After spending the first 4 days exploring Taipei on our own, we allocated a full day to explore several attractions on the northeastern side of Taiwan. Typically, most travelers would search for local private drivers on Facebook and engage them through WhatsApp app, but I was a little uncomfortable with this approach. Rather, I stumbled upon OWNRIDES — a relatively new online service — that allowed me to customize the trip itinerary upfront and secure a private driver at the same time.
Our private driver — Johnson Kao — was very polite, patient and knowledgeable. Although he was hired to be our driver for the next 6 days, we treated him more like our private tour guide. He entertained us with many interesting stories about Taiwan during the drive. One of the stories that stuck in my mind was how the Dutch-influenced Tainan — the oldest city in Taiwan and was the capital during the imperial times — used to be a much busier city than Taipei due to its proximity to mainland China. Back then, immigrants mostly from Fujian province traveled by boats to Penghu Island first before arriving in Tainan.
Our first stop in the morning was Yehliu Geopark. From my web research, it doesn’t appear to be that interesting. In reality, it was pretty extraordinary to stand on the seabed pushed out from the ocean to form this otherworldly landscape. From there, we followed the coastal road to explore the Nanya Rock formations. In the afternoon, we visited 2 old gold mining towns: Jinguashi and Jiufen. Since the weather took a turn for the worst, we skipped Shifen Waterfall and headed to Shifen — an old coal town — to light a sky lantern in the heavy rain.
A couple of observations…
- The electronic toll collection in Taiwan is truly impressive. Taiwan was the first “country” in the world to adopt the distance-based pay-as-you-go tolling system on all of its freeways. Motorists do not have to slow down on the freeways as the tolls are collected electronically by the overhead gantries. When driving at night, the blue flashing lights from the overhead gantries were very apparent.
- All of us could borrow a page or two from OWNRIDES’ playbook when dealing with potential yet noncommittal customers like me. When I emailed the customer support with my endless list of questions, Steve — the owner of OWNRIDES — personally answered all of them promptly and thoroughly without any qualms. When I sent my initial trip itineraries to him for feedback, he was honest enough to suggest that I should consider breaking a single booking into 3 separate bookings to save some money. This way, I didn’t have to pay for the driver’s accommodations for the 2 separate day trips from Taipei since most of the drivers live there. Steve also granted my request to assign the same driver for all my bookings. During the trip, he kept in touch with me through emails to ensure everything went smoothly. While I’m not in anyway affiliated with OWNRIDES, I have nothing but good things to say about this company.