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Mystery drive: Tour offers cab rides to who knows where

By Maggie Hiufu Wong, CNN
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 0349 GMT (1149 HKT)
Taipei travel company Topology has introduced the Taxi Diary tour, allowing travelers to ride along and experience the life of a taxi driver for a day while visiting the city's lesser known locations and meeting locals. Taipei travel company Topology has introduced the Taxi Diary tour, allowing travelers to ride along and experience the life of a taxi driver for a day while visiting the city's lesser known locations and meeting locals.
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Surprise taxi tour
Meet commuters and driver
Taiwanese hospitality
Bringing the world to cabbies
'I'm an empty cab'
'Welcome on board'
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A new tour in Taipei, Taiwan, allows tourists to do four-hour ride-alongs in local taxis
  • Tourists go wherever local fares hire the cabs to go
  • The appeal is going to unexpected locations and meeting chatty locals
  • One English tourist was invited to a Taiwanese family dinner by a passenger in his taxi

(CNN) -- We've all heard the old adage that travel is about the journey, not the destination.

Now, a travel company in Taipei, Taiwan, is taking the concept so literally that it's not even bothering to list the destinations on its newest city tour.

That's because not even the company knows where its customers will be heading once they've booked a tour.

The company is called Topology and its unique, experiential tour is called the Taxi Diary.

'We're going where?'

Though the results can range from mundane to memorable, the Taxi Diary concept is simple.

Customers pay NTD1,000 ($33) for the privilege of doing a ride-along in a local taxi for a four-hour stint.

The tourists travel wherever the taxi is called upon to go by its normal customers.

Topology -- the same company that let travelers to be a sweet potato mama for a day -- says the appeal of the tour comes from traveling to destinations entirely dictated by whoever hires the taxi.

"This idea came to me a long time ago when I was a passenger in a taxi," says Peter Lin, Topology co-founder. "That driver was so talkative that we chatted nonstop during the half-hour drive. He told me where to find great food in town."

"Ever since, I've thought letting taxi drivers and local commuters be city guides might be a good idea."

Topology's Taxi Diary tour was launched last month.

One local passenger invited this British tourist to her family dinner.
One local passenger invited this British tourist to her family dinner.

So far one traveler from the United States and one from England have tried the tour, according to the company.

Those two tours ended up zipping past usual tourist spots such as Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, Xinyi District and the Office of the President.

They also took in places that aren't easily accessible to travelers, such as locations in New Taipei City, an hour from Taipei's city center.

Unknown alleys, dinner invitations

Lin took a trial ride before the tour was officially launched.

"At first, it felt really weird, honestly, because we never sit in a taxi for such a long time and (never) meet people we aren't familiar with," he says.

"But even for those of us who were born and raised in Taipei, we hit some alleys we've never been to and saw scenes that we wouldn't see if we were on foot. It felt great."

Aside from new sights, Lin says the main draw of Taxi Diary is the chance to meet local people.

"Taiwanese are famous for our hospitality, so travelers can make friends with local commuters and the driver," he says.

"One passenger invited Harry, our traveler from England, to her new house in the Linkou District and treated him a big meal with her family."

Finding the right drivers

Finding taxi drivers willing to collaborate was challenging at first.

"We needed to convince drivers that this tour wouldn't impact their business, that it's (actually) going to help due to the extra income they receive from the tour," says Lin.

Taxi Diary now works with five English-speaking taxi drivers.

Signs displayed in each cab explain the tour concept to potential customers before they decide to hire the cab.

Another bonus for the drivers, according to Lin, is exposure to foreigners.

"The drivers might not have too many chances to go abroad, but travelers can bring the world to them," he says. "Our taxi drivers are all happy to have the chance to connect to the world."

So what if there aren't a lot of passengers during a given tour?

"This never happens, but our backup plan is to take travelers to traditional tourist spots and enjoy a local meal with the driver.

"Taxi drivers are the best tour guides -- they know Taipei so well and the meals they choose are always awesome.

"A journey is not about the sights, but about the insights gained from the experience and the people you meet.

"These are what make a journey unique and unforgettable."

Topology Taxi Diary; NTD1,000 ($33) for four hours; discount of NTD350 ($12) for the first three participants each month; booking available online on the Topology website; tours can accommodate up to two travelers.

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