A Wheelchair-Friendly Trip Created with You in Mind

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.

Family Legacy—A Root-Searching Journey

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.

Propose on a Tour – Say “I do!” at Taroko Gorge

Surrounded by the magnificent gorges and the silk-like Poplar Falls, Tom from the Netherland and Cosette from Kaohsiung, Taiwan, promised to take each other’s hands for a lifetime. In May, 2015, we witnessed the sweet blossom of the couple’s love.

Tom met Cosette thanks to his work. After falling in love, they chose to settle in Kaohsiung. Taiwan became Tom’s second hometown, and he decided to plan an action of love here; that is, to arrange a romantic two-day-one-night trip to Hualien in order to propose.

Tom was contacted by Peter, the founder of Topology Travel, and one of our travel consultants, Jonathan. After knowing Tom’s secret mission, they suggested to help him come up with a creative and surprising proposal. The planning unveiled through e-mail correspondence for quite some time.

The detail went like this: on the first day, Jonathan recommended the couple to join a river tracing activity. This not only gave them more precious memory, but also built up the atmosphere for tomorrow’s proposal. Although Cosette, who was not very good at water sports, was a bit nervous during the activity, she still had a good time under Tom’s great care. The other three consultants, who pretended to be travelers, helped to pump up the atmosphere. They also invited the couple to hike at the Toroko Gorge the next day.

The proposal team woke up on the big day very excited but also a little bit nervous. After a whole day of hiking, we came to the Poplar Trail. When we were about to pass the Poplar Suspension Bridge, everyone was saying how much more thrilling it would be with eye masks on. Cosette agreed to our little game and walked pass the bridge wearing an eye mask. At the end, Cosette took off her eye mask, seeing Tom on one knee in front of her holding the crystal bear which had special meaning to both of them. He told Cosette his feeling and that his life would be much better with her around forever. Under the witness of the Poplar Falls, Cosette said “I do,” and they exchanged vows. This wrapped up the mission that was assigned to the proposal team.

We joked about that as a travel agency that provides customized services, the number of projects that we manage are growing and the categories are getting more and more interesting. Besides creating itineraries and planning proposals, we also have to work as extras! Seeing the smiles on the clients’ faces gives us the energy to work even harder.

When the trip to the Toroko Gorges ended, Tom and Cosette’s next stage of life was about to begin.

Wheelchair Travel in Taiwan – Public Transportation

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.

You might need to use a lift when getting on the flight with the wheelchair.

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.

Taoyuan airport TPE providing wheelchair accessible TAXI service

[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.

ramp to MRT station (metro/subway in Taipei)

1. All the MRT stations have the lifts and gentle-sloped ramps for wheelchair users get into / out of the station.

it is barrier-free to get on/off the MRT (metro/subway in Taipei))

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.

CKS MRT station has 7 exits but only 2 of them are wheelchair friendly.

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.

it's barrier-free to get on/off the HSR (High Speed Rail in Taiwan)

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.

You may choose to stay on your motorized wheelchair or shift to the seat next to you on HSR.

2 seats for motorized wheelchairs and 2 seats for folding wheelchairs on HSR

[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.

TRA train staffs help to arrange the ramp for wheelchair users getting on/off the train.

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.

Reach TRA duty office at the station for wheelchair service.

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 topology.travel@gmail.com to share with us your thoughts. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

Warm regards,

Topology wheelchair travel team

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Count on me! How We Deal with A Last Minute Booking

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.

Cheers with Taiwan Beer!

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!