I had more to see in Taipei but my hostel had no vacancies beyond the period I’d booked. I had a choice: find other accommodation in Taipei or go to another place.
When I’d got to Taiwan, I was largely clueless about the country and what I would do. However, talking to other travellers and locals, and reading various blogs helped me form a rough plan. I decided to travel anti-clockwise around the country. Taichung, the second most populous city in Taiwan, was a natural stop on the way down the west coast. My first task was to book a train ticket.
In Taiwan, there are four types of trains. They are, in order of decreasing speed: express, fast, not so fast, and local. Whilst the express trains are not expensive by Western standards, their stations are not always central; sometimes, you need another train to get into the centre of town. The fast train is half the price of the express train and stops at a town’s main station.
Someone at the Taipei hostel had told me that the train booking website is in English apart from the final (payment) page! I tried the Android app instead, which is in English apart from the app name and the instructions for downloading your ticket! I managed to download my tickets by taking screenshots and using Google Translate. Eventually, I learnt the Chinese prompts.
You don’t have to buy tickets in advance but if you do, you get a reserved seat. You can buy a normal (unreserved) ticket and take your chances. I always reserved a ticket (window seat) even though it cost a bit more. I didn’t want to stand for a couple of hours and it’s nice to see the landscape from the train.
On the train journey to Taichung, a young woman had reserved the seat next to me. She was a new statistics graduate and was knowledgeable about Taiwan. We spoke about politics, the education system, and China. The people I spoke to were wary of talking about China. On other subjects she was open. For example, she said that the position of women was much better in Taiwan than Japan: they were generally more liberated and had more opportunities. When it came to the job market, she wasn’t happy that there was preferential treatment to people who went to particular universities. I said it was probably similar around the world: some universities were regarded as more prestigious, and this prestige, rightly or wrongly, extended to their graduates.
The new graduate’s station was before mine but before disembarking she asked for the obligatory selfie. I found it strange, and somewhat amusing, being in a selfie when both of us had our covid masks on!
My hotel was walking distance from Taichung station. As I made my way to it, I saw, for the first time in Taiwan, homeless people around the station. There were also a few prostitutes.
After dropping my rucksack off at the hotel, I did my usual semi-random walkabout, initially walking past a local temple and through a park.
My destination was the Taichung Confucian Temple. When I got there, I had the temple mostly to myself. Taichung seemed a quiet place.
I continued walking, passing a bookshop and a night market that was just opening.
When I was making my way to the hotel, I had seen a vegan restaurant/shop. I went there for dinner. When I walked in, there were no other customers. I thought the restaurant part was shut. But eventually someone came from the back part (it looked like an adjoining lounge) to take my order. Nothing on the menu grabbed me, so I took one of their dishes as a starting point and asked them to add more vegetables and tofu. The resulting dish was fresh and very tasty.