It was in last November when Chen, who lived in the US, was planning a trip to Taiwan in this April with his family. Chen and his siblings were preparing an 80th-birthday gift for their mother, Madame Shinglien.
My name is Lukas. I am 19 and from Germany. I worked at Topology for four and a half months. My tasks were about organizing and hosting tours as well as promoting and improving them together with my colleagues.
Photo: I am the one in the middle of the first row.
I chose Taiwan because I wanted to experience Asian culture. In my opinion Taiwan has the best mix of it. Furthermore Taiwan offers a lot of nice landscape and huge choice of activities.
Taiwan and Germany are very different starting with religion and cultural influences and ending with food and everyday working. Following I will give you a small insight into the Taiwanese everyday life and point out the main differences between Germany (or European countries) and Taiwan.
Photo: Taiwan has variety of fruits and most of them are pretty nice!
Taiwanese have a special relationship to food. They love to eat many different kind of good and clean food. Eating together and inviting a lot of people to share food and stories are common.
I was invited by the boss of the hostel I stayed several times to have dinner together with his grandma and once we did a barbecue during a typhoon. There is not really much that can stop Taiwanese from a good barbecue.
The food itself is very delicious but very uncommon for Europeans. Furthermore the overall preparation of food is different. Germans don’t eat rice and noodles that much and particularly pork tastes different. I think the difference is caused by the feeding and preparation of the animals. All in all it tasted so well that I ate tons of it.
But the main difference between here and Germany is the dinner itself. Taiwanese will meet their friends, buy a lot of food and have kind of a buffet. Additional they have the Chinese tables which have a rotating plate in the middle.I like that very much. You simply don’t have to eat what you don’t like.
Another advantage of having dinner here as a guest, you will get offered tons of food. They don’t accept a simple “No thanks. I’m full”. You have to say it 4-6 times before they understand that you cannot eat anything more without exploding.
And don’t be afraid of dirty food, it nearly doesn’t exists here. Nevertheless would have a small first aid set in my backpack in case I don’t stomach some food.
The environment in Taiwan is really stunning. Everything you want can be found. Hiking in the famous Taroko Gorge or even just in Taipei (e.g. Elephant Mountain), natural hot springs in the north and along the east coast (Beitou, Jiaoxi in Yilan or Chipen in Taitung…etc), surfing and swimming all over Taiwan, aboriginal culture, temples, huge cities and a lot of small fancy villages like Jiufen or Dulan. All this makes Taiwan one of the most worthy countries to travel. If I compare it with Germany, hiking in the Alps and visiting the north sea are amazing but Taiwan has more options, especially when it comes to activities and distance. The thing you should notice it that there may be typhoons during summer time.
The people in Taiwan are all very kind and helpful. It is amazing how they care about you even if you are a foreigner. Getting lost is very hard because everyone will try to help you. And don’t be afraid if you travel Taiwan as a European or American. It might be strange that a lot of people will eye you, because you are different. But no worries, the most smile back.
When it comes to language it is hard to communicate in English if you are not in Taipei. But there is always a solution. They will ask someone, who knows English, to come over and help or communicate with hand and feet. Taiwanese are great at that.
They also have a remarkable mix of culture and history. The Japanese ruled Taiwan for 50 years, so there is a lot of influence from there. Furthermore Chinese culture, of course. You also can visit aboriginal tribes in eastern Taiwan. Additionally Confucian values are very important. You can find huge plates with the characters for “honor your parents” and “loyalty” in elementary schools. You will find a lot of these values in the everyday life.
As a traveller, altruism is the most present. I experienced to be invited to family dinners, being driven to the next train station, showed around the city and doing activities together. I didn’t experienced something like this in Germany yet. Particularly asking people if they need help finding the way and taking them to their destination is what Taiwanese makes so special.
Additional you can talk and discuss almost everything. The people are very open minded. Also the way of dealing with conflicts is different from other Asian countries. Talking directly about the things you don’t like or criticize is more common here, still not that hash as in Germany, but it was very easy for me to adapt to it.
Travel Guide Book vs. Real Life Experience
Getting lost while travelling is not something very spectacular. During my trip around Taiwan I got lost many times but this was mostly caused by non-existent skills in Chinese.
I travelled with Lonely Planet, Bradt and several online Blogs as well as with the advice from Topology Travel. But the main difference between the travel book and the experience is that you will meet several inconveniences which don’t show up in the book. Sights are described very beautifully but they do not mention how to get there by public transport. For example at the east coast of Taiwan, public transport is very limited. Sometimes there is only one bus a day but the travel guide doesn’t mention it. Or the famous Walami trail in Hualien, which is described as one of the best hiking trail. The travel books never mentioned that getting there is very complicated if you don’t have a car or a scooter.
I wouldn’t recommend driving there if you are not used to Taiwanese roads and driving style. The roads are very narrow and can be very dangerous. In my opinion only experienced drivers should drive there.
Concluding travel guides are good to get an impression of your destination and the surroundings, but for actual travelling, I recommend to use more than two different travel guides, several blogs and get help from locals!
A local travel agency offers you the best advice and some of them, like Topology travel, offer customized tours. This may cost money, but you can be sure to get the most reliable information. Hiring a travel agency is also the easiest way to get good information.
If you are travelling low budget, the staff from your hostel and other travellers you meet are also really nice opportunities to get advice.
Furthermore I really recommend to get a SIM card and mobile internet. Google maps was one of my best friends while travelling!
With all these experiences I made, I would really recommend to get some help. If you can speak Chinese you might don’t have a lot of these problems, but a few spots are a bit tricky and you will need help. The choice is up to you!
Photo: Former County Magistrate of Nantou, Mr. Yang’s memorial grave site
What left Nancy, one of our tour consultants, with a strong impression was a trip that involved a traveler trying to find her roots which has a history of over a century. Our client, Lily mentioned that she is Taiwanese American and she hoped to visit Zhushan, a town in the Nantou whereh most travelers would not know about. This made us feel curious. Lili told us that her mother is from Zhushan and she wanted to visit her grandfather’s grave site to pay her respects.
How would it be possible to locate her grandfather’s grave site though? Lily provided us with the English pronunciation of her grandfather’s name but it wasn’t enough because it could be translated into anything! A name in Chinese was needed. Afterwards, she managed to find an old photo with a portrait of her grandfather and his Chinese name. After Nancy went online and did a search, she found out that he was a prestigious person. Lily’s grandfather was the County Magistrate of Nantou from 1964 to 1966. Under his reign, a song of Nantou County was even composed! During the Japanese colonial period, he founded the Zhushan clinic (now called the Zhushan General Hospital) He was once also a Presbyterian Minister of a Presbyterian church!
Lily’s mother was born in Zhushan after the Japanese colonial period. In 1962, she moved to Tokyo, Japan and then gave birth to Lily and her sister Frances. After 1975, the family moved to New York in the US and they were not only fluent in English but also Japanese because of their background.
Both sisters married Americans and now have children of their own too. The purpose of this trip was to not only let their children trace back their roots but also for them to settle matters of inheritance because their mother passed away a year earlier.
Nancy took Lily and Frances to sort out matters of inheritance once they arrived and also looked for a housing agency to auction off real estate. When they were around the centre of Taiwan at Sun Moon Lake, their tour guide Edgar also took them to Zhushan to pay their respects to their ancestors.
After dealing with all the inheritance matters, Lily, Frances and their children’s “Real Taiwan” course began! The whole family were extremely active and not only finished their whole course around Taiwan but went to snorkeling in Kenting, cycling and also surfing! They were full of energy throughout the whole trip!
We heard that the sisters came back to Taiwan again to sort out inheritance matters and to complete the auction of their late mother’s house. We were wondering who inherited the house with its history spanning over a long time and also over three countries. (Taiwan, Japan and US)
The song of Nantou County is still passed down and sung in various elementary schools in Nantou today. Lily and Frances were born in Japan and since their grandfather passed away shortly after they were born, they might not have had the chance to remember their grandfather. However coming to the beautiful Nantou, at least they were able to have a taste of how life was like during their grandfather’s time.
The song of Nantou County:
Sitting around a small coffee table, we were listening to Felix from Indonesia sharing the culture of Islamic Ramadan with us. The Ramadan is a once-a-year event significant to the Muslims. They are not allowed to eat and drink until the sun has set. The Muslims sympathize with the struggle of the hungry through the Ramadan and at the same time learn to keep their own desire under control. According to Felix, during the time of the Ramadan in Indonesia, a volunteer who is in charge of the “morning call” will shout on the street for everyone to wake up in the early morning so that they can get something to eat before the sun rises. This way, people won’t starve and have the energy to work during the day.
The sharing makes us think of that we had arranged a tour for a Muslim family from Indonesia during the Ramadan in Taiwan before. The experience was very impressive and valuable, which let us learn a lot about how to receive Muslim visitors well.
Janice’s family are Chinese Indonesians. They were the first group of guests that Allan received when he was first starting up as a travel consultant. It was also the case that impressed Allan the most; you can call it his masterpiece.
That year, Janice’s family scheduled a trip to Taiwan in the end of July and wanted to visit Kinmen County. The family had some special requests: they wanted to live in a five-star apartment hotel, they were very specific about the choice of car, and Janice also emphasized that the activities that included sunshine and sweat should be as little as possible. “I guessed the guests would like to have a luxury vacation at that time. I was challenged because apartment hotels were not that common when they traveled out of Taipei” Allan’s memory was still vivid.
From the guests’ dietary of not eating pork and drinking alcohol, Allan deduced that Janice’s family should be Muslims. With further research, he found out that during the time of their visit in Taiwan, it was the Ramadan. A thought struck Allan: all of Janice’s requests made sense! Staying in an apartment hotel was for the convenience of preparing and consuming some food before the sun came up. Reducing the outdoor activities and avoiding sunshine was for the purpose of not dehydrating too quickly. After all, during the Ramadan, even drinking water is forbidden.
“Since there are so many restrictions during the Ramadan, then why do you choose to travel in this month?” Allan asked Janice curiously. It was because that the family members lived on different continents. Janice’s siblings were studying in England, America, and Singapore separately, while her parents lived in Indonesia. The family seized the chance of summer vacation, eliminated all the obstacles, and chose to have a reunion in Taiwan. This showed their strong and inseparable bond. Among all the family members, the oldest sister, Jessica, was the latest to arrive in Taiwan. Their father, David, specifically asked the guide to take the whole family to the airport to welcome Jessica. It was not hard to see how much they were eager to see each other.
Actually, the relationship between Janice’s family and Taiwan goes way back. Janice’s father, David, used to study in Chung Yuan Christian University in Taoyuan city and couldn’t forget the taste of Taiwanese cuisines since then. That time visiting Taiwan, he hoped that he could show his children his Alma Mater. Even though the schedule and the roads that they took were rough, their driver guide, Taddy Zheng, did everything he could to make their wish came true. He drove for nearly two hours to Chung Yuan Christian University so that Janice’s father could revisit his glorious time in Taiwan as a young man.
For the Ramadan, the guide, Taddy, made many sweet gestures. In addition to providing parasol for the guests to hide from the sun, he also avoided eating in front of them. All the details indicated that Taddy respected their culture. Besides, Taddy also prepared boxes of sliced fruit in the container so that the family could eat some juicy fruit as soon as the sun had set. When the sun was about to rest, Taddy could hear some noise in the back seat while driving because after a long day of traveling around, everyone was starving. They all grabbed a box of fruit from the container and were ready to dig in. The father counted down with his watch. As the number zero was announced, everyone started to eat without further delay. Seeing the guests eating with their hearts’ content, Taddy felt satisfied as well.
Fortunately, when the family arrived in Kinmen, the Ramadan had ended; thus, they could relax and enjoy all the mouth-watering food there.
Taddy had never been to Kinmen, so before the family arrived, he took his parents and wife there to familiarize himself with the place and to gather all the information about the restaurants. This way, when the guests came to Kinmen, they could taste the food that was not only delicious, but also was allowed by the Islamic law. Taddy’s professional attitude was worthy learning. Therefore, every cuisine that Taddy recommended, no matter it was the beef noodle or the oyster vermicelli, the family relished with absolutely no worries.
Kinmen is the famous home town of the overseas Chinese. In the earlier period, many people from Kinmen emigrated to make a living. Most of them relocated in the Southeast Asian countries. Many emigrants worked really hard to earn enough money to send home for the local construction, but they never set a foot on to the already unfamiliar hometown. As an overseas Chinese family, there must be a sentimental reason for them to choose to visit Kinmen. The family visited the most classic building in the Shuitou Communities: the De-Yue Building. The magnificent building happened to be exhibiting the dress and food from Southeast Asia. I wondered if the family felt that they belonged to this land. “Many visitors who come to Taiwan have a deep connection with this land,” said Allan. Being able to bring alive the connection was one of the most valuable things that Allan could do.
Allan also went to meet the guests while they were still in Taiwan. The family gave Allan a “Batik” which they brought to Taiwan all the way from Indonesia. This kind of colorful shirt was the dress that represented Indonesia. It possessed the characteristics of their people and was also a precious gift for the Indonesians.
It was well-expressed that the family was very satisfied with their trip in Taiwan. Through the experience of receiving Janice’s family, Allan realizes that every request has its own reason. The travel consultant needs to get to know the guests actively and raises questions whenever needed so that s/he won’t misjudge the guests due to his/her one-sided opinion. For Allan, this trip is an intercultural communication that creates a meaning for his career that can never be reproduced.
Natalya from the Philippines reached out to us in March, 2017. She mentioned that her mother was not able to walk for a very long time and needed to rely on wheelchair to move. This made it difficult for the travel consultant to create a suitable trip for them. Of course, she hoped that this limitation would not affect the great opportunity for the family to travel and explore Taiwan together.
Natalya’s travel consultant was Shirley. Since Shirley’s mother relies on wheelchair to move as well, they had a lot to talk about. First of all, Shirley carefully checked Natalya’s requirement based on her own experience, including the need to book a wheelchair-friendly room, the daily necessities, and the things to pay extra attention to when going out. For example, Shirley’s mother always runs into an issue; that is, the car’s chassis is too high for her to get in and out of the vehicles easily.
After checking the details over and over again, Shirley recommended suitable destinations according to the condition of Natalya’s mother. For instance, the Erzihping Trail of Yangming Mountain, the Chung-Shan Building, and the Yehliu Geopark are all touristic spots full equipped with wheelchair-friendly facilities. In the beginning, Natalya wished that Sun Moon Lake could be included in the 4-day trip, but Shirley was worried that the family might be too tired due to their flight schedule. Therefore, she recommended them to stick with Taipei and the cities nearby. In the end, Natalya agreed on Shirley professional advice.
What’s more interesting was that not until after a few e-mails did Shirley know that Natalya’s parents had come to Taiwan for their honeymoon. Visiting here with new family members definitely will create new meaning for them.
On their first day setting foot on Taiwan, Shirley visited Natalya’s family personally in order to understand the real condition of Natalya’s mother. This way, she could make sure that the wheelchair, crutch-chair, and other equipment that we had prepared are suitable for them. In addition, Shirley also bought the famous dessert, taro balls, from the NingXia Night Market as a treat for the customers.
After the trip, Natalya also shared her experience on TripAdvisor. She mentioned that Taiwan was not their first choice; however, after visiting here in person, she was moved by the beauty of Yehliu and the cultural atmosphere of Jiufen. Even the National Palace Museum alone was enough for them to come back to Taiwan for a few more times. More importantly, because the tour guide took good care of them and introduced Taiwan in an interesting way, they were relaxed and able to enjoy every single spots at their own pace.
Seeing Natalya bringing her family to Taiwan regardless of the difficulties inspires Shirley to try to bring her mother abroad. This mutual inspiration is not what the travel consultant expected but is the most precious memory for the both.
Imagine this, when you receive a present, what do you think is in the box? A delicious cake, a dress that you have been wanting for so long, or…a journey that is about to begin?
A six-day trip in Taiwan during winter time was the gift that Sumalee and her two sisters gave their Thai Chinese father. The family members took their father to our beautiful island ready to be surprised by the food, the people, and the scenery.
When we were going to apply for travel insurance for Sumalee’s family, we realized that the personal information of the father, Mr. Anan, contained only year of birth, but no date. This event brought up a sad story of the Thai Chinese people’s past.
The story went like this: when Mr. Anan was still young, he escaped from China to Thailand. He had nothing; no belongings, no identity, nothing. After quite some time, he finally earned an ID. However, whether it was a loss of memory or lack of evidence to prove his birthday, the ID card only recorded Mr. Anan’s year of birth. After hearing this story, we could not help but think about the soldiers who were left in the northern Thailand when the National Government of Republic of China migrated to Taiwan in 1949. At the border of northern Thailand, where some Chinese villages still exist, people share this history. This is also one of the reasons why there is confusion between Thailand and Taiwan.
Mr. Anan can speak a little bit Chinese and is a huge fan of Teresa Teng (鄧麗君), a legendary female singer in Taiwan. When the travel consultant, Allan, responsible for Sumalee’s trip, found out, he bought a mix tape of Teresa Teng’s songs as a gift to Mr. Anan so that he could enjoy his trip with the company of the singer’s sweet voice. Allan also arranged a mini bus with karaoke facility. This way, they could have a blast singing in the bus on their way to Sun Moon Lake, Mount Ali, and other gorgeous scenic spots.
What’s interesting was that when Sumalee decided to choose Topology Travel, she did a comparison between us and other travel agencies. She admitted that our price was higher than the others, but so was the quality of our service. In addition to the information that Allan provided, Sumalee could also feel that Allan treated her more like a friend than a client. While she was struggling between price and service, Allan gave Sumalee an interesting response:
Allan asked Sumalee to picture the scene where her husband proposed to her. Imagine her husband’s heart pounding like crazy wondering whether the love of his life would say yes or shoot him down. Even though the proposal might go in vain, he still picked the ring with all his heart. Allan said this with a smile, “Actually, I felt very much like your husband. Even if I don’t know whether you are going to choose us or not, I am still willing to share as much information as I can because this is how I show my ‘love’ to my clients.” It was this humorous “action of love” that convinced Sumalee to pick Topology Travel.
In the spring of 2015, Sumalee came back to Taiwan again with her husband and son. When they were releasing the sky lanterns in Ping Xi happily watching their dreams slowly floating up into the sky, one thought came to mind: maybe travelling in Taiwan is just a way for the family to bond; the precious gift was the will to spend time and money to explore the world with the loved ones.
A real timeout from work, or a break from the norm, is probably what people call for while planning a trip, either short or extended, domestic or foreign. To the many, accommodation arrangement matters so much that it might decide whether a trip is a full success. Hotels with stars, luxuriously furnished rooms, full facilities, good location, guest-centered room services might sound attractive. However, when we are arranging accommodation for our guests, we’ve asked ourselves many times: What can be an excellent accommodation?
“Ilha Formosa!” (beautiful island) admired the Portuguese when they were sailing through the Taiwan Strait during the Great Age of Sail. While the Portuguese spent a couple of days sailing over the strait, how long do you think it takes to drive around the Beautiful Island of Taiwan nowadays? A few hours? One day? Two days? Read more
People who had come to Taiwan must know that Taiwan is known as “fruit kingdom. We have specialized in agricultural technology to maintain the sweetness and quality of the fruits to reach the high standard, so it is very easy to get fresh and delicious fruit in Taiwan. Not only travelers but also locals are crazy about the fruits here and fruits picking become one of the most popular activities. Our tour consultants are frequently asked what the best season for particular fruit is and where to pick them, so I wrote this article to give all the travelers a rough guideline. Some high-value fruits are fragile, so they are not suitable for travelers to pick directly, but of course you can taste them with affordable prices in the production area or local market.
Tips: Because the fruit season and the yield is very easy to be affected by the weather, so please reconfirm with your tour consultant whether the fruits picking is doable or not during your visit.
You can find the world’s top wax apple in Pingtung, Taiwan. This high-quality wax apple has a beautiful name which is called the Black Pearl. It has a dense body, juicy, crunchy and sweet.
█ Best season and place to pick : Nov to Mar and May to July in Pingtung/Yilan.
Sugar Apple (a.k.a. custard apple):
Sugar apple looks like Buddha’s head, and they are sweeeeeeeet! They are full of delicious custard-li
ke flesh and inedible black seeds inside. I guess you’ll just have to try it yourself but I am afraid that you can’t stop once you have a bite 😛
█ Best season and place to pick: Aug to Mar in Taitung
The season for Loquat is very short, only in late March. The fruits, leaves, flowers, nuclei, skin and roots of loquat are used as Chinese medicinal materials. Loquat skin is very thin, taste like mango and peach but the seeds inside are bigger, Loquat is a high price fruit because it’s hard to plant.
█ Best season and place to pick: Mar to Apr in Taichung
Carambola (star fruit):
The carambola is also called star fruit because the cross section is five awn stars. In Taiwan, besides eat it directly, we also use sugar and salt to make star fruit into juice or candied fruits which you can add it on shaved ice.
█ Best season and place to pick: Sep to Apr in Maioli/Taichung
The most exciting things in early summer for Taiwanese is to taste the first ripe litchi. Litchi can only be given to kings and royals before. During the Tang Dynasty in China, there was a most beautiful consort who loved to eat this delicate fruit. Nowadays, we are very lucky since it is easily bought from May to August. Be coved by the coarse peel wine skin, the pulp are thick and full of moisture. Oh! Restrain yourself not to eat litchi too much at the same time since it will make your body hot and it is better to eat after meals.
█ Best season and place to pick: May to Aug in Kaohsiung
Every year, travelers from around the world visit Taiwan for different reasons. Some come to visit their friends; some for the passionate Taiwanese; some for the food; some for the view, and some are like Pan’s family, who simply just “come home.”
Pan’s parents moved to the US a long time ago. They worked really hard in an unfamiliar country to create a better future for their offspring. Pan and his sister were born and raised in the US. Due to their parents’ work and the long distance across the Pacific Ocean, they seldom had chance to visit Taiwan. Growing up, Pan and his sister were married and had children of their own. With Pan’s parents growing older, they decided to came back home to visit Taiwan with family members who hadn’t yet seen this beautiful island.
Besides sightseeing, they had another important mission—tomb-sweeping. This was for the ancestors to see the new generation and to pass on the family legacy. Pan mentioned in the letter about their requests. Because this was a very rare and valuable trip with all three generations traveling together, he hoped to visit more scenic spots. On the day of their arrival, they made a beeline for the cemetery in the northern Taiwan. Afterwards, they spent a half day exploring Taipei. We all knew that after a long flight, people could get really tired especially the elderly. Therefore, we reminded Pan that if anyone felt too tired and wanted to rest in the afternoon, we could end the tour at any time and headed back to the hotel.
They set on a journey to the cemetery in Tainan. Due the limited time frame, they took a round-trip High Speed Railway (HSR) to and back from Tainan and filled in some spare time to do some sightseeing there.
To avoid being lost, we tried to get all the information on the location of the cemetery. However, Pan’s parents hadn’t been back to Taiwan for many years, so they could only provide its general whereabouts. Ensuring a smooth trip became a challenge. According to the clues provided by Pan’s dad, we became detectives and began an adventure on Google Map. Typing in the information that we had, we screenshot some landmarks and asked Pan if they were near the cemetery. If they were nowhere near it, we just kept searching. A few corrections later, we were finally able to confirm its location. We owed the success of this tour to the guide and the driver who dedicated themselves to make the customers satisfied.
One week after the tour, we received a letter from Pan’s brother-in-law. He thanked us for our effort and mentioned that for the first-time travelers in Taiwan, he and his children, they had a wonderful time.
A perfect journey combines a detailed communication and preparation beforehand, a well-experienced driver who know the roads in Taiwan inside out, and a seasoned guide who can manage all the requests that the customers might have. Only with the three combined can the customers experience a tour whose quality is beyond their imagination.
Photo: Albert, Tour guide of Pan’s Family.