As a German, driving is pretty close to my heart. I love the feeling of release found on the open road. I’ll admit I was pretty revved up about the prospect of cruising down Taiwan’s East coast highway with its dramatic scenery, complete with crashing waves to the left and scraggy cliff faces on the right.
As you guys know recently I’ve been having lots of fun driving the Audi RS6 official safety car on the way to LeMans and so of course my brand of choice for the twisty journey ahead was pretty instinctive. The only hard decision was which model. In the end I went for the Q5 which I knew would be able to handle steep mountainous roads and be roomy enough for our crew of five, plus equipment.
Driving in Taiwan’s cities is totally different from the orderliness of German roads. Pedestrians and cars share crosswalks simultaneously, the common courtesies of the road are entirely different, plus there are scooters and motorbikes in their hundreds weaving through the lanes on the main roads I was navigating at rush hour. However with a bit of nerve and a lot of swearing we soon made our way onto the relative bliss of the freeway. Although the speed limits didn’t allow me to push the Q5 to its max, as I expected it was smooth sailing down Freeway 5 and through Asia’s longest tunnel – the fourth largest in the world btw – the 12.9 km Xueshan Suidao, known locally as the Suao Tunnel.
This tunnel is an engineering feet in its own right. It took 15 years for them to build the tunnel as mid-construction the workers hit on an unexpected bed of porous rock which was holding water from a nearby ancient aquifer. The engineers had to rethink everything, but they persevered and this major short-cut opened up around 8 years ago. The main advantage is that you can now get between east Taipei and the coast in around 30 minutes, traffic permitting. It’s best to avoid rush hours and weekends where possible (especially Sunday evening around 5-8 and Fridays 6-9 pm).
The Audi Q5 really came into its own when we reached the glorious coast hugging Highway 9. Taiwan is essentially a ridge of mountains with large flatlands on the opposite west coast but here on the east coast you’re dealing with some pretty steep mountain roads. Audi pretty much invented the All-Wheel drive and back in Germany its Quattro system is known as the grandpa of all Quattro platforms. The performance and grip on potentially slippery roads and down the less smooth side tracks plus the amazing maneuverability combined to give a powerful feeling of control as you barrel along. The engine comes in a few different varieties of 2.0 TFSI, the more powerful of which gets the a seven-speed incarnation of S-tronic dual-clutch gearbox, as do the 3.2-litre petrol V6 and the larger of the two diesels, the 3.0-litre V6. The extra oomph along side precision steering was responsive and precise – especially important given that Highway 9 is pretty windy with some sheer drops down to the ocean.
We’re talking a compact luxury SUV experience here, and we had 5 people and all our gear and kit to fit in– a bit of a push despite the nearly 60 cubic meters of the boot. Thankfully Stew turned out to be a packing genie and devised a way to fit everything in. The interior is well designed with plenty of legroom even in the back seats – pretty important on a road trip as after all not all of our crew are as short as Nicole.
We were getting pretty hungry by now so we pulled over for a snack. Taiwan is famed for its food and especially snacks. Being German I know a thing or two about sausages so the sausage stand was no brainer. The pork sausage on a stick was Taiwan-style fatty combined with five or six Southeast Asian spices, barbecued right in front of you and slathered in a homemade slightly chunky garlicky sauce. It was absolutely delicious, trust me, Taiwan knows how to do sausages.
Our whole trip was filled with fantastic food – fresh seafood, melt in the mouth sashimi plucked from the sea a couple of hours before and pineapple that that was so sweet and juicy that I felt like I’d never really eaten a pineapple before that point. But the sausage stole my heart.
Being in Asia of course it’s a bit of a tradition to take a snapshot of your food before you dive in and I was glad to have my Nokia Luma 930 to hand so I could wallow in the sharp definition of the 20MP Pureview camera shots, you might not be able to taste my food but these shots are enough to make anyone’s mouth water. I went for the Lumia 930 for my mobile device for this trip. The Nokia Lumia 930 smartphone with 5.00-inch 1080×1920 display powered by 2.2GHz processor alongside 2GB RAM and 20-megapixel rear camera.
Another highlight was the smooth trip on the jungle-y road down to the beach at Neishuan Huting. The great suspension on the Q5 really came into play here and the All-wheel drive made the handling of the rough road a cinch. We had great fun sticking the Go Pro out of the sunroof to get some amazing on the go driving shots too (thanks Nicole!). Neishaun Huting is a great secret beach with fantastic pacific views. So it seemed fitting that we finished off the evening playing Taiwan’s local favourite game Big 2 on the beach with some stunning cards that I picked up from Kickstarter. The Playing Arts cards each feature a unique piece of local art from around the world on the face of each card. It’s great to see the thought which has gone into the design of these. I love supporting Kickstarter projects and this one was definitely one of my favourites. They’d make a pretty neat present to as well as adding a splash of culture into our sundowner games. I don’t want to brag about who won, but it wasn’t Stew or I who had to buy the second round of drinks that evening.
I wish that I could say that we spent all our downtime playing cards and swimming in the pacific, sadly though there’s no rest for the tech blogger and come the evenings I needed to get some work done. There’s nothing nicer than sitting out on a deck with a breeze in your hair as you write up the latest news though, so I was glad that I’d gone for the Nokia Lumia 2520. The fantastic battery life meant I never had to worry about finding a power outlet. I was getting 13 plus hours for browsing without the dock and a strong 16 plus hours when docked. I was a little bit worried about the keyboard as it’s one those flexible affairs that turns into the sleeve, but it turned out to be pretty much perfect for me. The only slight drawback was the small left and right shift keys. The teeny trackpad took a bit of getting used to, especially the right click mouse button but once I’d got the hang of it it was smooth sailing.It ran pretty niftily on the Snapdragon 800 and was easy to handle weighing just 615 grams and being just 8.9mm thick. All-in-all I found it to be a great work-travel companion device with its 2GB of RAM, especially given the speed of Taiwan’s fantastic new 4G network.
I wish I could spend all of my work time sitting on a different Taiwanese beach or mountainside retreat. This trip really made me appreciate the incredible beauty of this island – especially once we hit Taidong’s lush unspoiled coastline. It’s easy to forget all that Taiwan has to offer outside of the excitement of Taipei. It’s not for nothing that Taiwan is being featured more and more heavily on bucket lists of places to travel to. Even though you can feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere the great connectivity across the island means you really can work as you go. I found myself wishing I had more time to spend travelling around my adopted homeland and less jetting off to conferences abroad. And if I were to do it all again I’d definitely go with the Q5 again, the roads really are a pleasure to take on in this kind of vehicle. The trains may be fast and slick, but I’ll stick with getting behind the wheel and pulling over for pineapple and sausages on a whim. You guys should really get over here – You don’t know what you’re missing.
If you’d like to see everything we’ve written about our trip down the East Coast of Taiwan, here is a link to our Out of the Box Tech and Travel Section.