Photos of our Taiwan trip are available here so you can have a better sense of the places that we've been to.
Here's my last year's birthday card from my wife and son:
Don’t know if I can call the season in my Taiwan trip winter since there’s no snow but the sheer number of different locales that we saw there more than made up for it. What I loved about Taiwan (aside from the food) was that we were able to see a lot of different types of places in such a short time, with acceptable commutes (for the most part) and with relatively affordable cost. I was still pleasantly surprised about this even though I was the one who made our itinerary. Either it’ll be much more expensive to have this type of itinerary in other countries or those countries won’t even have sufficient variety. By the way, here is the Korea video that they were referring to.
Taoyuan Airport is a functional but dreary airport. I guess it lets commercial planes land in Taiwan but that's about what it can only do. There's barely any shops and even food options were limited. After we got our travel wifi (from Klook), we took a cab to our hotel (Ximen Holiday Fun) but had a bit of trouble finding it since its facade does not look like a hotel at all. It's like a back alley shady store but our room even had a bath tub and more importantly, it was only a minute from central Ximending so it was okay. The wife told me that the bed was also quite soft - I wouldn't know since I was sleeping on a floor mattress (which was quite hard). I would recommend the place if you'll just use the place to sleep and if you are short on budget. After lunch on our first day (we had Meesua at Ay-Chung Flour Rice Noodle, sooo good), it was time for our first stop: Shilin.
Taipei Children's Amusement Park
It was too early for the night market so what we planned is to go first to the Taipei Children's Amusement Park. We try to have something in our itinerary that is primarily for Rafa so this is what I thought of. It's also kind of close to the Shilin Night market so it's the perfect 1-2 destination combo. The entrance fee to the park was insanely cheap (around P50 converted) but you have to pay every time you use the attractions inside. That was a very good deal for us since Rafa still couldn't use majority of the attractions and me and my wife were just there to accompany him. He actually got to ride a fair number of attractions and he dabbled mostly in the remote controlled attractions like the remote controlled boats, cars and an excavator. The drizzle of rain was on and off so we really couldn't stay outdoors too much which is a shame since there's a nice playground in the park which would be perfect Rafa. So the last thing we did there is to burn some tokens on the arcades there and then it was time to go to the Shilin Night Market.
Shilin Night Market
The Shilin Night Market is the biggest and most popular night market in Taipei. We took a bus from the Taipei Children's Amusement Park and it dropped us off exactly in front of Shilin. Street food was reputably one of the things that you need to experience in Taiwan and the plan was to have solely street food for dinner like we did in Myeongdong. It proved harder than we thought: we have a stroller and it was quite hard to maneuver as the crowds were quite thick. What we did was my wife was sort of parked at an intersection of sorts and I was going from one stall to another to buy food for us to sample. We had grilled squid, steak with cheese cooked with a blow torch, beef-flavored meesua, octopus balls that are like takoyaki, a huge and long sausage that tastes like chorizo, mochi-like balls with red bean paste inside and coated with powdered nuts outside, and the most refreshing sweet orange juice. We particularly liked the steak with cheese and the orange juice and the others were okay. The choices were staggering and me and Claire can't possibly cover all of the offered food there. We also didn't get to shop anymore as it's just quite hard to move around. Claire also wanted to go home already as it's quite late already and the place is crawling with rats! In fact, that killed her desire to go to all the other night markets (we were planning to go to Raohe and Tonghua as well) or at the least those destinations were pushed down the priority list. I guess we were hoping for a cleaner and more laid back atmosphere in the night market like in Myeongdong but nonetheless, it's a very interesting place that I don't think we'll find in the other countries that we plan to go to. We took a cab home and rested right after - we have quite the tour the next day.
Coincidentally, the Taipei marathon was also scheduled on our 2nd day in Taiwan so we got to witness it. We left our hotel early but was just in time for our tour bus since the Taipei marathon had so many participants so we couldn't even cross the street to the meeting place and instead had to use an underpass to get there. Anyway, we got a tour from Klook and it would bring us to three places: Yehliu, Jiufen and Shifen.
The Yehliu Geopark is all about the unique rock formations that were formed by the waves on the brown/golden coast. The most famous of these rock formations is the Queen's Head - a towering rock formation that looks like (you guessed it) a queen's head. It seemed smaller in person compared to its pictures in the internet. Despite that, I actually liked the place - the waves were crashing all around us and it felt to me that the place was untamed but relaxing at the same time. There was just something very therapeutic about the sound of waves crashing with stone and in my minds eye, I can sort of imagine how the waves shaped the gorgeous rock formations through the centuries. There are replicas of the Queen's Head around the park and they're saying that it'll just be a couple of years before the elements destroy or severely damage it beyond recognition so it's best to visit as soon as possible. When I saw that notice, it gave me the determination to really brave the fairly long queue for the photo op with the Queen's Head despite the light rain and the raging waves around us. The place is literally a park of rocks and I wouldn't say that it's the best rock park that Taiwan can offer (we'll get there in a while) but it's the most relaxing part of the tour for me and I really appreciated the simplistic and wild beauty of rocks and waves.
Based on what I've read, Jiufen was once a gold mining town (but we didn't get to see a mine so idk) and is the location for one of the best anime ever, Spirited Away (despite having the movie in my laptop for months, I still haven't gotten around to seeing it). This is the 2nd leg of the tour and is where we would be breaking for lunch. Most pictures of Jiufen depict it outside looking in so you'll see the Japanese architecture with a nice wide view of the surrounding mountains but while we did get to see the Japanese architecture, it's from the inside and in close-up. The town (or at least the place that we visited) is made up of small alleys with shops on both sides selling food and drink or souvenirs. There are lots of food choices! My favorite is actually a small restaurant nestled deep inside an alley where they serve one of the best fried rice ever and very cheap but still very flavorful noodles and dumplings. That's where we had lunch since Rafa needs his rice and it was surprisingly hard to find a restaurant there that serves rice meals. The other things that I liked were the fried mushrooms and the peanut ice cream. Since we're not really into buying souvenirs and exploring it is a challenge because the place is packed and it was raining slightly, I thought that the time spent there was a bit too long and could have been used for the last leg of the tour instead.
I have two goals in Shifen, launch a paper lantern and go to the Shifen Waterfalls for the view and some stills and footage. The first one was easy enough: we were given a paintbrush, black paint and the lantern itself and we were off to apply our artistic skills. There were four sides on the lantern and everyone in the family got to contribute to our masterpiece. The place where the lanterns are being launched is actually a working rail road and people had to go out of the way of the train when it passes. Found that somewhat weird but oddly exciting. The person who sold us the lantern is quite adept at taking pictures and videos although she took our video in portrait format. Nevertheless, she took our photos with all of the sides of the lantern and took a video of us while we were launching our lantern. It was really a nice sight regardless of the video format. We had around 40 minutes left in our tour of the place and I asked Claire if I can rush over to the Shifen waterfalls. It was around 1.3km walk (one way!) that Google pegged at 18 minutes so with just 40 minutes left, I had to hustle. At first I was just speed walking it but continuous checks on my watch and on the map indicated to me that I won't be able to make it back in time if I continue at this pace. And So I ran. Hard. I made it there with around 17 minutes to spare so I took a couple of photos and a minute of video and I was running hard again on the opposite direction. Didn't even need to open the exercise app on the Apple Watch as it knew the urgency of my steps and recorded it as exercise already. All in all it was just a shade under 3km but it felt harder than the 10km that I ran last year because of the time limit and the rain and the cold. I arrived at the bus on the exact time (Claire was furious at me for being late) and the bus rode off back to Taipei where I slept most of the way. That day I had 17,539 steps which were quite a lot for someone who spent half the day in a tour bus.
We had two choices for our long, out of the city day trip: Taroko Gorge and the Sun Moon Lake. Initially, I planned to go to both places but the commute to the Sun Moon Lake is just too long and expensive as we need to use the THSR so we just opted for the Taroko Gorge. The train to Hualien (where Taroko Gorge is) is a solid three hours so we left the hotel before 6AM and arrived by around 9:30AM. We will be picked-up from the train station for our scheduled half day tour with Klook by 10:45AM so we had time for some breakfast at one of the small eateries near the train station. After being picked-up, the tour bus brought us first to a nearby place that is overlooking the Hualien Bay for a bit of sightseeing. We went out of the city after that and we stopped by at a house/restaurant for some lunch (we got the optional lunch package, rice and curry chicken, worth it). After an hour for lunch, we're off to the Taroko National Park.
The first place where they bought us was designed to impress: Qingshui Cliff. It's a steep cliff that drops directly to the sea and it is just quite beautiful and breathtaking. Wouldn't mind waking up to that scene everyday. Then we were off to a couple of places that highlight the Taroko Gorge: Changchun Shrine, Cimu Bridge, Buluowan Plateau, and the Swallows' Grotto. It won't be easy to beat the Yehliu Geopark but this one takes the cake easily. I have no words for this place so let me just show you pictures. I don't even think my pictures do it justice. After our tour of the Taroko National Park (which ended by around 4PM), we were shuttled back to the Hualien train station and off to Taipei once again. It was a very long day but well worth it with the scenery that we got to experience.
Addiction Aquatic Development
I don't think I ever had a specific segment in my blog just for a certain restaurant but this one is well worth it. The closest thing is my food trip portion in Myeongdong and I would have blogged about my visit to Tsukiji Market back in 2016 if I were blogging at that time but otherwise Addiction Aquatic Development (AAD from now on) is my first blog portion for a specific restaurant on my travel blogs. Anyway. We went here for brunch as we needed time to recuperate from our out-of-Taipei trips so we were quite hungry already when we got there. Thankfully it did not disappoint. The fresh fish here is as good as what you're going to get at Tsukiji Market in Tokyo but at a fraction of the price. The construct of the place's name is curiously arranged (I'm sure the translation would make more sense) but if it's anything near to promoting addiction to seafood then it's doing its job properly. It is that good. AAD is made up of 10 stations and the others are a doozy as well but what I truly enjoyed was the standing sushi counter. I would have stayed there all morning and would not feel the stress from standing because the fish there is that good and that fresh. For me, this is the "must repeat" place in Taipei (and not the night markets, sorry). I had plum wine with my sushi and sashimi and it paired well. We also tried the grill station so we can sit down and eat some more and it was okay. The highlight though is the sushi counter and I would revisit AAD just for it alone. My only regret here is not ordering more sushi and sashimi, the price is quite cheap for the food that I'm getting. We visited Tokyo just a few days of my Taiwan trip and the seafood there didn't compare (didn't go to Tsukiji though).
After a veritable feast at AAD, we took an Uber to the nearest train station and went our merry way to Tamsui. Then we had to take a bus to Fort San Domingo, our first destination there. Unfortunately the bus did not tell us that we were supposed to go down already and we had to go down hundreds of meters from the place. It was cold and drizzling and the walk drained our energy already. Claire and Rafa just rested at a spot in Fort San Domingo while I snapped photos and footage. It was a scenic place no doubt but it was just okay. Then after a bit of rest (really just a pause in activities), we got on a bus again to my primary reason for going there - the Lovers Bridge. By the time we got there, it was already dusk so there's not enough light for photos and videos and the bridge wasn't lit up yet so we just had dinner first at the nearby Subway. When I finally got out for photos and videos of the bridge, it was quite cold (or I was probably underdressed) and I wasn't able to take too much photos and the video was bare minimum. I wasn't able to cross the bridge even as it was quite cold there and I suddenly had the irrational fear of my obese self being blown over the bridge. Silly. I barely lasted 10 minutes for all my photo and video attempts then I already asked if we could head home already. All in all, I think I wasn't able to tap at the photo and video potential of the place but I also don't think I'll go back there again if I get to visit Taiwan again or it won't be too high in the priority list at most.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
As is our wont, we visit the nearest places to us last. After brunch at our favorite restaurant in Ximending: Tiantianli (Ay-Chung Flour-Rice Noodle is the best soup), we started our last day in Taiwan with a visit to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Lo and behold, the weather cleared and the sun was up and it was probably the best morning of our entire stay in Taipei. The weather largely (but not fully) cooperated when we were in Yehliu and Hualien but it was still overcast and good light was quite low. So we took our photos (jump shots!) and videos and generally just enjoyed the weather in CKS Memorial Hall. We were also lucky that there weren't too many tourists when we visited so that was great. The family is not really into these type of places but we actually liked it.
We're not really first timers when riding cable cars and if my memory serves me right, we've ridden cable cars on all of our trips abroad ever since Rafa was born. However, the Maokong Gondola is unique for two reasons: first, it will lead to the best tea places in Taipei and second, some cars have a see through floor. The glass door was okay but I think we could have settled for the normal gondolas and saved time on the line. What we didn't expect was that the ride would also give a very nice view of the Taipei skyline, bannered by Taipei 101. When we arrived at the last station (around 30 minutes travel time!), we had to walk a fair bit to reach the restaurant that was recommended to me by a friend: Longmen Restaurant. We over ordered on rice and had smaller viand portions than usual but the soup and food was amazing. The tea was the highlight though. You can easily get used to drinking their amazing tea while enjoying a bird's eye view of Taipei. Definitely recommending the place. Before we knew it, it was already nighttime and time for the last item on our itinerary that day: Taipei 101.
We were actually late already. In my schedule, there would be enough time to go to Elephant Mountain where the views of Taipei 101 would be quite magnificent but we didn't have time for that already, unfortunately. So we took a bus from Maokong Gondola to Taipei 101 so we could use the vouchers that we bought from Klook. Taipei 101 is the ninth highest building in the world (as of this writing) and I am really anticipating that the views will be amazing. One good thing about it also is that it has the fastest elevator in the world so it was quite an ear-popping experience. Another unique thing about Taipei 101 is that it has the largest viewable damper in the world as well. There's an outdoor observatory on the 91st floor and I liked it better than in Seoul Sky because they only have railings to prevent people from going over which meant that I can stick my iPhone out to get very clear photos and videos of the view (Seoul Sky had a net so it wasn't completely obstruction-free). As expected, we were quite high up but the clear weather made for an unobstructed view in all directions that faced the outdoor observatory which made it perfect. My wife then made a postcard from Taipei 101 and not long after we were on our way back to Taipei Main Station via train to get our bags from the coin lockers there. We hustled to catch the 10:45PM train (second to the last trip) to the airport but it did not matter as our 4AM flight got delayed by six hours (bummer).
To cap it off, I thought the Taiwan trip went better than expected! I wish we had another day or two or three so we could have visited the Sun Moon lake and had another chance to visit the Lovers bridge (for the photos and videos). As I mentioned earlier, I found Taiwan to be incredibly interesting, especially the diverse locations that we visited and the tasty and affordable food that we sampled. I'm not quite sure if it'll be in the top of the list of "must go back" countries but I felt hugely satisfied from the trip and cannot recommend it enough to anyone who wants to have a vacation abroad but is undecided yet on where to go.
Next up is my write-up for our recent Japan trip and the travel videos for both our Taiwan and Japan. I also plan to write one or two articles that detail my thoughts on how I prefer to travel. Apologies if this one took longer than expected. I'll have more content for everyone within the week after this one. Until then, see you!