My husband and I were lucky enough to spend 5 days in Taiwan during December 2016. We had the added bonus of being…… kid free!
What a dream!
We decided to try and be adventurous, splitting our limited time between the beautiful coastline and countryside, and the fabulous city treats of Taipei.
First stop Juifen:
With slightly puffy eyes, we landed at Taipei airport. We jumped straight into a cab and headed to Jiufen (approximately an hours drive away). It’s a blink and you’ll miss it kind of place. So please, don’t blink.
Jiufen is a beautiful old mining town built to accommodate the gold rush in the early 1900’s. Its positioning is wonderfully etched into the mountainous landscape, coupled with sweeping views of the Taiwanese Pacific coastline.
We arrived quite late but immediately went to explore. The Old Town was a perfect starting point. It’s great for food (stinky tofu, taro ball soup and Taiwanese meat rolls that are seasoned pork stuffed in gelatine pouches), tea, and buying any nik-naks you want for souvenirs. There is even a small laneway dedicated to a number of quirky cat stores. I know, sounds weird, but it’s kinda cool.
We stayed at Sunshine B&B, a 2 minute walk away from The Old Town. Sunshine is run by a very friendly bunch. The breakfast was a real treat, equally as interesting as it was delicious.
Brave Alert – try the odd-looking hard boiled eggs cooked in a spiced broth, the broth seeps into the eggs and gives it a truly unique flavour. The views from the guesthouse are amazing. If you are sleepless (like we were), get up early and hike the meandering mountain path.
We were super impressed with Jiufen; our first glimpse of Taiwan will be remembered as being warm, friendly and tasty. If anything, one night was way too short. We were unfortunate that our visit was met with a English – type drizzle which restricted us from exploring the beaches and the lighthouse.
We’ll be back Jiufen.
On the drive back to the capital, we started to get excited about the prospect of exploring this mysterious city. Our little family never gets bored of the thrill of visiting Asian capitals.
We opted to stay at the Art’otel in the heart of the artsy shopping pedestrian area of Ximending. The Art’otel has lovely friendly staff, they were ready to literally bend over backwards to help us with directions, restaurants and tourist stuff. The rooms were pretty basic and small, but comfortable enough to keep us both smiling. Free washing machine and dryer = added bonus.
In Taipei to travel around, check out the MRT (underground train). Its super cheap and kids-play to use. We were really touched by the Taiwanese public transport etiquette. Get this, when you are pregnant travelling in Taipei you can collect a sticker to wear, which ensures you have no issues getting a seat. What a caring idea. We’d love to see this initiative go global.
Highlights of Taipei
Visit Longshan Temple, a Buddhist temple in the Wanhua district, its where single girls go and pray for a husband. Old fashioned spiritual competition to online dating phenomenon.
Outside the temple you are offered tea made from dried red dates, dried wolfberries and sugar. This is then offered to the God of Matchmaking. The sweet taste is meant to warm you, thus making you more attractive. Legend has it, in no time you’ll be married. Me and the hubby drank plenty of it. You’ll be pleased to know it’s kept our marriage alive.
Put down everything, get into a taxi, do not pass go, do not collect $200, go straight to Addiction Aquatic Development – You have to eat here! It is the most amazing seafood. Every seafood you can imagine, alive in a tank, fried, grilled or carpaccio, prepared using beautiful oils, herbs, spices and fresh vegetables.
Next morning when the seafood belly had gone down, we reconnected with new friend -the MRT. Beitou was our next destination.
Beitou is about 30 minutes from central Taipei. It is regarded as one of the best places in the world to experience hot springs. The options cater for both public and private bathing.
Free Top Tip!
Check the day that you go, many private springs are closed on a Monday. From what we saw it makes the public springs a somewhat cramped affair. We opted to go to a private spa in a hotel for the afternoon. Spring City Resort was our destination, it included access to 9 outdoor pools that ranged from pleasantly warm to skin removers. The package also included a 3 course lunch. The food was average, but we did get to spend a lovely romantic relaxing afternoon together with barely a single person around. Should we go back, we’d probably splash out and stay for a couple of nights pampering at one of the hot spring resorts.
Nowadays every city you visit has something I call, ‘the obligatory tourist check box’. In Taipei, if you don’t know already, this is the Taipei101 building. Architecturally, it’s not the most amazing building. It is tall and does have a nice view, but it’s expensive, and the view when compared to others such as the Empire State Building isn’t so great. Do it, don’t do it. It is ok. But if you don’t have too much time don’t bother.
Every trip should have a highlight. We were a little surprised that ours ended up being the cycling. Taiwan has become a major attraction for cyclists, it caters to everyone from Tour De France wannabees, right though to your basic trundler. Taipei places great emphasis to encourage people to catch a glimpse of their city by bike. Picture it as the Amsterdam of Asia.
There are regular bike stations located around the city, all you need is a credit card to swipe and hire – dropping off is just as simple. We can’t remember the actual figure but it felt like peanuts. The city is surrounded by a beautiful river and a cycle pathway which literally goes on forever. It was so lovely, seeing all the beautiful vantage points, meeting other locals and tourists, and stopping off at cute little river cafes to catch our breath. I’m not sure how long we rode for but it felt like such a pleasurable experience and thankfully most of trail was pretty flat.
All in all, Taiwan oozed cool.