I have been to Taipei many times over the years and my lovely Taiwanese friends there have brought me to many places in and outside the city, like Danshui 淡水,, Jiufen 九份, Yang Ming Shan 陽明山國家公園, Maokong 貓空, and KeeLung 基隆. So on this trip, I focused on places that I have never been to before and also ventured south of Taiwan. My itinerary was a bit rushed and tiring but I was able to see a bit of everything. Of course, if you have the luxury of time, I suggest you spend at least 2 days at every stop. I think I would have liked another day in Taichung. Anyway, here are some photos to share.
Day 1. Taipei. Arrived mid day and was almost 3pm by the time we checked into Tomorrow Hotel at Ximending. Had delicious Ah Zhong Mian Xian 阿宗面线 as a snack to tie us over to dinner. Visited impressive Liberty Square 自由廣場 and had hotpot for dinner with lovely friends.
Day 2. Rented a taxi for the day (NT$3500) to take us to Yehliu 野柳, lovely Shifen waterfall, Pingxi (to release 天燈), Keelung Night Market, and back to Taipei. Renting a taxi is the best way to travel if you have limited time and have travel buddies to share the cost.
Day 3. Checked out and took the Tze-Chiang train (TRA) to Taichung (took about 3 hours, cost NTD380). Checked into MiCasa Hotel right next to the station. Visited Rainbow Village (Caihongjuan Village 彩虹眷村), nothing fantastic because it is really tiny so don’t expect a village, Xingwu Shou Yanwuchang, beautiful garden, and Zhonghua Night Market (because the famous Fengjia Night Market was too far away).
Day 4. Checked out and took the bus to Sun-Moon-Lake 日月潭. Bought the 5-day pass (NTD450) that covered transport from Taichung to SML and SML to Alishan within 5 days. Checked into ShuiShaLien Hotel. I think the boat/bus combination was good at SML enabling us to see the highlights. Of course, we didn’t get to SML till almost noon so that was half the day gone. If you had a full day, perhaps cycling around the lake may be a good option, but be warned, it is a HUGE lake. The boat from Shuishe Pier took us to Xuanguang Temple Pier, where we got off to walk around, then hopped on the next boat to Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village. We paid NTD580 each for entrance to the village which included the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway (日月潭纜車). We didn’t have a lot of time at the village but the scenery from the cable car was fantastic. Get your camera ready and pray that it is a clear day, not foggy like mine was. We took the last boat back to Shuishe Pier and caught the bus to the majestic Wen Wu Temple. Lots of walking.
Day 5. Checked out and took the bus to Alishan. Checked into Dafong Hotel. This was the most expensive hotel of our entire trip and the largest (room for quadruple was the only one left) but worth it because it was right there where the bus and Alishan train station is. There were many steps to get to the hotel, not easy with luggage, and the hotel does not have a lift and we were on the 4th top floor. But they were kind enough to carry our luggage and on the day we left, gave us a ride to the bus station. At Alishan, be prepared to walk to enjoy the lovely scenery. Plenty of walking.
Day 6. We woke up at 3AM to catch the 4.15AM train to see sunrise. It was a clear day so we were blessed with a lovely view of sunrise and 雲海. It made all the waking up early, waiting an hour at the train station in the cold, and lugging a winter jacket for the entire trip, worthwhile. After breakfast, we checked out and took the bus from Alishan to Chiayi (NTD285), then took the Tze-Chiang train from Chiayi to Tainan (50mins, NTD139). Checked into Oriental Hotel. At the Tainan train station, I asked the Tourist Information Desk for sightseeing ideas and they said there were only 3 places worth seeing in Tainan — Fort Provintia (Chihkan Tower 赤崁樓), Anping Fort (Ānpíng Gǔ Bǎo 安平古堡), and Confucius Temple (kǒng miào 孔廟). I am sure the city has much more to offer but since I didn’t have a lot of time, I did as I was told.
Day 7. Checked out and took TRA train to Kaohsiung (40mins, cost NTD106). Checked into Shihzuwan Hotel, Kaohsiung Station. I met up with a long-lost friend whom I have not seen for almost 10 years, so we spent the evening talking up a storm. We hung out at the Rui Feng Night Market 瑞豐夜市, had dinner, and then took a slow walk along Love River (even though we are 2 ladies chatting away). It was surprisingly rather quiet along the river. I was expecting a lot of couples.
Day 8. It was a hot day in Kaohsiung and we spent a good part of the day getting to/from and walking around the majestic Foguan Shan. Photos do not do justice to the place, you have to be there to see/experience it for yourself. Very, very impressive even though I didn’t manage to walk all of it. We then went to the Gushan Ferry Pier for a short boat ride (I could use the iPass to pay) to Cijin Island for seafood dinner. I still prefer the Singapore seafood.
Day 9. Tour of Lotus Pond before taking the High Speed Rail (HSR) from Kaohsiung HSR Station back to Taipei (90mins, cost NTD1340). Only on Sat/Sun, they have the Zuoying Cultural Tour Bus to take you around the pond. NTD50 for the one-day pass and it is a real time saver. You can hop on and off anytime, or go as many rounds as you want. And there is a tour guide on the bus to explain all the sights. Very worth it.
Day 10. Return to Singapore. Before that, a good friend brought me to the famous Fu Hang Dou Jiang 阜杭豆漿where we had to queue for 45mins. I have never had my dou jiang salty and I don’t think I will again. But it’s always good to try at least once.
- At Taoyuan Airport, buy the iPass which is like our Easilink card, enabling us to travel on buses and MRT and buy things at 7-11 and other shops throughout Taiwan, not just in Taipei. It is very convenient to have such a card and you can top up the value at any MRT stations. The only thing I didn’t like was the non-refundable NT$100 deposit we had to pay. Sure, it is a pretty card and could be a good souvenir, and there is no expiry date so you can always use it again on your next trip to Taiwan, but still S$4.62 is a bit steep. I can easily buy a nicer souvenir.
- Take the MRT from airport to Taipei Main Station. Promotion fare was NTD80 (normal fare NTD160) since the Airport Line was newly opened on May 2 this year. We like! I know there are other travel options but I like the feel of new trains. Never liked the bus nor taxi and not worth the price for HSR.
- Try staying at Ximending (西門町), the northwestern part of Wanhua district in Taipei, is now the development center of fashion and subculture in Taiwan. Lots of young people hang out there. Our hotel was like 20m away from the station so it was very easy to get there with our luggage. But the room was tiny, tiny.
- HSR is fast but more expensive than most mode of transportation and not all the stations are in the middle of town. The TRA (Taiwan Railway Authority) trains are good enough for me, especially the Tze-Chiang trains which have less stop than the local trains and the prices are very reasonable. But if you need to get some place fast, then HSR is great. It took me only 90 mins to get from Kaohsiung to Taipei and cost NTD1340 (SGD62).
- The 5-day pass for SML-Alishan is a good bargain too at NTD450 (SGD21). You are on the bus a lot but if you have a travel buddy to talk to, or if you are someone who can sleep wherever you sit, then the hours pass by very quickly.
- Always book hotels near the train stations unless you don’t mind dragging your luggage along the uneven pavements long distances or catching a cab to your hotel.
- You can store your luggage at train stations too to save time, like what I did in Kaohsiung. My hotel was near the TRA/MRT train station but not the MRT/HSR station. So after breakfast, I checked out and took the MRT to the HSR station with my luggage and paid for a locker to store it. That gave me an hour more to tour Lotus Pond since I didn’t have to go back to the hotel to get my luggage.
Overall, a fantastic trip. Lovely to see all my Taiwanese friends again and wonderful traveling with my travel buddy. The next time in Taiwan, I will cover the eastern side of the country like Hualien and Taitung.