Let’s talk about Taiwan!
About a month ago, at the beginning of December, I was able to take some time off during my schools’ overlapping exam weeks. What I got was a wonderful, and sorely needed, 6 day trip to Taipei and Jiufen with my travel buddy Justin! :D Here is a rundown of the trip!
Taiwan! For me, what came to mind before my trip was bubble tea, street markets, and mopeds! And after my trip… well pretty much the same and more! :)
Taiwan is located south of Japan, right below the Okinawa islands (you can see how close it is on the map above!). It’s fairly tropical, with quite a lot of rain and humidity, yet somehow, even though we knew this, we only brought one umbrella… D:
Taiwan is also a very interesting country politically! It is seen as part of “One China” by some (classified as a state of China on Wikipedia, for example), and an independent government by others (it has its own government, it’s own visa separate from China, it’s own currency, and it’s own border control, among other things). Depending on who you talk to, this can be a controversial topic. It’s why president-elect Trump’s call with the PM of Taiwan was breaking news . Within Taiwan, there are political parties that are pro unification with China, and others that are pro independence. I feel like this has always been a gray area for me – I actually grew up viewing Taiwan as it’s own country, without being aware of the deal with China.
Culture-wise, Taiwan was ruled by China and Japan in the past, and now has its own government. This makes for a very interesting swirl of cultural influences, like the prevalence of onsen (Japanese-style hot springs) in Taiwan, Mandarin Chinese as the official language, amazing steamed dumplings, and a strong tea culture.
Fun fact! The word formosa (which means beautiful in Portuguese) originates from records of early Portuguese explorers describing Taiwan, and you can see it in a lot of Taiwanese merchandise and souvenirs. I saw it everywhere in Taiwan, and kept thinking of Frommer’s Travel Guides hahaha!
Taiwan’s currency is the New Taiwan Dollar (TWD). At the time of my trip, (Dec 2016) 1 USD ~ 33 TWD, or 10 TWD ~ 0.30 USD. That is how we did the math in our heads quickly any time we needed to convert anything. I liked Taiwan’s bills and coins! I love any currency systems with colorful bills!
We decided to spend a little under a week in Taiwan, and to stay in the north, around Taipei.
Day 1 – Arrive in Taoyuan Airport at 13:20 PM, travel to Jiufen
Day 2 – Jiufen
Day 3 – Travel from Jiufen to Taipei
Days 4, 5, 6 – Taipei
Day 7 – Leave from Taoyan Airpot at 1:55 AM
In retrospect, we did not need that much time in Jiufen. It can EASILY be done as a day trip, which I did read, but I thought it would be so magical at night. Well, it was magical at night, except that it rained the entire time (except for a mystical 2 hours of sun on the day that I left)!
As for having that much time in Taipei, I had experienced a crazy, whirlwind weekend trip a few weeks prior, and was a bit burnt out from work, so I was looking for some down time. This was also why I didn’t venture down south, as many other people do. For me, three and a half days in Taipei was perfect.
Getting to Taiwan
We used two different budget airlines to travel to Taiwan from Japan.
The outbound flight was with Singapore-based Tiger Airways, which had a surprising amount of leg room! I was shocked! I really enjoyed it! Like, why was there so much leg room!! I am not sure if it as just that particular plane or if all Tiger Airways flights are like this, but from this one experience, Tiger Airways gets a tall-person-friendly-stamp-of-approval. <3
On the way back, we flew with Jetstar Japan, which was back to the cramped, headrest in front of you way too close to your eyeballs feeling.
Getting Around Taiwan
I had quite a few options for getting around within Taiwan.
There were MRT passes, rechargeable cards, all kinds of choices… So many that I felt overwhelmed, and we decided to just to buy each ticket individually for the first few days since we were heading out to Jiufen for two days anyway.
When we got back to Taipei, we each bought an EasyCard, which is just a cute and rechargeable card you can use on the MRT (I kept forgetting this was the metro haha), buses, and other systems. I liked it because using the EasyCard gave me a small but sweet discount on all my fares! I already miss how cheap the subway was… one ride could cost us anywhere between as little as 0.15 USD! :o
Another option I LOVED was the YouBike bicycle rental system. I tried this out on my LAST day in Taipei and wish I had done it the whole week! :( It is basically a bike share system in Taipei City and you pay for the time you spend using these orange/yellow bikes that you see people riding all over the city. They have baskets, lights, adjustable seat height, bells, it was great! Note to self, please check out city bike share programs earlier next time. D: Although I have to say, biking on those Taipei roads was a hellish experience.
Story time! Justin and I decided to rent YouBikes heading from Taipei 101 to Elephant Hill, where we wanted to watch the sunset over the city. We got there using really wide sidewalks with few people on them, which was great. When we were done with Elephant Hill, we wanted to head to a cafe, but this time we had to join traffic and boy was that scary… D: Lights would turn green and cars and mopeds would rev around us as we struggled to keep it together and not lose our minds trying to avoid getting killed! So yes, not for the faint of heart!!
In Jiufen, we stayed at Jiufen Kozy Stonehouse B&B!
It was literally a room with a private bathroom in a stone house The owner spoke no English and was really sweet – used to be a chef in Texas! Now he runs a B&B in Jiufen. He even lived above our room, in case we needed anything. It was definitely an interesting experience. The walls were stone, so it retained heat, although the first night was rather chilly and we didn’t know how to work the heater. The decorations were cute, and he had a dehumidifier for us to use which was amazingly useful when it came to drying our sopping clothing! So much rain! The bed had an electric blanket which was SO nice after getting soaked in the rain. <3 In addition, we could pick up complimentary breakfast from the B&B owner upstairs. It was sandwiches and coffee/milk tea in little cartons. :)
Our next place was Meander Hostel in Taipei!
Meander Hostel was a bustling, modern, and apparently award-winning hostel. It was about 10 minute walk from Xiamen subway station, and had a super spacious common area to hang out in. They had free luggage storage, maps, food tours, walking tours, all kinds of events… It was really well run! Our room itself was small but really bright, with a nice view of the street outside! Very different from the B&B, with its own charms. :) Also had a complimentary breakfast, this time buffet style. Toast, a choice of spreads, fresh fruits, congee (I think?), tea, and some other things I am forgetting.
That’s the bare bones of our trip! Because it was a longer trip, I’ll be following this post up with a post on food and sights! :) Stay tuned for more!