Sunday, November 1, 2015

4D3N Taiwan Trip: Taipei, Shifen & Hualien

So last month I went to Taiwan.  In case you’re wondering what to do in Taiwan for a short 4-day 3-night trip, read on!  

Since I’m more of an adventurer, not a shopaholic, we spent only a day in Taipei, and the other two days in the outskirts, which were Shifen and Hualien.  So here’s how it all went down.

Before you continue reading, I have to warn you...the alignment of this post is fucked up and I tried fixing it until I was on the verge of throwing out my laptop so.  My apologies if reading this makes you want to claw your eyes out.


Upon arriving Tao Yuan airport, we took a shuttle bus to the High Speed Rail station, and took the
HSR to Taipei Main Station.  

Obvious Tourist
From there, we walked the underground subway to reach our hotel which was just opposite the exit.  
However, the walk was a good 15 minutes from the train station to one of the MANY exits, and I felt 
cheated by the hotel reviewers at Agoda.  But the hotel was okay.  It even received a Trip Advisor 

The first thing we wanted to do was of course to find food.  And so we asked where the nearest 
local eatery was.  The receptionist pointed to an MRT station and told us to go there.  Yeah,  there was 
none nearby our hotel wtf.  Seriously what the hell, Agoda reviewers?  

We then took the MRT to the suggested station , which was Dongmen.  

Now this is a lively area brimming with shops, restaurants and people, unlike our hotel area, ugh.  
The first thing we noticed was the people. People lining up at stalls and restaurants.  You can’t help 
feeling intrigued by the long lines and that was the cause of our joy and pain during our stay there. 


The local restaurants there are tiny, and mostly packed. We went into one that was not so packed and had 
our lunch there.  To my disappointment, my first Taiwanese meal was horrible.  The meal I ordered 
was tasteless as zero fucks.  

After our non-satisfying lunch, we decided to join the queue at a dessert shop selling desserts that 
looks like you may poop gold.  

15 minutes later, we emerged with this baby.  Absolute heaven, but no gold poop.

Mango snow shaved dessert something something

After dessert, the first tourist attraction we went was to ride the Maokong gondola.  Since our time 
was really precious, like we only had a day to visit like, all of Taipei’s places of interest, we decided 
to travel by cab to save time.  And to be honest, walking in Taipei’s subway to reach the stations is a 
feat, unlike in Hong Kong or Singapore, which are very direct.  Or maybe I’m just getting too old for 
this shit.

And so we were driven all the way up to the Maokong hill.  There were food stalls lining the narrow road, so 
of course we had to try some of ‘em.  

This is only an introduction on what Taiwan has to offer

We then went to the gondola station, and rode in the crystal cabin all the way down to Taipei.  It’s 
called a crystal cabin because…

Yup, a see-through floor not for the faint hearted. 

20 minutes later, we were back in the heart of the city.  To our surprise and secret joy, there was a ridiculously 
long line of people queuing up to get on the gondola.  The RM40 cab ride became worth it  

The gondola ride stops at the Taipei Zoo MRT station.  You could go to the zoo and see pandas while
you're there, but I do not fancy seeing animals in captivity so we took a cab to Chiang Kai-Shek
Memorial Hall, another must go tourist spot.  What’s there,well, a big ass memorial and a mini 
historical museum.  

It’s a place for good photos and history lessons.

From there, we then took a cab to Taiwan’s famous Taipei 101 Tower.  

This was the best shot we could get with the tower. Sad, I know.  Of course, going to Taipei 101 
isn’t complete if you  don’t go all the way up the tower.  However, you need to be mentally and 
emotionally strong to go to the top of the tower.  Be prepared to get in the longest fucking line of 
your life. Queue time: 1 hour.  

We almost wanted to give up but we persevered. And perseverance got us this view.

What's this? Skyscrapers for ants?
After spending like, about 15 minutes actually enjoying the view after queuing up for what felt like 
an eternity, we took a cab to Shilin Night Market.  

There are many night markets around Taipei, but if you are tight with time, visiting this one is 
sufficient, says Google. Shilin night market covers a long stretch of street, and it is packed with 
people, and hey, more lines everywhere!

Not a crowd of people. Just a fucking line

It is an interesting night market though – various street food and trinkets.  

Exactly what you think it is
However, I wasn’t that impressed with the food, maybe ‘coz I didn’t bother to join the long lines of 
the more superior quality of the food that I bought.  

The Penang version of the Oyster Fried Egg is waaay better than this disappointing gooey mess they call food.
After covering the whole market, we then took the MRT this time to go back to our hotel.  ‘Coz the 
MRT station was just right in front of us, so it would be prudish not to.


Our plan for Day 2 was to go to Shifen to see the waterfall that appears in Google images when you
google 'Shifen' and to release sky lanterns.  ‘Coz that is what that place is famous for.  And so we 
hopped on a local train and alighted at Ruifang. 

 From Ruifang, we took a train to Shifen.  

And this is what Shifen looks like. 

A still in-used train track cutting through the town
A quaint little town, blessed with wide-eyed splurging tourists.

And when the big ass train arrives
The trackless side of the town

The first thing we did was have lunch, which was the recommended braised pork rice.  And since I arrived Taiwan, it was the best meal I had.  No photos because it was too good to waste time for a photo.

 After lunch, we went to Shifen National Park which was just a 10 minutes walk from the twon, and took anther 30 minutes walk to where the infamous waterfall is.  

We soon reached the gem of the park.

My Iphone definitely couldn't do justice to this beauty.  You're better off Googling images taken with good cameras.

And yes there were people.  People everywhere.  Even taking pictures with the waterfall requires patience in lining up.  

Back at Shifen town, we did the most touristy thing there, which was lighting sky lanterns.  You can write your
wishes on the lantern...or you can write lottery numbers.  It's like sending a direct message to the
Gods of Luck.

In which yes, one of the numbers did come out, albeit third prize, damn it. Flying the lanterns is just 
really simple activity, yet memorable, so no wonder people flock here just for that.

When we were done, we took a train back to Ruifang, and while waiting for the next train back to 
Taipei, we walked around Ruifang town, buying some famous street food that just tasted okay.

Back in Taipei, we headed straight to the infamous Ximending shopping district, the Harajuku 
street of Taipei.  

I don’t usually shop when travelling, but the temptation was too hard to resist. I caved and bought 
several tank tops and bralettes (which costs double in online shops) and a pair of pumps and even 
combat boots. Both shoes only costed me NTD1000 (RM132).

Definitely a shopping haven for shopaholics.  When not looking at stuff, we sampled food that we 
saw people lining up for.  

Some were worth the queue, some were not.  Nonetheless, Ximending is a really vibrant area, and I 
would’ve booked a hotel at this area had I known.


Day 3 was the day we went to Hualien County, which is about 2 hours away from Taipei, to visit
Taroko National Park - to see the eyegasmic gorge I saw on Google images. We got on the earliest
express train (about 6 a.m.), in which I booked the ticket online a week before, as I heard it is really
difficult to get an express train to get there. Also, I pre-booked bicycles as that was my plan all along. To have 
a little adventurous sightseeing. 

Upon arriving Hualien Train Station, Mr. Lu, our bike renter, picked us up there and brought us to
Taroko National Park.  He then drove us way up the gorge. 

Starting point
To our horror, there was no cycling lane!  Just a perilous, winding, cliffy road with occasional 
warnings of falling rocks.  

Nope. No cycling lane.
Well, it was an adventure I signed up for, so it was an adventure I was going to get. 

After setting up our bikes, Mr. Lu then left us and promised to meet us somewhere in the middle
of the gorge.

And then our little adventure began!  

I for one am not used to cycling (last cycle was about 20 years ago – what), so it was pretty scary 
getting a hang of the bike while fighting away panic attacks when there were incoming cars zooming 
past us.  As if the steep cliffy road wasn’t daunting enough.  

Despite all this, I regret nothing!  And this is why:

Bluish river, projected by unique limestones

A tiny town in the middle of the national park

Stopped like every 5 minutes for selfies

Legend says there's magic here. LOL I just made that up. But just look at how magical it is.

Passing through tunnels along the way

The majestic greens

A hanging bridge somewhere around the park

The view from the bridge
It's a good day to be alive

Exactly like those old-timey Chinese calenders
 Indeed, cycling is the BEST way to soak in the beauty and magnificence of Taroko, without 
being herded like sheep in group tours, and with only little use of energy ('coz you barely cycle when 
going downhill), compared to taking a full hiking tour (though that sounds incredibly fun as well). Plus, it’s cheaper than chartering a cab to take you down the gorge.

The sensation of the cool wind blowing your face as you cycle down enjoying the view – priceless.  
Another bonus is you get to look down at the other tourists who lead boring lives by joining tour
groups, and you’re there on your bike looking so awesome, bounding to make them jealous.

18KM and 5 hours later, we finally reached the entrance of the park.

We took that long as we made many stops for photos.  It was one of the best tours I had in my 
wanderlusting life. 

Even though we just rented bikes from Mr. Lu, he happily brought us around Hualien, for a free
sight-seeing tour.

He took us to a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, which was stunningly blue.

And of course he had to take us to a touristy marble store, and  of course I had to buy a unique pink 
marble (only available in Hualien, it's birthplace - so I was told) as a memento.

It's uniqueness comes from it's likeness of having a painting within the stone

Before sending us back to the train station, he treated us a fried bun snack, a Hualien special.  Since 

we didn’t book an express train back, as we weren’t quite sure how long our cycling tour would last, 
we just hopped on a local train to a station I can't for my life recall, and took an express train from 
there back to Taipei, reaching at about 8 p.m.

For dinner, we just bought a bento dinner set at 7-11, and it was one of the best meals we had there.

This beats the restaurant meals we had.  No wonder we saw many Taiwanese eating from bentos most of the time

Since our flight was early, we decided to just take a NTD100 cab ride to the airport, had an amazing
Szechuan breakfast at one of the restaurants there, and flew back home.

Taiwanese dumplings

Hence, ends another great trip with memories that will last for a lifetime.

And as usual, tips!

1. Accomodation

Our hotel at a secluded area
Our hotel, Taipei Main Inn was clean and comfy, but it’s just isn’t that convenient.  Even though it is
sort of near to Taipei Railway Station (10-15 minutes walk), Ximending or Dongmen is where the 
party's at.  Unless you are planning to travel out of Taipei and need to be near the railway station.

2. Getting around

As cliche as it may sounds, do enjoy the journey, not just the destination

Travelling around is quite convenient, but the train system here can be quite overwhelming.  There’s
the MRT, High Speed Rail, local and express trains.  God knows how many hours I spent doing
research on these bloody trains.  In case your itinerary is the same as mine, here’s a little guide for

Airport to Taipei - Go the the U-Bus counter at the arrival hall > Buy a shuttle bus ticket to HSR
                              Taoyuan Station > At HSR Taoyuan Station, buy an HSR train to Taipei Main

Taipei - There are MRTs stations at most places of interest.  Alternatively, you can just take a cab    around the places of interest in Taipei if you are sick of walking already.

Shifen - At Taipei Main Station, buy a local train ticket to Ruifang Staion > At Ruifang Station, get a  day pass to Pingxi > Alight at Shifen train station.  Since you have a day pass, you can alight  at any stations before or after Shifen if you plan on more exploration.

Hualien - Book an express train online 1-2 weeks prior your planned date from Taipei to Hualien  
               Station.  From the station, you can get a cab to Taroko National Park.  Or you can get Mr
               Lu to take you there.

3. Food

All the oily glory

To be honest, we didn’t really enjoy the food much here.  Which was so ironic as Taiwan is
supposed to be a food haven.  And most travel bloggers are raving about it.   I guess we are the weird 
ones.  For us, the food just tasted okay.  Some were remarkable though, no doubt.  And the only non-
street food meals we enjoyed was the braised pork and rice meal at Shifen, the minced pork noodle 
bento we picked up at at 7-11 and the Szechuan noodles at Tao Yuan airport.  The others were just 
okay.  Maybe if only we had more time, we’d probably be able to sample better foods. Nonetheless, 
Taiwan is abundant with street food, bound to fulfill your cravings for everything oily and fattening.  
And the only way to find out if it’s good, is to get in the longest line.  There’s where your love for 
food will be put to the test.

4. Shopping/What to buy

Minced pork flavoured instant noodles, tea, flavoured beer, pineapple cakes and Hualien's special super spicy garlic chili sauce

You could buy Taiwanese food products that aren't available here, and I heard beauty products are
all the rage there as well.

And yes, yes, yes, a million times yes.  Do shop in Taipei! If you’re a fashionable cheapskate,
Ximending is the place for you.  Also, they pride themselves in their locally made products, as you 
can see in their ‘MADE IN TAIWAN’ stamp.

5. What to wear

The season at that time was summer, and the sweltering heat was similar to our country Malaysia, so
bring out your shorts and tank tops.  Something that I should've done.

Or battle with sweat trickling down your pants

6. Safety

Taiwan is relatively safe, but that doesn’t mean you can put your guard down.

7. Touring Taiwan

If you’re the adventurous cheapskate type, yes, you can tour Taiwan on your own.  The people there
do speak English, especially at touristy sites.  However, if you do plan to cycle down Taroko Gorge
like we did, you need to rent your bikes from Mr. Lu (  And he will take you 
around Hualien for free – but of course, don’t be an asshole and not give him a tip for his free service.

Also he doesn't mind if you ask him to take a million photos of you in the same pose. Maybe.

All in all, Taiwan is a wonderful place to explore, so if you are short with time, just choose the 
places that might interest you, whether it's the urban jungle, or literally a jungle.

My ass hurt, but the experience was worth it
Ps: Here's terribly shaky video of my cycling adventure.