1.01.2019

Holiday Fun in Taiwan - Part 1

HAPPY NEW YEAR!
It's the most wonderful time of the year! I truly believe it is and what I always look forward to during the yuletide season is getting together with friends, relatives, and planning a family getaway, whether it's a simple staycation or a few days out of the country. Last year, we went to Tokyo. This year, we went on a 5-day vacation to Taipei, Taiwan.


The idea to go to Taiwan actually came from the girl. More than a year na yan nangungulit, coz one of her closest friends is half Taiwanese who shares stories of their family travels to Taipei. Since we decided on Tokyo muna, I told her we'll plan for Taiwan another time. So, when we were thinking of where to go for our year-ender, it was first on the list. 

I know a lot of people who went to Taiwan this past year -- ang lakas ng tourism promotion nila ha! =)  I heard the weather is cool in December and there are several attractions we can visit, aside from it being a foodie destination (with countless delicious street food Taiwan is known for). Plus, it's way cheaper compared to traveling to other Asian countries. We all agreed, so I quickly booked for our flight and accommodations.


VIEW OF TAIPEI 101 ON THE WAY TO AMBA SONGSHAN HOTEL

Travel period: December 20 - 24, 2018

Airline: China Airlines
Got a good deal arranged by Jeron Travel agency.  Eva Air was also a good option.

Accommodations: Amba Taipei Songshan hotel
  • Direct booking online; availed of their special rate for a 4-night stay 
    • Extra Large Twin Room with River view, plus extra bed for third adult
  • Booked hotel car pick-up at the airport for convenience
Many of my friends recommended amba hotels and now I know why. Ang bilis ng online transactions with the hotel and I was very happy with their service. After a few exchanges via email, everything was paid and confirmed. Find all the rates and details in their website.

amba Taipei Songshan
8 Section 7 Civic Boulevard, Taipei 11562
  • Quiet neighborhood with accessible location
  • Clean, spacious, contemporary 4-star hotel
  • Features a Sky Bridge from 3/F connecting to Citylink mall and Songshan Station, with direct access to Taipei Metro Songshan Station (exit 4A) and train services
  • 2 blocks away from Raohe St. Night Market
  • 5 minutes’ drive (free hotel shuttle) to Taipei 101 and Xinyi business and shopping district
  • 15 minutes’ drive from Taipei Songshan Airport
  • 45 minutes’ drive from Taiwan International Taoyuan Airport
PARTIAL VIEW OF KEELUNG RIVER FROM OUR ROOM

I'm dividing my feature in 3 parts, so here's day 1 and 2 itinerary to give you a glimpse of what you can do when you visit Taiwan.

Day 1
Arrival - p.m.
  • amba Taipei Songshan hotel (booked an airport pick-up service for NT1600)
  • Xinyi district - check out Taipei 101, Observatory, LOVE sculpture (free hotel shuttle)
  • Raohe Night Market - shop and dine (walking distance from hotel)

Day 2

Day Tour of Northern coast - 9:30am - 5:30pm

9:30 am - private car pick-up at hotel, with driver and tour guide (includes tickets and entrance fees to the attractions, booked via Jeron Travel)
  • Yehliu Geopark
  • Jiufen Village九份
  • Shifen Old Street十分老街
  • Shifen Waterfall
  • Pingxi Sky Lantern Experience
  • Raohe St. Night Market
HOTEL LOBBY; CROSSING FROM HOTEL TO CITYLINK MALL; SKY BRIDGE BETWEEN AMBA & CITYLINK

DAY 1

Plane ride only takes about 2 hours from Manila to Taipei.

Our 10:45 am flight was delayed, so afternoon plans got pushed back by 2 hours.
We arrived at amba Songshan hotel around 3:40pm. Upon check-in, we immediately booked the 5:30pm hotel shuttle service to Xinyi district and see Taipei 101. City maps and shuttle schedule can be requested at the concierge.

At Taipei 101, we decided to skip the Observatory altogether.
I was supposed to buy tickets via Klook the day before we left. Buti na lang hindi ako bumili coz the time slots are fixed and can't be used another day. No photo either by the iconic LOVE structure kasi ang daming tao, and may pila pa. Still, all was good. Shopped for a few items at the Taipei 101 mall and had a quick dinner of street food and milk tea. Shuttle pick up was 7:30pm.

Planned visit to Raohe Night Market was moved for the next day.

STREET FOOD CHICKEN AND MILK TEA FOR DINNER; VIEW OF TAIPEI 101 FROM BELOW

DAY 2
The Northern coast of Taiwan is a must-visit.

After asking around and checking several websites, like Guide to Taipei, I finalized our itinerary for our first full day, which will cover Yehliu Geopark, Jiufen village, and Shifen old street.

At 9:30am, we were picked up by a mini van and our tour guide, Li Chee (or Lychee daw, so we can easily remember her name). On the way to our first destination, she came prepared with visual aids, personal stories and brief history of Taiwan, and recommended places of interests.


YEHLIU GEOPARK
From Taipei, travel time by car is about 30 - 45 minutes depending on traffic. By train or bus, it's around 90 minutes.


After a short orientation about the park, we proceeded to follow the trail.
We went on a Friday and there was a big crowd. Our super helpful and informative guide told us na mas marami pang tao on weekends since even locals flock to the park. 


Just look, don't touch.
It's good to go over the map and guide by the entrance, and be sure to follow all park rules. Even the simple "Do not cross" the red line for safety was being ignored by many tourists so they got called out and shouted at by the park marshals. Embarrassing, but they deserved it for lack for discipline.

BY THE FAMOUS "QUEEN'S HEAD"

The rock formations were fascinating and the view of the expansive landscape was amazing. But that's it. Nothing to do there naman except to relax and enjoy the scenery. You have to use your imagination to see and appreciate the different formations. Isang ikot lang, ok na kami, with photo opps in between. Very thankful that our guide loves to direct our shots and take our family pictures, hehehe.



JIUFEN VILLAGE
An old gold mining town in Riufang district, Jiufen or Chiufen, literally means 9 portions -- for the nine families who used to reside in that quaint mountainside village north east of Taipei. 

Now a famous tourist attraction, Jiufen continues to be a well-preserved town with decades-old tea houses, a multitude of food shacks and souvenir shops.


A LANDMARK OLD TEMPLE ON JISHAN ST. ON YOUR WAY UP TO JIUFEN VILLAGE
WALKED UP TO OLD JISHAN STREET; (right) M SPOTTED A MINING HOLE BEFORE WE LEFT

Sensory overload ako just by walking through the narrow alleys and sampling lots of delectable treats. You'll want to try them all! =)


I didn't take note of the names, but in case you spot any of these yummy eats, go try them and bring some home if you can:
A-Zhu Peanut Ice Cream Roll (must-try!), A-Po taro balls, A-Lan Dumplings, fried crunchy assorted seafood, caramelized strawberries, dried loquat fruit candy and tea, candied nuts, assorted mochi, seaweed rolls, and fresh nougat milk candies.


Our tour guide suggested we have lunch at this old house turned restaurant - The Puppetmaster. It has the best view of the mountainside, and it does! Food was not bad - order the beef noodle soup, sea bass, and fruit tea.



The A Mei Tea House is the grandest century-old building in Jiufen that you should not miss. Sayang hindi na kami nakapasok, so before we left, we just took family pictures by the entrance. 

I learned this was the inspiration behind the popular anime show Spirited Away. Kaya pala ang daming dolls and toys of Spirited Away sa mga souvenir shops in Jiufen.


Spend at least half a day in Jiufen -- loads of foodie finds, curios, traditional Taiwanese delicacies, houseware, and so much more to discover.  Bitin nga ako eh! =)


SHIFEN OLD STREET
After a 45-minute drive from Jiufen to the old coal mining Pingxi District, we got off at Shifen old street and railway station.

Several stores line the sides of the railroad track where visitors can buy food and souvenirs, and get their sky lanterns to decorate and release.


When we arrived, our guide led us to one of the stores that had a red paper lantern ready for us. It was already pre-arranged as part of our tour.  Write or draw whatever you like - wishes, greetings, names, anything.


Watch our lantern fly!

It was a unique experience for us all. The mood there was very festive, ang daming tao, but masaya lahat. The lighting and releasing of the sky lantern was the highlight of the day.



Part of our itinerary was to visit Shifen Waterfalls, but we were all tired and decided to skip it na rin. Around 20 minutes walk pa daw kasi dun just to see the small falls. Instead, tumawid na lang kami sa Jing'an Suspended Bridge that connects Shifen and Nanshan village, located behind the railroad station. Maganda rin naman ang view of the Keelung River from the bridge. But before that, we posed on the railroad track just for fun, hehehe. 





RAOHE ST. NIGHT MARKET
Taiwan has several famous night markets, like Shi Lin and Raohe. Lucky for us, our hotel is just walking distance from Raohe st.

We got back around 5pm. Maaga pa, so instead of heading straight to the hotel, our guide and driver were kind enough to drop us off at Raohe night market so we can explore a bit before bringing us back to our hotel. It's just two blocks away, so very convenient to go back anytime.


Siyempre, for our first visit, I had to grab some fresh-baked pepper pork buns. The stall was up front as soon as you enter the street market, and laging may pila!


The day tour was a fantastic experience especially with the convenience of the private car service and guide. But you can get to these attractions by bus and train easily as well, with Taiwan's efficient  public transportation system.

Did you know there are around 15,000 temples in Taiwan? We spotted one in almost every neighborhood, just like this one that will greet you as you pass Raohe street night market.


To be continued.
Watch out for part 2. :)

Update: Holiday Fun in Taiwan - PART 2

Check out @mymomfriday Instagram Stories highlights, "Fun Taiwan" video clips. 



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