Brad is a senior executive at a multinational company. He frequented Asia a lot on business trips but this was his first time in Taiwan. Since he only planned a weekend in Taiwan, he hoped to use this limited time to travel to Taiwan’s landmarks as well as experience the life as a Taiwanese. Therefore Amy the tour consultant, helped him organize a basic one day trip in Taipei and a one day trip in Yangmingshan (Yang Ming Mountain). What Brad enjoyed the most was when we took him to experience Taipei’s very own UBike!
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!
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.
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? Read more →
“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
In the last few years, Topology Travel had provided tour service to more families who traveled to Taiwan with elders or some wheelchair users. We got more experienced and learned from our customers by understanding their needs and finding out what we can do better when arranging a tour for wheelchair users, and how to make an accessible travel become possible.
Perhaps you just thought of a friend in a wheelchair, and he/she might want to travel abroad but might be still hesitating where to go considering the accessibility. Why not encourage him/her to visit Taiwan as the first try? Follow the instructions below, and with Topology’s supports, we believe he/she will be more confident for the Taiwan trip.
In the following paragraphs, we will point out the pros and cons of taking flight, MRT (subway/metro in Taipei City), HSR (High Speed Rail on west coast of Taiwan), and TRA train (railway system all around Taiwan) in Taiwan with wheelchair. Indeed, there are still some space for improvement regarding to wheelchair accessible environment in Taiwan, but we do our best to provide you enough information or alternative solutions to make your trip smoother.
[Flight and Airport]—-from your home country to Taiwan
1. Take full-service airlines.
When traveling abroad with your wheelchair, it’s better to take full-service airlines rather than budget airlines, based on the following two reasons:
i) Normally you would need to check-in your wheelchair, but this might trigger extra charge if you are taking the budget airline.
ii) Sometime there is no jet bridge for boarding if you are taking a budget airline, then you might need to take stairs or ask for a lift service (and this service itself might be more expensive than your flight ticket :P).
2. Request the airline company or flight attendant for wheelchair service. If you are using a motorized wheelchair, contact with the airline company in advance to make sure your battery fits their standard for carry-on into the flight.
When your flight lands at Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) in Taiwan, let the flight attendant know your need, they will prepare a thinner wheelchair which can pass through the airplane cabin’s aisle for you, and the staff will take you pass through the immigration (usually with the VIP channel), until reaching the baggage claim belt for collecting your luggage so that you may change to your own wheelchair afterward.
* You may take a look of this blog (Chinese) with pictures demonstrating how’s the whole process of the wheelchair service at Taoyuan airport.
* For more information about taking the flight with a wheelchair, you may also refer to this website (English) with a very clear video instruction.
3. Don’t take bus, please take TAXI or MRT from airport to the down town (such as Taipei City). Currently, there are no low-floor buses from airport to the down town, so it could be a nightmare for wheelchair users when taking the bus.
For calling wheelchair accessible TAXI, you may make a phone call to +886 3 3982832 for reservation, or find the TAXI service desk at the airport for help. The fare for TAXI from airport to Taipei City is around 1,200-1,500 TWD per ride.
[MRT]—-the most convenient way to travel around in Taipei City
Taking the MRT (metro in Taipei City) to transfer around Taipei with a wheelchair is “almost” barrier-free accessible.
1. All the MRT stations have the lifts and gentle-sloped ramps for wheelchair users get into / out of the station.
2. The level difference / gap between the platform and MRT carriage is well designed for wheelchair users easily getting on/off the train.
3. Inside all the MRT stations, there are ticket gates for the disabled, and also toilet facilities for disabled and elderly passengers. You may refer to the MRT official webpage of Facilities for the Disabled (English) for more information with pictures.
[MRT]—-some unsolved problems for wheelchair passengers
The only unsolved problem is that, before you entering a MRT station from the ground floor, you would need to know which exit has the elevator.
For instance, at Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall station, there are 7 exits in total, but only Exit 1 & 5 have the elevators for disabled access.
To get this information in advance, visitMRT official website for the MRT route map, and you may click the certain station for checking its exit information.
Or try to use this app: Friendly Metro Taipei. When GPS is turned on, this app will show you the nearest exits of a metro station with accessibility information and pictures that help you quickly reach an accessible exit.
* If you still have difficulties of taking the MRT with your wheelchair, contact with Topology and we can help to design the travel itinerary and arrange a tour guide accompanying with you to solve the problem.
[HSR]—-the fastest transportation on the west coast of Taiwan
Although the level difference / gap between the platform and HSR (High Speed Rail) carriage is well designed for wheelchair users easily getting on/off the train, there are still some tips we would like to share with you, to make your HSR journey and experience smoother.
1. You may call HSR’s customer service line: 4066-3000, for reserving the guiding services. You may reach the passenger service counter 20 minutes before your HSR train departure time, to meet with the staff and he/she will lead you to the platform on the wheelchair accessible route (with the elevator). It will save your time from getting lost in the big station for finding the correct route with elevators.
The same service applies on the case when you arrive your destination HSR station for getting off the train. If you had reserved a guiding service, there will be a staff waiting for you on the platform, leading you to the nearest elevator and help to “unlock” the elevator so that you may use it and get out of the station. (At some stations, the elevators were locked to avoid being abused by general passengers.)
2. For each HSR train, on car number 7, there are 4 conveniently accessible seats for passengers in wheelchairs. Two seats are available for parking electric wheelchairs, and two seats are available for parking folding ones. There is also one accessible restroom on the train. Take a look of this HSR official webpage of Accessibility Services (English) or this blog (Chinese), as well as the below pictures then you will have a clearer idea.
[HSR]—-some unsolved problems for wheelchair passengers
There is one very big unsolved problem that it’s not able to book the accessible seats online currently. You can only purchase the accessible seat ticket at HSR station or reserve it by making a phone call in advance.
* If you prefer to book the accessible seats and confirm your travel time schedule in advance, contact with Topology and we can help to pre-book the accessible seats and also reserve the guiding service for you.
[TRA train]—-all around Taiwan including Pingxi and Yilan
The TRA train system is older than the HSR train system, and it makes taking TRA train more challenging for wheelchair users. Anyway, here are some tips for you, and if you can speak some Mandarin Chinese and have the courage to talk to TRA staffs at spot, that will be very helpful.
1. There are some steps at the doorway of the TRA carriage. When getting on/off the train, call the station staff for providing a ramp for you.
2. Unlike HSR, you are not able to reserve the guiding service for the TRA train by a phone call. If you need help, you have to reach staffs at spot. Find the Duty Office at the station before you taking the train.
[TRA train]—-some unsolved problems for wheelchair passengers
Same as HSR, it’s not able to book the accessible seats of TRA train online. You can only purchase accessible seat ticket at TRA station or reserve it by making a phone call in advance.
* If you prefer to book the accessible seats and confirm your travel time schedule in advance, contact with Topology and we can help to pre-book the accessible seats and also reserve the guiding service for you.
The above are the tips for taking public transportation in Taiwan for wheelchair users. You are more than welcome to forward these valuable information to whom that you think they would need.
If you’d already been to Taiwan before, how do you think about the above information based on your experience or observation when you were in Taiwan?
Or if you self is a wheelchair user, after having a brief idea about the accessible environment in Taiwan, what do you think we can do better or provide further assistance to make your trip in Taiwan smoother?
Please feel free to send email to email@example.com to share with us your thoughts. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.
Sweet Potato Mama Project is one of the programs that we are extremely proud of. A group of single mothers are able to own their career thanks to the Genesis Social Welfare Foundation (GSWF). This foundation not only recruits volunteers to teach the moms how to roast sweet potatoes, but also provides them the tools needed for their business, such as the roasters and the cart. In the beginning, the foundation provides the moms with free sweet potatoes to sell on the street. After a while, the moms have to use the money they earn from this batch to buy the next raw batch of sweet potatoes. Instead of directly and constantly providing help the single moms, the GSWF teaches them how to earn a living on their own. Report by CNN.
Fortunately, we encountered the chance to know the sweet potato mamas and developed a project for the foreign travelers to know these single moms and to participate in selling the sweet potatoes on the street. From the very beginning of Topology Travel, we started to promote this project, which allowed our company to have a little impact on and to contribute to the society. Most importantly, through the sweet potato mamas, we are able to connect the Taiwanese locals to the travelers from all over the world. Among those travelers, some occupied a special place inside our hearts until today. Here, I would like to share these unique stories with you. But before that, please visit the link down below to learn more about the Sweet Potato Mama.
Karen (pseudo name) was a university professor from the USA. She ran a social welfare project in Kenya, Africa. Her main job was to assist the single mothers and the patients of AIDS by teaching them traditional weaving so that they can make a living on their own.
For her stay in Taiwan, she wished to find the itineraries that allowed her to participate in the local social welfare or volunteer activities and hoped that she could try something different in Taiwan. Browsing through the Internet, she found the Sweet Potato Mama Project.
Karen followed the guide’s lead around the Potato mamas’ factory, learned how the project worked, and participated in the selling of the sweet potatoes on the street. During the process, not only did Karen experience the hardship of working on the street, but she also applied her expertise on analyzing the big data and suggesting us a better way to promote the Sweet Potato Mama Project. In the meantime, she was thinking about bringing this idea back to Kenya. The 2-hour itinerary ended quickly, but the in-depth international communication definitely made a great impression on all of us!
Another interesting story is from a Japanese gentleman—Kanehisa Matsushita. Matsushita was an engineer, but outside of his office, he was a true master of sweet potatoes! Living in Toyama, Japan, he has his own sweet potato field where countless of purple sweet potatoes were planted. Besides, he researched and developed a huge jar that was used exclusively to roast sweet potatoes. He would sell them at the local farmers’ market on the weekends. For this, he planned a special potato-themed trip to Taiwan so that he could visit the habitats where the tasty sweet potatoes came from. Of course, it was not hard to imagine the joy that he felt when he discovered out Sweet Potato Mama Project online!
We asked Mr. Matsushita why he loved sweet potatoes more than other crops, and he said that sweet potatoes were very healthy to the human being, and he hoped that he could share it with everyone. Watching Mr. Matsushita communicate with the sweet potato mamas with all his heart, study the structure of the sweet potato washing machine and different kinds of grills, and promote the love of his life—sweet potatoes, we started to respect Mr. Matsushita’s passion for them. This spring, Mr. Matsushita is planning another trip to Taiwan, and this time, he is going to bring a group of students to participate in the Sweet Potato Mama Project. In addition to welcoming him, we are also super excited about the new chemistry between us. The different experience that we have with travelers from all over the world allows us to feel a sense of achievement when promoting the Sweet Potato Mama Project.
Pierre and Francoise was a lovely couple from France who liked to visit the nature and get in touch with people. And like most of the travelers from France, they were willing to taste all types of cuisines. Visiting some friends in Taipei, Pierre planned their first trip in Taiwan which lasted three weeks. They spend their first few days in Taiwan catching up with their friends. The hue of their friendship did not fade due to the distance, but became more colorful through the past of time. Afterwards, they wanted to seize the chance to explore Taiwan and would also like to take some days to relax and to travel freely. As a result, Pierre contacted Topology Travel.
Receiving the request letter from Pierre and understanding their needs, we designed a 9-day exclusive trip around the island for them. For the accommodation, we did our best to find them B&Bs because they wanted to interact more with the locals. Furthermore, in the hope that the trip can be more satisfying, we assigned them Spencer, a foodie tour guide, who knew a lot about local cuisines according to their taste.
In these 9 days, Pierre and Francoise visited almost every city in Taiwan. They saw the production of dried persimmon for the first time in Shinchi, made a souvenir using the natural indigo blue dye in Miaoli, rubbed tea leaves with their own hands in Puli, enjoyed a boat ride in Sun Moon Lake, experienced the mountain train in Alishan, taste all sorts of local snacks in Tainan, and roamed along the Baishawan Beach which appeared in the movie, Life of Pi, in Kenting.
In addition, the view on the east coast where the sea meets the sky and the magnificent scenery in Taroko were also hard for them to forget. They also stayed in different types of B&Bs in Taiwan, including the farm type, the aboriginal type, the hybrid of tradition and modernity, the one with incredible view of the ocean, and the one with hot spring that allowed them to relax completely. All of which occupied a special place inside Pierre and Francoise’s memory.
In the end of the trip, Pierre suddenly told the guide Spencer that they had a few more free and easy days in Taiwan and wanted to find a place with beach where they can stay and have fun. They were wondering if Topology Travel could help them with arranging transportation and accommodation. Originally, Pierre and Francoise were thinking about Penghu or Lanyu, but these islands were not perfect for traveling at the time of their visiting which was in November. Hence, we provided an alternative option—Lamay Island, or commonly known as Xiaoliuqiu. After researching the information about Lamay Island, the couple quickly agreed with our choice because it was a perfect place for their interest.
Since the couple decided to go there alone, we were worried that there might be some communication issue. After contacting many B&Bs, we finally picked a great bed and breakfast that provided English service with a walking distance to the beach. What comes next was transportation. They would need to take the high-speed rail from Taipei to Kaohsiung, transfer to a shuttle bus that would take them to the port, and head to the island by boat. For the ride from the train station to the port, the considerate Spencer said that his brother was in Kaohsiung and offered to help with the transfer. This allowed the last-minute booking to go smoothly. At the same time, we called the B&B to see if they could send someone to pick the couple up at the port in case that they couldn’t find the way to the B&B.
The main transportation in Lamay Island is motorcycle, and considering this, we rent an e-bike for the elder couple so that they could enjoy their trip on the island with ease. During those 4 days in Lamay Island, Pierre and Francoise enjoyed their beach time heartily. Their trip in Taiwan ended with a skin diving with the Green Sea Turtle in the gorgeous sea.
Going back to France, Pierre wrote a letter to thank us for everything. He enjoyed everything on the schedule, including the scenic spots, activities, and accommodation. Above all, Taiwanese people’s warmth and passion made the greatest impression on them. The only thing that he was a little upset about was that the guide knew so much good food that he gained a few pounds during this trip!
The customer’s feedback about their great time in Taiwan is always the best and most satisfying compliment for Topology Travel!
We planned our Taiwan trip with 11 full touring days ( plus arrival and departure days ) initially by normal internet searches of attractions, then we searched for an ”accessible” travel company. We found Topology Travel and although they do not market wheelchair travel on their main website they were very responsive by email and understood the importance of all the wheelchair travellers questions I asked. Every question I asked was checked out including door widths in hotel, roll-in showers , handrails beside toilet etc and all the other normal wheelchair travellers queries.
They selected the two hotels we stayed at and I had full photos of hotel rooms and bathrooms before we even finalized our trip details. The hotels were Taipei City Hotel and Sun Moon Lake Hotel. Jonathan Chen, of Topology, put together a full itinerary using the places I found then added his recommendations, with all accessible issues checked. The trip they offered included private guides throughout and also all meals.
The issue of meals turned out to be a trip highlight as the guides selected local interesting restaurants in all the areas we visited, with very diverse cuisine.
November seemed the best month for our trip with mild weather and minimum rain. On the only day it did rain our guides had raincoats ready for us.
On the internet it is surprising there are so few wheelchair travellers stories about Taiwan as it proved to be such an excellent place for wheelchair accessible travel. There was no place in Taipei city we visited that was not accessible.
The MRT, which we used for half the trip, had lifts and gentle sloped ramps everywhere. The platform level matched the train carriage level and the gap was very small.
In the mountains there was an old tourist train we used and that had two steps at the doorway. Our guide was essential in planning this, but the station staff were so fast in providing a ramp for me to get on and off this train.
There was one day we travelled on an accessible bus in Taipei and when the bus stopped for pick up the driver quickly came around and pulled out a sliding ramp at the mid length passenger door. Taipei is a very clean city . On some nights when we walked around we saw garbage collection trucks and immediately behind the main truck was second smaller truck for recyclable rubbish collection. In the city where there were rubbish bins they always had two bins together, one for normal rubbish and one for recyclable. On our trip down the west coast there was also many wind turbines.
Taiwan has a long mountain range north to south and we used a car for the longer travelling days and up into the mountains. ( Taiwan has 286 mountains with height above 3000 metres ). The only hiccup in the entire trip planning was Topology’s selection of vehicle which needed the seat to be at the same level as my wheelchair as I use a sliding board to get from my wheelchair to the front car seat. However on the discovery of the problem Topology changed the car type to another which was then ideal for the rest of the car use days.
Taiwan has a High Speed Rail ( 300 km/h ) which we used on a one day trip from Taipei to the south of the island. The carriage for wheelchairs has a location for four wheelchairs , two each side of the carriage and adjoining this was a large disabled toilet. Beside each of the seats was a designated space where you can place your wheelchair and this space has a “seatbelt” to restrain your wheelchair during the trip.
We had two guides during the trip. Samantha Wu for the first half and Spencer Chen for the second half. These guides were a critical part of the trip being so successful. They had to be knowledgeable about everywhere we went, in terms of wheelchair accessibility, and managing the itinerary. Prior to our departure, Topology had supplied our daily itinerary even including photos of the generally four places visited each day. We took lots of photos, but so did our guides. They downloaded their photos to our phone at the end of the trip and Samatha even downloaded her photos onto a flash drive we had brought with us. Samantha’s English was also very good.
Our stay at Sun Moon Lake required our only overnight out of Taipei, because of the three hour drive each way. We planned to go on an accessible boat trip but there was a problem in that out of at least one hundred tour boats on the lake, only one was accessible and that was only available on weekends. We arrived on Monday. Fortunately with Spencer’s local connections he was still able to arrange this accessible boat tour for us.
We travelled to Taipei with EVA air which had premium economy so I could have a bit more space to move around without a high addition to economy cost. They also had my wheelchair at the plane door on arrival and departure as I did not want to have the risk of my chair going through normal baggage handling systems and potentially being damaged.
Day one: UNESCO listed Bao-an temple, Confucius temple, Thermal hot spring valley and Danshiu fishermans Wharf. The thermal valley was quite hilly and Samatha’s pushing assistance when I got tired was great.
Day two: Taipei zoo, Makong gondola and tea tasting. The Gondola ride up into the mountains enabled me to go from the platform and roll directly into the cabin. Samantha was able to select a cabin which had a glass floor which provided great views of the forest we travelled over.
Day three: Chaing Kai Shek memorial hall, Taipei 101, Longshan temple, Hua Shi Night market and Beijing Opera Show. The changing of the guard inside the main memorial hall was impressive and the view from the top of Taipei 101 was excellent. The night at the opera, even though it was in Chinese, had a screen at the side of the stage where the story of what was happening was projected in English.
Day four: Ying-ge Ceramin museum, Ying- ge old street and Sanzia zushi Temple. In the old street some shops have pottery wheels for customers use. Phitchaya was able to sit at a pottery wheel and have a try at turning a clay pot with helpful guidance of the shop staff.
Day five: The Shilin Presidential compound, National palace museum and shrimp fishing. The National museum, even though it was a weekday, was incredibly packed with tourists. Lunch this day was at the Goudy Architectural Style inspired restaurant called “Five Dime” and that was very impressive.
Day six: Yangmingshan national park, Zhongshan building, Erzihping area trail and Ban-yien village.When we visited the national park up in the mountains the area was nicely covered in cloud and had very lush vegetation. There was a hiking trail 1.8 km long to a viewing location. Adjacent to this trail there was amazingly a paved wheelchair accessible walkway on which we travelled to the end.
Samantha’s pushing assistance was however essential for some of the steeper parts.
Day seven: Yehliu geo park, Heping island, Golden waterfall and Juifen old street. The geo park is on the edge of the ocean and at the north east corner of Taiwan. It has impressive rock formations and again has an excellent accessible walkway out to the extreme end.
Day eight: Pingxi Sub railway, sky lanterns, cat village and Keeloung night market. We used a tourist train in the mountains starting at Jintong station then got off at Shifen station. The trip through the hills was great with deep valleys and turbulent rivers. At Shifen Old Street we were able to paint wishes on a large paper lantern and then send it into to sky. The following station was then Houtong (cat village) with old coal mining buildings. At Houtong station, for the return journey, we had to cross the rail tracks to get to the opposite platform. Within the platform they had a large plate lift which lowered me to the track level and I was then pushed across the rail area to the other platform.
Day nine: Wulai aboriginal tribe, Wulai waterfall and Bitan green lake.
Day ten: Sun Moon Lake , Wenwu temple, Syuentzang temple and Sun Moon Lake hiking trail. The trip out on the lake was by accessible boat about fifteen metres long. As another example of excellent accessibility in Taiwan, the entire huge lake in the many places we saw around the lake, had a wide relatively flat bike and walking path that was easily used in my wheelchair. It had handrails on both sides.
Day eleven: High speed rail to Kaoshiung station in the south of Taiwan, then transfered to local MRT and onto Siziwan at the extreme south. Crossed on a ferry over Takow port to Chaisan island. The short ferry ride was spent on the lower deck as that was level with the dock. However the local deck was also the place where all the motor scooters drove from the dock and squeezed in for the short trip across the harbor. After returning on the ferry we visited Dagou British Consulate and Siziwan beach. The consulate historical building was high on a hill overlooking both the ocean and the harbor. There was an external platform lift for wheelchair visitors to get to the upper floor of the two story building.