My week in Taiwan went really quick and a week is definitely not enough time to see the island!
Before going, I did some research and quickly realized that one week isn’t enough for this small country. There is a lot to do and see! So we focused our time in certain areas and sights.
I went to Taiwan to meet Dad and to refresh my tourist visa in the Philippines (you only get 30 days each stay).
We met at the Taipei airport and took this airport shuttle bus to the main train station and then the metro to our hostel.
Our hostel was located next to Shilin night market, which is one of the biggest attractions in Taipei, though we thought there weren’t that many foreigners there as compared to the night markets near Taipei 101 Tower.
The area near the tower is more business and upper class, maybe that’s why a lot of foreigners were there? The tower is shaped like a bamboo or pagoda and it looks better at night when it is lit.
When we were there, there were many buses full of Mainland Chinese tourists. As they exited, they were accosted by Taiwanese protesting injustice in Mainland, something about organ harvesting?
Some were getting very close to the face, shouting. It was a bit nerve wrecking, I imagine worse for those tourists.
Another small thing we did was go to the Grand Hotel. There is a free shuttle that leaves from the Jiantan metro station, but you might be able to walk it as the ride was like 10 minutes. We waited an hour for the next ride. However, while we were waiting an older woman approached us and started talking with us about her family and that her dad moved to Japan and she didn’t see him for like 35 years or didn’t get to meet him until she was 35- we weren’t sure since her English wasn’t the best, but she was very nice.
Dad and I both agree that Taiwan people are extremely nice and helpful even if they can’t speak English.
Back to the markets, we went to 4 in total. The second one wasn’t so lively or had that many stalls, but we had a delicious dinner in one of the hole in the wall restaurants.
For 220 NTD or 8 dollars we got 1 big meal, 2 drinks, 2 soups, and 2 ice creams.
Taiwan is very cheap for food. You can eat for less than 3 USD if you wanted. Of course you can always pay more, but eating at the markets are a great saver.
I found it cheaper than Mainland and that was cheap. As an example, in Mainland, a favorite dessert is fruit on a stick with a caramel glaze. Dad and I had some and while I paid about 2 USD in Mainland, we paid about 50 cents in Taiwan for the same stick/fruit.
Hostel prices are about the same….and speaking of hostels, our Taipei one was very foreigner friendly, we met so many people, but the one in Hualien (more later) was mainly just locals and I was getting flashbacks to Mainland. But definitely check out Happy Taipei.
In our Taipei hostel, we met 3 gentlemen from Europe, traveling separately, but they found common souls in each other and decided to hang out.
They were interested in this gathering that was happening the next days in the mountains and it’s people from all over the world camping and going without modern utilities in nature.
They certainly were more akin to this idea as they walked around without shoes while I bought brand new walking /hiking shoes in Taipei (super excited as my runners were full of holes).
I can’t recommend an exact time to see Taipei because it really depends what you want. I think you could hang out for a week, but for those like my dad (he doesn’t like big cities), maybe 2 days is ok.
There are many temples and hikes and city adventures, and, of course, so much food. So lots to do, but again, what your preferences are.
We stayed 4 nights and then a fifth night before flying out the next day.
One of my favorite spots is the memorial to one of Taiwan’s leaders, Chiang Kai-shek. The design is very beautiful and there is a changing of the guard ceremony every hour.
We went to the National Palace Museum. It was nice and a good thing if you have seen any Chinese art stuff previously, but as I was just in Mainland, I didn’t get much out of it. 2 of the big art pieces are 2 jades- one shaped as a cabbage and another shaped as meat. It was interesting.
We did see 2 temples that were free. The Bao’an temple was my favorite (they are right next door to each other). It’s new, but it’s very colorful and elaborate.
Our last night, I met with a high school classmate who teaches English there now. She took us to a tea house that serves really good Boba or Pearl tea as well as classic Taiwanese dishes.
It was a bit expensive for Taiwan, but in total, for 3 people we spent 30 USD and had a lot to eat/drink.
The metro system is interesting because instead of a card or ticket, they give you tokens that you tap on and insert to exit. They do have a rechargeable card that works everywhere in Taiwan, but we didn’t need to get it for a week.
From here, we did a day trip to the Northeast coast to see Yeliou, Jiufen, and Keelung. Yeliou has a geopark meaning there are rocks that have been windblown and shaped by the water to form shapes. The most popular is one that looks like Queen Nefertiti.
Unfortunately, as we hit a holiday (grave sweeping, yes that’s the actual holiday name and that’s what they do), there were a lot of people. Though it’s in nature, don’t expect to be able to be one with nature.
The bus system to get around was not as easy for tourists as it could have been. If you have an opportunity to take a cheap tour, I recommend taking it and not having to worry about buses, paying, and you can see a lot more than we did in a day.
The bus from Yeliou to Keelung was the craziest. The road is narrow and curvy, but the driver didn’t care and we were flying around the bus…luckily it was packed so if we fell, we didn’t fall all the way.
We ate a street market in Keelung and found a bus to Jiufen. Our hostel said we needed to switch buses, but bus 488 goes all the way there so no need to switch. The bus stop is near the train station by the port, we had an extremely hard time finding it. Just follow the port towards the train station and you should see it on the left hand side.
Jiufen is known for its old streets and the market that is there. The red lanterns along the cobblestone narrow streets are said to have inspired the creators of Spirited Away. I didn’t really see the similarities, but it is a nice town, though extremely touristy. The view, because it’s on the mountain, would be nice on a clear day, but that’s really all there is to do.
The next day we went to Hualien. A must see in Taiwan from what we read and had been told was the Taroko Gorge. The nearest big town is Hualien. We did Wow hostel, which offers a great free breakfast and comfortable living area, but just mainly locals.
There is a shuttle bus that has day passes for the gorge so we did that.
We thought to go to the visitor center first; however, much to my annoyance it was closed. The shuttle buses run on a limited schedule as well so plan for this.
We ended up spending enough time there that we caught another shuttle and took it all the way to the end. Here we walked up to a temple and hung out before catching another one back.
However, we wanted to do the Shakadang trail, but the bus only stops there one direction. So we went back to the visitor center and walked a kilometer or 2 to the trail.
This trail walks along the river and it’s pretty easy and scenic though we didn’t finish it as we wanted to do another trail.
We got lucky again and caught the bus without waiting long and went to Swallow Grotto trail. It walks along the cliff edge and not for those afraid of heights. The view of the holes on the sides of the gorge are fascinating.
They say you need a hard hat for falling rocks, but….if a rock was going to fall, I don’t think a simple plastic helmet will help….anyways, I saw no rocks falling.
On the way back, we ended up talking to this one Canadian. He made me laugh only in the sense that he was not interested in me at all and focused all his attention and questions on my dad. I mean, whatever floats your boat, but some questions I was only able to answer.
Moving on, one of the big things to try is squid. So, we found a stall that was selling squid in a form that didn’t look like a squid and had different flavors. This took a bit of time as most of the stalls sell the squid in its form on a stick, which just didn’t look appealing. However, either way, it was a bit cold and really rubbery (classic squid texture). I wouldn’t recommend it as there are so many other interesting street foods, but that is an option.
We had separate flights due to booking at separate times, which meant that we were at different terminals. It was funny because Dad had to go through a real passport control with stamp while I just did finger prints. Also, my contact solution was 125 ml and not the allowed 100 ml so I got pulled over, but they let me pass with it anyways.
Taiwan is also known for being a huge fan of Hello Kitty and their airline, Eva Airways, has a special plane dedicated to Hello Kitty (like the meals and accessories are all Hello Kitty (of course extra cost)). However, if I remember correctly, Hello Kitty was created in Japan.
This being said, I look forward to going back to Taiwan and exploring the other places I missed.
In the meanwhile, if you have other tips for Taiwan, let me know!
See you later!