Puli, have you been there? 80,000 people make up this township nestled in Nantou County; about 1.5 hour drive from Taichung.
The views from Puli are astonishing and breathtaking both day and night. Puli is full of wind and good weather. It is a popular place to paraglide for locals and visitors alike.
Puli, Nantou County
Inland site in a wide valley surrounded by mountains. Take off is short and unforgiving, and the landing area (which changes often) is small and surrounded by obstacles. The launch is Intermediate and the landings Advanced. This site sees strong thermal activity in it's best seasons, fall and winter. It has good XC potential but landings are small and far apart. The local club is currently somewhat unfriendly to foreign fliers and restricts instruction and tandem operations to local pilots. Licenses are required. It can get quite crowded on weekends in season. The area was hit hard in the 921 earthquake and the road up to launch has been under constant repair since. It's very prone to landslides in the rainy season. This site is totally unsuitable for training beginners.
Saijia, Pingdong County
Probably the second hang gliding site opened in Taiwan and one of the most famous. Best season is winter, though it may be flyable year-round.
Saijia is very popular with Japanese and Korean pilots who flock here in the winter months when it's too cold to fly at home. Saijia features a cliff launch, the largest landing area in Taiwan and is actually within a legal flight park set up under the national government. No civil or military aircraft are supposed to operate in the area without issuing a NOTAM and no power lines are allowed to be erected above ground. It can get quite busy on weekends and especially Lunar New Year. There are some tandem operators though they are not as prevalent as at other sites. This site is more suitable to training operations than most others but the cliff launch is still very daunting and requires special care and preparation.
Taidong, east coast
There are several sites in this area. The most popular is Kaotai at the south end of the Huadong Valley. It's very popular with tourists and tandem operators are flourishing there. Good XC potential though there are a lot of high voltage power lines around. Up on the side of the valley is the Taishan launch which is used in the Huadong Valley competition. It is possible to launch in winds north through east to south, but it's only really worth flying there when it's south.
Tucheng, Yilan County
Another a summer site with ridge soaring. The launch is quite short and there is tall bamboo immediately below the takeoff so special care is required. Intermediate launch not suitable for students.
There are several places to launch from the coastal mountains but the local club discourages this and at least one is within Taitung airport's TCA (Terminal Control Area). The Taidong club is run largely by tandem pilots so they prefer to keep all flying at Kaotai where it is visible, and they are somewhat intolerant of solo gliders when business is good and the sky is crowded.
Zhengwen Reservoir, Jiayi County
Launch is on a hillside overlooking a large reservoir with little to no shoreline and few places to land. Best season is fall and winter. Very limited XC potential due to lack of places to land beyond the official landing area. The local club is struggling to keep the site open since the pilot numbers are low and visitors are scarce, so the reception there is friendly. Not suitable for training operations due to restricted landing field. Best season is fall and winter.
Chunan, Hsinchu County
Another inland thermal site, but on the cusp as regards to season. This site was opened around 2003 and so far seems to work better in the summer and fall. It has a short launch with a steep drop and trees underneath it so again it is not suitable for training operations. XC potential is limited due to the topography but some small local competitions have been run here.
A flight on a tandem paraglider is by far the easiest and fastest way to get into the air. Typical price for a short tandem flight is NT$1,000. That may vary by a few hundred NT$ if business is particularly good or bad. Remember that you are putting your life into the hands of the pilot flying you so be aware of the risks involved before agreeing to anything. Some pilots are able to arrange insurance on the spot and that's a good sign they are taking your safety seriously. You should ask how long the pilot has been flying both solo and tandem since it takes a few years to build sufficient experience to fly a tandem glider safely. If there are no solo pilots flying at the site but the tandems are busy, you should ask yourself why. For example the conditions may be so light that the gliders cannot climb above launch height or stay in the air for more than a few minutes. You might want to opt to postpone until the conditions allow a flight of 10 or 20 minutes. If it seems very windy, gusty or the wind is blowing across the launch instead of straight up it, you might want to postpone unless you are very resistant to motion sickness. If the solo pilots are not flying you should be very wary. If the flight is going to take place at a coastal site it is easy tell if the wind is too strong by the presence of white caps on the water. Do exactly what your pilot tells you.
Prices range from NT$6,000 to NT$10,000 and should include all equipment use until you are qualified. Ask when the instructor last flew a paraglider. There are coaches out there who have been flying for just a few months, those who haven't flown in ten years, those who only have novice licenses, or none at all, and those who have never even flown a paraglider, yet they will take your money and yell encouraging things as you huck yourself off a cliff. There are more unlicensed 'instructors' out there than real ones, and there are foreign imposters as well as locals. It takes a minimum of two people to safely teach in the beginning high flight stages, one to help you launch and one to guide you through the landing approach. It is not acceptable to do this with only one instructor, or one and an untrained buddy who happens to be in the landing area. Ask to see the full training syllabus and be sure it includes theory classes on aerodynamics, weather, aviation law and emergency procedures.
Due to an oversupply of vendors the equipment market is fiercely competitive and that has made Taiwan one of the cheapest places in the world to buy paragliding equipment. Shop carefully and bargain hard and you may get yourself discounts up to 50% off the market prices in the west. Some typical prices for entry level equipment:
You could start out using a scooter helmet, sneakers and gardening gloves to save a bit of money, and a vario isn't needed until you start soaring. Be aware that some vendors are carrying outdated or substandard equipment. A responsible vendor should not sell you a paraglider without seeing that you have the ability to fly it, or are going to use it under the supervision of a qualified instructor.