From the bustling night scene in Ximending to the calm cold morning in Wanli, I fell in love with Taiwan’s entirety.
I’m impulsive, I admit. And for this exact reason that I found myself onboard an overnight flight from Manila to Taipei, dragging an equally sleepy, equally excited Josh (I don’t want to say boyfriend because it’s too cheesy) with me.
We booked our tickets through Trip.com, a Hong Kong-based online travel application where we got our roundtrip tickets for only Php4,000.00 each, minus the travel tax (which, compared to other booking sites, is already way cheaper).
We landed at the Taoyuan International Airport at 1:00 am. Upon completing the immigration process, we went to the Klook booth to get the 4G sim card we will be using during our stay. My friend recommended that we get the sim card instead of the rental WiFi since it’s more convenient to use because you only have to charge your phone. We only paid PHP375.00 for the sim card, and it was valid for 5 days with unlimited data and TWD50 credit for local and international calls. (You can book yours here.)
The first thing you have to take note of when you’re traveling to Taiwan is that their metro system closes at 12 midnight, so if you book an overnight flight like we did, you have to take the Bus 181 from the Taoyuan International Airport to Taipei Main Station. The fare is TWD 280 each, and the trip takes about less than an hour depending on the traffic.
If you’re taking the Taoyuan Airport MRT, you can either take the Express Train (35 minutes) or the Commuters Train (50 minutes). The fare for the two is the same (TWD120), but the Commuters Train stops at all stations while the Express Train only stops at the main stations.
We were dropped off at the Kuo-Kang Bus Station and we rode the taxi from there to our Airbnb at Chengdu Road in Wanhua District. Our host, Renny, was kind enough to let us stay for the night when our supposed check-in was at 3pm the following day. His place is spacious, and the industrial punk design of the space gives a nice little touch during our stay!
Now, to the trip.
We decided to go easy on our first day since we woke up late. At around noon, we went to explore the Ximending Youth Shopping District, where you can find lots of stores, restaurants and street food. It is a hip and busy outdoor market, and its streetwear culture is very unique.
It is also a sneakerhead’s haven, with brands like Adidas, Nike, New Balance, and other local labels that abound in the area. The shopping district is directly on the exit of the Ximen Metro Station.
Opposite this is The Red House Theater, the first government-built public market in Taiwan and also the most well-preserved Class III historic building in the country. The ground floor houses a small cafe and a display on the history of the building, as well as several independent shops. The second-floor theatre hosts regular live performances.
At dinner, we went to Modern Toilet because I saw a lot of travel articles that include it in Must-Visit listicles. We only ordered the Mozarella Sticks (TWD160) and the Poo Ice Cream (TWD100—yes, we’re cheap like that. The food was okay, I guess since you’re really paying for the Insagrammable-ness of the toilet/poop-themed interiors but for that amount of money you can already buy a full meal.
Speaking of full meals, we decided to go to this restaurant just opposite the modern toilet since we only had appetizers there. The name of the place is King Man Yuan and they sell the tastiest Cantonese-style pork knuckles and pork chop for only TWD100! You can also buy authentic Hainanese chicken meals (also priced at TWD100) and custard-filled buns (TWD60) at the restaurant beside it, I just forgot its name. Anyway, talk about value for money, right?
We already had our second day planned out when we were in Manila. It’s the perfect time to book an all-day Northern Taiwan trip, I said. We’ll already have enough rest by then, and the weather will be nice. I was wrong. It was 19 degrees out and it was raining. Despite this, we enjoyed our day tour around Yehliu, Shifen, and Jiufen, which we booked through Klook for just PHP766, inclusive of the Yehliu Geopark admission tickets and transfers.
Here’s our itinerary:
- 07:45am Meet up at GaKuDen Bakery (near exit 4 of Ximen Station)
- 08:00am Depart to Yehliu
- 09:00am Tour around Yehliu Geopark (70 minutes)
- 10:10am Depart to Jiufen
- 11:10am Tour around Jiufen (120 minutes)
- 01:10pm Depart to Shifen Waterfall
- 01:50pm Tour around Shifen Waterfall (50 minutes)
- 02:40pm Depart to Shifen Old Street
- 02:50pm Tour around Shifen Old Street (70 minutes)
- 04:50pm Arrive at Taipei 101
- 05:20pm arrive at GaKuDen Bakery (near exit 4 of Ximen Station)
Our guide, Bobo, was very helpful, albeit a little strict when it comes to following the schedule.
My most favorite part of the tour was our visit to the Yehliu Geopark. The rock formations were simply amazing, and there’s something calming about the water crashing to the cliffs, making perfect waves as they do. There was a long queue at the Queen’s Head rock—which they say resemble Queen Elizabeth I’s—but we were still able to take a photo. Needless to say, we really enjoyed the beauty and the tranquility of the place.
After Yehliu Geopark, we went to Jiufen Old Street. I’m a big fan of Spirited Away, so I was most looking forward to this part of the tour. What used to be an old mining village is now a hub of wall-to-wall restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops and bundles of teahouses lined up along alleyways decorated with red lanterns. While you’re in Jiufen, remember to check out the iconic A-Mei Teahouse, and snack on some Steamed Taro Cake, Pork Fried Rice, Taiwanese Sausages and Deep-Fried Seafood.
(Note: Sadly, Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki noted in an interview that Jiufen was not the inspiration for Spirited Away.)
Our last destination was Shifen Old Street. Originally built to transport coal, the Shifen Old Street stop has now become one of the most popular on the Pingxi rail line. It has become a tradition here to release sky lanterns in hope for good blessings and wishes to come true. Depending on the color, the lanterns cost TWD100-150 each.
There are also plenty of stalls to try local food, as well as souvenir shops selling miniature night lamp lanterns. Remember to their takoyaki and nougat ice cream! The train comes every hour, so everyone would clear the tracks for a few minutes.
To be continued on Part Two.