I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, but this is what my travels looked like in those two weeks. To Seoul, to Taipei, to Taichung, to Sun Moon Lake, to Tainan, back to Taipei, to Hong Kong, to Taipei, to Jiufen, to Keelung, to Taipei…. Phew! Especially for a first time solo traveler, this was a lot to pack into that time period!
Let’s start back in Hong Kong. From my hostel, I took the airport shuttle bus. My flight was the red eye, which meant a night in terminals. With all of my souvenirs, my luggage had expanded quite a bit! I had to purchase an extra bag to check in. In fact, I had nearly tripled my load. I had started with the one backpack, and now had my duffel bag, and the extra one full of mugs, books, and oatmeal.
Once I’d checked in, I had some of the famous fish ball soup and Horlicks for dinner. I know-classic combination.
Then it was time for the flight, behind three very giggly early 2o-somethings. Good for them for being so excited at midnight to fly economy. Not sure if the mother and son next to me appreciated their excessive reclining though!
We arrived at one thirty in the morning. At that point, I was feeling okay, but quickly degraded as the night wore on. A very kind man working at the airport suggested I camp out on the third floor, where the restaurants are. While they were all closed until seven, the seating was more comfortable.
I wound up doing pilates on the floor, which was very flattering when a bunch of Korean guys decided to camp out on the third floor as well. Hello, strange sweaty foreigner. Oh, you speak Korean?…this is awkward. Really, they were fine, and had a much easier time sleeping than me. It’s strange no matter who catches you mid jumping jack.
Eventually, I made myself comfy in one of the breastfeeding stalls in the diaper changing room. Thank goodness I’m female, because I could at least pretend I’d misplaced my baby if someone found me. This is my new travel hack. They have hot water, wipes, and chargers there. I made myself some tea and charged my devices, before putting a shirt over my head and conking out. If I ever have another red eye flight, I’m going to the diaper changing room!
The buses finally opened up at six in the morning, so I headed for Taipei. This week, I was staying in one hostel in New Taipei(Sleep Taipei), which was such a relief! The place was reasonably priced, and I met some of the best people there. If you are considering staying here, know that they do not provide towels as a service! Bring your own or pay extra.
They did not allow for check ins until three in the afternoon, but let me drop off my bags. While I was waiting, I found a nice cafe to have lunch.
When I was able to check in, I met one of the wonderful women I was sharing the room with, Sammie. She gave me some tips about what to see, so I headed out with my camera.
Lin Family Mansion and Garden
Right next to my hostel was the lovely Lin Family Mansion and Gardens. It’s the most complete example of Chinese garden architecture in Taiwan, and had been on my bucket list even before I arrived in the country. As usual, it was raining when I arrived, but I think it added to the beauty of the place.
The stone mountains are replicas of the mountains from the Lin’s hometown in China. They wanted to bring a bit of home to their new residence. Really, it’s not very old-dating back to 1847, but it’s still a bit of Taiwanese history. Worth a visit!
Eslite 24 Hour Bookstore
Afterwards, I was still in groggy traveler mode, having skipped the sleeping pill because of the red eye flight. I could have gone adventuring to some strange sights, but I wanted comfort after the awkward night in the airport. Taipei has a 24 hour bookstore. This was another destination I’d researched before my trip.
It’s an easy walk from the subway station, and well worth a visit. As expected, there are less English language books than at the Hong Kong Eslite, but there were still plenty of magazines. I bought several craft magazines and a very cute sketchbook/planner, and settled myself in the cafe for dinner. There I sat with a cross stitch sampler and listened to the other customers go about their business.
Then it was time to head back to New Taipei for an early night in. Before I went to bed, I made of list of everything I wanted to see the next day and mapped out how to get there. So glad I took this step, because it made the second day stress free, and like I had actually accomplished something.
Inadvertently, I met the other woman who was sharing the room with me while my contacts were out. Whoops! I blearily walked past her, took my sleeping pills, and became blissfully unconscious.
Fu Hang Dou Jiang(Taiwanese Breakfast)
Fu Hang Dou Jiang is known as the best breakfast spot in Taipei. On the advice of others, I got there early and took my place in line. It goes very fast, as they’ve streamlined the process, and you can watch them at work while you wait.
I ordered the flat sesame bread with egg and the sweet soy milk. Word of warning-don’t drink the last bit of soy milk. All of the sugar dredges have settled down there to haunt you! It’s pretty tasty until those last few sips. As for the flatbread, delicious!
I went back again the next day and tried the more crepe like breakfast option and the savory soy milk. The crepe was pretty good, although not as nice as the flatbread. I could do without the savory soy milk. Sorry, but soy sauce and soy milk don’t mix too well.
Shandao Temple is right across the street from Fu Hang Dou Jiang. This was probably my favorite temple because the decoration is very minimalist compared to other temples,and there were very few visitors-all very respectful. It was nice to take a few moments to enjoy the quiet and place an offering on the table before heading to my next destination.
Taipei Botanical Garden
The Taipei Botanical Garden is great place to go for a peaceful walk. Admission is free, and the rain really complemented the path. It’s right next to the History Museum as well, if you want to make a day of it. I had a really nice time exploring the area for an afternoon.
There are aquatic gardens, edibles, and then native plants to look at while you enjoy the quiet.
If you’ve ever been to Taiwan or researched the food scene at all, I’m sure you’ve come across pineapple cake. Sunny Hills is known for having the best pineapple cake in Taipei! If you go the bakery in Taipei, you are seated and offered a complementary pineapple cake with green tea. When I went, I was under the impression this was a cafe. Yet, there is no place to pay for your single cake. Instead, you can buy some of the tea or a package of cakes.
I bought the cakes to take back for my co workers. The cakes come in a nice cloth bag, which I kept for myself. It’s one of the souvenirs I can take with me everywhere to remind me of Taiwan!
As for the cakes, they taste very similar to jam thumbprint cookies, but larger. Very good, and also very familiar to me.
Ribansyo Tea Room
Ribansyo Tea Room is another one of those locations that had me eager to set off for Taiwan. It’s an old Japanese temple that’s been converted into a tea room! It’s a bit pricey, but one of the staff took the time to explain Japanese tea ceremony practices to me,and showed me the proper way to brew and pour Japanese green tea. Well worth it, in my opinion!
In fact, I’d really love to go back here. It’s a wonderful place to go at night, as you can see from the outdoor lighting. The staff refilled my teapot at least three times before the leaves lost their flavor. It took me nearly that long to perfect their method of pouring the tea from one cup to another, while avoiding a burn!
Shilin Night Market
I capped off my day by heading to the most famous night market in Taipei- Shilin Night Market. This place was crazy compared to the other markets I visited. It’s also a ways away from the center of the city.
While I didn’t get a picture of it, I had my favorite snack at the market-black sesame cookies. Black sesame paste is wrapped in a crispy rice flour coating, and covered in more sesame seeds. Black sesame paste is so addictive! The package I got came with four cookies; and by the time I had walked through the whole market, I had finished them all.
When I returned to the hostel, Sammie ordered snacks for us to try, and I finally met the other woman properly, Fanni. She mentioned she was going to Jiufen the next day, and I asked if I could tag along. I’m so glad she let me stick with her, as I’d been debating whether I wanted to take the train to Jiufen after all of my travels the previous week!
We took the morning train after breakfasting at Fu Hang Dong Jiang once more. This was when I tried the other options from their menu.
From Taipei Main Station, we took a train up the the Jiufen area, and then a bus up to Jiufen itself.
Jiufen is the area that inspired Hayao Miyazaki to write the story for Spirited Away. I think it may have been a bit different when he visited over ten years ago, because it’s quite touristy! You can still get some great photos, but Fanni and I passed through Jiufen Old Street fairly quickly without even realizing it. We then hiked to the other side of town, looking for Jiufen, not knowing we had already walked through it!
I don’t regret it though, because I took some of my favorite pictures here and had a wonderful time being silly with Fanni! The tombs are a much more interesting sight than Old Street in my opinion, and there were no other tourists!
The rain was probably the reason for that, but it was no deterrent for us!
Sneaky, sneaky Old Street…
After some more exploring, we hiked up Keelung Mountain. Fanni was used to hiking, but it had been a while since I’d gone up so many stairs! It was a good workout, and a great time with a new friend. I think my face says it all.
Afterwards, we stopped for tea. Feeling a bit adventurous, we ordered Salted Plumb tea. And because we are also a bit wary, some Earl Grey just in case.
The Earl Grey was a good idea. Salted plumb is…interesting. Certainly an acquired taste. I kept drinking it, but Fanni eventually said, “You know, it’s okay to leave it.” Ha! My face must have not shown utter delight.
I was told I NEEDED to go to Keelung, which is a short busride from Jiufen, and try the spring rolls. Sammi confirmed that the food is amazing at the market in Keelung, so we headed off. She also told us to try an ice cream spring roll, and a few other snacks. Unfortunately, most of the stalls were closed for the rainy season, but we did find the spring roll. It was very tasty, although I’d still say black sesame paste tops it! Nothing beats black sesame paste(except for pumpkin, blueberries, oatmeal, and fish tacos).
Afterwards, we took the bus back to Jiufen to hike up Keelung mountain once more for he night photos. It was still raining, and there are no lights up the path, so I was a big baby and stayed at the lowest tier. Fanni, who is not as cowardly as me, went up to get the best photos.
We returned with snacks for Sammie. Again, tired, but happy.
This was my last day to hang out with Fanni, as she was headed down to Kaohsiung to visit another friend in the mid-afternoon.
Longshan Temple is probably the most famous temple in Taipei. Not much more to say about it, except that Fanni noticed the sort of offerings people were leaving-modern packaged snacks, along with fruit. You can even buy snacks at the front of the temple to leave as an offering. It’s always a bit bizarre when the modern world meets tradition.
Afterwards, we headed to the Red House to see if they were selling Qipao(traditional Chinese dresses). I love to buy a special garment from each country I visit, but we couldn’t find any in the area. The interior has been converted into artists stalls, which were really lovely to look through.
Next time, I need to make buying a qipao a priority!
For lunch, we headed to Modern Toilet, a poop themed restaurant in another university area.
Surprisingly, the food is pretty good! I ordered the green curry, and Fanni got a hot pot. Each meal comes with drink and dessert, which of course, comes in a tiny urinal.
After a visit to a cute cafe, it was time for Fanni to head onto more travels. I missed her company, but enjoyed getting dinner with Sammie later that day. We got hot pot- another Taiwanese specialty. I love how much you can customize your dish with spices and vegetables. Sammie was so sweet and helpful! I needed to ship some of my gifts to my family in order to lighten my load, and she promised to help me find a post office in the morning.
In the morning, we headed to the post office, but they were only accepting cash. Well, I was out, having put way too much on my transportation card(I still have the card, which has about $40 USD on it). Still, I couldn’t have done any of that without Sammie.
We also went to the supermarket to buy more oatmeal and tea for me to bring back. Yes, this is what I bring back from my exotic travels!
She also helped me pack the collection of mugs I bought my family, and stood with me for more than half an hour at the bus stop. Because the bus was late, she called the bus company to see what the problem was. It turns out, it was a national holiday, and EVERYONE was getting out of town. Oh well.
Seriously though, she and Fanni made my last week so amazing!
There were many things I didn’t manage to pack into my trip. If I get a chance to visit Taiwan again, I’d like to spend more time in Taipei and see more of the university areas. I really enjoyed what I saw of those spots! The National Palace Museum was another location left on my list. It’s a ways away from the city, and there just wasn’t enough time to pack it in. I also really want to go back to the south. Besides my time hanging out with Fanni and Sammie(and I chalk that up to the company 🙂 ), this was my most enjoyable experience in Taiwan.
- Pharmaceuticals aren’t a sign of weakness. If you need to take pain killer or use a sleep aid for a short time, it’s okay. The first portion of my trip would have been much more enjoyable if I had realized this earlier. On a related note, I’m getting older. My late 20’s have arrived, and there’s no more dancing around all night and feeling a little groggy in the morning. It’s time to change my habits.
- For me, solo travel is nice; but traveling with good company is far better. When I had someone to chat with, or just go on crazy adventures, my time became much more enjoyable. Naturally outgoing people may have less of a struggle forming connections at hostels, and running about together. Sometimes, you have to suck it up and ask someone if you can join them for a day or two. They just might want some company as well.
- Exploring one area in great detail is preferable to seeing many places for a short while. On my next travels, I plan to stay in one location and really get to know the city. Maybe a few day trips if it works out okay, but nothing crazy like this! Rome2rio guesstimates my travel time was around 36 hours. 3 days of planes, trains, and automobiles! More walking and photo taking, less commuting.
- Your vacation is yours alone. It’s nice to get suggestions from others about what to see and do, but it’s also okay to disregard it. If you don’t like laying on a beach, watching the sunset, and drinking tequila(Sounds boring. Yes, I’m nuts), then you don’t have to. If you’d rather run around dingy alleyways, take photos, and eat oatmeal(life goals here), that’s a perfectly acceptable way to spend your time.
Whew! This was certainly a long post, but it’s the last of the winter holiday ramblings! Hope you enjoyed!