Hitchhiking in Taiwan: 1 week, 7 provinces, countless great people

I am about to share my positive experiences as a hitchhiker in Taiwan and wish you to have similar ones!

I love Taiwan, I am grateful to all the wonderful, generous Taiwanese people and would like to share this.

Reading this article will teach you about a some important parts of Taiwanese culture and geography.

Can you actually Hitchhike in Taiwan?

At Chinese New Year, nearly everyone leaves his places and travels back to relatives who might be living at the country side  to celebrate new year after Chinese moon calendar. This is chaos: The trains are booked out months in advance, the police only let cars with three or more people on the highway, and Taipei is nearly a ghost city for a few days.

I often heard the advice, that I shouldn’t hitchhike during that time because nobody will take us. A friend from Israel even told me that this is a stupid idea and invited me to spend Chinese New Year in Taipei.

Well, I really wanted to try this out!

(That’s basically all we planned)

My Belgic friend Cedric has great experiences hitchhiking in Europe, just like me. We also have in common that we don’t really do planning for our journeys and that we don’t need high standards if necessary, so we decided to do this together.

How the journey started from Taipei

Since most of Taiwan’s population is based at the west coast, we thought it might be a good idea to travel the east coast.

The eastside of Taiwan is full of nature. There aren’t any big cities. At Taiwan’s east side, there is the region Yilan, and southern of Yilan there isn’t very much but smaller cities, beautiful nature and a coast you are generally not supposed to swim.

We took “U-bikes”, the public bicycles, to Da’an Taipei’s sports center, exact position was:

where can you start hitchhiking in taipei
Click me to see this on Google Maps

At the bus stop, an old women tried to discourage us from trying. She has told us that it wouldn’t work and that the people who would take you can be dangerous.

Well, it took us about 40 minutes[1] until somebody picked us up. Now the old lady said how lucky we are, and that the driver looks very nice.

Our first driver dropped us of at a petrol station on our way to Yilan. From now on it was way easier to do hitchhiking, because we approached most people our self at petrol stations, parking stations or we hold out our thumbs at spots where people don’t drive fast.

It only took us 20 minutes to find the next driver who took us to a bigger parking place and we found drivers to Yilan very quickly.

This is Yilan

this is yilan
Spoiler: Later on we took a train, but not that one you see above all those people.

I love Yilan. The city has a different atmosphere than Taipei. I did not hear nearly as much traffic as I do at home in Taipei. Life seems more relaxed.

My friend Cedric somehow managed to lose one of his slippers, so we went to a night market and bought a new pair.

The selling woman was young and very friendly. She explained us what to see in Yilan. Suddenly, a little cute possum comes out of her pocket! It’s a 蜜袋鼯mìdàiwú,which is a sugar glider, it looked very close to the one you see on the picture.[ A sugar glider is a mammal which mostly lives at night, it lives mostly in Australia and if males fight for women, they do smelling contests.

We wanted to go to the near city called Jiaoxi for hot springs and food, and people convinced us to take the train, because it is very cheap.

Taiwan has a very high concentration of Hot Springs. During the Japanese rule (1895-1945), hot springs became very popular.
Apparently, there was a public hot Spring 溫泉 in town, so we asked some people where we can find the public hot springs. The answers were quite contradicting, and we got confused. After we asked the fourth time, we ran into a group of friendly- half drunk people who sat at their front yard.

One guy spontaneously invited me for a beer. We ended up chatting for some time, and when we wanted to continue, a very drunk, very happy old man accompanied us on his motorcycle to show us the way to the public hot springs which were for free.

He was very happy and drank some beer

The hot spring were really, really hot. Some old, naked people went completely into the hot water, but we couldn’t.

Since we had still no place to sleep, we decided to go to the beach. I thought it would be quite near but, it wasn’t. We ended up walking and walking through the countryside. Around us there were rice fields 稻田[. They look like fields with some water on it, it is a view very common for rice growing countries areas, but for westerners that is also an uncommon view.

It was around 10’ o clock, when a car drove by. We didn’t even signal him to stop for us, he just did. He stopped for us anyway and asked where we needed to go.

After he understood, that we searched for a place to sleep, he drove us to a temple where he thought that we could rest, but it turned out that nobody was there, so he decided to invite us to his home in the countryside of Yilan.

In the house of family Li 李, there is an altar where his family worships their ancestors.

As far as I understand it, the people who life  in the house worship their ancestors every 1. and 15. day in the month of the lunar calendar, as well as to Chinese New Year.

We could sleep in the living room with the altar and we got to know Mr. Li’s mother. She is an older lady, who only speaks Taiwanese to us. She understands mandarin, but she answered in Taiwanese which we didn’t understand at all.

She didn’t like the way we have put our sleeping backs as you can see on the picture and insisted to turn them around for 90 degrees.

According to my Chinese textbook, this is related to a rule from Feng Shui, which says that you shouldn’t put your bed in a way facing directly the exit door, otherwise evil spirits will come and influence you badly. We had to move our sleeping bags by 90 degrees. Problem solved. (師大 friends, it’s in book number 4)  

The next morning began at 4 am, when Mr. Li’s mother woke up and watched TV, cleaned and when some neighbors came inside. I could still find some sleep here and there until 9 am.

At 10’o clock, the whole family worshipped ancestors at their family altar.

Afterwards, Mr. Li and his daughter brought us back to the highway. They took us a considerably long distance on a highway. This was very generous of them.

We still took a small walk together on a beach somewhere in Yilan, before Mr. Li dropped us at a city which is quite close towards Hualian.

Don’t swim here or you might die

From there on, we just walked on a road towards Hulian. There wasn’t very much traffic and I am unsure if this is because of Chinese New Year or because there just isn’t too much traffic at all, but only every few minutes cars passed us on Taiwan’s east coast.
It took us about one hour to find two people from Taipei towards Hualian. A worker from Taipei took us, he decided to go to Hualian because he hasn’t been there for ten years.

Hualian is full of nature. Next to the coast, at the Huadong Valley, there are houses here and there, but towards the inland there are mountains, among other things there is the 太魯閣 Taroko Gorge National Park. Hualian is Taiwan’s biggest region but it doesn’t exactly have too many people, in average, there are only 72 people per square kilometer.

We arrived in the city Hualian, within the Hualian county. We discovered a night market and found out that a busker who surprisingly also goes to our National Taiwan Normal University, 師大.

He was very friendly to us and gave Cedric a hammock which he used that night.

The night market was wonderful! We ate crepes from at three different stances and talked all the time about language learning, which is a thing be both really enjoy.

We ended up at a beach, Cedric had the Hammock, I slept on the ground. It was very uncomfortable, because on the ground there were some branches, which mattered when I moved in the night.

There are two ways to the mountains on a big road. We heard the advice that we shouldn’t hitchhike over the mountains because it will be too cold and therefore dangerous. 

Based on the great hitchhiking experiences we had in Taiwan and Europe, we didn’t really believe that. So, we had a plan for the third day. We wanted to take the road which is in Taidong.

Two guys who study at Taipei just stopped for us, even though we didn’t hold up the thump at that moment. The co-driver opened the window and asked us in good English: “Hey, do you need a ride”?

He took us on his truck as you can see. We ended up at his place for dinner with his family.

I always wanted to do this!

This is where we learned that the road at the south which we wanted to take is closed. It would be too much traffic for CNY. So we’ve decided to go back to Hualian and take the road which leads us over the mountains there. Since we didn’t have a fixed timetable, this didn’t really matter. 

The weirdest drivers we had:

In the car there was a small family with a mother, a child and a father. The father was relatively old and quite soon we found out that he was very drunk. He always asked us the same questions, because he forgot what he has asked a minute ago. We said to us, this was a good Chinese drill. At a toilet stop, he couldn’t even walk all the way to the toilet and slipped on the ground. Luckily, he didn’t hurt himself.
I am afraid the mother and the son were ashamed of his behavior.

He was very nice to us though. When he got hungry, we wanted that we all go to Mc Donald’s.  They have ordered a lot of stuff at MC Drive. I had two burgers, for a long time. It was something between awesome and shitty as once.

The most beautiful and easiest hitchhiking place

In the middle of Taiwan, there is the county called Nantou 南投. It is full of mountains. The higher you go the chiller it gets, or in other words: The higher we went the more I became afraid what might happen if nobody would take us. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, (or our lives), but that it might be really really cold. So, this experience let me feel really alive. 

After we hitched in this car without seats, it got time to wear long jeans.

Could see the sky and some forests in the mountains.

In Luckily for us, there seems to be one central road leading through the mountains. Additionally, everyone drives slowly and is, – did I mention? – extremely helpful.
I would say, we actually had our easiest hitchhiking experience when we got ridden over this region. The most beautiful area of Taiwan is in my opinion the Hehuanshan 合歡山, with its majestic 3400 meters!More impressive than this high number is the great view we had. At this mind-blowing scenery we were as you can see over the mountains.

If you find a nice group who takes you and knows what they are doing, I would highly, highly recommend going camping here. I did this. The sunrise is unbelievable. 

If you wake up, go outside of your tend and find yourself above the mountains like in this picture, you just be at Hehuanshan

In Nantou is was the easiest to hitchhike… And the hardest

We found a driver who wanted to take us to Taizhong. Unfortunately, his car’s break didn’t work properly. Luckily, nothing crazy happened. We have been dropped off in a very small place at night with a fast road, only a convenient store and a petrol station. They have called for help and recommended us to move on. This was not exactly the best place to hitchhike, even though It was still in Nantou. Few people who went to Taizhong, even fewer had two seats left.

We still considered to spend the night somewhere outside (wasn’t too cold there though). It was around 10 pm when a family finally took us to Taizhong. They didn’t even have enough seats, but they have put a kid in the trunk and have placed another kid one on the mother’s lap. This was crazily kind again.

The family still invited us to Taichung’s Fengjia night market 逢甲夜市, and we have slept in a park in Taizhong.

Nice people everywhere.

hitchhiking at night to xinzhu.

On our way back to Taipei, we’ve received the advice that we should stop at Xinzhu, which is next to Taoyuan. It was already dark when a couple agreed to take us from Taizhong. I don’t really know how Cedric still the energy had to talk. I just fell asleep after a few minutes. The drivers were extremely friendly again. They told us about their family, were very curious about our experiences on the road and in Taiwan generally. We often had traffic jams, which is probably nothing special at Chinese New Year. The drivers were on their way to Taoyuan, but first, they have spontaneously invited us to eat some tangbao, or filled buns which are special to the region Miaoli 苗栗,which were very delicious! The driver suddenly got up from the dinning table just to buy some more food. It seemed like he couldn’t stop being extremely nice to us. He just bought some tea eggs from 7-11. 

Afterwards, they have taken us exactly to a place at the beach where we wanted to go. This is amazing, because it was a large extra turn they have taken for us and if that wasn’t enough, they still gave us 200 NTD (= almostly 6 Euro) for the breakfast!

At the temple where we slept, we were invited to eat the offerings on the altar. People in Xinzhu offer this food to their ancestors, and after a while everyone can eat this.

From there it took us only a few hours to arrive home again in Taipei.
Don’t try this at home. I wouldn’t work there. You have to step outside the door.

[1] A couple of friends tried to hitchhike too. She told me, three cars stopped for them and all went north, and not to the west like our car did. After two hours and getting dizzy from too much sun, they decided to go home.

http://hitchwiki.org/en/Taipei can be helpful, I think there are a lot of more ways to get out of Taipei though.

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