EVER wonder why there are lots of Filipinos touring Taiwan? Well for starters, it’s visa free to visit as of the moment.
Taiwan, a two-hour flight away from the Philippines, has a lot to offer. I wasn’t really expecting much from my trip, but lo and behold, I was pretty impressed with what Taiwan had to offer.
Upon entering the city from the airport, I noticed the abundance of trees and greenery. It was quite promising. But as soon as I entered the hotel Diary of Taipei Main Station, I was surprised to find a very affordable, clean and modern hotel. Of course, booking near a main station just in case you get lost is a very important tip for us wanderers.
A few blocks from the hotel was Ximending, a shopping district, where one can find random items at bargain prices. Here you will also find the best hot pot restaurants like Mala Hot Pot, milk tea shops (brown sugar milk tea), eat-all-you-can barbecue places like Bear-1 and other street food delicacies. Ximending is very similar to Tokyo’s Shibuya and Shinjuku districts.
The next day, I booked a tour via Klook for Yehliu, Jiufen and a day trip to Shifen that included lessons in Taiwanese pastry making. Booking a tour via Klook is worth it, hassle free and enjoyable as well. We met our guide at the Taipei Main Station and rode a bus to Shifen, located in the Pingxi area.
Nestled within a beautiful forested mountainside is Shifen Old Street. Nearby is the Shifen railway station, originally built for transporting coal during the Japanese era. The track runs straight through the village. Something one must do here is release sky lanterns. These are provided during the tour. A guide will instruct you on how to write all your dreams and wishes on the Chinese lantern before releasing it into the sky. To be honest, this activity was the highlight of my trip.
Next stop, Jiufen. An old mining village known for narrow alleyways, packed with tea houses, street food, and did I say xiaolongbao? This mountainside town is very quaint and somewhat romantic. Along the narrow streets one will find souvenirs, food stalls with milk tea, and flavored broth with xiaolongbao or soup dumplings.
Yehliu Geopark is a natural landscape filled with various rock formations eroded by the sea. Queen’s Head mushroom rock, fairy shoe and Dragon’s Head rock, to name a few, are among those that are well preserved. To end the tour we had a lesson in pineapple shortcake making, which was not really my cup of tea.
A great way to explore the city is via hop-on hop-off bus, which one can catch at the Taipei Main station. First stop, Taipei 101. Designed like a bamboo stalk, it is impossible to miss. Ranked as the ninth tallest building in the world, you can go up to the observatory to get a spectacular view of Taipei City. Next is the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. A must-see, it is one of the most prominent historical landmarks in Taiwan. The hall was built in honor and memory of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, a Chinese military and political leader who led the successful unification of China. If you have time, stay for the changing of guards, a very interesting event to see.
Never leave Taiwan without eating some famous Taiwanese dishes. It may be a cliché, but I just had to line up for Taiwan’s famous Din Tai Fung. Internationally known for its xiaolongbao, the line is definitely worth the wait. Named as one of the top 10 restaurants in the world by the New York Times in 1993, its Hong Kong branch was awarded with a Michelin star. Taiwan was recently voted by CNN as the best food destination in the world, having a culinary philosphy of “eat often and eat well”. Beef noodles, bubble tea, pan fried buns, fried chicken, stinky tofu, fish ball soup, and hot pot dishes are among the specialties one can’t leave Taiwan without eating.
This year, you should definitely do your share of “Taiwandering”.