I have a hard time justify to myself for this as I have just went to Bangkok last month. So I thought about reasons like “Helping the world economy, give myself a break, I need a holiday (the Bangkok trip is an excursion ) etc.
In the end, I just tell myself it is a mini celebration for myself for being cancer “free” for a year! The most difficult part is leaving my kids alone with the maid again.
If you will to ask me 10 years ago, I will never think of going to Taiwan for a tour. It makes me think of those massive strikes, accident prone national airlines, chaotic traffic and their trademark of politicians fighting in the Parliament.
But well, things change with times and so are our thoughts too. After lurking around some travel forum, I found that Taiwan do have a lot to offer (at the least 100x more than my country). With Taiwan Tourism Board advertising pretty aggressively on our TV, I decided to give it a try.
I only have 2 weeks to book tickets, arrange accommodation and to plan the itinerary, thanks to my wife’s late answer. Fortunately, I manage to get the air tickets, accommodation and the cabbies reservations.
We bought Cathay Pacific (CX) tickets at S$436 per person from a local travel agent (see, we contribute to 3 countries economy for this trip. ). This price is really a steal for a full service airline and furthermore, we have never taken CX flight before. The downside is we have to transit at Hong Kong. But with that price, I can’t complain. An equivalent ticket from Singapore Airlines will set me back almost S$800 per ticket.
Day 1 – Taiwan Taoyuan Airport （桃园机场）- Ximen Ding (西门町，XMD)
After almost 7 hours of flight, we have finally touch down in Taiwan. Just couldn’t believe it that I have reach Taiwan! After the immigration and custom, we quickly headed to the cellular booth to buy a pre-paid SIM card. This is to keep constant touch with my family. If you are a Starhub Digital Voice user, the call from the fixes line to a Taiwan mobile is just only 18 cents per minute compared you calling them from your Singapore mobile line back to Singapore.
We then proceed to buy the tickets from Guo Guang （国光）Bus service to Taipei Main Station and if you buy a return trip together, you will save a bit of money. Unlike Freego （飞狗）Bus Service, Guo Guang Bus service will take you direct to the airport without the need to transfer any bus.
The bus drop us at the west side of the Taipei Main Station which is pretty far from our hotel. But since the weather is considered cool, it is still a breeze with our light luggage.
We easily locate our hotel, Say Love Hotel which is just opposite Taipei Main Station. I know the hotel name sounds sleazy but with NT$1780 for a night in weekdays and last minute booking, I cannot ask for too much. Some of the Taiwan hotels is not a building but just a level of a building. There is another hotel above us which is the Hope Hotel.
The location of the hotel is superb. There are lots of food and vegetarian food around. There is also a KTV, Yoshinoya, Starbucks, McDonalds, book store near to it. There is a big underground mall connecting our side of the hotel to Taipei Main Station.
The hotel is clean and decent. Nothing to complain about it but nothing to praise about too. Staff is polite and helpful.
One warning to all travelers walking into Taipei Main Station using the underground tunnel. It is a huge maze inside for me and we got lost a few times. So if you are unsure, walk to the ground level and navigate your way back to your hotel. Do not waste time searching for the correct exit.
After resting for a while, our first stop is to the famous XMD. We bought ourselves a Easy Card each and hop on the MRT train to Ximen Station. I can say I am impress by their train station not for their infrastructure but their civic and social aspect.
They actually queue up by the train door. They have posters everywhere to remind people to give up their seats to the more needy people. They remind passenger of their etiquette when using their mobile phone on the train. They have display to show the next station name in a more understandable way. They uses advertisement billboard on the platform to show which station are you at along the MRT line. We will have a lot to learn from the Taiwanese!
Upon reaching XMD, we are greeted by those massive billboards. The streets are bright and you can feel the youth spirit on the streets. Walking along XMD, you are greeted with very polite sales staff. There is no pushy sales to force you to buy. Feeling hungry and do not know what to eat, we just hop into a dessert stall. I actually do not know what they sell but just order something to munch. It doesn’t taste that nice. We then go to another stall to eat rice in a stone bowl. It actually taste pretty good and reminds me of Korean way of cooking.
There are a lot of Internet users who love to stay in this area. So we walk along the outskirt of XMD and found the favorite TS Hotel and Nei Jiang Hotel. We finally go t
o try a stall Octopus ball and it really taste yummy.
Also for the weather, it is around 22 degrees which is a bit disappointing.
We decide to call it a day and prepare for tomorrow, which we never expect to be a tough one.
Day 2 – Yang Ming Shan （阳明山）- DanShui （淡水）- Shilin Night market （士林夜市）
We try to get up early for this trip as we only know the week before that there is a 花季 (flower season) in Yang Ming Shan. We initially went to the wrong bus stop to wait for the bus. But thanks to my still functioning memory, I quickly located the correct one. There are already long queue for the bus. If each bus is filled to the maximum capacity, the queue should actually move quite fast. However, as most of the passenger are elderly, once the bus have no more seating place, they will not board. I can’t blame them as the journey is about an hour long and the number of seats in a Taiwan bus are very few.
When we reach Yang Ming Shan, it is already filled with people even though it is a weekday. We decided to take a walk to the Flower Clock rather than taking the bus 108. If you want to visit more than 4 places in Yang Ming Shan, then the unlimited bus ride ticket is worth it.
The initial walk is quite bored actually. But as you progress, you will see more and more flowers and it does really brighten up your day. Some of the flowers are actually withering. We see quite a number of Cherry Blossom and the view is amazing. We wander into the trail and ended up in a waterfall. I do not know the name of the water fall but I think it is something like Datun? We then walk along the main road and almost giving up and decided to take a taxi back to the bus terminal. We then saw a staircase leading up and decided to give it a shot. Wooow!!! We make the right choice and see a display of an array of flowers! I have a field time taking pictures of them.
My wife love the 地瓜 sold there. It is already fried when they are on display. But I do not understand why do they need to fried again when we want to buy it. It is already fried!!!
We finally decide to return to Taipei as we are pretty exhausted by all the walk and the sun (yeah, it is really hot up there!). By the time we reach the hotel, it is already almost 3pm. After some rest, we decided to proceed to Danshui to view the sunset.
We took a MRT train to Danshui station and took R26 bus all the way to the Fisherman Wharf. We reach there at around 1730hrs and just in time to catch the sunset view. The view is good and we really enjoy it.
We went to a food stall in the Fisherman’s Wharf to buy scallop balls. After taking my order, the stall staff ask me whether do I want chillies and I said yes. Then he ask me “small, medium or large”. I was in a daze when he asked me. So he ask me again. I then said isn’t a stick of scallop ball NT$30 as stated? Then the other staff asked what they meant is the strength of the chillies, do I want it small, medium or large? I almost laugh my head off.
We then just take a brief walk around there and decide to take a ferry back to Danshui old street.
At the old street, we found the usual food stall and I found some toy store that sells the toys that I played when I was a small kid! I was so excited about it and bought some for my kids to play.
With all the shopping spree there, we ended our trip to Danshui with a few shopping bags and decide to head for Shilin Night Market. We took a train to Jiantan （剑谭）MRT station. Once we come out of the train station, we are greeted by a sea wave of people. Gosh and this is only a weekday! I can’t imagine on a weekend. There seems to be there is no chemistry between us and Shilin. We just walk about 30 mins and decide to head back to our hotel. Before that, we intend to have our dinner there but could not find anything suitable for us. I found that Taiwanese love to eat fried food, beef and pork ribs which is not fancy by us. In the end, we ate KFC. faint~~
Day 3 – Taroko National Park （太鲁阁国家公园）
This is the most anticipated day for me. I have got a friend who once go to Taiwan often for business trip.
He told me that there are 3 spots in Taiwan you will need to go. Number one is Taroko, two is Alishan and the third is the Sun Moon Lake. So Taroko, here I come!!!
We bought our train tickets to Hualien （花莲）on our first day in Taipei, We bought the 0640hrs train and 1930hrs train from Hualien. Mr Lu told us we are too early and advice us to change to the 0710hrs to Hualien instead.
We quickly bought ourselves some food from 7-11 for our breakfast so we can eat on the train. Remember to get the staff to heat up the food for you before you board the train and give yourself some time for this as the heating process may need 3 to 5 mins. However, they will usually ask you whether do you want your food to be heated.
Upon reaching Hualien, we went to the back station to meet Mr Lu. He is a nice guy and with his age, you can hardly believe his capability. He brought us to buy some food for the afternoon. We then proceed to start our tour in Taroko.
He brought us to a few places which by now I can’t remember their names. To a person that his country has almost nothing natural scenery to offer, the view is great. I specifically request Mr Lu to bring us to a place called Qing Shui Duan Ya (清水断崖）. The view looking over the Pacific Ocean is really breathe taking. It is worth the extra NT$500!
Along the way, Mr Lu told us about one of his previous visitor a few days ago. They visited a place call Shimen mountain （石门山）. He continued to describe the nice view there and it is a risk to go there as the weather is unpredictable. If the weather is bad, the view from the mountain will be poor. This tempted us and we casually ask how is the weather today. Mr Lu said that the weather is good and base on his experience, it should be a good day to visit Shimen mountain. We then ask abut the charges and we ask him to bring us there. He initially tried to dissuade us to go but we insist. Though it is a 6 hour drive to and fro but we still want it. Mr Lu finally agree and after all the major sites we see in Taroko, we proceed to Shimen mountain. Oh yeah, we skip Baiyang Falls so we can make it to the mountain before it gets dark.
The road to Shimen mountain is long and winding. Along the way, we see some Cherry Blossom trees. I can imagine that 2 weeks ago that the roads leading up is filled with Cherry Blossom and the view must be great.
After 3 hours of drive, we reach near to the peak of the mountain. We will have to climb the last 150m which is pretty steep. Mr Lu actually show us a short cut which actually cut the time needed to reach the peak by half. Unfortunately, the weather up there is too good. There is no sea of clouds for us to see. The clouds has “run away” to the other mountain. But the view is still awesome. It is worth every cent of the NT$5500 I paid to view it.
After staying there for a while, Mr Lu proceed to bring us to other views around that mountain.
At other sites, we manage to see sunset (I saw 3 of them!!!) and the sea of clouds. With the temperature dropping to 8.5 degrees, we are really shivering. By the time to left the mountain at 1800hrs, it has drop to 6.5 degrees. We quickly rush back to Hualien.
Fortunately the weather is good and the traffic is light. Mr Lu has manage to change our train tickets to the last train at 2110hrs and reach Hualien by 2045hrs. Since we are so rush, we do not even have time to buy any local food there to try. In the end we bought the same food from 7-11 again.
By the time we reach our hotel, it is almost 0030hrs. But I would say it is worth it.
Day 4 – Yeliu (野柳）- Shifen （石分）- Jiufen （九份）- JingGuaShi （金瓜石）- Bitou （鼻头）- Nanya Rock – KeeLung （基隆）
Today’s schedule is more relaxing. We met Mr Yang at around 0845hrs.
Our first stop is Yeliu. The road leading into the park is not muddy but is actually rocks which is quite easy to walk. After taking some pictures we proceed to Shifen.
At Shifen, since the waterfall is closed due to legal dispute, there is nothing much to see. The place is pretty quiet. We spend NT$300 to light up three 天灯. We then proceed to Jiufen.
This is the most anticipated part of the trip. Walking along the old street, I see those old buildings and feel the spirit. It is very very different from Taipei where skyscrapers rule the landscape. We bought some food there and there is this shop that sells some Almond stuff which is great. We also ate at one of the noodle store and it taste pretty good.
The next stop is JingGuaShi. We are not that interested so we just took some photos at the entrance and left.
Bitou Cape is the next stop. Bitou is the most northern tip of Taiwan. Though I would like to climb the hill very much, but my spouse could not take it. So I decided just to visit the foot of the hill. If you can climb the hill, go for it as I heard the view from the hill is awesome.
Nearby is the Nanya Rock. It is a rock that’s all but it is naturally shape.
The last stop is KeeLung. The night market is nothing special but we can see that they are good in seafood. When we reach Taipei, it is only 1830hrs. We then request Mr Yang to bring us back to our hotel to put our stuff and bring us to Ding Tai Fung.
We have a good meal in Ding Tai Fung and must say their staff is great. Right at the main entrance to the table, the staff has displayed exceptional service and courtesy. We should really learn from them! Since it is a weekday, we only waited for about 10mins before our turn.
After the meal, we proceed to Ice Monster which is just down YongKang （永康）Road.
Unfortunately it is not the mango season so we can only eat mango pudding. But it still taste nice.
Day 5 – Wulai （乌来）- RaoHe Night Market （绕河夜市）- Taipei 101
We took the MRT train to XinDian and then a bus to Wulai. The journey is about 90 mins and is pretty easy.
Once in Wulai, we took the little train to the Wulai Waterfall. The ride cost NT$50 each way is I find it pretty steep. But for the experience of it, it is still worth trying.
After which we decided to try Wulai NeiDong (乌来内洞）. Note that the official charges to get a taxi from Wulai to NeiDong is NT$360 but the drivers will usually offer it for NT$300 per trip. So it will cost you NT$600 to and fro. To me, it is pretty steep but you do not have much of a choice.
NeiDong have three water falls and they are not super big. It is very much smaller than the waterfall you see in Wulai. However, what make it up is the trail leading to them. It is cooling and relaxing. The trail is quite easy to walk and it has the highest concentration of negative ion in the whole of Taiwan. If you breathe a day in NeiDong, it is equivalent to breathing 14 days in Taipei for the negative ion. The trail only took us 20 mins one way. I would recommend it if you have time.
We then proceed to the hot spring. This is the first time for us. We went to the recommended Full Moon Spa just at the mouth of Wulai old street. I do not have anything special to comment but it is still an experience for us.
We then go to RaoHe Night Market. I like this market better then Shilin. I do not know why. My advice is to get to this night market directly, take the TRA from Taipei Main Station and alight at SongShan （松山）station. The market is just behind the station. If you take the MRT to HouShanpei （后山卑）, you will need to pass by Wufenpu （五分浦）to rea
ch which is about 15mins of walk. Those looking for kids clothings, I guess you do not have much luck in Wufenpu but they have a few shops doing wholesale. If you intend to buy in bulk then they will entertain you.
Since we are there early, the crowd has not build up and the walk is easy. I enjoy this market more.
We then took a cab to Taipei 101. It cost us about NT$110. Well, the purpose of going to Taipei 101 is just to show “I have been there”. There is nothing much to see and I guess I only walk less then 1% of the retail shops.
We call it a day and feel the day has been very fruitful.
Day 6 – CKS Memorial Hall （國立中正紀念堂）– Home
I have read some blogs on their trip to Taiwan and nobody will miss Taipei 101 and that includes me. However, Taipei 101 may awe us in terms of technology but to me, it is CKS Memorial Hall that can represent Taipei or even Taiwan.
I do not know which stupid President rename the square in front of CKS Memorial to Freedom Square. To me it is crap and it should revert to its original name.
When I reach the site, I felt being awed by the building. Flanked by two Chinese buildings, it is just spectacular. If you do not visit this site, it is equivalent of visiting Beijing without visiting the Great Wall of China.
Since we only have half a day, we then proceed to visit the neighboring streets of our hotel. We actually request for late checkout at 1300hrs. But they will have to charge us extra NT$200. What a crap!
After having our lunch at Yoshinoya, we then proceed to checkout the hotel and visit the 新光三越 departmental store, leaving our baggage at the hotel. I specifically went to see the elevator girls. I do not mean they are a stunning beauty but it is the way they carry out their duties. If you are there, try to take their elevator and experience it yourself. To me, it is an eye opener and I am very impress by their professionalism and level of service.
After the visit to 新光三越, we proceed to the Taipei East Terminal and take the bus to the Airport.
In short, we have a nice trip and I am really amaze by the friendliness and helpfulness of the Taiwan people. They are very hospitable and courteous. We Singaporeans really have a lot to learn from them.
By the last day of our stay in Taipei, the temperature has drop gradually to 17 degrees over the 6 days we are there.
When we reach Taoyuan Airport, we are shock by the state of the airport. However, if you walk to Terminal Two, it is so much nicer there and they have a Hello Kitty space. They have better eating outlets there. So if you are at Terminal one, do walk over to Terminal Two to take a look.
I have taken about 1400 photos for this trip but I am not going to bore you with that. I have selected a few but it is still a lot. So if you want to view then, please visit the following URL.