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The hidden jewel of Asia: TaiwanA quick, cheap, and utterly charming vacation spot waiting for foreigners living on Jeju
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승인 2012.01.06  16:43:03
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▲ The author in Taroko Gorge. Photo courtesy Jenna Houts
Many foreigners come to Jeju Island to teach English and to travel. However, once they arrive in Korea to begin their one-year contract, they soon realize they will be doing a lot more teaching and a lot less traveling. Most English teachers have limited vacation time and have to make the most of it. My boyfriend, Adam, and I live on Jeju Island and were itching to experience a little bit more of Asia during our vacation. So, finding a cheap and international location for Adam’s one week vacation was the most important thing.

We started the search almost two months before our scheduled vacation date. We wanted to make sure to find cheap flights, cheap accommodation, and be able to come and go from Jeju with ease in just one week. We love to travel and explore and our only requirement was to go somewhere new, so anywhere in East Asia was a potential candidate for our vacation destination. During our search we looked at traveling to Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Taiwan. Since we were going the last week of November, we especially wanted to go someplace warm. After doing a lot of research, the Philippines sounded the most exotic, warm, and well... beachy. But surprisingly the flights were expensive (1.2 million won round trip) and destinations like Cebu were not easy to get to and from in the short span of one week, so we settled on Taiwan. It would be warm, easy to get to, and a new place for both of us. We found round-trip flights for 400,000 won from Jeju to Taipei with a layover in Busan on AirBusan. This was by far the cheapest flight we found, so we booked it.

We were caught by surprise by Taiwan, as every day of our trip proved to be more spectacular and we uncovered the surprising beauty of the island. Taiwan is known as the hidden jewel of Asia, probably because in the West we don’t hear a lot about Taiwan. It is dwarfed in the news by the neighboring powerhouses. Now I know Taiwan is an incredible place to vacation, a country not to be missed when visiting Asia.

After a quick two and a half hour flight from Busan, we touched down in Taipei at noon and had the rest of the day to explore. The first two days of our trip were spent in the city, where we stayed at a cute little hotel in the heart of the city. I have experienced the backpacking and hostel culture on multiple continents and don’t feel the need to participate anymore. So for those who have ruled out uncomfortable and dirty hostels, nice hotels at just a little more cost are available all over Taiwan. We stayed at the Don-wu, discovered on TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.com), and found it to be more accommodating and comfortable than the price would suggest.

Taipei is a vibrant city. We immediately fell in love with the chaos, something different from Jeju. During our time in Taipei, we visited Taipei 101, the second tallest building in the world, and did a lot of shopping. Taiwan is known for its night markets, selling everything and anything. The Shilin night market was a maze of endless alleys packed with clothing stores. While the expensive shops on Jeju do not fit an English teacher’s budget, the night market proved to be a bargain shopper’s paradise. The market was also filled with vendors selling exotic street foods. Adam especially enjoyed the ostrich meat on a stick.
▲ Photo by Jenna Houts

Next stop on our Taiwanese odyssey: Taroko Gorge. We picked up our pre-ordered rental car in Taipei (international driver’s license required) and traversed the crazy highways towards the east coast. Despite our GPS and map we still managed to get lost and the three-hour trip lasted nine hours. We took a detour and spent most of the day on harrowing, curving mountain roads. But the beautiful scenery and Taiwanese countryside was enough to distract us. The drive had us gaping out the window and exclaiming about the beauty for the entire nine hours.

Taroko Gorge is the most visited destination in Taiwan and is world famous for its striking beauty. Taroko is one of the most incredible places I have visited. We were so thankful for our rental car, which enabled us to drive through the entire park but stop and explore as we wished. Visiting the gorge any other way, we realized, would have been limiting. Taroko’s vertical rock walls and majestic green mountains are breath taking. My favorite spot in Taroko was the natural hot springs. The bright blue pool is tucked into a cave right on the gorge floor and the hot waters flow directly into the ice cold, rushing river. The water was so hot I almost couldn’t get in. Sitting in the hot springs, looking out at the river and jungle greenery of the Gorge was probably the most beautiful sight I had experienced in my life. This is truly one of the world’s most special little places.

We stayed at a beachside hotel in the nearest town, Hualein, only 30 minutes away. The town itself was not anything special, but it made up for its lack of charm with the beautiful coastal views. The drive down the east coast south of Hualein was beautiful. By this point, half way through our trip, we were enamored with Taiwan. We wished we had more time to explore the rest of the island.

We drove back to Taipei and spent our last two days exploring the tea houses, temples, and restaurants we missed the first time around. We were sad to leave the beautiful little country and go back to work at the end of our trip. However, the bright side was we returned home to the beautiful island of Jeju.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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