First of all, I'd like to confess that "Taiwan" has never been in my wish list. It's not that I don't like this place but I guess I just didn't pay attention to her so I hardly knew what Taiwan has to offer...What I mostly see is only the Taipei 101 and Sun Moon Lake of which the latter wasn't in my interest....But finally I get to see Taiwan with my own eyes for 5 days and 4 nights after I couldn't resist my friend's persuasion. To personally feel Taiwan this time allows me to see many unexpected things as well as know more about Taiwan. Then, I feel Taiwan certainly has her unique charm. And here is my journey daily of my first time in Taiwan.
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I fly with Nokscoot to Taiwan which leaves Don Mueang Airport at 2.30 a.m. and reach Taoyuan Airport, Taiwan at around 7 a.m. the total flight time is 3 hrs.
The advantage of this flight is that we have a full day to travel, but we must have a good rest beforehand, otherwise, we could be ill. Another thing I really like is the sunrise view looking out from the aircraft's window. It's like we are in heaven (actually I've never been there yet but I just imagine that it looks just like heaven, hehe).
My first impression for Taiwan starts at the airport. The architecture at the immigration building is so beautiful. All visitors praise it quite a lot.
The process of immigration would be easier without no further document filled if you have applied online. You can fill the online application form here ที่นี่ (please choose Visa Exempt for Visa Type, leave it blank for Enter Permit/Visa No., the purpose of visit chooses Sightseeing, and the rest just fill out your own information).
After getting my baggage, I stop for breakfast at 7 Eleven inside the airport. Most of products have similar price, except a few that is more expensive than Thailand.... After that I buy a ticket for the UBUS. This bus will take us to THSR (Taiwan High Speed Rail) which is around 20 min further away. The bus leaves every 10 min or more frequent during peak hours.
We can buy the bus ticket at counter 2.
After that, we walk to the outdoor platform (no. 12).
We meet up with another group of friends who arrived here yesterday at THSR Taoyuan Station. We are taking this high speed train to Taichung which is the third largest city in Taiwan. We are going to stay there for 2 nights and use it as a base to travel around.
We bought a high speed train ticket in advance. Since we plan to use high speed train 2 times only during our trip, it's not worth to buy day pass. So we buy a one way ticket. To buy this one way trip is the same as day pass. It's quite similar to how we use JR pass in which we need to take the voucher to exchange for the ticket at Periodic Ticket counter.
That we get the ticket, let's go wait for the train. If you have been to Japan, you will feel taking a train in Taiwan is much easier as the route is not as complicated (especially high speed train). You can be sure that you won't easily get lose inside the station like when you would in Japan.
High speed train in Taiwan is as comfortable as Shinkansen of Japan. It's spacious, comfortable and fast. ☺ While enjoying the view, after 40 min, we now reach Taichung which is 100 km away already.
Since there're 6 people in our group, we decided to hire a van because it's quite flexible. Van in Taiwan goes by hour including parking and highway fee. Some program would also include petrol while some don't, please refer to the information from the website again. We are renting a van for 10 hours starting from the train station. It is a local brand van. Our package is 6,000 THB (including highway fee and petrol). When divided by 6, this costs us 1,000 THB each (excluding food). That we can roam around the entire day, it's quite worthy....
To help us roaming around more convenient, we firstly drop our bags at Taichung Box Design Hotel which would be a place during our 2 nights stay here.
From the hotel, we take the highway to Nantou in order to visit Shanlinxi Forest Park..… The further away from the city, the greener we see from the tree. I just notice that Taiwan has lots of betel plants. A friend of mine who is a guru of Taiwan told me that betel is widely sold in Taiwan and most of the customers are men because it was sold by sexy dressed girls. What a bad luck that I didn't get to buy some, hehe... Towards the end of this drive, we are seeing more mountains. I feel like this atmosphere is quite similar to that of northern Thailand.
We stop for lunch at the entrance towards Xitou Nature Education Area. It is my first official Taiwanese food (excluding my breakfast from 7 Eleven). The taste is quite mild, I guess they hardly put any seasoning. Most of the taste comes from its actual raw materials. If you eat strong taste food, you will find Taiwanese food is so plain. For me, it's quite alright though I can't say I love it.
Here is where we stop for lunch.
After lunch, we travel a little further to the Xitou Monster Village.... which has a Japanese-style decoration with a spooky theme, both buildings and strange looking food. But most of them are not scary, rather, they are quite cute. When keep walking, we could find accommodation up here too. Tt's quite a big crowd here... Also, you can rent a kimono for photo shooting which could give you a feeling of Japan but cheaper, hehe.
From the monster village, we now keep on going up an elevation. The road starts to curve more. Both sides of the road is somehow covered by slight mist which is quite new for me as I hardly see the mist in the late afternoon like this....Certain area when the mist is blanketing a tea plantation, is so beautiful that I ask our chauffeur to stop for some photo shooting.
Oh, I forgot to mention that our aim for traveling to Shanlinxi Forest Park is to see leaves changing color view. This park is one of the beautiful spots for such beautiful scene in Taiwan.... Along the way, we see 2-3 maple trees start to change colors, even it's not much, it gives us hope that we would see some beautiful view at the park.
But when we are at the entrance, the staff told us that the road is closed due to reconstruction. If we really want to visit inside, we must walk which is quite far and that we didn't have enough time so we decided to cancel this plan... However, it's not a waste of time because the more the sun is set, the more the mist appear and now they form a sea mist stretching for as far as one can see. The mist touches on the sunset is so beautiful. It's truly my first surprise in Taiwan....
When the last light is gone, we are back to Taichung. We ask the van to drop us at Feng Chia Night Market which is one of the big shopping centers of Taiwan.....The atmosphere here is very similar to the one in Japan where they are a lot of shops. Even I'm not here for shopping, I'm getting quite excited....
What must not miss coming to Taiwan is to try local popular food which many are available like chicken, fried squid, papaya smoothies, and fried rice. Most of them are quite tasty and it's not as expensive as in Japan. And here is another charm of Taiwan that Thais would love.
Tonight, we stay at Taichung Box Design Hotel. It is a lovely hotel where each room is decorated with a painting work uniquely painted by staff of the hotel. The room size is not too narrow, either in the bathroom or in the bedroom. We can comfortably leave our luggage and didn't feel the room is smaller. The function that come with the room is great too. More importantly, The hotel is conveniently located in the middle of the shopping district.
The next morning we go out for simple local breakfast led by the same Taiwan guru. This shop is quite popular as I see people are queuing the entire time when we had our food.....It's a flour food or mixed with eggs and wrap with different stuffing. When eating with a glass of milk tea, it is such a perfect match.
Today we are going to explore Nantou again. But this time, we ask the hotel to rent the van for us. Our first program is to visit Rainbow Military Community. It used to be a veteran residence and when it was about to get dismantled, an uncle didn't want to let it go and painted colorful graphic on the wall which completely amazed everyone. Finally, this small village has turned into a tourist destination.
The Rainbow community is quite small. It would look chaotic when accompanied by a big crowd like the day I visited. But one thing I must admit is that his graphic paint is so lovely, colorful, and unique. You certainly don't want to miss out when you are in Taichung.
After leaving the village, we take the highway towards Nantao. We are going to visit Aowanda National Forest Recreation Area. Like yesterday, we wanted to see the leaves changing color scene. Besides the highway, we also must drive through mountains route just like yesterday.
Here is our resting area. It has souvenir shops and is decorated in a theme park just like in a fairy tale, so lovely.
Actually, we see more curves today. Certain time, we go pass this big dam with a marvelous view but unfortunately that there's only one roadside parking where we can stop and take photos.
We stop for lunch at a restaurant along the road right before we reach the park. It's just like the restaurant on Thai mountains. It is a Chinese dish with lots of local grown vegetables and Chinese way of cooking meat. The taste is a plain Taiwanese style. But what I like the most is the view behind the restaurant, it's so beautiful!
After food, we are on the road again and soon we reach Aowanda National Forest Recreation Area which surprises me quite a bit as there're a lot of tourists (I hardly see any car along the way). Here, we see some pine tree turning into yellow, some maple leaves are changing color too but not as abundant as the one in Japan.... The highlight here is the suspension bridge hidden in the valley which takes almost an hour to walk. Since we all wanted to see it, we decided to walk. But not so long after walking, the rain starts to fall heavier that we finally give up and walk back.
Pine trees start to change theirs color.
A species of tiny Sakura is here too.
Here is an atmosphere while wandering inside Aowanda National Forest Recreation Area.
The location where we could see maples changing color the most is the area near the parking lot.
Let's say that the mission to capture the marvelous scene of leaves changing color in Taiwan is unfulfilled. Nonetheless, I've got to experience several unexpected and impressive things here.
Now, we are going back to Taichung.... The sun sets very quickly in this season.
Since we spent too much time in the park, we have to cancel other plans in the evening as the sun sets too quickly. It's all dark by 5.30 p.m.... Then, we adjust our plan by finding something to eat instead. And we choose to go to original recipe of milk tea first, haha, desserts comes before proper meal.
This shop is called Chun Shui Tang which is located in Taichung. We go sit at the basement of the shop. It gives us a total feeling of tea shop....Of course, what could we order but a milk tea which available in hot and cold. It's quite expensive, 1xx THB and could be a bit cheaper on promotional day but still 1xx THB. The tea smells really fragrant, the taste is mild, not too sweet nor too plain (except if you love sweet, you will find it a bit plain). I think it still follows the concept of Taiwanese food which is not a strong taste like the ones in Thailand....Oh, I forgot to mention that it comes in a very big glass. I think a glass is sufficient for two people. When you order a hot drink, you will also get to refill bubble pearls… As such, we only have our dinner as snack because we are full with bubble pearls already.
When we are back in the hotel, I walk to explore around more. It is quite a lively night light. Nearby is Yizhong shopping center which has lots of clothes and fashionable items, the shopping lover would love it here.
The next morning, we go to Taipei by the high speed railway like usual.
First, we need to take the train to HSR station.
From Taichung, we are going to Taipei Main Station. When comparing with Japan, this station is not so big and complicated, yet, it's quite lively with people and lots of shops.....
From the station, we drag our bags to our hotel at MUIU Capsule Inn which is not so far from the station..... Along the way, I try this baked bun because I saw lots of stuffing, haha.
Even though our hotel uses the word "capsule", it doesn't come like what we see in Japan. It's a room with limited space which is just enough to sleep but clean and comfortable. Bathroom is separated for male and female. Each room can accommodate guests from 2-4 people. Also, it's different than the backpacker hostel where we won't have to share our bed room with other group of tourists, making it's more private and safe.
We simply leave our bags here and continue our journey.
This afternoon, we are going for Maokong Gondola by getting off at the last station, the same one with Taipei zoo. Also, to easily roam around Taipei, I recommend you guys to buy Easy Card. The card costs 100 NTD and we can top up to use their public transportation or buying things in 7 Eleven. This would make our trip much more convenient. Although this card is nonrefundable, we could use it on our next journey. So to make it most worthy, you have to travel here more often, hehe.
From Taipei Zoo Station, we walk back around 200 m to reach Gondola Station. Here, we can use our Easy Card to pay for the cable car. The nonstop round trip ticket is 240 NTD. This is very cheap in comparing to Japanese or European cables (which is more or less 1xxx THB)... We could choose to take either solid or crystal floor....If you are not scared of height, crystal floor is recommended. We would queue up differently towards different types of cable cars. Crystal floor has less cables and most of the time, less people in a queue too.
To be honest, as first I wasn't so excited about this activity. I thought it was just taking a cable to enjoy the view from above. And from what I see, green mountains around here is also not that interesting. Besides, it will be just a short trip (judging from the fare without searching any information beforehand).
But once I'm up there....Oh wow, it's so beautiful..... In addition to the beautiful green mountains below, we could also see Taipei afar too.
Actually, we could stop at the station along the way to capture atmosphere too. But due to limited time and this magnificent view, I'm afraid that we would lose our seats. Finally, we just take the cable car to the terminal stop on the top...
Here, it's quite a big crowd. We can also walk to enjoy the viewpoint and tea plantation from here. But we decided to enjoy downtown Taipei instead since we already had a more then worthy view while taking the cable car.
We go back to Taipei by MRT and get off at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall Station in order to find angles for taking the Taipei 101 shots, starting from nearby the station and Cathay United Bank.
From here, we split up. One group goes for shopping and the other group (me and a friend) heads toward Xiangshan (Elephant Mountain) in order to capture the Taipei 101 from high angle.... We show the photo to the taxi, he looks confuse but tries to take us anyway. Finally, he drops us at an elephant sign which looks similar to what we show him, but it's not where we wanted to go..... We don't give up just yet, so we asked people walking down from the mountain whether this could lead to where we wanted to go, and the answer is yes. Oh well, we gotta believe them right?... But after a while, my friend said it's not the route he used to hike. Anyway, it is said that there're several ways to go up to this Elephant Mountain. Ok, now we just have to see whether this route is more challenge than the route people normally complained or not....
Left and right and on, this route is not that steep but bring out my sweat quite a bit. Besides, today I come up with a full option of my camera equipment in a bag so it gets me quite sweaty....After about 20 min walk, we finally reach our first photo taking spot. It is a yard of big rocks with Taipei 101 as a background. Yay!!! we finally made it here...
Then, I quickly go back down to call my friend who is waiting below to come up...but oh my!!! we are here during the weekends, people are so many that I almost cannot find a place for my tripod to stand. I keep on walking to other viewpoint which Taipei 101 gradually appears herself more too. Of course, the most beautiful viewpoint is at the end of this route but yeah, a big crowd too. I have to stand on the third row. Luckily, there's still some space for me to capture this view despite not as wide as I wanted.
Actually, the sky today is amazingly beautiful but it's quite foggy so we can't see afar clear. Nevertheless, the view in front of me now already makes it all worthy for this trip.
On the way back, we take the route that people normally take. It's a straight path, without any crossroad. It is easy to walk without getting lost, not like the previous route I took which had quite a few to make us confuse. But I feel this route is steeper because it's going up straight without any turns.
After buying a bottled water to freshen up at the mini mart below, we take the MRT to meet up with our friends at Ximending which is a famous and big shopping center of Taipei....The first thing we do is going for hotpot at the famous Mala Yuanyang restaurant. Now, I can eat the entire pig as my energy is almost all gone, haha.
We must book in advance and be on time, otherwise, our time will be deducted as per the late time. At first, I thought eating 2 hrs buffet would be more than enough but hotpot here is so great! Meat is fresh and come with good quality, the soup is also yummy (especially mala soup). Besides, Movenpick and Haagen-Dazs iceream, and draft beer is included. What's more, it opens until 5 a.m. (OMG!)... A price per head is between 500-600 NTD depending on time. Additional 100 NTD will be charged if you come alone, so don't, hehe...If you ask whether it's worth the price, I must say it's very worthy. Even I can't eat a lot, don't eat beef, I feel by eating shrimp, fish and icecream make it all worthy already. More than anything else, it's so delicious, just my taste (it's not plain like other meal).
Then, it's time for shopping....I must admit that this area is quite fun and lively. There're a lot of things to see and shop like brand name or local famous products. But for the price, especially shoes, I think Taichung offers a cheaper price.
From Ximending, we walk back to our hotel as it's quite close. I have to say that MUIU Capsule Inn is located at the golden location for Taipei.
The next morning, we move to different hotel to experience something different. It is another design hotel which is not so far from MRT Taipei Main Station. This hotel is called Mr Lobster's Secret Den design hostel.... It is located on the building. From the first glance, I thought it's an old hotel... But once the lift is open, we find this hotel is so great. It is decorated in an industrial style which matches the building very well. The atmosphere is warm and friendly. More importantly, the room is not too small and comes with bathroom, making our stay more comfortable.
Again, we just drop our bags and go for a breakfast at a famous Din Tai Fung restaurant. I heard that this restaurant is usually packed so we go there very early. We choose to go the branch near Dongmen Station. Luckily, we almost didn't have to queue....The atmosphere inside is very modern, clean, and come with professional service. They have a Thai speaking staff and Thai menu too.... Oh wow, so great! This meal, I let my Taiwan guru friend order for us.
Here is another meal that is quite my taste. After coming down, we see people in such a long queue. It's really our good luck that we came here early so we didn't have to line up in this long queue.
Ok, after this 10 stars breakfast, let's roam around Taipei more. This morning, we are going for Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall of which the MRT that we got off has the same name. After exiting the station, we can turn right into the memorial hall... We are so lucky, the earlier cloudy sky is now so bright, making this place looking more grand and beautiful....Actually, I wanted to capture the first light here too as I used to see a beautiful picture of it. But the first train leaves at 6 a.m. and it'd be too late for taking sunrise shot, so I have to cancel. Well, I think coming in the late morning is also beautiful despite having a big crowd of tourists already.
After that, we split into 3 groups and meet up again in the evening for the view on Taipei 101... For me, I'm going for hot springs in Taiwan at Xinbeitou. It's very easy to travel to this place, I can simply take the MRT from inside to outside the town. Unlike Japan where Metro system is usually separated from railway station, Taiwan combine them as one. Sometime, the MRT goes underground, sometimes, on the ground, and also, above the ground.... And here is another reason making traveling in Taiwan is so easy.
The train gradually brings us out of town to Beitou Station. From here, we change to another special train in order to go to Xinbeitou with just one stop away.
This is a special train which is cutely decorated.
Xinbeitou is another popular holiday destination among Taiwanese people due to hot springs and Taiwanese onsen that Japanese built when they ruled over this land.
Here is the route towards hot springs.
15 min walk from the station, we will reach small hot springs area with smoke coming out that you realize without having to be told of how hot it could be.....
To bath inside these hot springs, both public and private ponds are available with different price... Also, you don't have to get naked here, you can go down with your swimming suit. In case you didn't bring it, you can buy one from the shops around.
Before going back to meet my friends, I stop by at the Hot Spring Museum which tells the history of this hot springs. Oh, and it's free of charge.
A library nearby looks quite beautiful too
From Xinbeitou, I take the MRT back to Taipei again. My destination is Taipei 101, but before going up, we roam around Simple Market near Taipei 101 Station first (take the world trade center exit). It used to be a veteran residence (again) and turn into a walking street later. There're lot of beautiful designed products and fusion food. Also, you can take many cool photos from these alleys.
From here, it's not far to walk to Taipei 101.
… High speed lifts start from the 5th floor to the 89th floor, which is a 360-degree viewpoint, taking only 37 seconds. It's so fast. If you have been up on Tokyo Skytree, you will get similar feeling here. There's light show on the ceiling while going up too.
Since it gets dark quite early, even we are up at the viewpoint at 5 p.m., it's already dark. Probably, this is also due to a cloudy day. Soon, the rain starts to drop making taking photos very difficult. That we see the rain won't stop anytime soon, we decided to go back down.
Tonight, we are staying at Mr Lobster's Secret Den design hostel.
The next morning, we take a taxi from our hotel to the airport because Nokscoot flight is a morning one..... We also have our breakfast at the food court inside the airport. The price is not expensive, I think it's similar to what we eat outside.
While waiting to get boarded, I buy pineapple pie as souvenir home. This is a famous gift from Taiwan. It's softer than our pineapple filled cracker in Thailand. But the price is also quite expensive.
Even I get to enjoy Taiwan for only 5 days 4 nights ....but from what I see and feel, I understand why many people love Taiwan so much. Taiwan is so unique, easy to travel, and cost of living is not so expensive... Do not believe everything I say, please come enjoy yourself and you will understand.
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