This year for winter break I wanted to go somewhere somewhat warm and also somewhere where I could travel easily. So I went to Taiwan with Kalen for winter vacation. We spent Christmas and New Year’s there. We spent the majority of the time in Taipei, but we also went to Beitou, Jiufen, and Hualien.
For Christmas Eve, we went to the area around Taipei 101 for a Christmas market but it was crazy and crowded. We ended up heading to the night market near Longshan Temple and had our first taste of meat buns ( I gave up food restrictions on this trip and actually never ended up sick). On Christmas Day, we went to a church I found online that was having an English mass and nativity performance. I don’t go regularly but wanted to for the holiday. It was not a regular Christian church. They used a nightclub on Sunday mornings for the location, which meant the whole place was really cool looking and set up well for a play to be performed. There was a stage, video screens, dance floor, and booth seating, etc. They also had coffee and donuts. It started off with Christmas/church songs, and then got into the nativity play. It was a really entertaining take on telling the story. It was presented as a group of actors struggling to get ready for their performance of the nativity. They told the story in bits as they rehearsed, but also taught another lesson as the actors learned the importance of working together and helping each other. Later, we had an early dinner at an English pub which had a Christmas dinner set course. It was really good but I could barely move after!
The next day we left for Beitou. Unfortunately on Mondays, all the little museums in the area are closed. We spent most of the day just enjoying the weather outside in the park and sat around at the public hot spring for a while. A friendly Taiwanese guy helped us at the public onsen since Kalen needed different swim shorts. It was fun but some springs/pools were way too hot. I’d say the majority of people were old men. We had a really nice vegetarian lunch and tea before relaxing in the room enjoying HBO and TV in English for a change.
Next we headed to Jiufen. We had planned to do a hiking or waterfall trip during the day and then go shopping and eating at night but because it was cold and rainy, we just walked around, shopped, and had tea and food throughout the day. I definitely spent more money than planned in this shopping street. We tried a famous ice cream treat here: peanut candy, cilantro, taro ice cream, all in a wrap. It was really good! I also tried other sweets and beef noodle soup.
Off to Hualien and Toroko Gorge. Before leaving, we went back into the shopping street to get some photos without any crowds. The train was a little over two hours and only 12 dollars, which is a bargain compared with Japan. I had hoped to go for a bike ride to the beach the first day, but by the time we go there it was going to be a rush before sunset. I also didn’t feel comfortable riding a bike on the streets to the bike trail because of all the scooters and lack of space for bikes. We went to Hualien’s main night market for dinner. It was really cool because the food stalls were permanent and the location was in a park. It was about a 30 minute walk from the hotel. The first night we had some Taiwanese food and some other food. We had empanadas, egg pancakes with mashed potatoes (and cheese and basil). It was an interesting take on the popular Taiwanese breakfast food. The other night, on the weekend, it was much more crowded and had live music. That night we tried gao bao, fried chicken, smoothies, and a burrito like thing.
While in Hualien, we visited Taroko Gorge. We opted to use the local bus (not city or tour bus). While it was cheap and convenient, the bus didn’t usually come anywhere close to the scheduled time and the first day it was extremely crowded on the way back. I’ve never seen so many people squished on a bus. We were standing in the front seat in front of people sitting down.
Toroko Gorge was beautiful! The first day we went to spots that were more popular and therefore filled with tour buses and tons of people at times. We went to Shakadang Trail, which was along part of the gorge and had nice views of the rocks and water below. Then we went to Swallow Grotto. That was okay. The views were nice but you were just on a path along the road. Then we went to the Eternal Spring Shrine that was a memorial to those who died during the construction of the Central Cross-Island Highway. On the second day, we started at the farthest tourist spot in the gorge, TianXiang. There we went on a really nice hike to a waterfall view. There were monkeys along the trail and a lot of pretty foliage. Afterwards, we grabbed a sweet taro bun and got on the bus to go to the next trail. Liushui trail was empty and beautiful. Some parts you walked along a cut out edge of the rock face (it had a guardrail–some of the permit only trails appear to have areas without anything to stop you from falling off). Other parts were farther in with tree coverage. We saw a giant hornet (venomous) but it was dying.
On the way back, we got off the bus at Xingcheng Beach. It’s a pebble rock beach with some food stalls. The day was nice to just sit outside. After a while, we took the next bus to avoid an overcrowded bus back to Hualien. We ate burgers and a nice salad for dinner.It was nice to eat well made American food 🙂
Back to Taipei for New Years! We left Hualien on December 31, took a nap, and then went out to a brick oven pizza restaurant for dinner. It was great and they even had cannolis! We watched the fireworks shoot off of Taipei 101 from a nearby park with a view of Taipei 101 (never got to go up for the view but I’ve been to Skytree so it’s okay). The fireworks didn’t last too long (compared with Japanese summer fireworks) but it was cool!
The last few days we just enjoyed museums, parks, art, the zoo, street performers and food, both Taiwanese and American style food that we can’t eat in Japan. We had a big meal at Din Tai Fung, a popular dim sum restaurant. We visited Shilin night market which was super crowded. We enjoyed free entry to the National Palace Museum and saw a lot of old Chinese art (furniture, pottery, ceramics, jade, etc.) The zoo cost under $2 and had a really great insect exhibit where you were surrounded by butterflies. We also took the gondola to Maokong to see the view of Taipei. We even enjoyed some craft beer at a shipping container/airstream food park by 101. It felt like being in Austin.
Overall it was a great trip and nice to be in a city (break from Fukui countryside).
People were friendly, trains were cheap, people spoke English and there were English signs and guides, studio Ghibli goods everywhere, food was delicious, boba tea (almost) daily was amazing, and the weather was great!