Wed, Mar 09, 2016 - Page 12 News List

It’s a crapshoot

The good, the bad and the stinky of travel writing

By Dana Ter  /  Staff reporter

“Love” sculptures, like this one in Nantou’s Little Swiss Garden, are abundant in areas surrounding Taiwan’s guesthouses.

Photo courtesy of Johan Bothin

My job is to travel around Taiwan and write about it. I get to surf with pros in Kenting, jam with Amis Aboriginal musicians in Taitung and get drunk with craft brewers while I help them “test” their new batch. I’m a really lucky girl.

Here is the side of my job that people don’t see:

Last summer my Swedish “boy toy” and I were planning a romantic getaway. The plan? To stay in a remote B&B in the backwoods of central Taiwan where non-Taiwanese rarely venture. We found one in the mountains of Nantou County (南投) on booking.com with the name “fruit ranch” in it. We were sold.

I should have known something was wrong when there was no fruit on the property. Instead, we found ourselves surrounded by faux European architecture in the form of barf-yellow Tudor-style homes made with flimsy wooden planks. Some of the area’s B&Bs, which are more commonly known as guesthouses, looked like they might tumble down the mountain at any time. My fears were confirmed when I read another Taipei Times report stating that many of them were operating illegally (“Interior ministry to close unlicensed lodging in Cingjing,” Dec. 6, 2013, page 3).

Then came the plumbing problem in our cabin. I took a huge dump. The toilet wouldn’t flush. I tried and tried and the water in the bowl kept rising.

Closing the lid, I told my boy toy, “I don’t think we should use the toilet today. We should just hold our pee in.”

“What is it?” He asked.

“Uhh…”

“Oh my god. It’s poop, isn’t it?”

He went off about how I was not supposed to flush toilet paper down the bowl because it clogged the toilet. He’s seen his share of poop, scrubbing toilets at the hostel he worked at in Taipei. Yet the thought of wiping my behind and throwing the paper in a bin for everyone to see was repulsive. I understand having to do it at a hostel. But at a “fruit ranch” that charged a whopping NT$5,000 a night? That’s bullshit.

COPULATING TURTLES

In one year, I visited 11 of Taiwan’s 13 counties. Guesthouses, hostels, hotels, hot spring hotels, leisure farms, love motels — they were all a real crapshoot. In fact, no hotel in Taiwan has ever made it to any “Top 50” list of best hotels in Asia. Just check TripAdvisor, Travel+Leisure or Business Insider. Southeast Asia and India dominate these lists.

Besides international brand name hotels in Taipei such as the W Hotel or the Hyatt that cater to business travelers, I have yet to step into a hotel in Taiwan and be totally, utterly mind-blown.

Which is a shame. Taiwan is home to some of the most gorgeous, untouched landscapes I’ve seen, rivaling Thailand’s beaches and Indonesia’s mountains. But there are no Banyan Tree or Mandarin Oriental-style resorts with infinity pools nestled in the quiet rice fields of Taiwan’s farmlands, as there are in Chiang Mai or Bali. Why hasn’t Taiwan’s hospitality industry capitalized on this?

It could be because a lot of owners simply do not have the proper experience. Often times, they’ve inherited land from their families and are looking to do something to pass their time or earn extra cash.

Plain bad taste and the influence of kawaii culture both play huge roles as well. French dressers, Balinese pots and other imported furniture are abundant in these guesthouses, yet they are not displayed in a way that is appealing. The result is either extremely gaudy rooms, or, for those who can’t afford imported furniture, overly cute designs.

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