MyTaiwanTour guide Claire Tseng is a woman of multiple talents. In addition to being an accomplished writer and editor, Claire specializes in customizing and leading tours around Taiwan. Never one to back down from a good challenge, Claire led a tour during last year’s Lunar New Year Holiday, when travel around Taiwan can be particularly…tricky.
“So last year I led an American couple on a tour around the island over the holiday week. I was lucky to be working with Mark, one of the company’s best drivers. Mark isn’t just great at navigating traffic, but also an expert at avoiding it. We’d planned our itinerary in advance keeping in mind the likely traffic patterns for each particular day of the holiday. Logistics were really important, and through planning and use of Google Maps we were able to avoid the worst of Taiwan’s notorious holiday traffic. We took a lot more mountain and secondary roads than we normally would have, which actually turned out for the best. The couple had an excellent time, and wound up raving about the tour after it was all over. Mark and I both got tipped really well.”
On the subject of tips, Claire offers a few of her own on spots to avoid over the holidays, and a few alternatives.
Don’t got to Jiufen or Pingxi
“Don’t got to Jiufen or Pingxi over the holidays. They’ll be mobbed. Instead, if you’re looking for cool stuff to do in Northern Taiwan, head to Thousand Island Lake. Maokong is also usually not bad, but only if you get to the Gondola early enough. Otherwise, be prepared to queue for a long time.
Stay away from Kenting
As for the south, it’s best to stay away from Kenting entirely over Chinese New Year. It’s incredibly crowded, and room rates go up. But don’t avoid Pingtung – just go to Wutai mountain instead. It’s beautiful, filled with tribal culture, and not really crowded over the holidays. You could also head to Namaxia, an indigenous region in northern Kaohsiung county. It’s beautiful and not crowded.”
Do the opposite
For independent travelers looking to visit Taiwan over the holidays, Claire says that the best strategy is to find out what Taiwanese people do over Chinese New Year and then do the opposite.
“So let’s say you’re an independent traveler here for the exact six days of the Lunar New Year holiday (In 2018, that’s 2/15 through 2/20).
First off, welcome to Taiwan, you couldn’t have picked a more festive week! And second, knowing some things about how Taiwanese people spend the holiday week will be crucial.”
Day 1 & 2 : Go to popular scenic spots
“Though most people will spend the first couple of days of a a week-long trip to Taiwan in Taipei, if you’ve landed on the first day of Chinese New Year, get out of the Taipei! Not because it’s a bad time to be in the city – it’s not – but because if you were planning to hit one of Taiwan’s popular scenic spots like Sun Moon Lake, Alishan or Taroko Gorge, this is the time to do it. On the first and second days of Chinese New Year, the majority of Taiwanese people will be at home with their families, and these spots will not yet be at peak crowd levels. You’ll still need to be mentally prepared for traffic…so leave early… and for paying more than usual for your accommodation. It’s best if you’ve booked your hotel in advance, but even if not you should still be able to find a place to stay except in Taroko Gorge, which you’ll probably have to hit from Hualien as a day trip. Taroko Gorge only has one road, so be mentally prepared for traffic.
Day 3 & 4: Best time to visit Taipei
Then, on the third day head back to Taipei. On the third and fourth days of the Lunar New Year holiday the city is as uncrowded as you’ll ever see it. While some restaurants will be closed, others will be open, as will all the temples and of course natural spots like Yamingshan, where the cherry blossoms should be in full bloom. Hit hot springs, go shopping, catch a movie…even some of the museums will be open, but you should check the schedules in advance.
Actually, these two days are the ideal period to experience Taipei, in my opinion.
Day 5 & 6: Head down south
On the fifth day, a lot of people will be heading back north. So you should head down south. But not directly to Tainan, which will still be crazy crowded. Instead, I’d recommend exploring any other southern city accessible by high speed rail, maybe Taichung or Kaohsiung. There’s plenty to see and do in both cities, and they’ll both be less crowded on day five than they were the previous days. As for getting a ticket on the HSR, it shouldn’t be too hard. You may have to wait a bit longer for a seat, but they run extra trains over the holiday week. So don’t sweat it too much. (Read More : 5 things to do in Kaohsiung)
Finally, you should take the sixth day of the holiday break to explore Tainan, as this is the day that most people who’ve been there for the holidays will leave. You’ll find the temples and culture-filled alleyways way easier to navigate, and way more fun. The atmosphere will still be very festive.”
Claire recommends that travelers planning a trip to Taiwan during the holiday season come a few days before the holiday starts to experience the festivity of one Taipei neighborhood in particular.(Read more about Chinese New Year: Gong Xi Fa Cai ! How to Spend Chinese New Year in Taiwan? )
“In the days before the holidays, Dadaocheng is the place to experience genuine Chinese New Year culture. You’ll see tons of red clothing everywhere, shops selling red bras and underwear. You’ll see people lining up at the City God Temple to get their names on guangming deng, those little lights you see inside of many temples around Taiwan. It’s considered especially potent to visit the temple and take part in this ritual in the days leading up to your own astrological year, so expect many people born in the dog year to line up outside the City God Temple in the coming weeks. Honestly, visiting Dadaocheng and Dihua Street in the days before Chinese New Year is kind if a once in a lifetime experience, even if you’re just here to grab a cup of coffee and people watch. Everyone is happy at that time of year. Many guests have declared it the highlight of their trip.”
Want to take a tour with Claire? Read some of her reviews on TripAdvisor and find out why guests rave about her!
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