Hello, everyone! You may or may not know that I spent two weeks in Asia last month. We spent about a week in Taiwan, and a week in Hong Kong. My parents are from Hong Kong and it wasn’t my first time visiting the city, but it was my first time in Taiwan. Today’s post is specifically about our time in Taiwan. We were there for about 6 fulls days and we stayed in Taipei, which is the capital city. If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t know much about Taiwan. There’s definitely a lot of controversy in terms of the political status of Taiwan and whether or not they should belong to China – I can’t pretend to be an expert on the matter, but I do know that the Taiwanese people are very passionate about this topic. As a tourist, I do think Taiwan is very uniquely Taiwan, and nothing at all like the cities I’ve been to in China, nor like Hong Kong!
The hotel we stayed in was called Just Sleep Ximending, and we loved this hotel. Not only was it clean and comfortable, but we liked the layout of the bathrooms, which had the toilet, sink, and showers separated so that my husband could use one while I could use the other. It was also a super convenient location: a five-minute walk to Ximen Station and about a 10 minute walk to Taipei Main Station, which is a major hub station. In terms of entertainment, it was a five minute walk to Ximen Night Market, which is a bustling attraction in Taipei.
The official language of Taiwan is Mandarin, although I found that you can get around with English fairly well. My mom speaks conversational Mandarin but is not completely fluent, and while that helped a great deal, we would have been fine without that extra skill. All signs have English in it, and most people in the service industry can speak basic English.
The most convenient way to get around Taipei is to use the Taipei Metro System (MRT). The MRT system only has five lines, which are dictated by different colours (red, green, blue, brown, and yellow), so I found it very straightforward to use. You can buy single tickets, but it’s much easier to purchase a pass called the Easycard, which you can fill with money at the counters or machines inside the MRT stations, and then refill as you use the funds up.
ACTIVITIES INSIDE TAIPEI
I love gondolas because they always offer up a really beautiful view of the city, and we all really enjoyed this one. When you get to the top, there are a bunch of teahouses. It seemed like most people just go to a teahouse and then go back down. We ended up exploring the area a little, but to be honest we didn’t find anything all that interesting. I would still recommend this, though!
Every city has its own tourist-attraction tower, and Taipei 101 is Taipei’s version. The base of Taipei 101 is an ultra-luxury mall filled with brands like Louis Vuitton, Prada, Chanel, etc, etc. As we were walking around the mall, I was like “uhhh are we in the right place? How do we get to the entrance of the tower?” To go up the Taipei 101, you actually have to go to the top level of the mall. To be honest, I don’t love going up towers because I find them overpriced and more or less all the same, but I really enjoyed this. We got to the tower at around 4:30, so we got to see the sunset, which was beautiful.
Taipei is famous for its night markets, which are supposed to be some of the best in the world. There are dozens across the city that are open every night from 4pm until about midnight or 1am – the nightlife there is incredible! Yes, you will encounter large crowds, particularly at the bigger markets, but it’s just par for the course. The night markets have random stalls like clothing stalls and cellphone case stalls, but most importantly – FOOD STALLS! The most famous night markets are arguably Shilin Night Market, Raohe Night Market. Our favourites were Shilin (the largest) and Raohe, because the selection of food is better than the other markets.
My favourite foods that I tried were Taiwanese specialties. Notable favourites were the peanut and ice cream roll. The street vendor would shave off some candied peanuts from this huge block onto what looks like a burrito wrap, then add two scoops of lime and coconut ice cream and a sprig of cilantro. It sounds disgusting, but it’s so refreshing and different.
Another favourite was the hujiao bing, or Taiwanese Pepper Bun. It is a baked bun filled with peppered pork, scallion, and soy sauce. The bun is crispy and flaky on the outside, and full of flavour on the inside. This was soooo delicious – I could have eaten 10 of these, but wanted to try other things, too.
Of course, in the birthplace of bubble tea, you must get some bubble tea. At one of the night markets, I found this one bubble tea place where the storefront looks like a temple, so that drew me in. We just bought the traditional Taiwanese Milk Tea but with brown sugar pearls, and it was so delicious!
Some of the other memorable meals we had:
Xiao long bao, a Taiwanese specialty that is a pork dumpling filled with soup that you typically dip into vinegar. We had this at Din Tai Fung, which is a famous xiao long bao restaurant founded in Taipei. They now have branches across the world, but we’ve heard it’s still best in Taiwan! Be careful biting into it, because hot soup will squirt out! We had this one xiao long bao that was filled with truffle, and it was so delicious.
On our last day, we decided to do all-you-can-eat hot pot at a place called Mala Hot Pot. Hot Pot is a Chinese meal where you keep a simmering pot of soup stock at the table, and you grab all of your raw ingredients and cook it at the table. The one we wanted to go to needed to be booked a few weeks in advance, but this one looked really promising too. It was by far our best meal in Taiwan! Not only was the hot pot good, but more importantly, they had unlimited desset – I had about 9 scoops of different flavoured ice cream, as well as a few slices of cake! Definitely overindulged during this meal, but it was well worth it!
ACTIVITIES OUTSIDE TAIPEI
We actually found that there wasn’t much to do during the day in Taipei, especially in the mornings, as most places don’t open until 11am. This is why we did several day trips during the day, and then came back to Taipei to enjoy the night markets in the evening.
On our second day in Taiwan, we took a day trip out to the charming towns of Shifen and Jiufen. It’s common to visit both of these places together in one day, with most people going to Shifen first, since it’s closer to Taipei, then continuing to Jiufen, before travelling back home to Taiwan.
Travelling To and From Shifen and Jiufen
To get to Shifen, you need to start at Taipei Main Station and use your Easycard to take the train to Ruifang Station. From Ruifang Station, you get off the train and transfer onto the Pingxi Small Railway train all the way to Shifen Station.
To get to Jiufen from Shifen, you can’t actually go straight from one town to the other. You have to leave Jiufen and head back to Ruifang Station. Once you arrive at the station, you’ll need to exit the station. At this point, you will be facing a Wellcome convenience store. Turn to the left, away from the Wellcome store, and walk about 2 blocks down. At one point, there will be a police station (you’ll see it in English), and there will be a bus stop right in front of the police station. Take bus numbers #788, #827, or #1062 from this station right to Jiufen – be sure to take the one in front of the police station and not across from the police station, as that one will take you back to Taipei.
Shifen was once a coal-mining town in the 1920’s. Once you arrive in Shifen and get off the train, you are immediately bombarded with food stalls and shops selling lanterns on both sides of the train track. You can purchase lanterns for 100-200 NT (New Taiwanese dollars), depending on how many colours you want on the lantern – each colour represents something different, like health, love, wealth, etc. They give you ink and a brush to write your hopes and wishes onto the lantern, and then you let these lanterns go up into the sky on the train tracks. When a train comes, there are people working the tracks that blow their whistle and the hundreds of people will run off the tracks until the trains pass!
Another major attraction in Shifen is the beautiful Shifen Waterfall. It’s a bit of a trek – maybe the walk felt longer than it actually is because we were going at a more leisurely pace since my parents were with me, but the walk was so worth it:
Jiufen used to be a Japanese gold-mining town, but is now a destination known for its narrow alleyways filled with teahouses. This is supposedly the inspiration behind the setting of Hayao Mizuki’s animation Spirited Away. Not only is this place pictureseque, but it’s full of winding streets packed full of food stalls.
Jiufen reminded my husband and me a lot of Positano – a mountain town with beautiful hilltop views and narrow, winding streets packed shoulder-to-shoulder with tourists. These busy, narrow streets are called Jiufen Old Street, and it was super fun to peruse the of the stores here looking for all sorts of food to eat, but it would have been a lot more enjoyable without the crazy amount of people propelling you forward. I mean, just look at the crowd:
I had a bunch of things on my list of food I wanted to try in Jiufen, but I realized that a lot of these foods were available at the street markets in Taipei too, so there was no pressure to try everything in Jiufen. I was pretty full at the time, so this is the only thing that I tried:
A massive cream puff from a bakery called Misty. They have a bunch of different flavours, but I’m a traditional gal when it comes to cream puffs. It was filled with so much cream, and I stuffed it all in my face!
On one of our last days in Taiwan, we decided to head to Yehliu Geopark. This place was beyond incredible! I’ve always thought of Taiwan as a city with lots of buildings and concrete, so seeing a place like this was so unexpected. The geopark is a landscape of rocks that have been eroded and shaped by the sea. It reminds me of the hoodoos here in Alberta, but by the coast. Not only were the rocks interesting to look at, but the water and the sky were crazy blue. The pictures below were not edited at all!
And that is it! If you’ve been to Taiwan, what were things you liked there?