Sunday, May 11, 2008

Traveling with Children in Taiwan (Skyline)

Whether you are a local or a foreigner, living in Taiwan or here for a short trip, the idea of taking your children for a multi-day spin around the island is probably an appealing one. Few dispute that Taiwan has tremendous scenic attractions. However, the traffic and pollution - not to mention possible language or food differences - are such that many parents have second thoughts about venturing far from home.

"Taking kids around Taiwan is very easy. Taiwan is a very child-friendly place," says Jeff Miller, an American who lives in Keelung with his wife and their daughter.

If parents take precautions against mosquitoes and the sun, everything should be fine. "Except for the traffic, there are no real health worries," says Michael Turton, an American who teaches at a local university. Turton, who lives in Taichung with his wife and their two children, knows from past experience that in many parts of Taiwan, pushing a stroller can be difficult: "The sidewalks aren't flat, or they don't exist."

There is some good news for parents with babies. Diaper changing stations are becoming more common, and can be found in many department stores, hypermarkets, MRT stations, and also some train stations.

Finding child-friendly accommodation is sometimes an issue. Five-star hotels and top-end resorts are invariably safe and comfortable, but may not match your budget, and may not exist near your destination. Downtown hotels are convenient and inexpensive, but the rooms are sometimes noisy.

The explosion in recent years of homestays is a boon for travelers with children. Unfortunately, many homestays are just like typical Taiwanese homes in that they have tiled floors - hard surfaces for an infant to take a tumble on. Also, homestays seldom have elevators, which may be a problem if your kids are still in strollers. Wherever you're staying, a careful examination of your room as soon as you get inside is advisable. Childproofing your hotel room is much the same as childproofing your home. Make sure the balcony is safe, and there is nothing dangerous under the bed, like a pin.

Camping is another option. The drier, cooler winter months are the best time of year. If your kids have never camped before, here is a suggestion from one parent: Set up your tent in your living room before you go, so your kids can get used to playing in it. If you can, sleep inside it with them overnight.

On both the high-speed railway and conventional trains, very young kids can travel for free if they don't need a seat, and elementary-age youngsters can get half-price tickets.

If you are taking your family down island by airplane or train, you might run into some problems when trying to get from the airport or railway station to your hotel. Few taxis have child-safety seats, although drivers in Taiwan are now legally obliged to have such seats if they are carrying young children. If you plan to rent a car, let the company know ahead of time that you need a child-safety seat.

Taiwan's 24/7 shopping culture is great for travelers. Even the smallest towns have convenience stores that stay open around the clock. These places are useful because they stock batteries for handheld electronic games, as well as snacks and soft drinks.

Video-game consoles are not the only electronic amusements parents can use to distract their kids. Cheap digital cameras do not cost much more than a night in a mid-range hotel, and some travelers have found giving one to each child is money very well spent. Cameras make youngsters curious about their surroundings. They search for interesting things to photograph, and get creative.

Miller says that traveling with other families can make a trip much more enjoyable for all concerned. The children are far less likely to get bored if they have playmates, and the adults can relax more if their kids are happy.

"Recreational farms are good for toddlers and infants," says Turton, who recommends two places in particular: Flying Cow in Miaoli County and Chulu Ranch in Taitung County.

"However, the main problem is not young kids, it's teenagers," he adds. Turton says that, to the best of his knowledge, no historical sites in Taiwan have presentations aimed at kids. "I can't think of any historical sites in Taiwan where my kids would enjoy themselves at their ages now, 13 and 11."

Children grow up fast, and parents who wait may end up missing out. "When my kids were younger, they loved to go to new places, but as their interest in video games has increased they now prefer to be at home where they can be near the TV and the computer," says one mother. "Recently, I've had to do a lot of traveling on my own."

This article was published in the May 2008 issue of Skyline, the inflight magazine of Far Eastern Air Transport, and slightly updated it in March 2012. It hasn't appeared on the Internet, so I've posted all of it. I wrote a longer article on the same subject for the December 2007 issue of Taiwan Business Topics.


STA travelbuzz said...

Steven - v useful article, thanks for posting it up. Blogged about it as I think some of our readers will find it helpful:

Winniel said...

Thank you for the post. I'm planning to visit Taiwan this November with my 2 kids, and trying to find out as much info as possible. We are Indonesian Chinese from Singapore, so as far as language is concerned, it wont be a problem.

We are still considering, but is really keen to go, hehe..