- While most people just stick to the big cities in Taiwan (mostly Taipei), I think some of the most scenic places in Taiwan are along the east coast, which is mainly cliffs and mountains (west coast is the flat part of Taiwan where the majority of the big cities are).
The high speed rail is a good option to see Taiwan if you want to stick to the main cities along the west coast (Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung), but driving is almost necessary on the east coast.
The route I took:
- When I visited in December 2017, I spent a few days in Taipei, and then rented a car from Taipei, drove to the northern end of the island (a city called Keelung), then basically drove clockwise along the coast to Taitung (overnight in Hualien and leaving super early the next day at 4am to catch the stunning sunrise along the coast). Here's a map (day 1 and 2):
- Once I hit Taitung, I turned back and drove towards Taipei. But instead of taking the coast back, I went through the valley just north of Taitung. And then cut westward through the Taroko National Park to Taichung, before getting on the highway back to Taipei. Here's a map (day 2):
- I can't emphasize enough how nice it was to drive through the Taroko National Park. It will be a slow drive on narrow, winding mountain roads. But the drive will take you through and above the cloud cover (above 7000 feet) and show you some of the most stunning mountain, valley and forest views I've seen anywhere. Here's the stretch of my drive through the park:
How I rented my car:
I didn't reserve anything ahead of time. None of the major international car rental agencies (like Hertz) were operating in Taiwan. So I ended up just calling local agencies literally the day before I wanted to rent. This was probably not a good idea as most of the agencies didn't have anything available at such short notice
- I ended up finding a car available from Chailease (I just called them and they spoke ok English), the list price was 2,400 Taiwanese Dollars (~USD$80) per day, but they gave me a discount to NTD 2,100 (USD$70) per day for my 3-day rental
- Renting a car in Taiwan required an International Driving Permit, which I got from a local AAA (plus my regular driver's license).
- They accepted my AMEX for payment. I can't remember what other credit cards they accepted but I assume Visa and MC are also fine
Things to know:
- Driving is on the right hand side of the road. Most of the cars for rental are automatic transmission, unlike Europe
- Road condition was quite good. Drivers were very orderly and roads were very well maintained. Pretty comparable to back home
- Don't bother with the GPS car rental agencies give you. They don't work well with English spelling of Taiwanese city names (like I couldn't find Keelung on the GPS they gave me). Instead, just buy a data roaming package for your phone and use Google Maps, which I used for navigation my entire trip
Definitely get some kind of damage waiver and maybe road assistance for your car rental. The roads in Taiwan are generally very narrow and it's so easy to get scratches here and there. I got a giant scratch on the side of my car while trying to park; my buddy who did this trip later in the year went off road into a small ditch and had to get assistance
- I used my AMEX Gold for the rental, which includes liability waiver, so I didn't have to pay for the repairs the car rental shop charged me, which came out to around USD$100
- The entire stretch of road on the east coast is hugging the cliff and very, very winding. Something that looks short on map took an unexpected amount of time to get to (probably 1.5-2 times what you'd expect; this is especially true in the stretch between Taipei and Hualien). Also, I found Google Maps drive time estimation was really tight from my experience. I had to drive above the speed limit consistently by 10-20% to beat Google Maps' ETA
Some pictures from my road trip:
East coast between Taipei to Hualien
A fishing village on the east coast between Hualien and Taitung
Taroko National Park, about to go through the cloud cover
Taroko National Park, going through the cloud cover
Taroko National Park, above the cloud cover