the Beautiful Isle, ni hao Taiwan!

Taiwan, formerly known as Formosa, is an enigma to a lot of travelers including myself. It was underrated in a sense that a lot of people are asking me before I went, “What will you do there?”, “What will you see in Taiwan?”, and even amusing questions like, “Are you going to see F4?” or “Are you there to eat stinky tofu?”. I just told them, “I’m not sure either, we’ll see”. Well, the funny thing is I also have no clue on what and how to answer them as this trip was just one of my impulsive decisions when my friend asked me to go with her. I started my research months before our trip and that was the time I discovered how beautiful the country is. My colleagues also gave me a thumbs up on visiting Taiwan as they’ve been there before and  I was really getting excited each day on what should I expect to see there. And Taiwan never failed me. Not only I was surprised on how wonderful the country is, I was also humbled on the fact that I’m just really a small speck in this world and that I can only appreciate how enormous, captivating and mind-blowing God’s creation is.

Oh well, it turned out to be an extraordinary and unexpected adventure, a beautiful memory that I will surely treasure!

This write-up will be a long one, again, so bear with me if you want to see how we managed to go around Taiwan in 7 days. Actually our flight was booked from Feb 25 to Mar 4, 2016 (9 days), however, we just traveled on the first and last days to and fro Taiwan. I will also try to put the summary at the end on how much we spent there from air fare to the last shopping spree we did. Actually, this is my second time I’m celebrating my birthday overseas (the first one was last year when I started working in SG). Maybe I will have my birthday trip yearly and make this a tradition, we’ll see 😀

**First things first, the three of us were Filipinos and we cannot really speak Mandarin/ Taiwanese (except for Mich that’s why we still have a little hope because she knows Hokkien and is familiar with Chinese characters :D) And I can say that the struggle is real in order to find a good English speaker in the area. You may target students or officials or the visitor information offices in each cities for inquiries in case you get lost. Secondly, some of the directions in the train or bus stations don’t have English translation especially in Hualien and Taichung, thus, you must really research on where do you want to go and ask help from your hotel desk to write names/address in Mandarin for you. Third, some taxi drivers are repulsive and may not pick you up if you don’t have an address written in Mandarin. Bring with you always the name card of your hotel with an address in Mandarin, this will be a good help. Good thing is, Taiwanese are very good-natured. They are really helpful and friendly even if you cannot sometimes grasp what they’re trying to say. Lastly, you might need a sim card, sure you don’t need it much for call and text but, you might need it to get online and research for something. Having an internet is a must and i say Taiwan’s cellular data network is quite good, and it will help you most of the time in navigating places. If you don’t want to buy a sim card, you may prefer to activate your own sim in any Visitor Information Center or even in the airport one you arrived to have a free access on iTaiwan public WiFi. Yes! they have free WiFi in public areas usually found in airports and MRT stations 🙂 Surely, it will help you not to get lost while you wander 🙂

1st day: Travel via TigerAir to Taoyuan International Airport T1 from Changi International Airport T2. Our flight was a bit rushed because me and Mich came directly from work after night shift and we only slept in the plane for 3 hours. We arrived in Taiwan around 4 pm. The immigration check were a bit slow and had a long queue. Anyway, since we have completed our documents, we didn’t have any problem. Note that for us, Philippine passport holders, we NEED to secure a visa to enter Taiwan as it is not part of the SE Asia countries anymore.

We met Kim at the airport since she arrived earlier, changed our money in the airport since there’s not a lot of money changers around the city (one may need to go to a bank in order to exchange, so better to exchange your money in the airport) and ate snacks at Subway (yes, we still enjoyed eating at Subway even if we’re in Taiwan already! haha) Finally, the three of us bought our tickets and boarded the bus going to Taichung. The travel time was around 2 hours and the bus fare was 240NT. It was already evening when we alighted at Taichung TRA station and we were greeted by the cold breeze (I was not ready and the jacket that I brought was not sufficient for atleast 12 to 18 deg C). Anyway, based on the direction given by our hotel, it was only 5mins away from the station. Luckily, we found the Chance Hotel easily and directly checked-in. The whole floor for the ladies backpackers area was so nice and clean. The common toilet and shower areas were also neat. I booked all our hotels/hostels via Agoda and they were all worth it. After settling our things, we walked around the area and found a mini restaurant selling beef noodles. And for all we know this was the start of our food journey to fatness (haha).

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clockwise: sea of clouds in my windowpane, our delicious beef noodles dinner, Taoyuan International Airport
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Chance Hotel, our home fot 2 nights in Taichung

2nd day: Without a good itinerary in Taichung and just some rough plans, we decided to go to Sun Moon Lake and Alisan for the rest of our stay. On the blog that I read, SML and Alisan can be done in one whole day trip. We looked for the Nantou Bus Terminal which would take us to Sun Moon Lake then we will go by train/bus to Alisan after. However, when we reached Sun Moon Lake, we were taken aback that there’s no train to Alisan and we need to go back to Taichung >> board train to Chiayi >> then bus to Alisan. The express bus from SML to Alisan has only one trip every day (ard 8am) according to the visitor information and unfortunately, we arrived at SML around 10 am. With nowhere to go, we decided to go around the area and booked a boat tour around the lake. There are a lot of tour package to choose from and luckily we met an auntie who sells the boat tour for only 150NT instead of 300NT. We were not really scared if it was a scam since she looks reliable. We boarded the boat at Shueishe Pier and went to the first stop at Syuanguang Temple. Oh by the way, during the whole tour we did not understand any information as the speaker only explains the details of the area in Mandarin. After alighting the boat, we then followed the trail going to the Syuanzang Temple, more photo stop and scenic trekking. Then we went back to the pier and boarded the boat to Itashao because we want to ride the cable car to the Formosan Aboriginal Village. We strolled around the area first, drank milk tea  and ate a lot of street food for our lunch before going to the cable car.  Upon reaching the reception desk for the cable car tickets, we realized that we are a bit too late and decided not to pursue due to time constraints on the bus timings.  We also did not do enough research in the area that we didn’t know that it has an amusement park inside.

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yummy street foods everywhere!
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Cherry Blossoms!

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One thing I like about Taiwan is the mountain ranges. I never get tired of looking in the sky which such beautiful scenery. We also enjoyed the cherry blossoms on our way to the cable car though it’s not yet fully bloomed, still, it was beautiful. It’s my first time to see these trees up close and it’s really pleasing to the eyes (how much more if it’s fully-bloomed already?). We went back to Taichung around 5pm then headed to Fengjia night market  where we met the talkative but friendly taxi driver.

**Anyway, I advise you to wear good shoes for trekking/hiking, ’cause most of the places may require you to hike or trek though most of it are easy trails, still, it’s better to have comfy shoes for your own good 🙂

3rd day: This was a bit disappointing day ’cause we did not manage to go to Alisan 😦 We woke up a little bit late, ate our breakfast and boarded the train (TRA) from Taichung to Chiayi (around 1hr 10min ride). The train and bus ride timings should really always be considered around the area, especially since Alisan is a bit far from Taichung. When we arrived at Chiayi, we noticed that the timings of the bus ride going to Alisan was a bit tight and if we continued to go. Although we can still manage to go there even with time constraints (and spend max 1 hour there), it’s still a risky decision since we already booked our train to Hualien in the evening. Nevertheless, we just decided to go around the town of Chiayi and found ourselves relaxing in a Japanese inspired restaurant in Hanoki Village. It was a bit struggling there because no one can speak proper English and mostly, the tourists in the area were Chinese. Before we went back to Taichung, we ate first at Thefreen burger, it was very cheap, the serving is large and it was really tasty! (for only 149 NT, you get a meal and a huge burger, how awesome is that?) Anyway, after arriving at Taichung, we checked-out from our hotel and boarded the 5hour-train ride to Hualien. We arrived at Formosa Backpackers Hostel around 1130pm. Even though the office hours is only until 10pm, the owner, who is very fluent in English, still gladly welcomed and accepted us. Good thing we called in earlier to inform her that we will arrive late.

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Going to Chiayi via TRA & tea time at Hanoki Village since we did not go to Alisan
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Chiayi City
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Hanoki Village at Chiayi, TRA Railway going back to Taichung

4th day:  Taroko Gorge day!! We started the day with great hope that this Hualien tour will be our redemption from yesterday’s misfortune. And yes! with all the beautiful scenery plus the perfect weather combination, our whole day trip was indeed awesome! Our contact, Mr. Tonny, was our English driver/tour guide/interpreter for the whole day. He was very accommodating and friendly man. We ate our breakfast in Mcdo near our hostel and then Tonny picked us up in our hostel around 9am. The whole tour was worth 3500NT for 3pax for 7-8 hour trip. Kim managed to contact him and asked for quotations while we’re still in SG as to booked him on our desired date in advance. The tour covers most of the scenic tourist spots in Hualien, check out the summary of our tour:

  • Quingshui Cliff – 1 of 10 wonders of Taiwan > photo stop
  • Shakadang Trail (our favorite trail! haha) – 50-70min trekking, depends on your pace
  • Lunch break at a local restaurant, good thing Tonny ordered in behalf of us!
  • Taroko Arch > photo stop
  • Swallow Grotto (the best scenic walk I’ve ever done!) -30-40min scenic walking, around 1.3km
  • Eternal Spring Shrine – 20-30min sightseeing
  • Chishingtan Beach – last stop, sightseeing and photo stop
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Qingshui Cliff
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with our friendly driver/tour guide/interpreter, Tonny!

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Shakadang Trail
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Taroko Arch
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Tunnel Entrance
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Hanging bridge

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the AWESOME Swallow Grotto
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Taroko Gorge’s Swallow Grotto, see the Chief Indian rock formation?
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Eternal Spring Shrine
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Cloudy afternoon at Chishingtan Beach

We did not managed to go Tianxiang scenic area and Baiyang waterfall trail since they were closed because of the rockfall in the area.

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Hualien Night Market!
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one of the lantern on display

After the tour we decided to go the the Lantern Festival, as suggested by Tonny, which was just beside the night market. We enjoyed eating street foods ‘cos there were a lot of choices and the food was really good and flavourful! After eating, we strolled around the grounds were the lanterns were displayed and finally decided to end the day by going back to our hostel. For me, this is the HIGHLIGHT of our trip, I still can’t get over how gorgeous Taroko Gorge is. 🙂

5th day: Our train to Taipei was very early (~0600am), and we managed to reach the train station by walking since it’s only 15min walk from our Hostel. It was a 2-hour trip to Taipei and a very unfortunate morning for me since I forgot my glass-blown pig figurine souvenir from Taichung in the train! (huhu) Anyway, we went to our hostel and left our luggage  since we cannot check in yet. We booked the hostel for two days. The place was a bit cramped and a bit different from what we expected based on the reviews in the booking site. In the end, we transferred to Go Sleep Hotel for the next two nights with Kim and TW Hostel for the remaining nights for me and Mich. Both hostels are located in Ximending area, and are walking distance to Ximen MRT Station. Without concrete itinerary for our first day in Taipei, we decided to go to Keelung. We learned there’s a lot of touristy spots there however, we became more interested in Jiufen. So from the Visitor Information in Keelung, we asked directions on how to go to Jiufen. We rode a bus to Jiufen and we used the easy card for this bus (note that easy card is like EZ-link in SG or Beep Card in PH where you can top-it up with certain amount for mrt and bus rides).

We reached Jiufen and we did not expect that it will be a very cold day. The wind literally chills up our spines and especially for me since I did not wear appropriate jacket (note also that we, from tropical countries, are not very fond of these cold weather hihi). Anyway, we walked inside the Old Juifen Street, it was a bit crowded during that day as it was holiday in Taiwan. The street is full of different stores from souvenir items to variety of street food. Nothing much to do there actually unless you go to other nearby places.

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Jiufen
Jiufen
Inside Jiufen Old Street

We didn’t stay for too long and we rode the next direct bus back to Taipei, if we had known that the Jiufen, Shifen and Pingxi can be done in one whole day maybe we had planned it like that though it will be a very tight schedule.

We strolled around Ximending area since there is a night market there. Taipei is one of the beautiful cities I’ve been to and it’s very lively especially at night. A lot of people are still out, strolling, shopping and eating street food with friends and family. I even saw little kids with their parents enjoying their food that they bought. After a whole day of walking, we decided to go back to GoSleep Hotel. On our way we saw “Enchong” (sorry, fan mode, he’s a local artist from Ph) and took a pic with him hehe. That ends our 5th day and last night with Kimmy.

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Ximending Area at night
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fan mode on with Enchong! 🙂

Day 6:  We planned to go around the city just by train because it’s easier and more convenient. So our first stop was the Chang Kai Shek Memorial Hall.The massive arch is incredible. The two buildings that we thought are temples are theaters instead, and the memorial hall in the middle houses the enormous statue of Chang Kai Shek. After going around the area, we decided to walk to the National Museum of History. Primarily because my mom said she wants me to buy her bookmarks like the one she bought before there, and secondly I’m really an art enthusiast and by going to museums, I know I can learn a lot and broaden my knowledge about the country’s culture and traditions. The museum has an entrance fee of 30NT for adults (non-citizen). Do check out their website for more info: National Museum of History. When we finished strolling around the museum we found ourselves hungry cos we haven’t eaten our lunch so we decided to stop over at Hello Kitty restaurant near Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT Station. It was a fancy restaurant however, since we came around 3pm, they only serve teas and cakes meaning no lunch for us! Do take note they will only serve meals around 11:30-2:00pm for lunch and 5pm onwards for dinner. Since we are already there we just ate dessert and went to our last stop for the day which was the Taipei 101 observatory deck.

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Chang Kai Shek Memorial Hall & National Museum of History
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at Hello Kitty Cafe

Unlike in the Petronas Tower, you can overstay in Taipei 101 observatory deck until their closing time and the time is really in your hands. We decided to wait for the sunset since we went up around 5pm. The observatory deck costs 500 NT. The elevator is so fast, traveling at 1,010 metres/min, we arrived safely on the 89th floor around 37 seconds.

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outside Taipei 101
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you can navigate around the 89th floor and see different parts of Taiwan
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overview of Taipei 101
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Taipei 101 mosaic
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wind damper that helps Taipei 101 to offset the force of wind and helps the building to stand upright, found in the 88th floor

Day 7: Kim’s last day in Taipei. We spent our morning in riding the Maokong Gondola cable car. If you are interested in different kinds of teas, Maokong is a must visit. The cable car ride costs 120NT from Taipei Zoo Station, and we just topped up our easycards since it can be used for the ride. See this link for more details about Maokong Gondola fares. Anyway, we rode the crystal cabin since the price is just the same as the regular cabins (though the queue is a bit longer). The view is not really extraordinary compared to Hongkong’s Ngong Pin 360 but you’ll surely see the overview of the Taipei Skyline. At the top, you’ll see different stores selling variety of tea in cute packages. We don’t really have so much time left to roam around Taipei Zoo (yes, we did not see any panda 😦 ) so we went down again and catch the train back to the city.

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Maokong Gondola ride

We went back to Ximending and searched for the Modern Toilet Restaurant. Luckily, we spotted it right on and ate a sumptuous amount of food. For me, the food is just average, but the ambiance is really like a toilet minus the smell and germs :p  The food was served in a small toilet bowl, and the chocolate ice cream dessert was nice and very light (but presented as a poop which I find very cute).

After eating, we sent off Kim to the West Bus station for the express bus going to Taoyuan Int’l Airport. Having no plans, again, me and Mich decided to go Elephant mountain trail (aka Nangang District trail). We’re not prepared on the steepness of that mountain! The Elephant mountain is walking distance to Taipei 101 but via train, you can just board the red line going to Xiangshan (terminal station), leave from Exit 2 and just walk following the path of the park  (you can see signs along the way going to the trail). We arrived at the top after 20-30mins since  we had some stops along the way. We even saw one Taiwanese actor on our way up, Darren Wang (Talu Wang), whom I did not have the courage to ask for a picture and I regret it so much (haha fan girl, again!). Anyway, we descended after taking photos. We did not wait for the sunset anymore because we already enjoyed that in Taipei 101. We went back to Taipei 101 in search of the GU store as suggested by our colleague, haha and alas! we found it after going around the area and shopped for some clothes, then went back to our new hostel, TW hostel in Ximending area again.

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at the top of Elephant mountain trail
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silhouette of Taipei skyline

Day 8: Penultimate stop for us. From Ximen station, we boarded the MRT to Taipei Main Station.  We boarded the local TRA to Ruifang with the use of easycard, and from there we rode the train on Pingxi Railway to Shifen and Pingxi. We bought the one day pass which costs 80NT as suggested by other blogs so you can hop-in and hop-out on different stations. Shifen and Pingxi are known for their old streets and the famous Pingxi Railway. My colleague actually reminded me to visit there since I saw the movie “Apple in your Eye” which was shoot in Pingxi (the feels, ah yes! I love watching different genre of movies!).

We decided to go to Pingxi first since it’s farther than Shifen. Note the train timings in the station since the train will only arrive every 1 hour so plan your tour accordingly in order not to miss the train. We toured around Pingxi, it’s not very crowded that morning.We went to the Japanese Occupation Period bomb shelter, took pictures then back to the old street. The store where we brought our souvenirs has a very nice auntie and although she does not speak English a lot, she gladly assisted us in choosing the lanterns. We also bought some postcards which are quite unique from the souvenir items that we bought before. I also don’t want to miss the opportunity to light up a lantern so even around noon, we bought, painted our wishes and let our lantern flew in the sky. It was a nice experience and the auntie who assisted us was really an expert in taking photos (haha, no blurred images).

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Train Pingxi Railway
Pingxi
one day pass, train schedule, Shifen and Pingxi stations
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Pingxi Old Street
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Japanese Bomb Shelter
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souvenir lanterns with different wishes in Chinese characters
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Pingxi Railway
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we released a lantern bearing all wonderful wishes hoping these will all come true 🙂

We boarded the 1:30pm train going back to Shifen. The place was a bit crowded with tourists compared to Pingxi. Anyway, we crossed first the Jingan suspension bridge, then walked towards Shifen waterfall. From the station to the waterfalls, walking all the way may take you 45mins.

Around 4:30 we caught the train back to Ruifang then back to Ximen. We decided to rest early since our flight the next day was around 9am (day 9) and we still need to go to work after we arrive (yeah, we’re a bit workaholic :p).

And basically, this is the end of our mini adventure. Oh by the way, here are some useful links where I based out itinerary. This websites are really useful and helpful for first time visitors in Taiwan (actually you can find everything you want in Google):

Guide to Taipei – Roundtaiwan – Lonely Planet – Tripadvisor

And this is the rough estimate of my travel expenses:

totalexpenses

*so the estimated total expenses I incurred for the whole trip was roughly 28,000 NT. If converted to SGD and PHP, around S$1200 and 40k Php, respectively.*

I think this can still be minimize as you can see, I bought some unnecessary things there (hehe). I also forgot to mention the Visa fee of around S$65. You can also notice that we spent mostly on transportation and hostels as we went to Taichung, Hualien, Taipei and New Taipei City (Shifen, Jiufen, Keelung, Pingxi) without hitchhiking or couchsurfing for 9days in Taiwan.

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The world is full of ‘what ifs’ so I’m on my journey of seeing and exploring where my life can take me. Every single good thing in the world is worth trying. 🎡📸✈️

3 thoughts on “the Beautiful Isle, ni hao Taiwan!

    1. Hello. Thanks for the comment. Actually, it’s 28k NT not in peso. Around 40k php. 😁 i put the conversion in sgd and php beside the total amount. My bad, i forgot to put the currency. Anyway, i really tried to minimize my budget, however due to the fact that we travelled 3 major cities and i bought some other ‘items’, i exceeded my initial estimate. I hope this clarifies everything, good day! 😁

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