Day 7 Taiwan
The last day in Vietnam. I awoke early at Giang’s, ate some chè for breakfast, and left 6AM via grab to Sân Bay Nội Bài. I arrived at the airport, and found the ticket check-in. I thought I was going to be late since I had to check my box of goodies I acquired in Vietnam. I spoke to a lady while I was in line and she directed me to the front so I can check in. I got through security very quick. The Asian countries really make the security process a breeze. Once through I bought a bottle of ruou chuoi and boarded. One good meal and great service on this 3-hour flight.
I arrived in Taiwan at around 11AM. I found the MRT purple, and rode to Taipei Main Station. I disembarked and walked through an underground mall for a bit and saw loads of anime figurines. As I surfaced, I saw Taipei City for the first time. It was a huge city. I stopped in a 7-11 and bought a steam bun and soymilk. I spent the day hiking around for a bit. I ended up in a district with many shops of Chinese medicine. I did not know anything that was inside. I was on course to my first accommodation, Hey Bear capsule. I did not know exactly where it was but after getting turned around a few times, I saw that I had to cross Taipei bridge. I decided to cross on foot. I ended up in New Taipei City and eventually found a building with floor 7 marked HeyBear. I rode the lift up and checked in. I was happy to try out this type of accommodation. I dropped my things off, and settled in with a shower. After freshening up, I went out and walked around a local day market that was around the block from HeyBear. I found a little stand selling JianBing and ordered one for a light meal. After hiking around for a bit again, I went to meet my friend Lili. We meet at MRT Zongshen station and she took me around to walk around Taipei for a bit. We ended up at an outdoor swing dancing class. This part was fun! Not only do I not know how to swing-dance, but I cannot speak Chinese! Somehow the human direction and movements were enough to get the instruction.
After hanging out for a bit, we went to a night market nearby and Lili showed me the Night Market experience! She took me to a place with delicious oyster omelets. We walked the market stands for a bit and I tried some bitter tea, and then we got grass jelly dessert. (I think that is what it is called.) It is kind of like chè. After she showed me around, I went back to my accommodation and slept in the capsule. It was great and kind of cozy. Fully automated, and I felt like a dog for once! I was actually in a kennel.
Day 8 Night Markets
This day I arose with a plan to unload my extra luggage. I need to go to the MRT main station and find a key locker so I do not have to carry all my luggage the entire trip. I ate breakfast at the accommodation, and then went over to Taipei Main. I went underground into the labyrinth of tunnels in this massive MRT station. After around 30 minutes, I figured out where the lockers were and how to use them. I stowed my Vietnam luggage and locked it up. After emerging from the MRT after like an hour, I decide to hike along a street near the river. It would take me into lower Taipei near many appliance shops and things. There were even shops underneath an elevated roadway. Shortly I found a bubble tea place. This was my first actual Taiwan Bubbletea experience. So many more choices than in USA! I got something to drink and kept on hiking. By this time I was getting hungry. I had hiked for a while and ended up near South Taipei and found a low sitting building with a old fellow frying something looking like dumplings. I did not know how to order but was directed by a stranger that they were not ready yet. I waited and was rewarded with 2 delicious dumplings and I enjoyed them at the table. After eating some lunch, I continued hiking and found a very large temple called 龍山寺. I walked inside and there were so many people. It was beautiful and a different style than the ones in Vietnam. They even burn different types of incense. There was also a lot of fruit being offered.
I decided to head back towards the area I was coming from. I wanted to find some tea though. I asked a guy on the street where I can sit and have some. He directed me a block in one direction and that it would be on the right. Following orders, I went that direction and found a very interesting cafe that is one of the highlights of this trip. Imaging a karaoke cafe, but only attended by elders who drink tea and talk about life. This was the experience. I was seated and I ordered a pot of tea. The owners were so friendly. I managed to communicate slightly through google translator. They wanted to help me by showing me areas of interest in Taipei. I enjoyed some tea and listened to older folks sing Chinese karaoke. After I left, I walked through a street flea market, a Carefour grocery store, and registered my MRT card for YouBike. I tried to rent a bike for this time to ride over to Taipei Main Station, however after a few blocks, I realize my tire was flat. I had to return this bike and continue hiking since there was a 15 minute wait time. After more hiking through 國立中正 紀念堂, a large park in the city, I finally boarded a train towards my next accommodation. I did not know exactly where I would stay, but after one try, I made it to Sleepy Dragon Hostel. This was near Raohe St. Night Market. I checked in, unloaded my stuff, and headed down to the market. This market was huge. I walked down and tried some sweet potato balls, and some oyster cup things. At the end, was a giant temple that was all lit up. I walked inside for a bit and then headed back to the market for one more pass.
The Night Markets are really not like anything in the USA. The food is many steps up from carnival food, and it is actually cheap too. In fact, all the food so far has been cheap. To finish up the night, I bought and tried some Papaya juice. i went back to Sleepy Dragon and met a few folks, including a Japanese girl Ma from Osaka, and my friend Yoshitaka from Osaka.
Day 9 Walking Tour
This day was a litte more low key. I woke up later and ate some breakfast. I stayed in and chatted with the guests until like 11. My goals for this day were to locate a Giant bicycle shop and rent for my 3-day tour. I walked out and headed north a bit to find a little day market. This neighborhood kind of reminded me of America for a bit. The streets were lined with cafes and little fruit stands and things. I found a bubble tea place like usual to have some Winter Melon tea, and just enjoyed walking around. I also stumbled into a JianBing restaurant just by the looks of the place. I wanted to go back and try it after passing it earlier. So I went in and ordered a Bing. I went out and ate it on the step of the restaurant on the street with someone I met there. Unfortunately after talking to him, I had ordered my Bing invalid, and was missing meat! Anyway, it was still good, and apparently I had stumbled into a pretty famous place. His aunt works there too.
After Lunch, I headed over to find a Giant bicycle shop. Again, I got turned around, but eventually I found the shop. I rented for 3 days and was given the bike right there after some directions and a trial ride. It would be a great bike! I rode that bike over to a walking tour that I had scheduled in Daan Park. This tour would begin at 2PM. I barely made it and we began a great city tour of Daan, the shops and architecture, and the history of Taipei. I learned a bit of the history, and some of the different districts of the city, including an area where wealthy professors live in Japanese style homes. We went and tried some shaved mango ice for the first time. I was pretty hungry, but this thing was huge! I shared with some of the tour guides. We finished the tour at 國立中正紀 念堂 and I walked back to the food area to try some famous buns that were recommended to me by a family from Malaysia. I ate dinner at 高記 and enjoyed some fried buns. Ngon! Afterwards, I was getting tired and I wanted to make it back for my big bike ride tomorrow. I decided to ride bike back and used Taipei 101 as a reference point to get back. Unfortunately that did not work as great as it sounded, and I ended up pretty lost at one point. Eventually after an hour or so, I did end up back near my accommodation, and I went in and to bed.
Day 10 Bicycle Trip
This was the big day of Bicycle riding to Pingzi and Juifan. This day started at 6AM. I self-checked out, and began my cycle ride by 7. I rode along a street east out of Taipei, until finding a road marked. This road would take me over a mountain and down until I reach the HWY 106 taking me to Pingzi. I rode for about an hour out of Taipei and stopped at a FamilyMart on the outskirts for some breakfast. I started the journey and it would be uphill for the next hour. This part of the journay took me up winding country routes and when I did finally reach the top, there was a beautiful temple I stopped to rest for a bit. Actually there were plenty of rest stops going up since it was very difficult at this point.
The ride down to 106 was crazy fast because then I was going all downhill. I followed the path and eventually made it to a small village Jingtong. I stopped in a family mart to fill up my water and walked through the village for a bit. It was round 9AM and there were not many tourists at all! It was great and I got to watch a few folks release lanterns on the railroad tracks. So peaceful. I hung around for a bit to rest and headed over to Pinxi, the village near by. This time I had arrived around 10:30 which was too early and not many places were open yet. I walked around for a bit and got some good photos here. The Jibli film Spirited Away was loosly based on the market street in this one. However the accuracy is contested. I thought it was a great spot and had a balance situation because the village was built directly over the banks of a creek gorge, giving the impression of a floating city. Really cool. I grabbed lunch at a nearby food stand that had a soup with two types of tofu. Dark and light. It was so good after that bike ride. I explored a temple near the city and a couple of caves and then decided it was time to head over to Jiufan.
The ride to Jiufan was a difficult one because it also required you to peak a mountain ridge to get to the east coast of Taiwan. I rode for a bit and stopped by a waterfall to get some photos there. Directly after the waterfall, was the most difficult journey. An hour or so of uphill and curves. This part required many stops, and at this point I ran out of water. Once I finally reached the top, the reward was a spectacular view of the valley. The remainder of this part was all downhill and faster than ever. I made it to a town Ruifan, and found a little Vietnamese shop. I went in and asked for some water and chatted for a bit! How strange it was to use a third-person language in a non-english country to communicate with locals, but it worked. I finished up and then rode over to Jiufan. This pride was pretty treacherous because the amount of bus traffic, coupled with a narrow and winding road. One last hour of uphill, but so worth it. I arrived in the village and it was an amazing cliffside view of the bay. The homes were all overhanging and really looked like something from the Gibli films.
I finally reached the village exhausted and ready to find some accommodation. I reached a information building to rest and search for accommodation. I found a place and headed directly there. It was a hostel and the door said closed when I arrived. About to give up, I insisted to check for sure. I opened the door and was greeted by the friendly owner. He explained the hostel doubles as a cafe and the cafe was actually closed. I settled in and took a few hour nap. Exhausted. When I rose, I met my new friend Takuya from Tokyo, and we hung out. I went to Jiufeng by myself for some food and to get some tea. I found a famous tea house and waited in line for a pleasure experience. They show you how to brew Chinese style while sitting on mats on a table. Purely amazing relaxing after this bike ride. After about an hour of enjoying tea, I head back and notice the night market closes pretty early. By 9PM, the place was deserted. Opposite of what happens in Spirited Away. I meet Takuya, and we go to Family Mart to grab beers. This is when I first realize that you can drink beer in public here. We get beers and join the Hostel gussets for a night viewing of the city. We walk around and see some of the spectacular views of the cliffs at night. After this long day, I return to the hostel and go to bed. Unfortunately we meet Mr. Snore who keeps Takuya and myself awake all night snoring!
Day 11 Keelung
I woke up at my accommodation after a questionable night of sleep. However being so tired from the bike ride, I think I got enough shut-eye. I came to the cafe area and we were given breakfast. I notice in Taiwan the hostels that include breakfast will cook you the meal in person instead of a plain snack shelf typical in Europe. I ate and then headed for the bike. I would ride back to Taipei by way of Keelung. This day turned out to be more dreary than the ride out. Rain is in the forecast. I checked out, and went to the storage area beside the accommodation my bike was. I loaded up and headed out of Jiufan. The ride out of the city was entirely downhill, and as I descended through the clouds, it started to rain. I reached Ruifan and decided I needed to buy a rain poncho. I found a mini-mart and bought one and put it on. Much better. I began the ride out of Ruifan towards the coast. I rode through a tunnel and emerged on the Taiwan coast for the first time. It was lightly raining, but the scenery was amazing. I rode on a country road that circled a large bay. I could see many boats and fishing area. I could see the mountain that Jiufan was on, but it was occluded by clouds. As I continued to ride, the wind picked up off the sea. At one point, the wind was pretty bad and made the bike ride difficult while exposed to it. I rode this direction for about an hour until I reached the outskirts of Keelung.
Keelung seemed deeply influenced by fishing industry and I saw many boats and fish markets. I continued to ride and found a bakery. I purchases a set of 2 garlic square bread-sticks. I had one for a snack and continued the ride through fishing areas and buildings until I reached Keelung. I stopped in this city for an hour to stretch and something to eat. I found a street stand and ordered something that another customer was getting. Apparently it was called mandarin noodles. It was a good lunch. I walked around the city for a little bit until it started raining harder. I wanted to head back before the rain picks up any more, so I hopped in and followed HWY 5 into Taipei. The ride from Keelung to Taipei was around an hour. I stopped again at a shop where the lady treated me to a red bun and biscuit. I got some bubble tea on the way. This point, the rain was pretty heavy. I headed 1 for the Giant shop to return the bike. I wanted to dry off. I ended up returning it, and seeking accommodation. This time I found a hostel called Homey, near the main MRT station. I checked in and headed straight for showers to wash up and then dry off. Afterwards, I unpacked and walked around the area of the Hostel.
I found a local tea shop and I decided to go in to talk to the owner. I wanted to just sit and be. The owner and family were super friendly. We drank tea together and chatted. I even got an introductory lesson in Taiwanese. After some photos, and a tea purchase, I said my farewells and walked to Family Mart ot meet my friend Takuya. We bought some beer again and headed over to the night market to meet up with one of his friends. It was still lightly raining, so the market was not very busy. We bought some Buddha head fruit, fried chicken, fried jianbing. We went over to a soup place and got two types of soup. One with Chinese medicine, and the second with a type of beef tendon. For dessert we visited a famous grass jelly place and got 3 bowls. So much food. None of us could even finish! We finished the night and headed to the car park to say goodbye. One final note is that the parking uses an underground lift to lift the auto and insert them into shelves. Cool!
Day 12 Monkum Tea
This day was more laid back. I arose early and did a morning walk around the area. I went to the river and saw an area where the elders would go to excercise and to do aerobics. There were so many people out. I did not have and full plans this day, so I returned to breakfast at my accommodation. I packed up and headed over to the Guanghua Digital Plaza. I wanted to see this part of Taiwan and all the electronic gadgets. I walked over and there are actually two towers. The Guanghua Plaza is the original building. I spent an hour traversing the corridors and looked at little shop stalls. The building was 8 or so floors. It was pretty cool, but not as impressive as my second stop. I grabbed my obligatory bubble tea at a Kingston-sponsored tea shop. The second building was new and had shops for Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi, Sony, and may others. I spend a good hour here and almost bought a Xiaomi phone. Unfortunately the wireless bands were not compatible with North America. Bummer. I left and went to a nearby stand selling the Taiwanese hamburger. It did not disappoint. At this point, I noticed I was missing one of my bags. I must have left my bag of tea someplace. I had to spend the next hour or so traversing my steps through the electronics market, and then finally to the bubble tea place. Assured by Taiwan hospitality, the bag was still there! Wow, would not be the case in USA. It would be gone for sure. This is when I realized how safe of a place I really was in.
I reserved accommodations through AirBnb this time. I want to try something different, and I found a place at someone’s apartment. I also wanted to experience living in a true flat in Taipei. I headed towards one of the southernmost tips of Taipei, along a river. On foot, I finally arrived early in the afternoon. I checked in and finally unloaded my stuff. I met the owner, Ivan and his co-worker. They were so helpful, despite the fact I was not able to spend much time there. He recommended I visit Monkum, a district nearby known for tea. I headed straight for there. I rented a YouBike and rode to the Monkum gondola, a separate line on the MRT. The gondola ride was around an hour, and very scenic. It went up and over the hills surrounding Taipei, and gave an epic view of the city. I had skipped out on the Taipei 101, and this view was worth replacement.
I arrived at the top of Monkum, and hiked the area for a little bit. There are many tea farms here, and I get to see where the tea bushes actually grow. Neat! There are many tea houses. Unfortunately the museum was already shut for the day, but on my way back, I stopped at a tea house and just enjoyed a pot of tea. The view was amazing, and the entire vibe of the tea house was so relaxing. I talked to the owner and another customer about Taiwan. As I departed, it was getting dark. I planed to meet up with Lili again and we would hike Elephane Mtn.
I was kind of rushing at this point. As I departed the Monkum gondola, I rented a YouBike again and rode all the way to Jingmei Night Market. We wanted to get some famous fried buns from here. Luckily I found the place and got a bag of them. I rode MRT to the end of the red, and met Lili. We enjoyed the dinner, and we hiked up to the top of the mountain. This night view of the city and Taipei 101 were spectacular. We claimed a spot on top of a large boulder, and enjoyed the view for a bit. We returned to the base and visited a night market nearby. We found an interesting grass-jelly dessert place that had really cool music playing.
Day 13 YouBike
This day I did not have accommodation booked for the night, so I asked Ivan if I could pay for a second stay. He had guests visiting but offered to let me stay for free. That was super kind. I left his accommodation in the morning after some breakfast at 7/11 and rode the MRT to Beitu. This is a region of the city known for hot springs. I wanted to visit a public hot spring. I walked up to the hotspring area and toured a museum in traditional Japanese style. Unfortunately I could not visit the spring unless I was wearing special trunks. I resigned that idea, and headed down to check out the Beitou market. I walked around here for a bit and met a Vietnamese family shop and enjoyed some phê sữa. Heading back, I decided to rent a YouBike. I rode along the river all the way down to the southern tip of the city I was staying. The ride took around 4 hours to complete. It was an absolute scenic way to survey the entire Taipei city. Great view. I arrived at the accommodation and bought a train box of chewy fried chicken, tea eggs, rice, and vegetable. Delicious.
Day 14 Jiaoxi
This day I would visit a Jiaoxi to meet a friend the next day. Sophie lives nearby, and she suggested I take a bus to Jiaoxi. I began the day with a great foot massage at a place that Lili suggested. The experience was so enjoyable. Top Gun was playing on TV, what else could a man ask for? My heels felt so great afterwards, it was too easy to walk. The bus started at Taipei City Hall, however I miscalculated and was at the Taipei Main Station instead. No worries. This allowed me to get my luggage from the lockers anyway. I had to remove them within a week. I boarded a luxurious bus that took me to Jiaoxi within an hour. Very quick ride. As I arrived, I realized Jiaoxi is another hotspring village, but this time, at a larger scale. I checked into my accommodation and unloaded my things and then walked the streets for a bit. I found a local JianBing street vendor and I ordered one. So delicious! Afterwards I found a public foot bath hotspring and soaked for an hour or so. My feet were treated like a king this day. I met a guy afterwards and I tagged along to explore the city a bit more. We tried ice cream burritos, wish peanut shaving and cilantro. Sounds kind of gross, but the food was very good. I returned to my accommodation later on and meet another friend Adeline. We were able to chat together for a bit too. After hanging out, I went to sleep for tomorrow.
Day 15 Friend in Yilan
I met up with Sophie in the morning at my accommodation. We went to the mini bus station to head over to a waterfall hike. We hiked together all morning and just hung out. The views were spectacular. We descended around noon and rode a bus that would take us back to Jiaoxi. We were able to walk around for a bit and grab some lunch. Afterward I bought a few snacks and things to bring back home, and we boarded a bus to another village Toucheng. Toucheng is a more rural fishing and surfing area north of Yilan and Jiaoxi. We arrived at the Toucheng station and we walked along the water and got to see some black sands beaches. There were a lot of people out surfing in the current. There was a cliff side towards the mountains that people were parasailing too. The waterfront was spectacular. As we walked around the waterfront, there was a large barrier and cement pieces to protect the land from typhoon. We toured a couple fishing markets and bought some crab leg snack bites. After enjoying Toucheng waterfront for a while, we walked over to a museum lake area and enjoyed the sunset before riding the train back to Ludong.
Ludong is south of Yilan. The train ride was a bit longer. This was a famous night market in this town, and Sophie is very familiar with this town. We walked over to the night market and found the place where we can get beef soup with Chinese Medicine inside. We waited in a long line, anticipating that everyone enjoys this food. The wait did not disappoint! We had some of the food and headed over to a street fire show. The performers were very talented. After a few minutes of enjoying the performance they recruited volunteers. In fact, I was selected to go up and test the fire performance. They asked me to touch a torch to my arm. Surprisingly I did not feel a thing. They ended the show short of putting the torch in my mouth. Fair enough, the magic may only go so far haha. The while street performance was like nothing I have ever seen. In fact, I think you may not even see this type of thing at a circus.
Afterwards we walked back towards the railroad station. She accompanied me back to Jiaoxi and we said our goodbyes. How very kind of her to show me around and to give up an entire Saturday to explore the area with a tourist. I am very grateful for the hospitality displayed through all the friends I have met this trip! I will remember this hospitality for life.
Day 16 Last Day
My last day, I woke up and spent a relaxing morning at one of the spa bathhouses. This was an experience I would probably never get to do, so I paid and went in. Men separate from Women. I experienced a full Taiwan bath that featured varying temperature springs to bathe, and sauna. I met a man from Taipei, and we chatted in English. His son is in America. We said goodbye, and he gave me a guava. I was completely rejuvenated after this morning, and I can say that it was the ultimate preparation for my 15 hour flight ahead. Afterward, I checked out my accommodation, and walked to the bus station. I rode the same bus back into Taipei. I would meet Lili one last time for lunch at a place near Shudon Temple MRT. Very close to Taipei City hall, where I would get off. We waited in a line at a little stand inside a market that served pancake omelet burrito looking things. I do not remember the name, but once again Lili did not disappoint with food recommendations. Next stop was the Taipei MRT station to drop off my luggage. Surprisingly, I was able to check in to my flight at the MRT station. This was great! No waiting in long lines at the airport, and I did not have to carry around my luggage any longer. Now free from the burden of carrying things around, Lili and I hung out the afternoon around the Chinese medicine market next to the river. The same one I visited on my first day. We visited a very fancy Starbucks Coffee shop with a great view from the windows. I stopped at a Carefour shop to get last items to bring back to USA. And a final stop at Lover’s Temple, a famous place where folks pray for their love. Many folks here!
I said goodbye to Lili and headed on the MRT to the airport. This was the end of my trip! I boarded China Airlines to head back to America. Coming back into the US was another process in itself. I had to wait through border inspection to get my luggage cleared. No problems there. Next problem, getting back to Texas. I was in N.Y.C. but still had a while before returning home. I took the NY subway to LaGuardia Airport. By the time I got there, it was 1:30AM local, but I was not even tired. I decided instead of staying in a hotel for only a few hours, I would just stay at the airport and book a flight from my phone. 4 hours later, I was en-route to DFW in Texas, only to head straight into work. Well, Trip finished alive! Stay tuned for closing remarks and wrap-up.