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Nine Days Around Taiwan

OCT 14, 2018vacation to Taiwan
    lifetravel

Nine Days Around Taiwan


I recently tagged along with my parents and traveled to Taiwan for the first time. Although I’ve visited many places close to Taiwan such as Hong Kong and Japan, I had yet to visit Taiwan itself until now. During my nine day trip around the country I was able to visit many sights and cities, experience the local culture and food, and most importantly catch up with distant family.

The Trip


Day 1 - Arrival, Taipei Pt. 1

After a grueling 14 hour 1AM flight from Houston to Taipei, we arrived at Taipei early in the morning at 6AM. Here we met up with my uncle and older cousin from mainland China that I hadn’t seen in over a decade. Similar to Japan’s Suica card and Hong Kong’s Octopus card, Taiwan also has a convenient card system called EasyCard you can purchase that can be used for almost all mass transit systems across the entire country. Our first priority was to pick up these new cards at the airport (although typically any subway station will sell these) so we could travel much more conveniently across the country.

After getting our essentials ready for local travel our first stop was our Taipei Airbnb booking of 2 nights located in Taipei’s eastern Dongqu district. Although we only walked 10 minutes from the nearest station to our booking we were already drenched in sweat. Even though a typhoon had just passed by only a week ago the weather was still unfortunately extremely humid and hot.

After resting for a bit and grabbing breakfast we trekked it out to Chiang Kai-shek’s Shilin Residence where we went through a guided history lesson on the origins of Taiwan along with Chiang Kai-shek and Madame Chiang’s role in Taiwanese history.

Commemorative plaque

Commemorative plaque

The residence

The residence

After the sun descended we decided to head over to the nearby Shilin Night Market for the evening to try our hands at some delicious street food for dinner. There was a smorgasbord of delicious skewered meats, fried snacks, and other delicacies, lining the streets as we wandered around. Eventually we did decide to sit down and grab some proper dinner, trying various local dishes including some of Taiwan’s famous oyster omelettes.

Food stalls

Food stalls

Stores

Stores

Underground cafeteria

Underground cafeteria

those prices tho

Oyster omelette

Oyster omelette

actually pretty good

Interestingly enough the funniest part of this whole experience for me was watching the local chefs speak out in both basic Korean and Japanese in addition to Mandarin to all the various visitors and locals stopping by for meals. It really gives you a sense of scale of how popular the night market really is.

Day 2 - Taipei Pt. 2

To start the second day off we visited another local breakfast joint, this time run by a bunch of ladies. Breakfast consisted of milk, potstickers, churros, and other assorted breakfast pastries.

Local breakfast

Local breakfast

look at all those kitchen ladies 😅

warm milk

Warm milk

Potstickers & churros

Potstickers & churros

We then set off for the National Palace Museum, Taiwan’s most famous museum that houses a vast collection of Chinese artifacts. There’s quite a bit of history to this museum as it houses and preserves several millenia of Chinese artifacts and relics, many taken from mainland China in fear of Japanese occupation and later on the Cultural Revolution.

Historical documents exhibit

Historical documents exhibit

documents that span the Qing dynasty

Artwork exhibit

Artwork exhibit

artworks from the 1850s to 1930s

Jade Cabbage

Jade Cabbage

Jade cabbage close-up

Jade Cabbage close-up

a jade carved into a cabbage

Meat Stone

Meat Stone

Meat Stone close-up

Meat Stone close-up

a rock carved into meat

Later in the afternoon I spent some time browsing electronic goods at Guanghua Digital Plaza in hopes of checking out the mechanical keyboard scene in Taiwan and searching for some enthuasiast keyboards. Despite being home to the well-known Ducky mechanical keyboard brand, most of what I saw here were your typical gaming keyboards with basic switch selections offered by popular brands such as Razer and Corsair instead of some more enthuastist level sub-100% keyboards, which was a bit of a disappointment.

To finish for the evening we decided to head to Ximending, one of Taipei’s most popular districts very reminiscent of both Tokyo’s Shibuya with its busy streets and various side alleys full of goods.

Main plaza (1/3)

Main plaza (1/3)

Main plaza (2/3)

Main plaza (2/3)

Main plaza (3/3)

Main plaza (3/3)

Day 3 - Taipei Pt. 3, Night in Taichung

Day three! As we were going to leave for Taichung in the late afternoon we decided to get out early and do some more exploring. The first stop of the day was Taipei Liberty Square. Taipei Liberty Square is a plaza that houses the National Concert Hall and National Theater among other things and is a popular spot for public gatherings.

Liberty Square Main Gate

Liberty Square Main Gate

National Theater

National Theater

Chiang-kai Shek Memorial Hall

Chiang-kai Shek Memorial Hall

At the far end of the plaza is the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Chambered inside at the top of the stairs is a statue of Chiang Kai-shek with a rotation of military guards performing ceremonial duties at regular intervals. We visited underneath to find another neat museum detailing the history of Chiang Kai-shek and Taiwan.

Chiang Kai-shek statue

Chiang Kai-shek statue

Office reproduction

Office reproduction

Guards

Guards

just doing their thing

Having finished our museum tour we decided to stop by a nearby bustling local spot for brunch. This spot served lots of delicious comfort foods including one of my new found favorites, 滷肉饭 or Taiwanese braised pork rice. The dish tastes amazing for its simplicity, which basically involves a bowl of rice flavored by some meat broth with extremely tender braised pork that literally melts over the rice. Yum!

Lu rou fan

Lu rou fan

braised pork, rice, and egg

Pork ribs w/ soup

Pork ribs w/ soup

Fried tofu

Fried tofu

Fatty pork

Fatty pork

oh my

The rest of the afternoon was spent visiting various stores throughout the city. Once it was time to leave we took the high speed rail from Taipei Main Station towards our next destination of Taichung. While settling into our Airbnb booking for the evening we were able to coincidentally catch a glimpse of the ongoing Autumn Festival celebration fireworks!

Fireworks!

Fireworks!

from the ongoing autumn festival

Day 4 - Penghu Pt. 1

The original plan was to spend around two days in Taichung exploring the city and visiting my great-aunt, but it turns out that she had returned to her residence in Penghu several days ago. Because of this, we adjusted our plans accordingly and decided to travel to Penghu instead. We rode the high speed rail to Chiayi and then took a taxi to a local port where we were able to book a ferry directly to Penghu. Penghu itself is a small series of islands located to the west of Taiwan that is popular among Taiwan’s domestic travelers but relatively unknown to international tourists.

Ferry ride

Ferry ride

the calm before the storm

After a grueling hour long ferry ride where more than half the passengers (including myself) suffered from motion sickness due to the strong winds and waves, we finally arrived at Penghu. We met up with our great-aunt’s family who actually own and manage a series of inns at the island, so luckily we were able to stay at one of their inns for the entire Penghu leg of our trip. The inn we stayed at was called the Pathway Inn and was not only beautiful but extremely cozy as well!

Pathway Inn

Pathway Inn

modern and cozy

Outside view

Outside view

Our room

Our room

Family gathering

Family gathering

lunch with our family and great aunt's side

Once we settled, we went ahead and visited my great-aunt and talked about the history behind the two sides of our families and catch up with each other. Afterwards, we took a short evening stroll around one of the beach-side areas in Penghu. Although you can’t really see it in these pictures, the wind during this time of the year was extremely fierce and blew us around pretty hard as we walked through the area.

Seaside

Seaside

Seaside

Seaside

Xiying Rainbow Bridge

Xiying Rainbow Bridge

this bridge lights up on nights and special occasions 🌈

In the evening we headed out as an entire family to a local restaurant for some delicious seafood. Highlights of the meals were some killer shrimp pancakes, fresh oysters, and lobsters for everyone.

Day 5 - Penghu Pt. 2

We kicked off day two on Penghu by going snorkeling! We visited a local place that provided a snorkeling tour and suited up and headed out to the sea. While the equipment setup and rapid-fire training that we were given were a bit daunting at first, snorkeling felt quite natural once we actually stepped into the water and got to swim around. Despite the limited visibility down in the waters there were still a surprising amount of colorful fishes and interesting fauna that we were able to spot as we swam.

Ready to go

Ready to go

suited up and ready

Snorkeling

Snorkeling

Snorkeling

Snorkeling

fishes and fauna 🐠

Once we finished snorkeling and took a break, we spent the rest of the afternoon visiting much of the local sights around the various island townships. Due to the small size of the island, you can basically drive across the entirety of Penghu in around in a single hour. My first cousin once removed (uncle basically) took us on a road tour through the various sights, where we first stopped at the Tongliang Great Banyan. This structure consists of a temple and a single overgrown 300-year old banyan tree. Oh, and we also stopped for some of the local specialty cactus ice cream around the area too, which was actually quite good!

The temple

The temple

Great Banyan tree

Great Banyan tree

look at those roots!

Great banyan tree

Great Banyan tree

The next stop for the day was Erkan Historical Village, a 300-year old traditional settlement that houses one of Penghu’s local populations. Notable aspects of the area include the unique architecture, walls built with coral rocks, and their almond tea (although a tad bit too strong for my tastes).

Erkan Historical Village

Erkan Historical Village

Center street

Center street

Coral rock

Coral rock

lots of walls are built with coral in the village

For the evening, we decided to celebrate my second cousin once removed’s coincidental birthday by eating at a local hot pot joint. The food was your typical set of hot pot offerings, but like all hotpot delicious as usual. Happy birthday Judy!

Day 6 - Penghu Pt.3, Kaohsiung

Since this was our last day in Penghu, we decided to pay our respects to my deceased great-uncle. Afterwards, we headed out to check out some of Penghu’s beaches and then get together for one last before finally leaving.

One of Penghu's beaches

One of Penghu's beaches

The cousins

The cousins

Elven, Judy, and I

The parents

The parents

Uncle, extended uncle, dad, and mom

We avoided the ferry this time around thankfully and flew out of Penghu instead to our afternoon/evening destination of Kaohsiung. The trip was much quicker this time around at only half an hour and was definitely a lot smoother too. After arriving at Kaohsiung and settling into our next Airbnb, we headed out into the city to explore!

In the afternoon we spent sometime at the Yancheng district piers. Located here were a bunch of cool warehouse stores that sold artisanal goods, handicrafts, and books. Later in the evening we spent our time at one of Kaohsiung’s popular night markets - Ruifeng Market. While we grabbed dinner here I was able to try out some of Taiwan’s famed stinky tofu, although I unsurprisingly didn’t enjoy it too much. But hey, it was worth a shot at least!

Stinky tofu

Stinky tofu

eeeh wasn't that good

Day 7 - Hualian Pt. 1

We left Kaohsiung early in the morning to take a six hour scenic train ride to our next destination of Hualien, basically traveling from the west to east side of Taiwan in one ride. The plan today was to simply settle into Hualian and spend the evening doing some light exploring before heading into Taiwan’s renowned Taroko National Park tomorrow. As for the ride itself, it was indeed scenic with plenty of oceanside views, mountain roads, and cozy villages nestled within valleys.

Scenic ride (1/3)

Scenic ride (1/3)

Scenic ride (2/3)

Scenic ride (2/3)

Scenic ride (3/3)

Scenic ride (3/3)

Once we finally arrived and settled into our Hualien lodging we spent some time exploring around the city for the rest of the evening. Dinner was spent at a cozy cafe where we had some western-style food. We then later explored a former winery complex of several warehouses that had been re-converted into a cultural and creative industries park. Inside were gallerys showcasing the local art scene, handicrafts for sale, as well as antiques displays with all sorts of odds and ends, although we ended up heading back a bit early to rest in preparation for a long day of hiking tomorrow.

Day 8 - Hualian Pt. 2, Night in Yilan

Today we made plans to travel to Taroko National Park, one of Taiwan’s most famous national parks. The park is named after its signature Taroko Gorge and features marbled canyons carved by erosion, towering mountain ranges, and various temples and establishments nestled within. Fortunately our Airbnb host was nice enough to recommend us a local host which we hired to conveniently take us around the major sights of the park.

On our route to the park we stopped by several cliffsides and beaches to catch the ocean view from Hualien.

Hualien beach-side

Hualien beach-side

Family photo

Family photo

Dad, Elven, Me, Mom, and Uncle

Hualien beach-side

Hualien beach-side

Hualien beach-side panorama

Hualien beach-side panorama

We then ventured into Taroko National Park and visited the park center’s museum detailing the history of the various aboriginal populations that reside in Taroko and also got to try some of Taroko’s signature honey peach tea. Afterwards, we began trekking through several trails across the various mountains within the park.

Ocean view from Taroko

Ocean view from Taroko

Carved marble gorge

Carved marble gorge

note the marble patterns from erosion

Red bridge

Red bridge

Notably interesting was the pattern of erosion visible across many of the marbled cliffs that we walked across. The color of the water we saw was also a saturated teal due to the higher amount of sediments present in the general area. In addition to the canyon trails, we also walked through several historical establishments in the area including caves, temples, and even a big suspension bridge!

Distant temple

Distant temple

nestled within the valley

Suspension bridge!

Suspension bridge!

maximum 5 people apparently 😰

Temple close-up

Temple close-up

another temple

Another temple

After a good day of hiking through the park, we finally concluded our tour of the park, said goodbyes to our awesome tour guide, and then took another local train this time to our destination of the night - Yilan. Once we settled in, we spent the rest of our evening hanging out around our nearby local Luodong Night Market before calling it a night.

Day 9 - Taipei Pt. 4, Departure

For the final day of our trip we decided to spend some additional time in Taipei to catch up on anything that we missed earlier and still wanted to do in the city. We took a local bus from Yilan to Taipei in the morning, rented out some lockers for our luggage, and then headed out to have some more fun!

Brunch was spent in Taipei’s cozy Zhongzheng District, where we wandered through several western-style cafes in parks before finally deciding to grab some local sushi. Afterwards we decided to check out the raw denim scene in Taipei by visiting the TAKE5 Taipei shop.

TAKE5 shop

TAKE5 shop

seriously impressive 🔥

Union Special

Union Special

some variant of a Union Special sewing machine

It was really neat seeing almost all of the renowned japanese denim brands lined up on display inside the store. While I was browsing around the clerk showed me a pair of rare Momotaro’s 10th anniversary pairs with gold lining around the typical pink Momotaro selvedge - now that’s rad. In addition, I also got my older cousin to purchase her first pair of women’s raw denim from Pure Blue Japan. Success!

After we had enough shopping for the day, it was finally time to end our vacation and leave Taiwan. We headed back to the airport, said our goodbyes, and then parted ways. Our scheduled flight was again another 14 hour round of endurance, leaving Taipei at 10PM and arriving at Houston at 11PM.

Trip Retrospective


My thoughts on Taiwan after having spent nine days around the country: it’s an extremely beautiful and friendly place! The local culture really fosters a sense of community that not found in many places these days - everywhere we went the people were extremely nice and always willing to help and share their experiences. The overall quality of the food was also great and while there were some local dishes that I wasn’t exactly a fan of (like stinky tofu), almost all of the places that we went to served dishes that were well-prepared and absolutely worth it for their prices (noodles and rice bowl dishes for less than $2-3!). The only thing that I didn’t enjoy too much during my stay was the weather, which was far too hot and humid for the majority of the time.

As for being to catch up with family again, this was something that I really looked forward to and enjoyed being able to accomplish on my trip. Since my family and I moved together to the United States as first generation immigrants while I was fairly young, I never really had many opportunities to hang out with my relatives back in mainland China and elsewhere. Having been able to meet up again with my uncle and cousin now however, my uncle was still the goofball that I surprisingly remember over a decade ago, and my older cousin turned out to be a really cool person as well! Alongside the fun I had hanging out with her I was also able to learn a lot more about life in China, her experiences and perspective on it, and also exchange ideas from both our perspectives and improve on my Mandarin skills somewhat. And then being able to meet new extended relatives that I previously had no knowledge about was also fascinating as well. It was super interesting seeing the lives that my extended relatives led, their history, and getting to know them.

Overall, this trip was great fun! And being able to catch up with family old and new just made the trip all the more memorable. An experience like this is something that a lot of immigrants sometimes never get to have, so it’s definitely something worth treasuring in my eyes.