Mon, Sep 23, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Riding high around Taiwan

Renting a car and driving around the island for a week can be by turns exciting and terrifying. Here’s what to expect if you decide to hit the roads.

By Chris Fuchs  /  Contributing reporter

Provincial Highway 11 offers picturesque views, like this one between Hualien and Taitung.

Photo: Chris Fuchs

Deep blue seas, lush green mountains, white puffy clouds. Tailgating trucks weaving in and out of lanes, cutting off vehicles as they race along winding mountain roads.

Navigating the highways of Taiwan can be a hair-raising experience, one that sparks a range of emotions from extreme excitement to sheer terror.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I decided to rent a car this summer and traverse the island clockwise, starting from Taipei, over the course of 10 days.

Information on the Internet in English was sparse. Some on TripAdvisor noted that roads were generally good, though advised against driving in cities.

Chinese-language forums offered more insight. On backpackers.com.tw, one person said there was a time when foreigners wouldn’t dare drive in Taiwan, but conditions had improved of late. Another urged foreigners not to drive in Taiwan at all, adding that no one follows the rules, including cars, trucks, motorcycles and bikes.

Given the lack of consistent information out there, I had to find out for myself.

PLAN AHEAD

I decided to rent my car online weeks in advance while still in New York. Based on the reviews, I went with Chailease Auto Rental (中租租車), which has a number of locations in Taipei. Chailease’s Web site is in both Chinese and English and is easy to navigate.

I chose a Toyota Yaris 1.5, booking it for nine days. (I wound up cutting the trip short by one day because of Typhoon Lekima. More about that later.)

As of publication, Chailease offers a variety of promotional packages. With a 40 percent discount for a rental of six or more days, the car cost NT$15,525 (around US$502 or 456 euros).

Renters without a local driver’s license may first need to get an international driving permit in their home country. This step is important and one that I almost overlooked. I purchased mine for US$20 at the American Automobile Association, a not-for-profit member service organization in the US.

THE PICKUP

When I arrived at Chailease’s Nangang branch, I spoke to the customer agent in English, instead of Mandarin, to see how the process might go for non-Mandarin-speakers. In short, it was very smooth.

To begin, I was asked to present my passport, a state driver’s license and an international driving permit. Photocopies were made of all those documents. I was also asked for the credit card I used to book the rental online and an additional one that could be used to cover incidental fees, such as tickets for speeding.

The agent mentioned that highway tolls were recorded electronically and that I would have to pay those fees upon my return. He also explained where I could park legally. A red line, he said, means no parking, while a yellow one indicates that standing is allowed. (Parking is permitted by white lines.)

A binder at the counter provided additional information in Chinese and English, including details of the insurance policy that comes with renting the vehicle.

Soon after, the agent looked over the entire car with me, recording any existing scratches or damaged areas, as well as how much gas was in the tank. Drivers are responsible for returning the car with the same amount of gas or else they have to pay the difference.

To play it safe, I took photos of the gas gauge and all sides of the car, in case a dispute arose over a previously damaged area not noted on the form.

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