All fun in Taiwan

July 05, 2019 Travel

A few months ago, AirAsia launched pop-up stalls around Metro Manila. Some lucky MRT commuters, shoppers, and milk-tea lovers got a taste of extremely low fares. Roundtrip tickets to domestic and international destinations were sold for as low as the price of an MRT ticket, grocery items, and milk tea.

My friend Ailene happened to be in SM Megamall when AirAsia held a promotion at Gong Cha, and she was one of the few who was able to purchase return tickets to an international destination for the price of a milk tea. 

Since her birthday was coming up, she decided to book a ticket to where else but the milk tea capital of the world: Taiwan. 

I am not really a fan of milk tea, but Taiwan seemed to be an interesting choice, and I could not think of a much better time to visit Taiwan than during Ailene’s birthday trip. 

Taiwan was not really a destination at the top of my bucket list. Somehow, none of the images that could lure me to visit this island nation had made its way to me. It was only after Googling to prepare for this trip that I realized there is so much to see — gorges, geoparks, forests, and so many other distinct landscapes. 

After a few hours in Taiwan, I was already impressed by what I saw on our way to our AirBNB accommodation located in Ximending, Taiwan’s hip shopping district. There’s efficient train system, wide roads, open spaces, and lots of trees. These are things we only dream about in Manila.  

We decided to devote most of our days taking advantage of its train system and just explore Taipei, its capital. The rain was persistent, and we didn’t think we would be enjoying an outdoor adventure in that weather.

We visited Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, a historical landmark in Taiwan erected in honor of former President of the Republic of China; Huashan 1914 Creative Park, a cultural events hub that houses exhibitions, installations, and performances, built from a former winery; and Shilin Night Market, Taiwan’s largest and most popular marketplace.

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall
Huashan 1914 Creative Park
Shilin Night Market

In Shilin, we got to sample its famed stinky tofu, which is what its name describes: a fermented tofu with strong, not-so-pleasant odor. It was surprisingly tasty.

We also spotted some stinky tofu stalls in Ximending, but we decided to try other street food offerings. There were lots of hits and misses, but overall, we were satisfied. We also took the opportunity to try brown sugar milk tea in its land of birth. 

I think the only time I had coffee in Taipei was in Huashan 1914 Creative Park. That place really calls for coffee, to quiet down oneself after a full hour (or more) of sensory overload. Plus, there was also a free concert near the coffee shop.  

We also spent a few hours visiting outdoor shops at the corner of Zhong Shan North Road and Zhong Xiao East Road, and we also lined up at Chia Te, Taiwan’s specialty shop that sells what they say are the best Pineapple Cakes in Taiwan. I was hoping to get its equally famous salted egg yolk pasty, but they ran out during our visit.

All of our nights were spent in Ximending. The hub just had too much to offer, aside from street food. There were rubber shoes on bargain, and we couldn’t resist. We also found excellent goose noodle soup near our AirBNB and had lunch there twice. I also tried one of Taiwan’s exports to Manila: HotStar Fried Chicken. 

Well, we couldn’t really be in Taiwan and not go to its most iconic landmark. So, we also went to see Taipei 101 up close, but did not go up any further. We just looked at the mall. 

We thought the best way to appreciate it was from a good vantage point, so we hiked up the elephant trail to have a good look at what was once the world’s tallest building. 

It was near sunset when we did this and only a few hours before our flight. But the sweat and panting were all worth it. The trail was a bit crowded, and the line to its most Instagrammed spot, one of the six giant boulders on the trail, was full. We didn’t want to risk missing our flight. 

But that was not the only good nature trip we had in Taiwan. We rode the Maokong Gondola scenic cable car to the mountain to visit Maokong, a quaint village known for its locally grown teas. Of course, along the way, we got to enjoy picturesque views, especially when we rode in the crystal cabins, which are glass-bottomed.

We also booked a tour with KKDay that took us to the Northeast part of Taiwan. It is, I think, one of the most popular tour packages available.

We visited the town of Jiufen, the town said to inspire Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, and I still have to read about that. All I know is that people flock to this place for a photo of the popular tea house. We also went to Shifen, where tourists come to release sky lanterns. That activity, we had to forego, and just contented ourselves with photos of the sky lanterns. 

What I enjoyed most in this tour were our brief visits at Yehliu Geopark and Shifen Waterfalls.

Yehliu features unique geological formations in a cape, stretching around 1,700 meters long. The formations were products of thousands of years of geological movements.

Shifen Waterfalls is located 30 minutes away from Shifen Old Streets. It is a 40-metre waterfall that creates a rainbow as it splashes into the lake. 

It felt like we visited very few spots in Taipei, and we spent only 4 days there, but I experienced enough to really like it. It was all fun.My inner flaneur really appreciated the city’s walkability. My body also thanked me for registering more than double the recommended daily steps.

On our last day, before we left the district we’d called home for four days, there was a parade of young Taiwanese people offering free hugs. I couldn’t help but indulge them, as a way of saying “thank you” for all the fun we had in their homeland.

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