Taipei City and Taiwan Wheelchair Trip 2015

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.

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