Kirstie is originally from Tennessee in the south and has been traveling around the country since she was 17. Christine is from New Jersey but has grown up and worked in New York City for most of her adult life. We met when Kirstie had just moved to NYC after living in Australia for a year.
We hit it off immediately. In one of our first conversations we started to discuss our shared passion for traveling. We began dating soon after and decided to save up enough money to go backpacking through Southeast Asia. It was the trip of a lifetime that only increased our love for travel.
Inspiration to Visit Taiwan for the First Time
Taiwan was never originally on our list of places to go. We didn’t know much about the country or know anyone who had been before. However, while we were traveling through Southeast Asia we had heard that Taiwan was the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage that year.
We also learned (when we were in the Philippines) that Taiwan was having a Gay Pride Parade in Taipei in just a few weeks. We immediately knew that we had to do whatever it takes to attend the event. It was an amazing chance to be part of history for not only Taiwan but the entire world.
When we booked our flight we decided to give ourselves an extra week to travel before the Pride Parade and start on the southern coast of Taiwan, Kaohsiung City. This was the best decision we could have made because we immediately fell in love with the culture, food and people of Taiwan.
We found out quickly that Taiwan is extremely underrated for tourism in all aspects and beauty flows through the country. No matter what kind of traveler you are Taiwan has something for you. Beaches, hiking, surfing, city life, incredible food and beautiful architecture are just the beginning.
16 Amazing Days Traveling through Taiwan
16 days was the amount of time we had in Taiwan and honestly it was nowhere near enough time. We could have spent double the time if we had the opportunity to do so. Our trip began in Kaohsiung City and then ventured up the west coastline stopping at Taichung, Taipei and Jiufen.
Our favourite experiences along the way were the black beach on Cijin Island, the Dragon and Tiger Pagoda and of course the Gay Pride Parade in Taipei which was pretty special. It was amazing to be part of history!
There were so many beautiful places in Taiwan. The black beach on Cijin Island was our favourite place for a few reasons. We actually thought we would need to wait until the end of our trip in Indonesia until we saw our first black beach. It was something that was on our bucket-list for a while.
However, we were excited to find a beautiful black beach in Kaohsiung. The beach was surprisingly empty for such a sunny day. We were able to relax and listen to the sound of waves as we watched surfers out on the water.
Top 10 Things To Do in Taiwan for First Time Visitors
Taiwan offers first time visitors an incredibly diverse array of attractions. Whether you plan on going for a couple of weeks like us or want to stay for a couple of months – there’s never a shortage of things to do in this amazing Asian country. Below you will find our top 10 recommendations.
1. Spend a Couple of Quality Days in Kaohsiung City
We spent three days in Kaohsiung and it turned out to be one of those cities that we easily could have spent more time in. It was awesome. From the city vibe and art scene, to the beaches and food – it had everything.
The Lotus Pond, Dragon and Tiger Pagoda, Dome of Light, Liuhe Night Market, Pier 2 Art Centre, Kaohsiung Fisherman’s Wharf, Cijin Beach, Rainbow Church, 85 Skytower and Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum are just a few of the places we recommend checking out when you visit.
2. Lounge on the Beautiful Black Beach of Cijin Island
Cijin Beach can be reached via a short ferry ride from Fisherman’s Wharf in Kaohsiung. It’s an absolute must-do on your first time trip to Taiwan! At sunrise and sunset the sand almost looks entirely black which makes for a stunning spectacle especially if you’re into photography and droning.
3. Check out the Art Pieces at Pier 2 Art Center
The Pier 2 Art Center is another must-do in Kaohsiung. The art center was originally a couple of abandoned warehouses but was later turned into an art park for locals and tourists. You can check out the flea markets here on the weekends and marvel at the street murals and art sculptures.
4. Eat to your Heart’s Content at Liuhe Night Market
Eat to your heart’s content at the amazing Liuhe Night Market. This is the largest night market in Kaohsiung and we found it to be one of the best. We loved the fact that many locals eat here. From milk tea and dumplings, to soups and fried oysters – there is something for everyone to enjoy.
5. Visit the Colorful Rainbow Village in Taichung
Rainbow Village is a tiny little settlement in Taichung which is famous for its colorful houses. The village used to be a settlement for veteran soldiers. It became so desirable that developers wanted to buy the properties.
However, a local resident decided to paint the houses with characters and animals in protest. Eventually, his neighbours requested that he paint their houses. The story of a Grandpa who saved his settlement became a big story. Today there are 11 original houses which you can see.
6. Hang Out at the Totoro Bus Stop in Taichung
Fans of the animated fantasy film “My Neighbor Totoro” will instantly recognise this place. The bus stop recreates the scene in the film when Satsuki waits for her dad in the rain and Totoro gives her shelter. Channel your inner anime character and take some fun photos at this hidden gem!
7. Day Trip to the Mountain Village of Jiufen
The small mountain village of Jiufen is only an hours drive from Taipei and makes for a great day trip. This village has become famous due to the movie Spirited Away – one of Hayao Miyazaki’s most popular movies. The red lanterns and small tea houses of Jiufen are eerily similar to the movie.
8. Hike up Elephant Mountain for Views of Taipei 101
The quintessential attraction of Taipei is to hike up Elephant Mountain to take in stunning views of the city, including the iconic Taipei 101. We recommend going for sunset as the views are even more special at this time. It’s a short hike of around 2km (25 minutes) from the train station.
9. Try the Street Food at Shi Lin Night Market in Taipei
Shi Lin Night Market is the king of Taipei’s night markets. There are so many food stalls here that it can almost make your head spin! Try all the different street food that you will come across including: beef noodle soup, oyster omelette and milk tea. Finish your visit with a relaxing massage.
10. Attend the Taiwan Gay Pride Parade
The Taiwan Gay Pride Parade we attended in 2019 will be a celebration that we never forget. Taiwan is undoubtedly the most progressive Asian country especially when it comes to LGBT rights. It was so amazing to be part of history and celebrate this momentous occasion with the people of Taiwan.
This year’s Pride Parade will be held on the 31st of October. We recommend heading along to this celebration if you plan on being in Taipei at this time. Gay Pride to us is a beautiful moment of sharing love with people no matter who they are or where they come from in life.
Taiwanese Cuisine: Food that is Out of this World
The food in Taiwan is out of this world and by far some of the best cuisine we have ever had. Everywhere we travel we try to eat like locals as you tend to get more authentic experiences this way. We recommend avoiding touristy restaurants and heading to the streets to fill your stomach.
Night markets are a huge part of Taiwanese culture and they have hundreds of different recipes to try that have been handed down for generations. The food is actually one of the best Taiwan experiences.
What we found interesting was that almost all of the street food carts were written in Mandarin. So we had to base our cravings on look, smell and how long the lines were – the longer the line the better the food is, right? We tried dozens of different street food items and we were not disappointed!
Here are just some of our favourite street food dishes: fried mushrooms, fried swordfish with wasabi, beef noodle soup, pearl milk tea (boba tea), Taiwanese fried chicken cutlet, oyster omelette, scallion pancake, peanut ice cream roll, quail eggs and Taiwanese shaved ice dessert.
Where to Stay on your First Time Visit to Taiwan
When we were in Taiwan we tried all kinds of different accommodation. We slept in hostels, guest houses and airbnbs. We also had the pleasure of staying in luxury hotels like Shangri-La. Each of these places will give you a different kind of experience. So it really depends on your preferences.
Typically, accommodation in Taiwan is more expensive than you will find in other Southeast Asian countries. We recommend doing some research and reading views thoroughly before booking. Most cities have fantastic Metro lines and buses and staying close to public transport is always handy.
Our Favourite Memory of Taiwan, Gay Pride 2019
When we decided to travel to Taiwan for the first time it was for the Taiwan Gay Pride Parade of 2019. We knew it was going to be a one of a kind experience considering Taiwan was the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage less than two months before the Pride Parade.
This was a pivotal moment in history. We had a feeling that Taiwan would be setting a new standard for change and acceptance towards the LGBTQ+ community worldwide. In other Pride parades we tended to watch from the sideline as we cheered on our fellow LGBTQ+ friends.
However, at the very start of the Taipei parade we were pulled to the middle of the street by the locals to march with everyone else. Seeing everyone come together to show love and support for each other was a beautiful moment.
We ended up making friends with other LGBTQ+ people and they took us partying and dancing until the sun came up. We remain lifelong friends and will never forget this welcoming and loving experience in Taiwan!
Essential Tips for your First Time Visit to Taiwan
If you are planning a trip to Taiwan for the first time we recommend not limiting your visit to only Taipei. Taiwan is a small country and it’s super easy to get around on public transportation. We recommend starting in the south and then working your way up north (or vice versa).
Be open minded with the street food as we are certain that you will be surprised by how delicious everything is. Taiwan is a beautiful country that is rich in history, architecture, food and nature. In our opinion, the more you plan your trip to live like a local the more you will enjoy your time.