I’m delighted to introduce this week’s guest blogger Laura from Wolf Tracks, who along with her husband and little boy, the Tiny American, live in Taiwan. Expats from Texas, they moved to Taiwan in January 2015 for her husband’s job.
Even though we have only lived in Taiwan for about 7 months, we have managed to see and do a lot, primarily because we have had LOTS of visitors.
Taiwan is a small island with most of its population primarily spread along the west coast. We live in Taichung (literally Central Taiwan) which is about 2 hours south of the capital city of Taipei. With the mountains running down the middle of the island it makes getting from one side to the other a challenge, it takes longer than it really should, but can certainly be worth the effort.
We have visited a lot of places all over the island and while some are just pretty to look at and walk around, providing views of so many amazing temples and scenery; I will share with you what I think are the most kid-friendly places we have been. We have a nearly 2-year-old little boy, but my sister and her 8 and 11-year-old children just recently visited, so I will share things that will work for a range of ages.
This place has something for everyone; the village offers amusement park rides, DIY crafts, cultural history, activities and live entertainment. A visit here does involve a lot of walking, but it is very shaded in most places and stroller friendly. We went on a very hot day and were not uncomfortable. There are a number of outside rides including a roller coaster and a water plunge ride. There is an inside entertainment area that has games, food vendors and more rides, including some that were great for our toddler. There is a gondola ride that takes you up the hill to the top of the park and you can then either ride it back down or walk down through the park, which allows you to see everything.
Outside of the ride area, the park is broken up into different tribal areas or villages. Each village has model homes set up that you can explore as well as live entertainment, crafts, activities and history that go with each tribe. Throughout the park there are several places that offer DIY craft opportunities for a small fee. The kids chose to do pottery and leatherwork. They each got to sculpt a small pot to bring home, and at the leather shop they each got to punch a leather keychain. Fun souvenirs!
For a very small fee we rented aboriginal costumes for the kids to dress up in and took pictures. They had costumes in all sizes, adult all the way to little child. One tribe offers the opportunity to use a blow gun and another offers a range where you can shoot a bow and arrow. There are plenty of food and souvenir vendors throughout the park. The one thing that I did notice that you may want to think about is that the live performance schedule is limited on weekdays, there are many more opportunities to see those performances if you go on the weekend or holiday.
Meinong is a Hakka district most known for their oil paper umbrellas. Traditionally the Hakka people made the umbrellas from start to the painted finish here. More often now they import the actual umbrella from China and the Master Artists paint them here. This little tourist village is not a big place, not a whole lot to see other than the umbrella store and if you get there a little later in the day you will probably catch an artist painting. We have always gone early in the day, it just works better for us, and he doesn’t usually paint for the public until after lunch. The Umbrellas are amazing; they have a selection of all sizes and price ranges.
With the bigger kids here though the main reason we went here was they offer a DIY umbrella. The kids each got to paint their own umbrella. This was one of their favorite things they did in Taiwan. Both my niece and nephew are very “artsy” so it was worth the drive for us and it cost about $4 per child. There is a restaurant there, but it is 100% traditional food, no western options and not a lot that interested the kids. We packed a lunch just in case and there is always a 7-elven close by for a cold drink. I would say for children under 4 this would hold very little interest, but for those older kids I think they would love it.
If you love the beach this is a must. I will start by saying that this resort is a little more expensive than most places in Taiwan. It is an older hotel, always clean but not super fancy. We have stayed in several room types but my favorite would be a family room. These ground floor rooms offer a patio with a table and umbrella. My sister, her two children, my little boy and I shared a room and did not feel crowded.
The hotel is the only one in Kenting to have a private beach. The hotel is VERY kid friendly. They have three pools dedicated to the kids at varying depths. Our toddler was able to walk around with his head above water in many places. There is also an adult pool that is deeper and bigger kids accompanied by parents can go in. The pools are just steps from the beach.
One thing to note about Taiwanese pools, you MUST wear a swim cap. I had never worn one and felt kind of silly the first time, but everyone has one on so you kind of forget about it. The beach is super clean with lots of beach chairs and umbrellas spread out. There is a beautiful grove of shade trees with hammocks and swings scattered throughout right on the beach.
Other activities include croquet, video game room, pool tables, ping pong and two children’s inside play areas with ball pits and slides. They have a very unique little area fenced off that they have hermit crabs rounded up in…the bigger kiddos loved this. When we were there the beach was closed to swimming, but we walked in the surf and played in the sand and it was fine for us. If you don’t have sand toys to take with you they have those available to borrow.
The one negative for us is the food there. They say they offer a western selection but so far I have not really felt like that was the case. If traditional Asian food works for your family you will be fine with the restaurants at the resort, they offer breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you are like us and the picky eaters I travel with there is a McDonald’s across the street and tons of restaurants in town, all within walking distance. The room has a small fridge and we brought sandwich stuff and snacks for lunch and went into town for dinner.
The Night Market in Kenting is my favorite so far. It is easy to navigate and has great variety of foods and other vendors. It is a must do if you are there.
Taiwan Balloon Museum
This was by far one of the kids favorite stops we made. The Tailloon Balloon Factory offers a tour and DIY project. During your visit you tour the museum, which is located at the factory, learn a lot of history about the making of latex balloons in Taiwan. Sound boring? Not at all. We don’t speak Mandarin and the kids loved it! We had our nanny with us and she did some translation, but really we would have been ok without it.
They kept the kids engaged for the entire tour, about an hour, even our little guy enjoyed most of it. After the tour the kids got to make their own latex balloons. They were about the size of a water balloon and they each made 3. You would have thought we handed them gold! It was really fun. They also have a balloon store on site where you can buy all kinds of fun balloon related items, like the balloon racecars that came home with us.
We visited this old village on a rainy overcast day but it was still awesome. The first thing we did here was to visit the Shifen Waterfall. It is a short walk to the waterfall from where you can park and while it is a steep walk at times to get to the waterfall and there are some stairs involved, it is so worth it. They call it the Niagra Falls of Taiwan and it is truly beautiful In the same general area is cool suspension bridge that is open for the public to walk over.
We actually got back in our car and drove a little closer to the town and parked within walking distance of the Old Street. This is the main street in town with shops on either side and a train track running right down the center. Shifen is known for their paper lanterns. The many shops in town sell paper lanterns that you can use in your home to decorate. Many shops also offer the opportunity to buy and paint on your own big paper lantern. You write your hopes and dreams or whatever you feel like and then with their help you fill it with warm air from a fire and let it sail into the sky. This was a really fun activity. I have seen pictures of this at night and it is beautiful. We were there during the day, night activities with a toddler are just too tricky for us, but we enjoyed it regardless of the time of day. We did not eat while we were here but there were plenty of options.
Hualien and Taroko Gorge
This area is SO beautiful but it is also a little bit more difficult to get to. It is on the east coast. From our home in Taichung it is about 6 hours and I think if you take the train from Taipei it takes about the same time. The drive is beautiful but curvy and slow. We did not do this with the older kids, just with our little guy. He was ok with it, but he is a good traveller. If you have older kids I would not hesitate to say this is a must see if you have the time. We left early and arrived late afternoon.
We stayed our first 2 nights on Chengshi Beach in Hualien. Your lodging accommodations are somewhat limited if you want to stay ON the beach. We chose the Hotel Bayview. Nothing fancy, but so nice. It is a family owned and run hotel. Small rooms, but clean with great ocean views. The breakfast buffet was very good. They do not offer other meals and there isn’t a lot right there close to eat. The room has a small fridge so you could easily get something from family mart or go into town. I should also mention it is a rock beach not sand. It was amazing for my rock-loving toddler. There is no pool but plenty of space to walk around, there is a walking trail that goes along the coast line. The hotel also has bikes available to ride. We spent one afternoon driving to a few sites that I was anxious to see. The cliffs, the deep aqua blue water, the surf crashing against the rock. Awesome.
The second half of our trip we moved into town to the Arsma. It was a very nice hotel with a nice kids play area. We stayed in a family suite, my mom was with us, so we had lots of room. They offered a good breakfast with several western choices. Our hotel was also within easy walking distance of restaurants and a small night market.
We chose to hire a taxi tour guide for our trip into Taroko gorge which is a natural marble gorge with the Taroko river running through it. We left around 8:30 in the morning to head into the Gorge. I can’t even describe how beautiful it is. The sheer rock face and the giant chunks of marble were just amazing. There are places to get out and hike along the gorge. All different levels of endurance can be tested here. With a baby in a backpack we didn’t go to some of the more challenging places, but we were able to see so much. It takes the whole day to see the gorge. You will be very tired! There are several food vendors throughout the park but we packed snacks and a cooler with water to make sure we had what we needed. If you are in Taiwan for an extended period and can make the time for Hualien I would encourage you to do so.
Taipei is a very easy city to navigate. Taxi’s are easy to catch and cheap but I prefer to use the Metro System MRT. It is very user-friendly, clean, inexpensive and can take you about anywhere in the city you want to go, or at least get you close. We have done it with a stroller that easily closes up and is easy to carry but we have seen people with larger strollers and they appear to have no problem navigating or finding a place to stand on the train. The signage is all in Chinese AND English.
Taipei 101 is a must see if you are in Taiwan. The MRT has a stop at Taipei 101. When it was built it was the tallest building in the world, it has since lost this title, but it is still very impressive. The building is beautiful from the outside, the shape and all the glass. There is a lot to see and do once you are in the building. There are restaurants, a big food court with many choices including some western food. If you can think of a high-end retailer you will most likely find their shop in the mall located here. It’s fun to look if you are just with adults but if we have kids with us we generally go straight to the observation area. You buy tickets and take the world’s fastest elevator to the 89th floor. Once there you have a 360-degree view of the city. It is awesome! on a clear day you can see for miles. I highly recommend going early.
Tour buses are a very big industry in Taiwan and popular tourist attractions get busy and crowded as the day goes on. The closer to opening time you can go the happier your little ones will be, less waiting in line and less crowds. The Taipei Zoo. This is a really nice zoo. It is big and very inexpensive. The MRT stops just short of the front gate. The enclosures are easy to see into. Two of the biggest attractions here are the pandas and the penguins, both have their own shows. The penguin exhibit was our toddler’s favorite, you are below water level and so if they are active you can see them swimming. The zoo is spread out so except for the most popular attractions it never feels overly crowded. I would not think this would be a choice for us during the summer months. The asphalt and crowds would just make it really hot. We visited in the spring and it was very nice.
Something that we have learned about touristy places here compared to the United States is that they don’t care if you bring your own food and drinks. Another difference is they don’t try and make a killing off of water and other drinks. An average size bottle of water is generally less than $1 US. There are lots of places to sit and eat, covered areas if you need a little shade. There are plenty of food vendors throughout the zoo. We just bought food and drink there, mostly because we were using the train and subway.
Taiwan in general is a very family-friendly place. They are a gracious culture. I have never felt uncomfortable or unsafe anywhere I have gone, day or night. They are a very nocturnal culture because of the heat here. As a rule shops do not open until 10 or 11 am and stay open late into the night. The language barrier for me is the hardest part but with Google translate and some patience I am almost always able to communicate.
Thanks so much to Laura for sharing this special part of the world with us, it sounds truly amazing. To read more about Laura’s adventures, don’t forget to follow her blog Wolf Tracks
Images © Laura Wolf