So anyway, it was to be only a short 5 days trip, as I couldn't leave my kids too long. But this will be quite a long post, so bear with me as I share our 5 days itinerary here. We are not foodie people, and even though Taiwan has plenty of street food, we basically only indulged in fried chicken and bubble tea :) So for those who are reading this to discover food places, please don't be disappointed ya!
We arrived in Taipei around 2.30 pm local time (there is no time difference between Taiwan and Malaysia). Luggage came out quickly and we bought our tickets for the train (Taoyuan Airport MRT) which links the airport to the main MRT station in the city, Taipei Main Station. This train service only started in March this year, so we were quite fortunate, as otherwise we would have to take a taxi which would cost much more. As it is, the tickets cost 160 NTD per person (around RM23) and they were little purple tokens which looked like this:
Just remember to get on the express train and not the commuter train, otherwise there will be many stops along the way (the ticket price is the same). When we got to Taipei Main Station, we purchased the Taipei 5 day pass for 700 NTD (RM99) each, which would give us unlimited rides on the MRT and buses in the city. I did a calculation before we left, on how much it would cost us on the MRT based on our itinerary, and it was more worth it to get the pass. The pass also comes in other variations i.e. 1 day, 2 days, 3 days (maximum 5 days) so you can get the one which suits you best. Don't confuse the day pass with the EasyCard which requires a deposit upon purchase and then you top up the credit as you go along. If you are planning to take the MRT a lot, then the day pass is way more convenient as you don't have to top it up.
From Taipei Main Station, we got on the MRT to Ximen, which is only one stop away. We booked our accommodation at this hotel called Amba Taipei Ximending, which is located in Ximending. It is on top of the Eslite shopping complex on Wuchang Street, which is about a five-minute walk to Ximen Metro Station. It's not exactly right next to the metro station, but there are plenty to see and shop along the way, and there is a Starbucks, McDonald's and Family Mart just downstairs.
The hotel lobby is located on the 5th floor. This was the cafe and lobby area, quite hip and trendy.
We booked a medium twin room, and it was very spacious. We liked the minimalist design and open spaces. The toilet and shower were separated into two parts, and the sink was actually outside the toilet and shower areas.
The two twin beds which were pushed together were huge and comfortable, and I think it could easily fit my family of 5 in. There was also a flat screen TV attached to the wall opposite the beds.
Another cute thing about this hotel was that everything ended with "ba". So it was "kanba" (see) for the TV remote, "duba" (read) for the hotel information booklet, "saoba" (sweep) for cleaning the room. And even outside, we saw signs that had "wenba" (ask) for the reception, "chiba" (eat) for the restaurant etc etc, you get the point!
This was right below our hotel, on the busy pedestrian walk of Ximending.
After we had freshened up, it was time for our next stop. We took the MRT to Taipei 101 World Trade Centre and as we exited the metro station, this is what greeted us!
Truly an architectural marvel, Taipei 101 was once the world's tallest building until the Burj Khalifa in Dubai was completed in 2009. The famed Din Tai Fung has a branch at the base of Taipei 101 so we decided to have dinner there.
And this is what we saw! We almost turned away but then we realised that they were giving out table numbers according to the number of people in the group. So since we were only a group of 2, the numbers were going pretty quickly and in just about 15 minutes we managed to get a table, despite the huge crowd outside.
We were not disappointed with the food. Of course, no trip to Taipei is complete without having the "xiao long bao" which are dumplings filled with minced pork and piping hot soup! These were delicious and the service here was excellent, despite the restaurant and staff being so busy,
We then went up to the Taipei 101 Observatory. We had purchased the tickets online in advance via KKDay for RM73 per person, which I think is cheaper than purchasing them onsite. So anyway, we had to go to the 5th floor to exchange the voucher for our tickets, and then we were whisked up in the elevator to the 89th floor in a mere 37 seconds! If only my office lift was this fast lol. This also used to be the fastest elevator in the world until 2016, when the title was given to the elevator in the Shanghai Tower.
These were some of the views which we got from the 89th floor observatory. But we couldn't really take good pictures as the light was reflecting off the ceiling to floor glass windows. You can also walk up the stairs to the 90th floor where there is an outdoor observatory, but due to strong winds on that day, only half the outdoor observatory was open to public.
After we were done at Taipei 101, we took the MRT again to the famous Shilin Night Market which is diagonally across the road as we exit Jiantan Metro Station (not Shilin Metro Station). We are not really the type to shop at night markets (besides for food and souvenirs), but there was this one shop that really caught my eye. They were selling bowls and other ceramic ware in all shapes, sizes and colours, and they were really cheap too! They were all so pretty that I wished I could take them all home. We actually came back here again on our last night in Taipei to buy these bowls and bring them back home. My sister even hand carried them all the way from Malaysia to Australia, so they survived Taipei - KL - Penang - Singapore - Sydney - Canberra! Not too bad haha.
We also indulged in some fried chicken! There were plenty of stalls selling other types of food and snacks, but looking at the line for the fried chicken, we decided to see what the hype was all about. And the hype was good! We were later to learn that this was not the "famous" fried chicken, but it tasted pretty good anyway!
After Shilin, we headed back to our hotel for a much needed rest as we had been travelling the whole day since early in the morning.
We were up early the next morning. I had read about a famous "yoo tiao" place called Yonghe Doujiang near our hotel so we went around looking for it. We finally found it, a tiny stall in a small road, but it was packed with people. Essentially they sold fried dough fritters and soy milk. As there was no place to sit, we took away the dough fritters and ate as we walked.
Our first place to visit that day was National Palace Museum. To get here, we took the MRT to Shilin Station and then a bus to the museum, all paid with our Taipei Pass. I had read a few weeks earlier that the 18th of May was International Museum Day, so entrance tickets were free on that day (usual price is 250 NTD), and even to the museum gardens next door. We are not history buffs, so we contented ourselves with taking photos outside.
There was a very nice archway at the entrance leading to the museum.
And that is the museum building behind me.
But what we really wanted to see here were the Zhishan Gardens, located just next to the museum. It literally looked like something out of a Chinese-period movie.
From the National Palace Museum, our next stop was Beitou, to visit the famous hot springs of Taipei. We got off at Xin Beitou Metro Station and began to look for Marshal Zen Garden, where I had made a reservation for a private hot spring room. The hotel actually provided a free shuttle, but as we could not find it, we decided to take a walk. We didn't know that it was all the way up a hill, so it was quite a walk (and uphill!), and we were so looking forward to the hot soak coming up! Beitou is famous for its hot springs so many hotels there offer hot spring packages.
We were pretty high up at this hotel, as can be seen by the view behind me.
This was the private room we were allocated. It cost 1500 NTD for an hour, but as we dared not do the nude public hot springs, this was the most reasonably priced which we could find for a decent private room.
The surroundings of the hotel were pretty nice too. There was a restaurant which seemed quite popular, but we did not opt for the package with meals. You could either have lunch or afternoon tea with your private hot spring package.
Instead, we opted for a simple lunch nearby the Thermal Valley. Here I am enjoying my milk tea in the cool mountains of Beitou :)
And this was the Thermal Valley! Truly a wonder of nature. We didn't stay long though, as we read the notices that the fumes were potentially radioactive!
There is also a hot spring museum in Beitou, which chronicles the history of how hot springs came to Taiwan, originating from the Japanese occupation in which they brought along their onsen culture.
This was the original bath (something like the Roman baths in England) which is now the site of the museum. This was actually one museum which we found quite interesting! Haha.
Also in Beitou, there an aboriginal museum called the Ketagalan Cultural Centre but as we were not quite interested, we just walked one round and then we left.
We then left Beitou and headed higher north to Tamsui, which is famous for its Fisherman's Wharf and Lover's Bridge. That is the bridge in the photo below.
We also walked along Tamsui Old Street and had dinner there and did some shopping.
After leaving Tamsui, we headed to another night market, Raohe St. Night Market.
This night market is famous for their pepper buns which is a type of pastry filled with pepper-flavoured pork. As usual, the queue was extremely long. But what we notice in Taiwan is that even though queues are long, they move pretty quickly as people are very efficient, both the vendors and the buyers.
The bun wasn't much to our liking though, as we felt that the pastry was too thick. But anyhow, Raohe is full of street food!
On Day 3, we joined a one day tour out of Taipei to New Taipei City. We also booked this tour via KKDay and it cost 1000 NTD per person (around RM142). This tour would cover Yehliu Geopark, Shifen Old Street, Shifen Waterfall and Jiufen, and most importantly, it was in English! Our tour guide Karen was friendly and informative and she spoke quite fluent English.
The first stop was Yehliu Geopark which is around an hour's drive from Taipei. It can get quite crowded so it's best to go early, hence the tour took us here first.
The park is home to geological formations which have come about over the years, so it's quite magnificent sight, coupled with the fact that it is by the sea.
The most famous formation is the iconic "Queen's Head" so there is actually a queue if you would like to take a photo with her.
After that, we headed to Shifen Old Street which is a street which still has a working railway line passing through the middle of it. The most famous activity to do there is to release a sky lantern on the railway track. Depending on the number of colours you choose (different colours have different meanings), the cheapest sky lantern costs around 150 NTD (RM22). We chose a red one, symbolising health, and you could write your own wishes and messages on it on all 4 sides.
Then the shop owner helped us to take photos, and I think she must be a pro at it! She took at least 30 to 40 photos (all in a mere couple of minutes) and even a video of the sky lantern being released! Of all the photos she took, this one is my favourite. This was also my favourite part of the whole day.
Our tour guide told us that there is a stall in Shifen Old Street selling chicken wings stuffed with fried rice. We tried it and it was yummy!
And of course, I needed to have my daily bubble tea fix! Haha.
As I said, there is a functioning railway line in the middle of the street, so everytime the train passes through (about every half hour), everyone has to clear the street!
Just a short distance away is Shifen Waterfall and to get there, we needed to walk along this suspension bridge.
The walk is quite a distance, but so worth it in the end! The photos do not do justice to the majesty of the falls.
The last stop of the day was Jiufen Old Street, which is an uphill maze of little lanes and alleyways selling all sorts of food, snacks and souvenirs.
The landmark of Jiufen is A-Mei Teahouse. We didn't go inside for any tea, so it was sufficient to take a photo from the outside. Personally I preferred Shifen to Jiufen :)
After the last few days of waking up early, today was to be a more relaxing day. Prior to our visit, I had researched where to have brunch in the city and we settled for this place called SPOT Taipei. You can read one of their reviews here. We took the MRT to Zhongxiao Dunhua Metro Station and from there used GPS to find the cafe. It can be a little hard to locate as it is in a small alleyway but after walking for about 5 minutes, we managed to find it.
This was the interior of the cafe - nice and cosy.
We tried the breakfast taco and chocolate chip pancakes. Both were yummy!
After brunch, we did some shopping as the whole street around that area (Zhongxiao East Road/South Road) has shops like Zara, Mango, Uniqlo etc.
Since we had brunch, we skipped lunch and had afternoon tea instead! This was also pre-booked - afternoon tea at The Jade Lounge, Mandarin Oriental Taipei. It was definitely not cheap, in fact, the most expensive I have encountered for afternoon tea, but for the service, I suppose it was worth it :) The girl that served us (Emma) took the trouble to explain each and every item to us, what it was called, what it was made of etc. And then she offered to take a photo for us (I supposed they must already be trained to do it, just like the sky lantern lady!)
Most definitely one of the best afternoon teas we have had. The price starts at 1300 NTD per person (around RM185) and they even have the option to have champagne or caviar (of course that is more expensive). For more information on afternoon tea at The Jade Lounge, you can refer to their website.
After we were done, we went back to Shilin Night Market to buy the bowls, and this time we found the actual entrance!
We took a walk through the underground food court - truly a foodie's paradise but as we were still quite full from afternoon tea, we just tasted the smells only :)
And this is the famous fried chicken - Hot Star Large Fried Chicken! As expected, there was a queue, and the chicken was indeed very large! They handed out plastic bags to those waiting in the queue, so when it came to your turn, you just opened up the plastic bag and they popped the chicken in! More efficient that way haha.
We also tried this pancake thing which looked and tasted like roti canai! This was quite yummy too.
After a whole day of eating, it was time to call it a night. Tomorrow would be our last day! Time does go by so quickly when you're having fun :)
Oh, by the way, this is what we saw when we came back to Ximending every night. Literally swarming with people!
And we found another queue outside this stall. This has been all the rage in Penang now, with people lining up miles long to buy this specialty cake.
This is Ximending by day.
The iconic Red House in Ximending which is a market/theatre/teahouse dating back to the Japanese era, is now under renovation, but it's quite interesting how they covered it up!
Coming back to our last night, we had a nightcap in our hotel bar before going to bed. They allowed us to take the drinks up to our room so we had cocktails and fried chicken (from Shilin) while we packed!
We had an important mission as this was our last day - to catch the first changing of the guards at Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall at 9 am! The metro station which is named after Chiang Kai-Shek is only 2 stops away from Ximen so in fact we had lots of time.
This famous blue and white archway has been photographed millions of times I presume :)
The hall itself is at the opposite end of the archway, separated with a big courtyard in the middle and the National Concert Hall and National Theatre on either side.
Pretty flowers at the memorial gardens:
These are the guards who are stationed to protect the large bronze statue of Chiang Kai-Shek. They change hourly so there is plenty of opportunity to see the changing of the guards.
We left after that back to the hotel to pack up and check out. Again, we took the Taoyuan Airport MRT from Taipei Main Station to the airport to catch our flight at 3.10 pm. They only sell one way tickets so it was another 160 NTD for each of us.
All in all, it was a great trip. There is still so much to see and do, so I definitely hope to be back to Taiwan!