TAIWAN: The Walking Travel (SEPTEMBER 2014)
Another fulfilling solo backpacking trip to be grateful for! I will never forget Taiwan because I will always remember this trip as THE WALKING TRAVEL. I walked a lot! If I was wearing a fit bug, I think it would record around 50,000+ steps because that is what it felt like!
Philippine Passport Holders need to apply for a visa to enter Taiwan. For the requirements, please go to Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the Philippines website.
Special Case: VISA FREE ONLY IF Philippine Passport Holders possess a valid visa issued by USA, Canada, Japan, UK, Schengen countries, Australia, or New Zealand. You only need to print an authorization certificate from niaspeedy.immigration.gov.tw/nia_southeast
TAIWAN is very interesting. There are a lot of tourists but unlike Bangkok, there are more Chinese tourists than westerners so it was harder for me. The locals do not put much effort into learning/speaking English so I had to really make an effort to communicate. Good thing I learned some basic mandarin phrases that helped me get through to some of the locals. There are a lot of good looking guys in Taipei. I didn’t expect this because I was expecting the common Chinese everywhere but some really looked like Filipinos, typically good looking Asians – lots of beautiful girls too.
TAIWAN TAOYUAN INT’L AIRPORT
I did not really get to explore the airport that much because my flights to and from Manila were both red eye so the shops and restaurants were closed. Lady at the immigration looked at my VISA twice carefully to check the security mark and asked me if it was my first time in Taipei. Signs were very efficient as I quickly found the bus station to the city.
The walking travel started the night I arrived in Taipei because I got lost. I had to walk around the vicinity of Zhang Xiao road so much just to find my hostel. I read the maps wrong and some locals I asked gave me wrong directions.
The next morning, I strained my muscle thigh. Every step I took with my left foot, my thigh muscle would hurt a lot! I did not want to waste my time and I had a full itinerary to accomplish. I told myself that I had to endure the pain to reap the rewards and experience of this trip. So 90% of my walking, I was limping. You could just imagine the faces I was getting from the locals. But I persevered and it was very fulfilling for me. The hardest part was when there were stairs that I had to climb or go down from. I had to squeeze my thigh with my hand just to numb it during the duration of the flight of stairs. High stairs, Scorching hot sun, Muscle Strain = I wanted to cry during those moments.
I stayed at Green World Hostel. It is located in the heart of Taipei City. It is a 1 minute walk from Zhang Xiao Dunhua MRT station. It was my first time to stay at a hostel. I shared a room with 9 other girls – all Asians (Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian, etc.). The hostel had a common room [where there is free water and coffee, an internet station, bean bags to chill or watch television, dining area where you can eat and plan your day], a shared bath room [where there are organized stalls of toilets, showers, sinks], front desk and a travel information hub. You are given one bed, a comforter, one pillow and a cabinet [one where in you have to bring your own lock].
All of my roommates were backpackers as well. Surprisingly, some were just my age or younger. It was really exhilarating to see people younger than me doing these kinds of things which motivates me more to travel young, getting out of my comfort zone, and just keep exploring.
Asians are very reserved, when I tried to communicate with some of them, they just answered my questions and I felt there was no effort to communicate back. At one point, I experienced a culture shift because the Japanese girls at the left end of the room wanted to use the heater, while the Chinese girls at the other end of the room wanted to use the aircon. Good thing, I was in the middle of the room – so basically the temperature I was in was warm.
Transportation in Taipei is very easy as the city really puts an effort in organizing this. You can avail easy cards at the information centers of the MRT which can be used for the MRT and bus. I never rode a taxi during this travel as it costs a lot. All you need to do is research your destinations and check the possible modes of transportation you need. I took around 4 bus rides and around 10 MRT rides. I felt safe and it was all efficient from the transportation to the signs to the easy card to everything. Some rides that I took:
Citi Airbus 1960 [to & from Taiwan Taoyuan Int’l Airport]
MRT Zhangxiao Dunhua – Taipei Main Station – Beitou
MRT Beitou – Xinbeitou
MRT Xinbeitou – Beitou – Shilin
Bus 235 to National Palace Museum (round trip)
MRT Shilin – Taipei Main Station – Chang-kai Shek Memorial Hall
MRT Chang-kai Shek Memorial Hall – Taipei 101
MRT Zhangxiao Dunhua – Taipei Main Station – Shilin (round trip)
MRT Zhangxiao Dunhua – Ximen (round trip)
MRT Zhangxiao Dunhua – City Hall
For my 1st and last day in Taiwan, I decided to make my own itinerary in exploring the popular tourist spots, meaning I did not avail any tour packages. I planned out everything. I used public transportation, I walked a lot, and I asked a lot of questions to reach the places I needed to go to. This for me, is how you backpack – Exploring the unknown never really knowing what might happen or where you end up. I got lost lots of times and it was such a learning experience.
BEITOU THERMAL VALLEY
This was a long walk! Given my strained muscle thigh, this was the hardest walk I experienced during this travel. It was so hot too! But it was all worth it! When I saw the thermal valley, it was so beautiful. It feels like a sauna when you get close to it but it was really majestic. The water was very clear and the smoke coming from the water was breathtaking.
*TIP: The Beitou Thermal Valley is a long walk from the train station. Just follow the signs and keep walking. It is free! Along the way, you will pass by thermal spas and the owners will tell you that THAT IS THE BEITOU THERMAL VALLEY, don’t believe them. They just want you to pay a fee and bathe in their spas.
NATIONAL PALACE MUSEUM
This is where I saw the most tourists! Buses and buses of Chinese tourists! The outside facade seemed very historical but the inside of the museum felt like a mall. This museum houses a vast collection of Chinese artifacts. When exploring the place, I was suddenly brought back to my Asian history classes during high school. It was an honor to be around thousands of years of history. I only stayed for an hour because of my full itinerary but on an average to really know ALL the information of the displays, it would take 3 hours and I didn’t have the time. It was 3 floors of Chinese history and numerous rooms per floor.
CHANG-KAI SHEK MEMORIAL HALL
THIS IS MY FAVORITE PLACE IN TAIPEI. The pictures I posted will never be enough to draw the feeling that I experienced at this place. When I got out of the MRT station, I saw an orange temple. I knew that this wasn’t the memorial hall. In that moment, I felt that I was going to see something spectacular and at the end of the curve, I felt that I was going to see something amazing.
And I did! I felt like I was sent back to another time – like I was in a Chinese dynasty movie like Mulan. I have never felt that feeling before when you can just sense history taking place in a moment. I did not mind the heat. I just walked in the middle towards the memorial hall just taking in the place I was in. I knew that moments like these were rare so I made the most out of it.
Seeing the high set of stairs, I forgot about the pain in my thigh and just kept going. The view was amazing. Looking out, I felt like I was the emperor about to announce something life changing. I know it may seem like I am overreacting but I am not. These are moments where YOU just had to be there. When I was about to leave the place, I even walked backwards just to see the memorial hall in the last few moments I was there because I knew I would not be back anytime soon. Amazing, amazing place!
Another tourist destination! The mall inside was very grand – lots of high end shops and restaurants. Falling in line for the elevator ride to the observatory takes around 20 minutes. Literally, the fastest elevator in the world – It took us only 40 seconds to reach the 88th floor! My ears clogged – the feeling you get when you’re already in Baguio coming from the bottom of the mountain.
When I reached the top, of course, there were a lot of tourists. The view was exhilarating. You could almost see the whole Taipei city. I just stared at the view for around 10 minutes, it was really beautiful. I explored around to see what else can be found, of course there was a gift shop, there’s also a jewelry store, cafe, a big gold dome and fire exits to the outside observatory deck.
Going down, we had to ride the fastest elevator again. It was really great and how I wished the elevator would be this fast at my workplace.
I did not stay long at the top because I had to catch my reservation at Din Tai Fung for lunch at the basement floor of Taipei 101. This was my first meal of the day. I only drank water in the morning and started my itinerary already because I wanted to savor this late lunch. Din Tai Fung is a popular Chinese restaurant around Asia. It has been awarded 1 Michelin star for its Xiao Long Bao. True enough, this was the best Xiao Long Bao I have ever tasted, the wrapper was so thin and the filling was very delicious. It does not stop there. I also ate the best SIOPAO (taro buns) here. The bread was just so soft and tasteful. I have never eaten a good SIOPAO like that before. I was really grateful to have eaten here.
SUN YAT SEN MEMORIAL HALL
I was getting really tired and I knew I had a night market to explore. I just passed by this place. From Taipei 101, I had to walk around 20 minutes to get to this memorial hall. When I arrived, I just took pictures – nothing extravagant, just a hall and a statue. After taking pictures, I had to walk around 10 more minutes to get to my hostel and freshen up.
While walking, I just took in the city – locals riding their bikes, employees handing out flyers of their establishments, long lines at popular dessert places. At that moment, it hit me hard that I was in another country, that this was truly an accomplishment to be proud of. I said to myself, “Wow, I’m really here. I’m in Taiwan. I’ve visited all these places”. The moment was very overwhelming.
SHILIN NIGHT MARKET
Shilin night market is a cross between Mercato and Greenhills. There were a lot of food stalls and shops. They were selling the typical stuff – clothes, key chains, toys.
For the food, I’ve researched that one must try the oyster cake, chicken chops, stinky tofu, and orange juice. As much as I wanted to, I was still full from my late lunch at Din Tai Fung so I just observed how these were made, people lining up, and buying these items.
After walking and observing for an hour, I finally decided to buy the Takoyaki Balls and Orange-Lemon juice. These were really good and very fresh. I was a little tired so I decided to rest a little at a nearby KFC which meant that I had to buy something. I told my sister that whenever I would go to another country and eat at a fast food restaurant, I would buy the item that we don’t have in the Philippines and in this case, KFC had egg tarts. The egg tarts were really delicious. The filo pastry was baked to perfection and the filling was really creamy.
Ximending is a cross between Greenhills and the Fort High Street. At the starting point you would feel like you were in New York or Tokyo as it similarly depicts a Times Square-ish vibe. There were lots of high end shops and food stalls.
There are 3 popular themed restaurants in Taipei – Hello Kitty, Modern Toilet and Barbie Cafe. As Barbie cafe was the closest one to my hostel, I decided to eat here. People were very pretty, designs were beautiful and the dessert was great. Communication was really hard as they really did not understand English. I talked in English but they kept on replying in Mandarin. How could I possibly understand that? It was an experience though.
For gifts that I brought back home, I bought pineapple and other cakes at Jiufen and Sunchen bakery. I also bought some sweets from Sophisica chocolates at Ximending. I also got my family some take out from Din Tai Fung. I do not really like to shop and buy stuff, I’m more for the travel experience so I just researched the best things to buy for loved ones and that’s it.
SHARED TOURS IN TAIWAN
For my 2nd day in Taiwan, I availed travel tour packages from Edison Travel Company. I joined the public tours so that I would get to meet other tourists like me. The public tours are relatively cheaper and more convenient and I highly suggest this company when you decide to take some tours outside of Taipei. They’re very efficient from inquiry to delivery. orientaltravel.com/China/Taiwan.htm
NORTHERN COAST TOUR (MORNING)
CHUNG CHENG PARK – KEELUNG HARBOR – YEHLIU PARK
I really liked my morning tour because our guide, BON, was very active and funny. Throughout the duration of our trip, he just kept on talking and talking about Taipei and all its wonderful history and facts. He really praised me for getting out of my comfort zone and going on adventures. I was the youngest tourist during the morning tour so he was really surprised. I met a business woman, a doctor and a couple from France, Portugal and Germany. I decided to try something different.
Aside from mingling a bit with them, I asked them any advice they could give a 24 year old like me on life. And I really got some interesting feedback. It was an opportunity to learn from foreigners and I took the chance to ask questions. We went to a temple, harbor and park.
The Yehliu Park was a popular tourist destination. The rocks that you would see here would make you feel like you were in a different planet. Imagination is key at Yehliu park as you visualize different images of the rocks that you see that would make the place more fun and interesting.
NORTHEAST COAST TOUR (AFTERNOON)
PITOU CAPE – NANYA ROCK FORMATIONS – BAY OF TWO COLORS – JIUFEN VILLAGE
For my afternoon tour, our tour guide was KC. He was more of the serious type. I met some girls from UK and found out that they are on an Asian tour. They were older than me so the topics were mainly of business travel and work. The best view during this tour was the Nanya Rock formations, seeing the royal blue sea complementing the flesh rocks was really amazing. I don’t get to see majestic views like this every so I appreciated it as much as I can.
Jiufen Village was a destination I was really looking forward to as it depicts a part of Taipei history. This village was for the miners of gold and copper.
During the 70s, they were very poor that they used tar as their means to create the roof of their homes. I saw some houses that still have the tar. As I was walking the streets of Jiufen, I could not really feel the way the miners lived at the time as the place has been turned into a tourist destination [where they turned miners’ homes into food stalls and gift shops].
Minor infrastructures at the time were restored a little the roofs, theaters, streets but due to the high volume of people, cramped space and small views, I could not really appreciate the history that took place here but grateful nevertheless of the history and walking experience. The chance to be in a place where people endured a lot of pain and gained a lot of strength is always a rewarding place to be.
I was really grateful for these experiences during my Taiwan trip:
(1) Rode the fastest passenger elevator in the world
(2) Saw one of the tallest buildings in the world
(3) Stayed at a backpacker’s hostel group room
(4) Ate at a Michelin star restaurant in another country
(5) Ate at a themed restaurant
Here are some of the realizations that my grateful Taiwan travel taught me:
(1) Make a good impression. During my 2nd day, I met a lot of tourists. Some of them haven’t met any Filipinos before. How you act towards them somehow gives them a perspective of what kind of people Filipinos are. Promote tourism in our country by marketing the best places to go to in the Philippines. It may just be words said at the time, but when these tourists get the chance to go to the Philippines, I’m sure that a % of what you said can be taken into account.
(2) Endure pain to reap a rewarding experience.
(3) Anything can be budgeted. If you are given the option of spending less, take it.
(4) Be grateful for any travel experience.
(5) Make the most out of every place you are in because you never know when you will come back.
I would like to THANK all those who helped me accomplish my itinerary. I’m very grateful for all the information you shared with me. They helped me a lot!
I am very grateful for the money that I paid for these amazing travel blessings:
|Cebu Pacific Flight||P3,168.49|
|Accommodation – Green World Hostel (3 nights)||P3,006.93|
|National Palace Museum||P364+|
|Taipei 101 Observatory||P656+|
|Northern Coast Tour (Shared Tour) – Edison Travel Service||P1,750+|
|Northeast Cost Tour (Shared Tour) – Edison Travel Service||P1,896+|
Transportation (Bus and Train)