Backpacking in Taiwan: South China Seas and Motorcycling Through Tainan City

South China Seas and Motorcycling Through Tainan City

Two firsts happened for me on the same day, here in Taiwan and on my first few days on this beautiful island. One is I first swam in the South China Seas. Two is I was on a motorbike. I didn’t expect either to happen, but what a fantastic day we had in Tainan City! Day started early with a tea and pork roll breakfast in Shinying. The pork roll can be bought for less than 50 pence on the corner breakfast stand here near Neil’s flat. Its pork, egg and either seaweed or cabbage or both in a nice sweet roll. Much nicer than a bacon roll in the UK. Nicer, cheaper, healthier…After that it was a 45 minute train from Shinying to Tainan. We agreed to meet Eva there between 1 and 1.30 pm. I love not having a mobile phone these days – who needs one! Arrange a time and a place and just hope that the person shows up. As our slow train sailed into Tainan, we were a wee bit late. Eva didn’t seem to mind, as she took us left out of the main train station and to a shopping mall with designer shops. It was a step up from shops and markets I’d seen before. This was for the rich, it was commercial and it looked a wee bit out of place. I didn’t really like it, but I was Eva’s guest and anyway we were just walking through the shopping mall to find a restaurant to eat at.

Eva took us up some escalators to a small restaurant called “Hanlin Tea Room”, it looked posh and elegant, and we took seats by a window from which you could see the city below and its thousands of scooters. We ordered our tea, mine a black tea with lemon. Remember, tea in Taiwan is often cold. Then Eva did the talking and the ordering as we were treated to what can only be described as a feast – it was a Taiwanese hot pot. Natalja, Eva and I shared 2 meals (both were massive), which came with their own cooker, and we basically added to the soup type dish in the pot which was being warmed. The soup idea reminded me of the Hungarian Goulash I had tried in Budapest before, but the whole Taiwanese hotpot experience was something very very different. We don’t have this in Europe. There were two cookers, 3 sets of chopsticks, 3 bowls and an abundant mixture of vegetables, spices, meat and fish. Surely you can’t eat them all together in a soup?

One by one we started to boil up the soup adding the various contents of the tray. Already in the soup was the beef chunks, the stock and some sweetcorn. We had separate portions of rice. There was also squid/calamary (carved into pink and white sheets with flowers on them!), tofu, lettuce, crispy type bread (couldn’t work out what it wasn’t, Eva tried to explain), scallions and other vegetables. What interested me was this black chunk of something. It looked to me like black pudding, but it had white bits in it. I love black pudding and used to eat it with my frys back home in Northern Ireland. Black Pudding is basically dried pork blood, but its lovely. This Taiwanese stuff was actually pork blood with rice scattered through it. It wasn’t quite the same, and not as nice. The beef was amazing, and all the random vegetable ingredients made it the best meal I’d had in Taiwan thus far. None of us could finish the big helpings, but we gave it our best shot.

After the food we went downstairs in the shopping mall to meet Li (from the bar the night before) and Drazhen (who I’m sure was also in the bar the night before, but didn’t meet. Drazhen was wearing a “proud to be Canadian” red t-shirt which confused me at first. I learned pretty soon, he is actually a Croatian, who speaks great English and was also living as a student in Tainan. It felt great to meet so many nationalities at that moment, but I realised I was the only one who could only speak one language! (We won’t count Ulster Scots or German here, as my knowledge of them are minimal). From there we all wanted to head to the beach. Its not really Tainan Beach, or Anping Beach, because its beyond both of them, but I’ll class it as Anping Beach anyway. Before our trip there, we had to work out transport methods.

There were five of us, with just two scooters (Li and Eva had the scooters), but luckily Eva’s mate Gilbert Sun was also coming, and bringing his motorbike. So we had 6 people, 2 on each. Eva and Natalja went on Eva’s scooter. Drazhen and Li on Li’s scooter and I got to be the passenger on Gilbert Sun’s motorbike. I put on the yellow helmet and I was ready to motorbike it through Tainan City! On a scorching hot day, it would be nice to get some breeze as we whizz through the city and at the end a swim in the South China Seas. So there I was enjoying being on the back of Gilbert Sun’s motorbike through Tainan City. The bike ride to the coast was about 20 minutes, and Gilbert picked out for me some of the sights on the way through. We passed the Chihkan Towers (where nine turtles are carved in front of the main building, and we had seen the night before), Tainan Canal and the sights of Anping once again could be seen from the motorcycle ride. I was loving it, and as my good mate from my Condor Ferries job would have said I was “proper caining it, mate”

The cool wind was class and I never felt more safe on a method of transport. At times I didn’t even hang on, just my feet on the support and my bum on the back seat. Its compulsory to wear a helmet though. We cruised all the way down to the beach at the South China Seas. A remote and beautiful beach, with soft sand (slightly littered) and on the way in we saw karaoke and food vendors, who were having a quiet day. As was the beach. I took my shoes off and on entering the beach I gazed out at the South China Seas for the first time. It was an awesome view. I couldn’t quite work out whether it was the Pacific Ocean or the Indian Ocean though. And nobody was quite sure. Perhaps the South China Seas should be called just that on their own merit, and not affiliated to either ocean. Its on the West Coast of Taiwan, due west of Tainan City. Instead of beach huts, you have beach alcoves where a proudly, wind swept, worn and joyous Taiwanese flag blows from side to side above each alcove or shelter serving as a reminder for your sometimes ignorant brain. This is Taiwan. Made in Taiwan. This is NOT China. It may well be classed as “Taiwan – Republic of China”, but having been to both countries the difference is obvious. Taiwanese are more friendly, relaxed and charming. Chinese are more in your face, busy and non-personal. Its just my take and anyone’s welcome to disagree.

I got changed into my swimming trunks on the beach and was ready for the big dip. Nobody else seemed keen to go in – but it was a first for me and I jumped at the chance – diving right in! The water was so refreshing and so warm. I couldn’t believe it. A far cry from Bangor’s Ballyholme beach, Portstewart Strand or the boring waves of Bournemouth, England. It felt so so good. We mingled and chatted on the beach about everything and anything. We were there for a couple of hours, but time passed by quick. We took photos, and I posed in my Northern Ireland flag. As ever. The waves weren’t too strong, but a new kind of “beach surfing” sport was in evidence. I watched, photoed and filmed as local enthusiasts waited for the right wave before surfing from the beach into the water on something similar to a surfboard and a bodyboard. I’m useless at knowing what it is, but it looked fun. Soon it was getting a wee bit dark again, and just before rush hour, we decided to head back into Tainan for a tea, a dander and to see the night market.

I said goodbye to Li and Drazhjen. Hopefully our paths will cross again, I have their emails and the photos serve as the memory. I still have to visit Croatia some day so maybe knowing Drazhjen is a good thing. And Drazhjen if you are reading, sorry for the spelling of your name, though it helps me pronounce and remember it! After that I enjoyed the motorbike ride back into the city. The traffic was busier and Gilbert Sun talked away to me again on the way back in. We decided to stop for a tea once we were downtown. We had a milky jelly tea – my third in Taiwan. This one had smaller bits of black jelly, which through the transparent cup looked like chocolate balls. Natalja and I were treated to this by Gilbert Sun. We owe him one, a true gentleman who gave me such a random great experience on this fine day in Tainan City. With Gilbert we said goodbye soon after – I hope to see him again. With Eva and Natalja we decided to park up the scooter and walk to the night market, near a dance club at the edge of town near the Tainan Canal.

These night markets in Taiwan are totally amazing. I have been to 3 already and am doing another one tonight – the local one here in Shinying in fact I better head out very soon. I believe the night markets merit their own blog post on here when life dooesn’t get so busy!! So bear with me and I’ll try and update the blog more regularly, with details of all the other amazing places we’ve been in the last 2 weeks – Kending, Taidong, Kaohsuing, Hualien, Eluanbi, Lotus Lake, The Baseball, Taroko Gorge and Tiansiang. Taiwan is a truly breathtaking island. Is it any wonder they named it “Ilha Formosa” originally? That means ISLAND OF BEAUTY. It truly is, and the Taiwan dream lives on. More to see and do…

Nationalites Met – Taiwanese, Croatian.

Drinks I had – Hot Lemon Tea, Water, Milky Tea with Jelly.

Transport Used – Train, Motorbike.

Random night market food I liked – Lobster pincers. Beautiful!










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