When my parents told me they were going to Vietnam & Taiwan during Winter 2014 and asked if I wanted to go, I wasn’t sure if I could make it. Because Anthony & I already take some time off once a year for our annual vacation, I felt bad asking Ant’s mom to come in and cover for me. Anthony & I came up with a compromise where we could each take 3 weeks off and our moms would come in to work with one of us. We are truly the luckiest kids ever to have such amazing moms. Without them, our days off and vacations would not be possible.
With that said, I left to Asia for 3 weeks at the beginning of January. We spent some time in Vietnam (look for a post later on this trip report!) and made our way to Taiwan where we spent 5 days there (technically 4 since the last day was spent traveling back to HCMC). With not much time to spare, we covered quite a bit of ground while there because we booked a tour via Saigon Tourist in HCMC. I am not a fan of tours but my parents love that they don’t have to worry about where to eat, directions, booking hotels, etc so I just went along.
If you know me or have read my blog posts, I am completely type A when it comes to trip planning. It felt nice for once to not have to worry about a single thing. Everything was planned and scheduled. It was time for someone to take care of me! 🙂
We flew into Taiwan Taoyuan Int’l Airport from Tan Son Nhat Int’l airport early. Once we arrived, we had the opportunity to exchange some USD for NTD (New Taiwan Dollar). I usually avoid exchanging money at the airport because the rates are always bad but unsure of when our next opportunity would be, I did it anyway. The group got onto the charter bus and we headed straight for Taipei101. We spent some time on our own and went up to the top to check out the views at night. They also had a jewelry shop upstairs along with coral displays.
By the time we had finished exploring Taipei101 it was time for dinner! We made our way to a taiwanese style hot pot place for our 1st meal in Taiwan. The broth was fragrant & delicious especially because it was cold outside. We each got our own individual hot pot to enjoy. There was a buffet of items where we could choose what we wanted to put in our soup. There were various kinds of meats, meat/fish balls, noodles, veggies and dumplings. There was another station to mix your own sauce. It was such a filling and first meal.
After dinner we made our way to the first night market of many on our itinerary! This one was the Shijian Night Market. From the outside, it didn’t look busy. There were some groups and young crowds mingling and walking around. The party didn’t start until we got inside! It was packed underground with locals and tourists munching on fried snacks, sipping bubble tea, enjoying noodles and so much more. It was filled with food stalls upon food stalls. Unfortunately already full from dinner, all I wanted was some bubble tea! We also went upstairs to shop for some souvenirs. I picked up a couple of quirky tees for my brother & Anthony.
We went to our hotel after the night market and everyone passed out after a long day.
In the morning we woke up early for a traditional taiwanese breakfast of congee and sides! It was a lot tastier than I was expecting and my dad was in pure heaven. He grew up eating congee and it’s one of his favorite foods. I’ve never seen anyone eat so much congee until I saw my dad at breakfast that morning! My favorite toppings were the bean curds and this stir fried tofu that was sweet and savory. They also had steamed buns to accompany the congee which was moist and slightly sweet. For my drink of choice I had fresh steamed soy milk made in-house and a cup of hot milk tea.
We were back on the charter bus by 8:00am to make our way to Yehliu Geopark located in Wanli. Here we saw natural rock formations that were formed as the Datun Mountain was pushed out of the sea. We put our imaginations into play and I personally saw hearts, whales tales, mushrooms and even seahorses!
We enjoyed a seafood lunch at a restaurant located right next to the park. After lunch, our next stop was to watch the changing of the guards at Chih Nan Temple.
The changing of the guards was about a 30 minute activity before we made our way to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. We enjoyed some free time to go upstairs to the shrine, the museum downstairs and browse some of the shops.
For dinner we had fresh seafood, ham hock prepared in soy sauce, sticky rice with dried shrimp, salad, rice and a couple of stir-fried dishes. Dinner was plenty and delicious though I wish there were more meat dishes.
After dinner we were taken back to the hotel to call it a night. The hotel was located next to a small night market with a name that I can’t remember. Although tired we decided to go anyway to find some snacks to try. Walking to the night market was quite a journey. The street was small with no real walkway for pedestrians and cars were just zooming by. It was also windy and cold Prior to leaving for the trip Anthony told me they had good fried chicken so I was on a mission to find some. I picked up some bubble tea and went to the busiest chicken stand I could find at the market. It didn’t disappoint! The chicken was crispy and flavorful with the fried basil and five spice seasoning which I love.
In the morning, we woke up early again for a congee breakfast before we set out to Sun Moon Lake. We lucked out with weather because it was clear skies & sunny so we didn’t need our jackets once out of the shade. The water sparkled and it was a beautiful day to go on a boat ride! We took a boat from the dock to an island where we had local cuisine of different seafoods prepared in many ways, watched a tribal dance and learned some history about the indigenous people.
After lunch we left Sun Moon Lake to visit the Wen Wu Temple which was an hour or two away. The view right outside of the temple entrance was amazing and really peaceful.
After the Wen Wu Temple, we made our way to a tea factory to learn how about how it is grown, cultivated and distributed. We got to sample some green tea and oolong tea before purchasing some. Here, I picked up some green tea similar to matcha green tea powder to bring home.
For dinner that evening we had steak served on individual grills with a side of spaghetti. It reminded me of something you’d find at a hong kong style cafe. We had our choice of garlic or pepper gravy. It was fatty, flavorful and filling! After an early dinner we retreated to the hotel in Taichung where we relaxed a bit before going to yet another night market! The walk was shorter and this night market called the Fengjia Night Market had the most people I’d seen out the entire trip thus far. It was bigger with more shopping, souvenirs, food and bubble tea! I shared a black milk tea with tapioca with my dad. Still full from dinner we decided what the heck, we’re in Taiwan so why not just stuff ourselves with even more food? We opted for some fried shrimp cake and did not regret it one bit.
We spent about an hour and a half walking around, snacking, drinking tea and enjoying the evening with locals. Unlike Seattle where it gets quiet and dark after 8pm, Taichung was lively with what seemed like the entire city population out and about in every corner and alley.
In the morning we had breakfast at the hotel which provided the usual fare like congee and sides, eggs, ham, pastries, buns and fresh soy milk! We headed out early for a long road trip ahead from Taichung to Kaoshiung. After a few hours on the road we stopped for another seafood lunch that consisted of 7 courses of seafood. It was a tasty lunch with the seafood prepared in ways (steamed, stir-fried, deep-fried and broiled). I was already missing meat at this point after the many, many seafood dishes we’d had in the last few days. Outside of the restaurant, a vendor was selling locally grown wax apples which I had never had before. We sampled a piece and oh my! It was sweet, crunchy and so juicy I ended up buying a couple of pounds to enjoy on the road.
After our long journey and what felt like 10 hours on the charter bus we finally made it to our next tourist destination. We made it to 1 of 2 temples scheduled for the day. Scorching hot outside, we peeled off our layers before roaming around the Fu Guang Shan Temple where we paid our respects to the giant gold Buddha. We strolled through the gardens and a couple of the memorial halls.
After the Fu Guang Shan Temple, we got back on the charter bus for a 10 minute ride to the newest and grandest temple called the Buddha Memorial Center. It was one of the biggest Buddhist Temples I’d ever seen even compared to the ones in Vietnam, China and Thailand. It was spectacular and huge! We got 1.5 hours to walk around and take in the views. We spent some time taking photos in the “courtyard” or “center” of the Memorial Center. On this day, I wore my Marshawn Lynch (#24) Seahawks Jersey to represent the hawks as they were playing against the 49’ers. Although I couldn’t watch the game live, I wanted to show some 12th man spirit by wearing my jersey and representing our team!
On the way back to the charter bus with about half an hour left of free time to go to our next destination spot, we stopped by a vendor selling what smelled like waffle cones. We followed the crowd lined up to try cartwheel pies filled with taro, red bean or custard. It was so popular the wait was a good 20 minutes just to pick up some to go. We waited and originally wanting to try taro, they had sold out so we opted for the custard cartwheel pie. Although it looked & smelled scrumptious, it tasted like a blander version of a cream puff. I’m glad I tried it but would probably not get it again.
Full from our mediocre snack I rested on the charter bus until we made it to our last tourist destination of the trip. Our driver parked in the lot and we made our way to Shoushan National Park where we got to walk through a lion and out of a dragon (or is it walk through a dragon and out of a lion?). I forget the Vietnamese saying but it means something special. We also got to enjoy beautiful water views of a bridge filled with lanterns leading to an ancient Chinese-looking house as well as a few different pagodas.
After a long day of exploring we were starving and ready to eat. We made our way into the city where we had hot pot in a setting like during the imperial times when emperors ruled China. The broth was specially prepared daily in a process that took 8 hours to get the absolute full max. flavor of the spices. We were given individual servings of veggies and tofu and shared a big plate of thinly sliced pork and beef as well as a large plate of shellfish. The meal was hearty and the broth excellent. Although our 1st meal of the trip was individual hot pot, it only made sense that we end with our last meal with hot pot! It’s one of my favorite kinds of food so I was a happy camper :). After dinner, I checked the score of the NFC Championship game where the Seahawks played the 49ers for a spot in the Superbowl and found out WE WON! What a great end to a long day.
That evening after getting to the hotel, we were exhausted from such a long and eventful day that we decided to pass on the night market which was about a 15 minute walk through dark alleys and a bridge from the hotel.
In the morning, we woke up early to make our way to the airport to head back to HCMC, Vietnam. We had a quick breakfast on the charter bus that consisted of a green tea box and sweet buns. After going through customs & immigration we had some time to kill before boarding the plane. Disappointed about not getting bubble tea the night before (that would’ve been my 4th cup in a row), I was determined to have one more milk tea cup before leaving Taiwan. I found some at the airport and paid a premium for a 12oz cup that cost me $3.50 ($$$ for Taiwan since the large 16-20oz cups were $1 or less). What outrageous pricing but I paid anyway and enjoyed every sip to the last drop of my tea. We made it to Vietnam in the early afternoon around 1:00pm.
Overall, I had a nice time in Taiwan! Although we only spent 4 full days there and were jipped the last day I felt like we got to see and do a lot. It was mostly go-go-go which I don’t always like when I’m on vacation, but this time I didn’t mind. We started in northern Taiwan where we arrived and made our way all the way to southern Taiwan where we departed. We got to do all of the major touristy things, sample different cuisines from different regions and had lots of free time.
My only two complaints would be not having time on the last day to do anything since our flight was so early and spending too much time traveling from one city to another. To balance the negatives, we had a sweet tour guide who was knowledgable about most of the sights and was lenient about free time. She was organized and friendly. I would recommend Saigon Tourist Tour Agency to anyone looking to travel to another Asian country from Vietnam. They do a great job!
If I had to describe Taiwan in 3 words:
Delectable: There were restaurants and cafes everywhere even in small cities that you would consider “the boonies” here. The foods cooked from the tiny little street vendors at the night market all looked good with lots of local delicacies and int’l fare. It seems like you could literally eat your way through the entire country starting from the North to South to get to know Taiwan better.
Old-charm (is this considered one word?): We got to see the new and modern side of the country as well as the old world charm with both being unique, Especially with the two temples so close together the Fu Guang Shan being the old and the new being the Buddha Memorial Center being the replacement for the old.
Pleasant: I was relaxed the entire trip and there is something for everyone in Taiwan. The people were friendly (those in the city and the indigenous people in the “remote” areas), the service was always good no matter where we went and everyone was always smiling. The air was and is clean and they stress the importance of recycling.