Taiwan was a revelation. Those I know who have visited have always told me to come for the food, but little did I know that there’s so much more to the country than it’s gastronomical enticements. The Taiwanese were also voted as the the world’s friendliest country to travel in 2017 and we couldn’t be more excited to find out.
VISA-FREE FOR TAIWAN
Great news because Filipinos can now enter Taiwan visa-free with the recent grant of the Taiwanese government for a trial period of 9 months (Nov 1, 2017- July 31, 2018). For Filipinos who never considered visiting, now is a good chance for the curious tourists and the casual explorers to experience the country historically touted as “Bastion of the Snow and Sea People” or much simply, La Iiha Fermosa or “The Beautiful Island.”
Freedom Plaza / Chiang Kai Shek Memorial. It’s almost a given that going to see Taipei 101 and dining @ the night markets is a staple for any Taiwan visit, but gosh, seeing Chiang Kai Shek Memorial @ the Freedom Plaza blew me away! Officially known as “Liberty Square”, the CKS Memorial Hall was built in honor of the Republic Chinese General Chiang Kai Shek and is a prominent Landmark and national monument. It is absolutely glorious and makes me think about how much they revered their former Leader.
YangMingShan National Park. Even though the weather was not very cooperative on the day of our scheduled hike to YangMingshan, our trip was made memorable as we personally witnessed the longest-lasting rainbow ever recorded recognized by the Guiness Book of Records! That’s right, we were there that day in Yangmingshan when this HUGE double rainbow decided to show-up and stay for 8 HOURS! That’s right ~ from the moment we were still on the bus ride up to the time we stepped out to explore the park! We feel so lucky and blessed to have witnessed this record-breaking phenomenon. It just makes me more determined to conquer Yangmingshan and do our intended hike on a future visit!
YongKang Street Tagged mainly as a foodie daytime hot-spot, we came here with one goal – to have a taste of their famed Mango Shaved Ice. But if you’re not enticed by this cold dessert, there are many other choices to explore along this food-lover’s destination.
Raohe Night Market / Ximending Night Market Taipei offers many night markets, but if you could only visit one or two, these two are easy choices. Ximending Night Market ~ because they are right in the city and is easy to reach. Raohe Night Market for the variety of street food that they offer and for Pasalubong & souvenir shopping.
Jiufen Old Street Made popular by the Japanese, Oscar nominated (and won) animated film Spirited Away, this tourist hotspot is exactly what it is, a tourist hotspot. When we went there, there were probably about 10,000 other visitors (not really sure but that’s how it felt like!) and it doesn’t help that it was drizzling the entire time! What we imagined was a quaint, laid-back, tea-drinking experience to cap our tiring Friday night but boy were we mistaken. Far from relaxing, we spent most of our stay here lined-up, trudging and pushing against other tourists, wet, tired and wrapped in wrinkled raincoats while navigating it’s very narrow streets which seems to get narrower with every turn. If you do intend to come, make sure to plan your visit on a weekday (or a week night). We are still hoping that one day we get to come back and experience Jiufen differently!
Maokong Gondola & Maokong Tea House Not originally part of our planned itinerary, riding the Maokong Gondola was a pleasant surprise. My first Gondola ride was in Hakone (Japan) and I guess I expected something similar. The main difference is the length of this ride! The gondola ride is approximately 4 Km and it’s about 20 minutes per way. It felt really longgggg and thought it would never end. Not recommended if you have fear of heights but it’s a great experience if you want to conquer it. The views are astonishing! Don’t miss it! At the end of the ride, you can enjoy hanging out in one of the tea houses in Maokong. What caught are curiousity, though, is not tea, but something else!
Xinshe Castle Since there is nothing like this in the Philippines, I chose to include this in our itinerary though most say that it’s too expensive. We loved it! Xinshe castle is a European style castle with absolutely picturesque wide-open grounds, curated gardens and definitely, highly instagrammable points of interests! This hot-spot features a nice Koi pond (or is that a lake?) with gigantic Koi’s (biggest I’ve seen. monsters, really) which seemed capable of biting off your finger if you dared dip it on the waters, lol. We went in autumn, I can only imagine how it is during Spring.
ZhongShe Flower Market Did I mention instagrammable? Bath in a colorful sea of flowers and other man-made ‘flower monuments’ and picture yourself to your heart’s content. Not fond of photos? This park is worth it for the sight-seeing alone. It’s nice to visit with friends and loved ones. One word: BEAUTIFUL.
Rainbow Village An art installation located a few minutes from central Taichung, Rainbow village is a collection of 11 houses (used to be a war veterans housing complex) painted by a former soldier who refused to sell his house when big developers began buying the ageing properties . His artworks began when, being the only person left in the village, he got bored and painted his home then eventually, his neighbor’s abandoned houses. This spot is a nice-side trip. And of course, bring your cameras! 🌈 (See Full Blog Post Here)
Dajia Mazu Temple If you’re going to visit one temple in Taichung (or Taiwan, for that matter), make it this temple. Also known as the Dajia Jenn Lann temple, the Mazu temple is a place of worship devoted to the Chinese Sea Goddess, Mazu. Our friendly tour-guide, Shoun, was kind enough to bring us to this marvelous temple after we missed out on the Gaomei Wetlands. It was an experience we will never forget.
TAIWAN IS A MILK•TEA LOVER’S PARADISE
One of the best thing I loved about Taiwan is how much they love their milk tea! Milk tea is much, much cheaper here and they are almost available at every corner! Some stores are selling it at half the normal price in the Philippines and they all taste delicious! We probably lost count of how many times we bought milk-tea and even took photos whenever we get the chance. The average price of Milk tea is 30-40 NTD, which is about 65-80 Pesos and that’s already LARGE sized.
SUGGESTED TAIWAN 6-DAY ITINERARY
We were able to accomplish around 80% of our planned itinerary. Our day 2 in Taipei suddenly took a different turn as the sudden heavy downpours went against our plans to hike Mt. Qixing in YangMingShan. We had a plan B of visiting the famed Calla Lilies of Zhu Zi Hu but that went kaput as well when we inadvertently rode the wrong bus (it was the correct bus but going the opposite direction! lol). That brought us at an earlier time to the Beitou Hotsprings and it still gave us enough time to travel across the city and check out the Maokong Gondola ride, which was not included in our original plan. Similarly in our Taichung leg, we missed out on visiting the Gaomei Wetlands (famed for their windmills by the sea) due to time constraints. That missed spot instead gave us the opportunity to visit the Daija Mazu Sea Goddess temple, which was quite an experience.
DAY 1: Taipei Proper
Landed early morning: Taoyuan Airport to Taipei Main Station • Check in hostel • Taipei 101 • Taipei City Hall • Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall • ZhongShan Park • YongKang Street (Foodie Destination, The Smoothie House etc) • ChiangKaiShek Memorial • Ximending Night Market
DAY 2: North Taipei
YangMingShan National Park • Beitou Thermal Valley • Beitou Hot Springs • Maokong Gondola • Maokong Tea House • Raohe Night Market
DAY 3: West Taipei
Yehliu Geological park • Shifen Station (Lantern Watching) • Houton Cat Village • Nanya Rock Formation • Yin~Yang Sea • Golden Waterfalls • Jiufen Old Street (from the “Spirited Away” animated movie) • Taipei 101 @ night
DAY 4: Taichung
Taichung City • Rainbow Village • Xinshe Castle • Lavender Cottage • FengJia Night Market
DAY 5: Taichung
ZhongShe Flower Market • Gaomei Wetlands (missed) • Dajia Mazu Temple • Travel Back to Taipei
DAY 6: Taipei (no itinerary, wherever our feet took us)
Back to Taipei • National Museum • 228 Peace Memorial Park • The Presidential Office • Daan Forest Park • SongShou Square Park • Chianti Avenue Plaza • Evening flight. Bound to Manila
NOTE: I recommend spending 3 nights in Taipei and 2 nights in Taichung and travel directly to the airport to TaoYuan coming from Taichung (or vice-versa)
• Traveling from Taoyuan Airport to Taipei Main Station. The most convenient way to enter the city from the airport is the MRT, but since most budget airlines will have you arriving in Taiwan at the wee hours of the morning, the Airport MRT is not yet open. Riding a taxi or a bus is the only option (unless someone is picking you up) but we opted to ride the bus as it is the cheapest way to get into the city from the airport. Kuo-Kuang Bus 1819 is the bus to look for. After immigration, just follow the signs “bus to city” and buy a ticket which costs 125 NTD (around 212 php per way) using an Easycard Pass. The bus service is open 24 hours and the travel time is around 40-50 minutes.
• Buying an Easycard Pass. You can easily purchase an Easycard Pass which costs 500 NTD (100 for the card – which you can keep – plus 400 monetary load) at any 7-11 convenience store (there is one at the airport!), or you can opt to purchase them from their own dispensing machines which is available at the airport. Personally, I recommend buying from 7-11 as the ticket vending machine poses quite a challenge operating and we didn’t have enough time to figure it out. You will need the Easycard Pass for the bus ride from the airport and it’s very convenient, just tap and go (much like our own reloadable bus and mrt cards here in the PH). You may also purchase Easycard Pass at any MRT train station.
• ATM Withdrawal. For this particular overseas trip, we opted to not exchange currency before leaving Manila and just withdraw in Taiwan upon arrival. We easily found an ATM Machine at the airport main lobby and there’s not much people cuing up to withdraw. Just make sure that your ATM account offers an international withdrawal feature and for BPI, we had to call the bank and have them authorized our accounts to activate this for the specific duration of our trip. Make sure to factor in International Withdrawal fees and your account’s daily withdrawal limit in order to manage your funds without any glitch.
• DIY: How to get to YangMingshan National Park. If you’re staying near the Taipei Main Station, take the bus 260 from the stop at the back of the station on Civic Blvd (East Exit/M2). Bus 260 brings you to the YangMingShan Bus Station (this is the terminal stop) where you can then find Bus 108. Bus 108 is the bus ride serving the inner areas of the park and it routes back to the same station where it started it’s route. Upon arriving in Yangmingshan and getting off at the last stop on bus 260, the 108 bus station is about 3 minutes on your right.
NOTE: If you’re planning to hike Yangmingshan (which we failed to do because of the weather!), there are various trails you can explore and I used this official site to get the information I needed.
• Convenient Car Rental. On our Day 3 (West Taipei) tour which covered popular tourist spots such as Jiufen Old Street, Shifen Station and Yehliu Geological Park, we opted to do car rental because it’s the most convenient and economical since it will be 4-pax sharing. You may reach out to this highly recommended car rental by a local Taiwanese who is really fond of Filipinos. Here is his Facebook Page.
For our Taichung leg, we rented another car to take us around our tour of the city to see Lavender Village, Xinshe Castle, ZhongShe Flower garden etc. You can reach him thru his email: firstname.lastname@example.org
WHERE TO STAY IN TAIPEI
We stayed in hostels all throughout our stay in Taiwan. I used Booking.com to look for the right fit for our travelling needs. That is:
A. Close to downtown/main transport
C. Value for money
Centrally located in the city and around 10-20 minutes walk from the Taipei Main station, Mr. Lobster’s Den Hostel offers free continental breakfast daily and free WiFi internet. The hostel is housed in an old building but don’t let that put you off, the interiors of this place is beautiful, clean, modern and well-maintained. “Insta-worthy” if I may add. We booked a room good for 4 people with shared bathroom.
Just a stone’s throw away from the National Museum and Peace Park, this hostel also offers free continental breakfast, wifi, and dorm accommodations. This hostel is much closer to walk to Ximending Night Market and I find their staff very friendly and accommodating. They also have a nice and homey rooftop lounge/common area which offers a slight view of Freedom Park.
WHERE TO STAY IN TAICHUNG
Around 10 minutes walk from the Taichung Railway Station, this 3-star hotel offers free breakfast, free wifi in common areas and modern amenities.
TAIWAN EXPENSES BREAKDOWN
As for most of my trips, we almost always go for DIY and stay at backpacker’s hostels to save on costs. For convenience sake and to be able to cover more places within a day, we grabbed car rental for our West Taipei tour and also for our Taichung tour.