I chose to go to travel to Taiwan for 7 weeks. I wanted to travel to Southeast Asia, and thought this would be a great first stop. Taiwan was the first country to legalize same sex marriage in Asia. And I’ve heard about how welcoming the people are. Plus, it has an interesting history. I’m sharing my itinerary with you so you know what to expect! I really enjoyed traveling solo there as a queer, nonbinary person who felt really safe the entire time. Hope this inspires you to visit!
Stop #1: Taipei, Taiwan
I flew into Taoyuan airport and took the MRT train straight out to Taipei. As soon as I found an airport ATM, I took out cash with my Charles Schwab debit card (all my ATM and foreign transaction fees are reimbursed and I will never again pay to take out my own money).
My first week, I stayed for free with a host I met through Couchsurfing. I haven’t stayed with a couchsurfing host since before covid, and I chose to do this because I wanted to stay with a local, especially as Taiwan was barely opening back up to foreigners that week. While my host was French, I still consider him a local because he speaks fluent Chinese and has been living in Taiwan for over a year. Then I stayed in an Airbnb the rest of the time to have my own space.
He took my to a bar called Another Brick, which has weekly “blah blah nights.” People can go practice their French/do a language exchange. I met some more locals and foreigners there.
English Speaking: In Taipei, many people, especially young people, can understand basic English. Not so much in the outer cities. So, I used this time to make friends and connect with people and I’m SO glad I did. Meeting people without speaking Chinese wasn’t easy but I’m still happy I chose to visit Taiwan. It showed me that you don’t have to always understand everything to appreciate it.
Transportation: Get a smart card at a metro station for about $3USD. You can refill it easily at 7-11s and Family Mart. When I first got there, I was ubering, but then I realized how convenient it was to metro, and then I was all about the buses. Just tap your card when you get on them and off them. Google maps was reliable for me.
Things to Do: I’m a museum nerd and spent my time at the Museum of Fine Arts, The National Palace Museum, and the Industrial Park zone. I didn’t get to go hiking to Elephant Mountain. I was too busy learning to play squash at the sports center with friends ;). The night markets are great, too! You can’t go wrong at any of them, but Roahe Night Market was my favorite in Taipei.
Ximending is the very happening “Times Square” place to be and is known as the gayborhood. This is where I spent the night before the Pride 2022 parade and enjoyed it. There’s also good shopping. One of my straight friends says she likes going to “Hot Gay Hot Pot” there with a friend and they check out the gay hotties there. Don’t have the exact location though!
Wi-fi: Taipei has excellent internet connection. There’s lots of public wifi hot spots, especially at the convenience stores. I didn’t get a sim card the entire time. Looking back, I wish I’d gotten one to google translate the menus for vegetarian options. I’m becoming more and more veggie friendly as I travel, and also I do it to avoid food poisoning. Google translate helps to better communicate with people. Not all restaurants have menus in English or English speaking staff.
My favorite restaurant: Laixin Vegetarian (來欣素食手工水餃 in google maps) has a really nice, English speaking lady who explained the menu to me. I loved the pumpkin dumplings, but they’re all really good. I found it after wandering around the nearby fish market and wasn’t feeling it, and am glad I held out for this place. Highly recommend it.
Bathrooms: As a gender nonconforming person, I found that there are lots of public disabled/gender neutral bathrooms for free, even in the metro stations. When that wasn’t an option, I didn’t have anyone try to tell me I was “in the wrong bathroom” there, which I’ve had happen in Latin America. I felt safe.
Stop #2: Hualien, Taiwan
I took the quiet, clean local train from Taipei to this town on the east side of the island. Hualien is 2 hours from Taipei and is the gateway to Taroko Gorge, a beauitful natinoal park. Sadly, it was raining most of the time (rainy season was supposed to end in October but it was still in full swing), so I hunkered down in my Airbnb with an adorable shnauzer and nice host.
In between rainy days, I took the tourist bus to Taroko Gorge and did some hiking. The first day, I hiked from the visitor center. The second day I went back, I took the bus to the very end so that I could get a better view of all the options on the way back. I visited a huge suspension bridge. Super cool and not too crowded. I barely saw any non-Asians there at all.
I spent about a week in Hualien which was more than enough. At night, I went to the biggest night market at Dongdamen. I ate delicious squid and veggies in garlic and wine. And I fell in love with the Taiwan 18 Days Beer (the 18 days is the freshest kind). This has become my favorite national beer anywhere and it puts Budweiser to even more shame.
Stop #3: Kenting National Park, Taiwan
I cut my visit to the East side short because of all the rain. And am so glad I did that because the weather was MUCH sunnier as soon as I took the train to the southwest of the Island. I stayed in a guesthouse in Hengchun. There’s not much to see there, but it’s a gateway to seeing the park. In my opinion, you HAVE to either rent a car or a scooter to get around. Kenting is the “Cancun of Taiwan” but as someone who lived near Cancun for almost two years, I didn’t get in the water because I’ve been forever spoiled by amazing beaches. I loved scootering around there, especially since public transportation isn’t as reliable out there.
I rented an electric scooter from an older man who spoke English near the visitor center and behind the7-11 in Hengchun. He was nice at first, and gave me a map. He took me to the gas station to show me how to replace the electric scooter’s battery. I was dressed pretty masculine and he didn’t hit on me. The next day, though, I decided to wear my booty shorts and he got creepy real fast. When I finished another scooter rental from him , he started hitting on me and slapping my legs, and in typical creepy cishet man fashion, started talking about how I can’t be queer because I just haven’t “tried” with a man. Eye roll.
This was really the only time I felt uncomfortable as a queer person there (other than a weird dude interrupting my Tinder date at Pride to ask if we were together). It was extra disappointing because I’d been so relieved to find someone I could communicate with in English at a time when I wasn’t meeting any English speaking travelers at all, and then he got all creepy on me, so…I wouldn’t recommend him.
But, you really do need a scooter. It was lots of fun scootering around the southern coast of Taiwan and going up and down the hills. It was my first time ever renting a scooter. Some people say you need an international driver’s license, but others will say that you don’t really. It depends on the person renting the scooter. I didn’t have one and didn’t have to sign ANYTHING. I just paid about $20 a day.
Stop #4: Kaohsiung, Taiwan
This is one of the largest cities in Taiwan, where I spent about a week. The bus schedule isn’t nearly as reliable as it was when I used google maps in Taipei, so be warned. I didn’t find there to be many greenspaces, either. Though I did enjoy going to the Pride parade, and walking around Pier 2 Art Center.
I took a day trip to the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum. I met up with a Finnish traveler through the Couchsurfing meetups option and we took some great photos at sunset. She was vegan and was the one who showed me that you can take photos of menus with google translate and have them translated to English! I’d had no idea but this ended up being the reason why I wished I’d invested in a sim card to get data on my phone since I was in Taiwan for several weeks.
One of the highlights of my Taiwan Itinerary was the Lotus Wake Park in the Lotus Pond! I was just walking around the pond when I noticed a bunch of cables pulling people on wakeboards. I grew up water skiing and snowboarding in Washington State but I’d never wake boarded before. Despite the water quality of the pond looking very questionable (there were ducks all over the place and the water was NOT clear to say the least) I decided I wanted to come back to try it!
By this point, I’d been traveling alone for a while and was feeling pretty isolated, especially after having entire guest houses to myself. The next day, one of my clients during our morning money coaching call asked me what my plans were for the day. I said I was going to learn to wakeboard because it was time to have some fun.
I was nervous when I showed up to my beginners lesson, but the staff were nice and spoke some English. We started off on the kneeboard, and quickly stood up on the wake board. It was so otherworldly gliding past those Buddhist temples. I thought, “What is my life?? Sometimes solo travel can be lonely, especially when you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language, but then it gives you opportunities like these to get out of your comfort zone, learn something new, and HAVE FUN!”
I was definitely sore the next day, but that’s what foot massages (I got 1-2 a week in Taiwan) and rest days are for.
Stop #5: Puli, Taiwan (my FAVORITE stop)
I took the High Speed Rail from Kaohsiung to Taichung, then a bus to Puli. I stumbled across this wonderful “little” town of about 80k people because I wanted to stay outside of Sun Moon Lake. Little did I know I’d end up falling in love with it. I stayed at Center Center Hostel with a sweet family who spoke English and helped me plan my day trips. I got the dorm room because I wanted to meet other travelers, but just as I suspected, I had the entire dorm room of 6 beds to myself. If you want to feel like you have an entire country to yourself, come to Taiwan, y’all.
This is where I freaking went paragliding for the first time! For about $90USD, they picked me up and took me to a hilltop. I was surprised at how ready and NOT scared I felt. Run off a ledge? Sure! What I didn’t expect was having to run toward the edge three times before finally being able to take off! The first three times, the wind wasn’t right and the parachute didn’t open correctly.
Having to pull back at the last second reminded me of how much more committed I am to making big decisions and how frustrating and draining it is for me to pull back on big decision making. As soon as I got there, I was ready to go, and once we finally DID jump off there was no looking back.
Knowing that thousands of people around the world do this every day, and that these pilots do this ten times a day, made it less scary. We actually went UP quite a bit, too. We were the highest of all the other paragliders. I thought we would descend gracefully down, but we did NOT.
I think my pilot sensed that I wasn’t that scared because of my giggles and happy screams, so all of a sudden he said something I didn’t understand and we were spiraling down toward Earth. It felt like a much less safe rollercoaster.
The entire time I had that mental clarity one does when doing something “risky” or before a near death experience that I have LIVED, hunty. Paragliding felt like a psychedelic trip, and it inspired me to record this podcast episode about it in Spanish. I’ve traveled and done the most with my one and precious life (at least in this incarnation) with what I’ve been given. I have no regrets. This was just a reminder to continue playing BIG instead of small. My surprise blood clot in 2020 and knee pain this year have reminded me that nothing is guaranteed. Our health isn’t guaranteed forever and our lives aren’t either, so let’s make the most of it.
I will definitely do skydiving now, and from what I hear it’s less scary because you don’t have to run toward the edge multiple times.
Puli is also vegetarian paradise thanks to all of the Buddhist temples/monasteries. I met my friend, Joy, at a cat themed Vegan cafe, and then she invited me to visit the bookstore where she worked, Rest Book & Bed, which is UNICORN THEMED and has German food, since the owner spent time in Germany. I’d gone picking flowers with the owner of my hostel one day, and then the Owner of this bnb posted a photo of me on her facebook page. The locals recognized me from picking flowers and commented on the post. It was funny to feel famous in this little town! Usually as a queer, small towns remind me of how unsafe and closeted I felt as a kid because of homophobia, but Puli reminded me that I can enjoy nature and be in a rural community and feel safe.
Stop #6: Puli to Taoyuan Airport
After a month and a half, this was where I boarded my flight to Manila, The Philippines. Taiwan was a trip full of solitude as there still weren’t many tourists at all and I can’t speak Mandarin, but I have some lots of firsts: first time playing squash, first time wakeboarding, and now paragliding!
I’m grateful for the financial freedom I have created for myself to be able to enjoy all these things at a slower pace. I hope you enjoyed my solo travel in Taiwan itinerary! Is there anything else about Taiwan you’d like to know? Sound off in the comments.