There's nothing like the adrenaline rush of running off of a mountain-side, feeling of your feet dangling in the air, and seeing the countryside zoom beneath you. Paragliding has long been on my bucket list but was always something that eluded me because every time I tried to fit it in last minute, it was never a good time. In planning our 12 days in Taiwan, I knew that this was my chance to make it happen. I'm sure glad I did.
Here's a little retelling of what it was like to go paragliding with an outfit called Soar Paragliding. Find out what it was like for us to take the skies, sprinkled with everything you need to know to plan your own experience when you come to Taiwan.
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- Why you need to visit Taiwan
Where can you find good deals on hotels?
Where The Heck Do You Paraglide In Taiwan Anyways?
Coming to Taiwan, I knew there were two main places you could go paragliding – Taitung and Hualien. However, as with these types of activities, there's just not a lot of information in English. After a bit of digging, I learned that details were scarce because most of the places that have this activity are run by enthusiasts and/or clubs.
Ultimately, I chose to do paragliding in Taitung because 1) we had more flexible time there and 2) there seemed to be a reliable operation running in an area called Luye Gaotai which is located 40 minutes away.
Wherever The Winds Fly
One thing you realize is that paragliding is quite the fickle sport in that it really depends on what mother nature feels like like on any given day.
We arrived in Taitung with the idea that we'd go paragliding the next day. At least that's how my itinerary was laid out. However, when I called the paragliding company, we learned that going tomorrow wasn't going to work because the winds were dying down. If we wanted to fly, it had to be now…as in ASAP…as in get your butt to Luye Gaotai right away kind of thing.
This meant stopping everything we were doing, dropping off our bags at our hotel (MATA Indigenous Cultural Resort) and calling a cab.
When we arrived, it was easy to spot where we needed to go next. There was this giant white canopy propped up right where the cab dropped us off with paragliding equipment galore.
No idea whether we had missed the boat on an opportunity to paraglide or not, we approached the desk. We were put at ease when we found out that they were still taking people out and so began the registration process.
This part was relatively painless although the funny part was that we had to sign this waiver which I couldn't read at all since it was all in Chinese. Thankfully Chantelle skimmed it and briefed me on the usual “sign your life away on the dotted line” kind of business. There was a separate form to fill out as well with our information.
One decision we did have to make which surprised us was the length of our flight. There are two options – short and long. The short flight only costs NT $1800 but is capped at 5 minutes. For the longer experience, the cost is NT $2500 but is a minimum of 10 minutes. If for some reason you opt for the longer flight but gets shortened because of weather conditions, you get NT $700 back. The whole choice seemed a bit ludicrous as I don't know why anyone would choose the shorter one when the difference is only $25 USD.
The last decision we had to make was around the video recording situation. Essentially what they have is a basket of GoPro knock-offs for rent at a rate of NT $400. On its own it didn't seem like a good deal but since these came with their own extendable sticks and ropes that could clip to your paragliding harness it was a tempting offer.
Since I brought my own GoPro, I was hesitant to rent but when I asked if it was safe to use my own pole, the registration guy quickly offered to let me borrow one of their sticks free of charge (mental note: act of kindness #1).
In the end, we rented another action cam on top of mine so that Chantelle and I could each film our own experiences (and shrieking).
We stashed our bags in the cubbies behind the desk and he handed us our kneepads.
I remember thinking “why the heck do we need kneepads” and noting the fact that these were beat up volleyball kneepads but we obediently put them on. We would later find out the real reason why we needed them.
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I travelled through Taiwan primarily through the help of a local company on the ground called MyTaiwanTour. They were the ones that booked my train tickets to Taitung and hotel as well. They are an operator based out of Taipei and specialize in custom-tailored solutions and English-based packaged tours around Taiwan. I highly recommend them!
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Soaring Like An Eagle
Turning around the corner from the canopy, we made our way to the staging area. We barely made 10 steps when the staff there asked for our tickets. With barely time to process it all, they started suiting us up.
Like some luck in the draw, Chantelle was picked to go first. Her instructor strutted in with his gear having just come back from another flight and they started to buckle everything in. I yelled “good luck” and I remember quoting Forrest Gump.
To say you're prepared for something like this would be a lie. I can't say whether this is the same type of experience for anyone that does paragliding but you go from paying to suiting up and go. There's no training. There's no boring instructional video.
All of a sudden they started running, first to lift the parachute vertical, and then they were off. All I could hear was Chantelle screaming in either delight or fear. I couldn't tell.
With the sight of her colourful chute gone from view as it bent around the corner of the mountain we were on, it was my turn. Mason was my instructor as we exchanged hello's during final equipment check. Anticipating us to go right away, my flight was stalled a bit because the wind was rapidly dying down. I turned my head to the right and could see a wind meter where I was told that the number we were looking for was a 4 when it was only registering a 2.4.
Shaking out the massive wedgie I had, Mason started to count down. There was a momentary stop. My mind still processing what was going on, I was tugged forward again and I just did what I was told which was to “RUN!!!” The grass gave way to nothing and I soon found myself doing some sort of air walk.
In momentary bliss, wonderment, and disbelief, I was rudely interrupted by my wedgie. But no seriously, it was gorgeous from where I was. Mason asked me to sit back and from there I realized how easy this was. With feet dangling and my GoPro recording it all, I was looking around at all angles like a crazed cat.
We turned the corner and we kept descending further and further. I didn't quite pick up what was happening but Mason soon announced that we'd be landing. All of a sudden, my feet hit the dirt with a thud, I rolled forward a bit, and there we were in the middle of some farmer's freshly tilled soil. I thought we were doomed.
Queue to *womp womp womp*. Just like that, my paragliding experience done in 5 minutes.
Before I could really react to everything that had just happened, a white van came vrooming in and we were saved! Turns out they have spotters on the ground for situations like this. I was just glad we didn't have to hike back up the mountain.
Womp womp womp…
Thing is, at this point, I figured it was over. That's why they tell you that they refund you money right? The winds failed me and I was done for. However, while we were driving at insanely fast speeds up the mountain, Mason told me that we'd be attempting again but this time at a higher peak (act of kindness #2).
For the second round, we took the van again and rally-car'ed up the neighbouring mountain just as quickly. As the last group, there was a bit of a rush as I could sense they either wanted to go home really badly or knew that the winds were only going to get worse.
This time around, I knew what to expect as they hooked me in and double checked all the harnesses. Still, the adrenaline rush was just the same. With an eruption of pure fear and elation, my perfected air walk hurled us off this doubly high mountain.
If you watch the video, you can hear me saying “like an eagle…oh wait that is an eagle!” as Mason points out the eagle soaring with us.
Sitting back on my seat, I took a deep breath and looked out to the setting sun that seemed to be bursting through the clouds. The view of the farmland down below, the valley, and surrounding mountains were gorgeous from where I was. The eagle we were flying with agreed as well.
As far a landing goes, that was less than graceful. As Mason maneuvered us down, the LZ (landing zone) came up a lot faster than I thought. I guess I should've realized because the exact same thing happened the first time around. This time though, instead of brown dirt, I hit the grass with a thump.
The bonus was that once we got settled back on solid ground, our tickets were good for a free coffee at the cafe right behind the canopy and we got a neat little certificate as well to demonstrate our bravery.
Review of Soaring Paragliding
Overall I have to say that I was impressed with the operation that they have in Luye Gaotai. While we certainly didn't feel prepared going into it, the staff running things there are very professional and always made you feel safe.
They could've easily said that my first flight was it but they quickly offered me to do a second make-up flight without me even asking which I appreciated.
The location of Luye Gaotai is a bit difficult to get to as it's not in the main city of Taitung but there is a Tourist Shuttle Bus that can take you there or like us, you can always take a cab.
The one you want to look at is the East Rift Valley Line 8168. The schedule is difficult to find so for convenience, I've made the PDF downloadable here.
Watch it all unfold
As much as I can write about our experience, you really need to watch it to get a sense of what it's like.
BEFORE YOU GO
What to pack:
- Action cam if you have one (make sure your batteries are fully charged and memory cleared)
- Smartphone – When you return the camera, the way you get the photos is through your phone. They plug in a card reader (works for either Android or iOS) and it gets downloaded to your album. For some reason, our guy was super nice and gave us the micro SD card for us to keep because we initially had issues with the download failing (act of kindness #3).
- Passport for registration purposes
- NT $2500 for a minimum 10 minutes or $1800 for 5 minutes ($60 – $84 USD)
- NT $400 to rent an action cam (GoPro extendable stick free to rent if you bring your own device)
- Company name: Soar Paragliding/Soaring Paragliding
- Phone: +886-956 377 533 (ask to speak with Mr. Chen)
- Website: Facebook Page
- Location: Luye Highland 鹿野高台
- 40 minute cab ride away (cost NT $700)
- Alternatively there is a East Rift Valley Tourist Shuttle that starts at the Taitung Bus Station and terminates at Luye Gaotai (full fare cost NT $120)
TIPS: If you look online, you will no doubt find activity aggregators selling packages for paragliding but the truth is, there's only one operator in the Luye Gaotai area and it's Soaring Paragliding. Also advisable to call a day before you get to Taitung to find out what the weather conditions are like. It helps to speak Mandarin but with how friendly they are there, I'm sure you'll be fine with English.
TIPS: Bring your own GoPro if you don't want to deal with transferring of video from memory card to your phone and if you have a better action cam than the Yi ActionCam. After compiling all of the footage in the 12 Days in Taiwan series on YouTube, I realized my GoPro Hero 5 was far superior in blocking wind noise than the Yi so something to consider.