Can you hitchhike over Chinese New Year in Taiwan?
At Chinese New Year, nearly everyone leaves his places and travels back to relatives who might be living at the country side to celebrate new year after Chinese moon calendar. This is chaos: The trains are booked out months in advance, the police only let cars with three or more people on the highway, and Taipei is nearly a ghost city for a few days.
I often heard the advice, that I shouldn’t hitchhike during that time because nobody will take us. Somebody even told me that this is a stupid idea and invited me to spend Chinese New Year in Taipei.
So, I really wanted to try this out!
My Belgic friend Cedric has great experiences hitchhiking in Europe, just like me. We also have in common that we don’t really do planning for our journeys and that we don’t need high standards if necessary, so we decided to do this together.
How we’ve started from Taipei
Since most of Taiwan’s population is based at the west coach, we thought it might be a good idea to travel the east coast.
The eastside of Taiwan is full of nature. There aren’t any big cities. At Taiwan’s east side, there is the region Yilan, and southern of Yilan there isn’t very much but smaller cities, beautiful nature and a coast you are generally not supposed to swim.
We took “U-bikes”, the public bicycles, to Da’an Taipei’s sports center, exact position was:
At the bus stop, on old women tried to discourage us from trying. She has told us that is wouldn’t work and that the people who would take you can be dangerous.
Well, it took us about 40 minutes until somebody picked us up. Now the old lady said how lucky we are, and that the driver looks very nice.
Our first driver dropped us of at a petrol station on our way to Yilan. From now on it was way easier to do hitchhiking, because we approached most people our self at petrol stations, parking stations or spots where people don’t drive fast.
It only took us 20 minutes to find the next driver who took us to a bigger parking place, after a break with Mochi, we found drivers to Yilan very quickly.
This is YilanThi
I love Yilan. The city has a different atmosphere than Taipei. I did not hear nearly as much traffic as I at home in Taipei. Life seems more relaxed.
My friend Cedric somehow managed to lose one of his slippers, so we went to a night market and bought a new pair.
The selling woman was young and very friendly. She explained us what to see in Yilan. Suddenly, a little cute possum comes out of her pocket! It’s a 蜜袋鼯，my dictionary says it’s a sugar glider, it looked very close to him.
We wanted to go to the near city called Jiaoxi for hot springs and food, and people convinced us to take the train, because it is very cheap.
Apparently, there was a public hot Spring 溫泉 in town, so we asked some people where we can find the public hot springs. The answers were quite contradicting, and we got confused. After we asked the fourth time, we ran into a group of friendly- half drunk people who sat at their front yard.
One guy spontaneously invited me for a beer. We ended up chatting for some time, and when we wanted to continue, a very drunk, very happy old man accompanied us on his motorcycle to show us the way to the public hot springs which were for free.
The hot spring were really, really hot. Some old, naked people went completely into the hot water, but we couldn’t. Therefore, Cedric and me had a very good conversation.
Since we had still no place to sleep, we decided to go to the beach. I thought it would be quite near but, it wasn’t. We ended up walking and walking through the countryside. Around us there were rice fields 稻田. They look like fields with some water on it, it is a view very common for rice growing countries areas, but for westerners that is also an uncommon view.
It was around 10’ o clock, when a car drove by. We didn’t even signal him to stop for us, he just did it. He stopped for us anyway and asked where we needed to go.
After he understood, that we searched for a place to sleep, he drove us to a temple where he thought that we could rest, but it turned out that nobody was there, so he decided to invite us to his home in the countryside of Yilan.
In the house of family Li 李, there is an altar where his family worships their ancestors.
As far as I understand it, the people who life in the house worship their ancestors every 1. and 15. day in the month of the lunar calendar, as well as to Chinese New Year.
We could sleep in the living room with the altar and we got to know Mr. Li’s mother. She is an older lady, who only speaks Taiwanese to us. She understands mandarin, but she answered in Taiwanese which we didn’t understand at all.
She didn’t like the way we have put our sleeping backs as you can see on the picture and insisted to turn them around for 90 degrees.
According to my Chinese textbook, this is related to do a rule from Feng Shui, which says that you shouldn’t put your bed in a way facing directly the exit door, otherwise evil spirits will come and influence you badly. We had to move our sleeping bags by 90 degrees. Problem solved. (師大 friends, it’s in book number 4)
The next morning began at 4am, when Mr. Li’s mother woke up and watched TV, cleaned and when some neighbors came inside. I could still find some sleep here and there until 9am, Cedric nearly didn’t find any sleep anymore until next evening.
At 10’o clock, the whole family worshipped ancestors at their family altar.
Afterwards, Mr. Li and his daughter brought us back to the highway. They took us a considerably long distance on a highway. This was very generous of them.
We still took a small walk together on a beach somewhere in Yilan, before Mr. Li dropped us at a city which is quite close towards Hualian.
From there on, we just walked on a road
towards Hulian. There wasn’t very much traffic and I am unsure if this is
because of Chinese New Year or because there just isn’t too much traffic at
all, but only every few minutes cars passed us on Taiwan’s east coast.
It took us about one hour to find two people from Taipei towards Hualian. A worker from Taipei took us, he decided to go to Hualian because he hasn’t been there for ten years.
Hualian is full of nature. Next to the coast, at the Huadong Valley, there are houses here and there, but towards the inland there are mountains, among other things there is the 太魯閣 Taroko Gorge National Park. Hualian is Taiwan’s biggest region but it doesn’t exactly have too many people, in average, there are only 72 people per square kilometer.
We arrived in the city Hualian, within the Hualian county. We discovered a night market and found out that a busker who surprisingly also goes to our National Taiwan Normal University, 師大.
He was very friendly to us and gave Cedric a hammock which he used that night.
The night market was wonderful! We ate crepes from at three different stances and talked all the time about language learning, which is a thing be both really enjoy.
We ended up at a beach, Cedric had the Hammock, I slept on the ground. It was very uncomfortable, because on the ground there were some branches, which mattered when I moved in the night.
There are two ways to the mountains on a big road. We heard the advice that we shouldn’t hitchhike over the mountains because it will be too cold and therefore, dangerous.
Based on the great hitchhiking experiences we had in Taiwan and Europe, we didn’t really believe that. So, we had a plan for the third day. We wanted to take the road which is in Taidong.
Two guys who study at Taipei just stopped for us, even though we didn’t hold up the thump at that moment. The co-driver opened the window and asked us in good English: “Hey, do you need a ride”?
He took us on his truck as you can see. We ended up at his place for dinner with his family.
This is where we learned that the road at the south which we wanted to take is closed. It would be too much traffic for CNY. So we’ve decided to go back to Hualian and take the road which leads us over the mountains there. Doesn’t sound like the perfect route, but since we didn’t have a schedule, this was no problem at all.
The drivers back to Hualian were a bid crazy. It was a small family with parents and a son. The father was relatively old and quite soon we found out that he was quite drunk. He always asked us the same questions. We said to us, this was a good Chinese exercise,
He was very loud, and he gave his family a hard time…
We stopped at some relatives and at Mc Donald’s. I had two burgers for a long time.
So, is it possible to hitchhike over the mountains?
Did we survive the food from McDonalds?
Find it out in part two!
 A couple of friends tried to hitchhike too. She told me, three cars stopped for them and all went north, and not to the west like our car did. After two hours and getting dizzy from too much sun, they decided to go home.
http://hitchwiki.org/en/Taipei can be helpful, I think there are a lot of more ways to get out of Taipei though.