.
Taipei is an amazing city. Seriously, there's so much to do there from all the different night markets, attractions (zoo, museums, tea houses), and hiking trail intertwined within the city. At the university, our only obligation was to be at class at 9:00am and stay until 4:00pm and the rest of the day was up to us. Thankfully, my group and I had the same intentions to make the most of everyday. Each morning we went on a morning hike because there are so many hiking trails found throughout the city. There was even a trailhead right beside our living dorms which allowed us to get a hike in before morning tea (sounds like a dream, right?). After class, we either explored new night markets, went to new attractions, or even rented U-bikes to bike the river trail.
The weekends allowed us to go anywhere we chose! Taiwan has an amazing bus and train system that allows anyone to get anywhere on the map for CHEAP. We were able to go the popular Fulong beach, the historic town of ShiFen, and (my favorite) the tea houses of Maokong.
We went on some truly amazing adventures! I will never forget how beautiful and fun Taiwan can be. I honestly believe Taipei, Taiwan can be fun for almost any person. There is shopping, clubs/bars, hiking, cat cafes (cafes where there are tons of cats just hanging out), and of course delicious food. In addition to having fun in Taiwan, you need very little money. Taxis will only cost about 3-7 dollars. I was getting full on $4 worth of food (which is impressive considering I run so I eat a lot) and hiking is free. The first two weeks, including buying souvenirs, I spent about $250 and I was living lavishly. I believe you could have just as much fun with spending about $100 a week. If you ever decide to visit the country feel free to email us and I will give suggestions on how to plan your trip!
+ Top 3 Things You Must See/Do in Taipei +
The Tea Houses of Moa Kong
This is an easy one to get to! Find the MRT (subway) to get to the zoo and take the gondola all the way to the top of the mountain. You will find hiking trails (and bike trails), food vendors, and of course, teahouses. There are many to choose from, and all offer amazing tea, and view of the mountainside overlooking the city. Also, do not be scared to ask how to properly prepare the tea the traditional Taiwanese way (it’s complicated... so they are happy to help).
Visit the town of ShiFen
To be honest, this town is little hard to get to. There are tons of directions online but asking for help before embarking on your journey is always wise. Once you are there you can enjoy looking at their massive waterfall. Make sure to get there before 5:00pm or they close off the site (oops.. yes we missed it the first time), but if you do no worries! The town is also known for its lantern festival. While we were there, we were able to decorate and light our own lantern! After sundown the bridge lights up in beautiful colors, and people start to light fireworks off the bridge (with no warning.. even when on the bridge). Side note- since the town isn’t very easy to get to, they don’t see a lot of foreigners so don’t be alarmed if random people want to start taking selfies with you. Especially if you are tall, blue eyes, and have a beard like myself!
The Mountain is located right inside the city, and has a MRT drop off about 400m from the trailhead. A tradition (as told by a local we met on the mountain) is to hike the trail afterward, watch the sunset, and then get a beer afterwards. The top offers amazing views of the city and the BEST view of Taipei 101.
I hope you enjoyed part one of my experience in Taiwan. The next post will be over my experience in Hualien! In addition, I will share what I have learned from this trip with you guys. Until then, keep living.