especially as a couple. Surprisingly, we found Taiwan to offer quite
a few worthwhile tourist attractions, a very agreeable attitude and
Fletch's childhood friend, a 12-year resident of Taiwan, agreed to
be our tour guide. However, after we had settled into our hotel, our
friend broke the news to us that we were on our own for the first
four days of our 11-day visit. We hadn't planned for this and arrived
without either maps or a guidebook. Save a few mishaps with food, and
thanks to a Chinese map of Taipei, a nearby English bookstore and the
curiosity of Taiwanese locals, we didn't do that badly.
In four days, we learned the efficiencies of the subway,
discovered local delicacies such as dumplings and beef noodles, rode
the escalators of the multi-level shopping marts (and we thought
South Coast Plaza was busy) and lingered at Taiwan's most famous
sites and temples -- National Palace Museum, home to Asia's largest
art collection, and the renowned Chiang Kai Shek Memorial. We even
hitched a ride with a young Taiwanese couple.
Exhausted from the possibilities of Taipei, our friend played
chauffeur and drove us nine hours through Taroko National Park.
(Well, it should have been a six-hour drive, but since none of us
could read the road closure signs in Taiwanese, we ended up driving
three-hours out of the way.)
We climbed more than 10,000 feet above sea level on a windy road
literally carved out of the side of the mountain. Speeding cars and
trucks were relentless at passing regardless of the no-passing signs
and single lane. It was a bit nerve racking, but the views were
spectacular and more than made up for the journey.
Our drive back to Taipei found us in the ex-pat community since we
were craving Western food. At this point, we would have given
anything for a Mexican meal from Wahoo's, Javier's or La Sirena.
After Taiwan, our itinerary called for a stop in Hong Kong, a hub
for Asia's travelers. We planned a four-day layover in hopes of
acclimating to the steadily increasing heat before our final
A city of cement peaks and valleys due to the vast number of
skyscrapers filling every square inch of the island, it seems that
there is one purpose for Hong Kong -- shopping. We challenged
ourselves to find the other reasons for Hong Kong.
This included a trip to Victoria Peak (a sky-high viewpoint
overlooking the islands of Hong Kong), a tram ride around the city
and a train excursion to nearby Lantau Island to climb the steps of
the mountain-top Buddha. Most spectacular was the nighttime view of
Hong Kong. It is a living neon billboard for some of the world's
We didn't expect to enjoy Hong Kong as much as we did, but its
"living large" feel in a limited space reminded us of home. All of
the automobiles seemed to be either Mercedes, BMWs, Rolls Royce,
etc., offering a striking resemblance to the streets of Laguna Beach.
Next stop, Thailand.
* VALERIE SWIFT is a Laguna Beach resident. This is the second of
four articles on her recent travels.