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Thursday, February 8, 2018

taiwan: our 9 day road trip

We just got back from a nine day road trip around the entire island of Taiwan, which also happened to be our first family vacation! Yes, we just drove around Taiwan with our eight month old daughter and our socially awkward dog. We chose to embark on this trip after living here for more than five years because we are moving back to America in July. We put off visiting so many of these places because we'll do that later, but we no longer have an infinite amount of time here, so a few months ago, I sat down while our nanny watched the baby and quickly planned this trip.

In a few short hours, I had reserved our rental car, created a profile with AirBnb, and booked lodgings through its website for the first time. That was the most I thought about it until a few days before we left. Part of the loose plans can be attributed to the fact that we feel at home in Taiwan, so the prospect of hitting the road here is not quite the same as doing so in an unfamiliar country. However, it also had a lot to do with the fact that I thought this trip would be a complete disaster, and I had doubts that we would make it past the first stop in Taipei. I was skeptical because our daughter had never spent any time at all in a car seat, she only really knew how to fall asleep in her crib, and our dog is not the most emotionally flexible creature, but I knew I would regret at least not trying.

What unfolded was not quite the trip I planned. It was actually even better! Things went so well that we actually extended our time on the road! I learned a lot about traveling with a baby and a dog, and the universe keeps showing me that the people who say do that before you have kids might not know everything. 
Duration: 2 nights
When Sean hopped in a cab to pick up our rental car, I started to have some serious reservations about embarking on this trip; many people politely told us that we were a little crazy for thinking this was a good idea, and I started to wonder if they were right. Not only that, it was also raining. A lot. The forecast for the week was truly dismal too, but we got in the car anyway. We made it to Taipei without incident, although we were both nervous to drive on Freeway 1 for the first time; sometimes, some stereotypes are true-ish, and Taiwanese drivers leave a lot to be desired. We had planned on doing a few things in Taipei: hiking in Yangmingshan National Park, exploring the Beitou hot springs, and going to the zoo. However, there was a cold freeze and it poured rain the entire time we were in the capital, so in the end, we mostly hung around our neighborhood in Songshan and only left to visit the zoo and meet up with our friends for dinner.

Duration: 1 night
Our drive from Taipei to Hualien was pretty eventful because we got stuck in road work that made our trip 1.5 hours longer than it was supposed to be, and it was already supposed to be a 3.5 hour drive. Normally, I wouldn't sweat something like this; however, this was our first long drive with the baby and dog in the car, and we were stopped on a two lane highway with a mountain (and rock slide warning) on one side and a sheer cliff that dropped hundreds of feet into the Pacific Ocean on the other side. Oh, and it was still pouring. In the end, both were champs, though, and we made it to Hualien with enough daylight left to wander the ocean front park and get settled into our coolest AirBnb of the trip, a renovated traditional Taiwanese house built during the Japanese occupation of the island. In the evening, we headed to the night market for some delicious dumplings and milk tea.

At the time, I was complaining about how I chose a bad time to visit Hualien because of the road work and poor weather, but now I am so thankful we were in Hualien those days instead of a few days later because the city was (and still is being) hit by a swarm of very shallow earthquakes with magnitudes 4 - 6.5 that fell numerous buildings and damaged the highway we got stuck on and bridges we drove over.

Duration: 1 night
This was my favorite day on the road! We drove the East Rift Valley all the way from Hualien to Taitung. The valley is wedged in between two beautiful mountain ranges. The views were spectacular, and by far, this was the warmest, driest day of our trip! We stopped at a pineapple farm to take some photos, and we found field after field of beautiful yellow butterflies. Taiwan has some of the most beautiful butterflies in the world, and we were happy to spend half an hour literally sitting on the side of the road (outside of the car) watching them. In Taitung, we did our first big hike of the trip at the city's forest park and seaside park. Bubu had so much fun running along the trails, many of which were stroller friendly because they were actually made as a bicycle route.

Duration: 2 nights
Originally, we had planned on going to Maolin to see the purple butterfly valley after Taitung. However, we were tired from packing and unpacking all of our stuff daily, and we saw the yellow butterflies in the East Rift Valley. We ended up cancelling our AirBnb in Maolin and instead added an extra day in Tainan. We did not regret our choice! We stayed in a great AirBnb in the West Central District of the city, and we ate the best food of our entire trip here. We had delicious beef noodle soup one night, and we found a great Mexican restaurant another night, which is a real rarity in Taiwan! We explored the wetlands national park and Anping District with its old fort, market, temples, and graveyard. We both loved Tainan and definitely understand why it is called the heart of Taiwan!

Duration: 2 nights 
Alishan was a giant tease the entire time we were there, and we even spent an extra day and night we didn't plan on here. Alishan is always in the clouds due to its elevation and weather system, but we went in the densest fog it has had in months. We could hardly see five feet in front of our car, which made driving on the winding, narrow mountainous roads pretty nerve wracking. We stayed at an amazing bnb that had beautiful hiking trails through a bamboo forest right on its property. We had a blast exploring the Fenchuhi market and looking at cherry blossoms in the woods. We went to the Alishan Scenic Area our last day, but we were denied entry because of Bubu; apparently, the national park changed its rules about pets but did not update its website. Instead, we headed to Yushan National Park and explored an oil railroad trail, but we didn't go too far because of all the wild monkeys. We were a little worried about a confrontation between them and Bubu. In the end, Alishan is the one place I may have to revisit before we leave in less than five months.  


Stay tuned for our packing list for taking a long road trip with a dog & baby and posts about specific places we visited or things we did while exploring Taiwan!

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  1. What a fun trip! Glad to hear it turned out even better than you hoped. Looking forward to reading more specifics :) I am definitely always skeptical when people say you can't travel with a baby or with small children. (Mmmhmmm... right.)

    1. It was so much fun! Traveling with a baby is definitely a huge adjustment, but that doesn't mean it wasn't doable or wasn't a fun trip! It was just different.