Taipei Travels: Our adventures in the land of street markets and night lanterns

Unlike our Tokyo vacation of 2016, our itinerary for our Taiwan trip was rather vague and open-to-change. We figured that, since the boys were not coming along, we had more freedom to flex and make up plans along the way. I had gotten some recommendations from friends on places to visit, since it was my first time to Taiwan, and hubby had only ever been there on business trips before. Thanks to their suggestions, and the invaluable GoogleMaps, we managed to navigate ourselves around the city pretty smoothly for first-timers. 😉

DAY 1

Upon our arrival at Taoyuan Airport, we took the train to our hotel, which was a short 5-minute walk from Taipei Main Street Station. We got a bit lost walking to our hotel, and later realised it was because, just like in Japan, there are two kind of train lines, and hence two different train stations. In Japan, they have the Japan Rail (JR) lines and the Metro/Subway lines. In Taipei, they have railway lines by two operators – Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) and Taiwan High Speed Rail (HSR) – and the Taipei Metro (MRT) network .

When we finally reached our hotel, it was almost evening time and very foggy (sob), so we decided to give our original visit to Mao Kong Shan 猫空山 a miss and headed out to our first night market of the trip – Gong Guan Night Market 公馆夜市.

When you visit Taiwan, we were told, be prepared to eat a lot. And eat we certainly did! There are food stalls to be found around most street corners, and night markets galore to gorge yourselves silly while you shop. Based on online reviews and friend’s recommendations, we decided to give the famous Shilin Night Market 士林夜市 a miss, and went to the Raohe 饒河 and Gong Guan 公馆 markets instead.

At Gong Guan, my favourite snack were the chicken intestines and chicken skin on skewers – super sinful melt-in-your-mouth fats and juices – So. Good.

We also queued up long long for the most value-for-money red bean pancake, made by a buff (I kid you not) and singlet-wearing grandpa with long white hair and a beard. He was quite a sight to behold and I really wanted to take a picture, but he had signs plastered all around his stall forbidding photography. At a mere 10 NTD (about 50c), each pancake was stuffed with freshly-cooked traditional red bean filling – not the sweet paste that you get in our local buns and paus. We could actually see the beans and taste the natural flavour, as there was not much sugar added.

There were also several clothes and shoes shops in the area, probably because the market is close to National Taiwan University. And that’s where I scored my first (of many) buys of our trip 😀

DAY 2

We took a slow walk to Hua Shan 1914 Creative Park, where we spent the morning popping into the various exhibitions on display that day. (Read this!) It’s kind of like a crafter/arts Expo set in a rustic and organic-looking setting. I was charmed. One of the main events when we were there was School Days, which was a ticketed event with booths where visitors could do all sorts of crafts. It was meant mainly for families with kids, I think, but we certainly enjoyed our time there!

In the afternoon, we took a taxi up to Shifen 十分 in the mountains, which was the most long, dizzying, winding ride of my life. I literally felt like throwing up! But thankfully, I didn’t, and when we got out, I managed to “stabilize” quite quickly. The rain continued all that day and night though, and it was very foggy indeed, so we didn’t really manage to take much photos of the scenery.

After some time meandering around and snacking at Shifen Old Village 十分老街, we continued on to Pingxi 平溪, where we did the touristy night lantern thing that everyone does. It felt peaceful working on our lantern together, and then watching it float up, up and away…

DAY 3

The day dawned quite cold and cloudy, so we didn’t have very high hopes for our day at Yangmingshan 陽明山, but I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the sulphur geysers, and mayyyybeeeee get our chance at a hot spring. Little did we know what God had in store for us….

So we ended up on a 3.2km mountain trail quite by accident, and by the time we realised where we were headed, it felt like too much of a waste of climb back down. Somehow, we persevered, amidst the constant rain. In my pretty donut Vans sneakers and Kate Spade bag. With no raincoats, and wearing just shorts, tees and our hoodies. With fog obscuring 90% of the view and nary a geyser to be seen… but WE SURVIVED!!!

I was really proud of us for not giving up and making it to the top! Really proud. It was just 1.12km high, which is probably chicken feet to any regular trekker, but for us who never do this kind of thing, it was momentous. And then, we had to climb down…

After all the exertion, there was no more mood or energy to look for hot springs. My legs felt like jelly, and we were starving – breakfast had been a long five hours ago. So we headed for Beitou 北投 to feast on shabu shabu at Hot Pot Family (28 Zhonghe Street) and ate like king and queen. Very highly recommended.

Since we were now so full and satisfied, we thought it would be a waste to go to Ning Xia Night Market 寜夏夜市 as we had originally planned, so hubby suggested we check out Ximending 西门町, which hadn’t been on our list of places to visit. “Since we are here in Taipei, might as well check it out. Everyone goes there.” he said.

Maybe we’re getting old, or maybe we were too tired out physically from our day, but XMD honestly didn’t appeal that much to me. The only place I really enjoyed was The Red House, a building which used to be a cinema park, but which is now the haven and home for various craftsmen. Handmade and one-of-a-kind goods are always right up my alley!

DAY 4

This time we were smart and didn’t take the cab for another day trip to the mountains. Instead, we scrutinised the map and did some quick calculations, and realised it wouldn’t take that much longer to take the train, if we timed things carefully. It was a good choice – the train ride was comfy (cushioned seats!) and not winding in the least, so neither of us felt like throwing up.

We had to change from the train to bus at Rui Fang 瑞芳, and I rather liked that little food street near the train station. Wish we could have stayed a bit longer at Rui Fang to walk around the town, but we didn’t want to miss the bus!

Jinguashi 金瓜石 was rather derelict and traditional-looking for the most part – which I love – and we enjoyed wandering around the Crown Prince chalet grounds before our slot at panning for gold. Yes, we panned for gold! It was a lot harder than I’d anticipated, and the returns are, shall we say, microscopic?  But I’m glad we did it together nonetheless.

The afternoon was spent shopping at Wu Pen Fu 五分埔, an apparel wholesale market, and both of us left with big bags of loot! Wu Fen Pu is certainly a must-visit if you’re in Taipei and love to shop! You really do need to have a lot of time to explore this space – it’s something like 2-3x the size of our local Bugis Street, and the prices vary from as low as 100 NTD (< 5 SGD) for a top to almost 3ooo NTD (150 SGD) for a pair of leather shoes. The average price for ladies’ tops, for example, is 200-390 NTD (about 10-18 SGD).

You have to search for the good bargains, but they are certainly there to be found! Be prepared that most stores don’t let you try on any tops or dresses. I found a few stores that bring in beautiful pieces from Korea, and those do cost a bit more than the average shops at Wu Fen Pu at 700-1000 NTD (30-45 SGD), but still cheaper than what you would find in Singapore.

It was still raining when we were done, some almost-3 hours later, but we couldn’t leave without another night market visit. Raohe Night Market 饒河夜市 was just a little bit down the road, and we stuffed ourselves with yummy treats again! This time round, the most memorable foods were the grilled squid and torched beef. So yum!!

As we headed back to the hotel, we realised that we had not come across a single toy store since we arrived in Taipei. I felt bad, because we had promised the boys we would try to get them a dinosaur toy from Taipei, and by now, all the shops would be closed. Then hubby remembered that some branches of the Eslite Bookstore might be open 24/7. A quick web search showed us that there was indeed one such branch not too far from our hotel! Energised, we made plans to bath and pack once we got to the hotel, then head out again. Oh, just one of the things you can do when the kids aren’t around…

DAY 5

We spent a wonderful time at Eslite Bookstore (no photography allowed instore) as the new day began. Even though it was past midnight, there were actually quite a lot of people in the store. I must say, whoever curates the children’s book section deserves a pat on the back – there was just one long table of children’s English books, but every single one was beautiful to behold and engaging. We finally left with three precious books for the boys, but I sure wish I could have just carried the whole table home with me!

After a good night’s sleep, we spent our last morning eating some more (my last rice ball of the trip!) and walking around the nearby underground mall. All too soon, it was time to leave, and we were on the plane headed back to Singapore. And as we gazed out at the clouds in the sky, as the Singapore skyline came into view, I was suddenly overwhelmed with such gratitude for this trip that we could take, and for our family for making this possible for us. And very, very excited to see the two jumping beans back home.

Spending time with the love of my life was priceless and precious. But it sure is good to be home sweet home.

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Stay tuned for my last Taipei Travels post, where I’ll share some suggestions/tips for you if you’re planning a holiday there anytime soon!

 

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