Expat Travels: Taiwan!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Greetings! Or, "ni hao!"
Gorgeous coast!

November was the busiest month for me so far this year, so I wanted to destress and get away from Korea for a minute. I did a quickcation to Taiwan this past weekend, and I enjoyed it a lot. I went in with zero expectations, and I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised. Of course I blinked and the weekend was gone.


Roundtrip flight from Seoul (ICN) to Taipei (TPE): $279 usd on EVA Air:

I fell asleep on the return. They offered to come back and feed me. 
American carriers: take note!

Interior cabin. Not pictured: the inflight entertainment screens on the seat-backs.
I watched Straight Outta Compton on the way in!

  • EVA Air was modern and efficient but like most of the Asian airlines I've dealt with thus far they left some things to be desired. Online check-in and pre-selected seat assignment offered at no additional cost, but no option to pre-print boarding passes. This culminated into an hour queue at ICN just to get a ticket printed-EVA only had self-serve kiosks at the TPE airport, not at ICN. The FA's didn't give us customs forms on arrival. Luckily, we were the only flight in at that hour and the immigration line was quick.

  • TPE is 30-45 minutes depending on traffic from Taipei/New Taipei City. The best and most economical way to get into Taipei from the airport is by bus. The FreeGo bus served my hotel's area. It cost NTD 140 cash only one way ($4.43), and I got dropped off two blocks from my hotel. The bus was cigarette SMOKY and outdated, but by the grace I made it. The trip in took about an hour since we dropped others off along the way. Since I had an early flight out, I took a taxi on the departure. Taxis to and from the airport are extremely expensive; it cost me NTD 1100 cash only ($35) to get back to the airport. Crazy, but I needed to be there early. Taxis within the city, however, are super cheap. After Uber left me hanging at a restaurant Saturday night (more on that later), I got a cab back to the hotel for NTD 105 ($3). There is an MTR, but I didn't get to use it or the local bus this time. 

  • I booked the Taipei Morning Hotel in Zhongshan district based on the Trip Advisor reviews. You can reserve a room and pay on arrival if you choose. There was no deposit or incidental hold placed on my card, either. The room was small but efficient, modern and had cute decor.
Standard Queen rooom at Taipei Morning hotel; also has modern bathroom with waterfall shower.
They had several cable channels in English. Cold AC in spite of being windowless.
  • I was pleased with the stay until the night of my departure. This is a non-smoking hotel, but somebody nearby decided to light up in the middle of the night (when I had to be up for a 4am airport run). Since there are no windows in the rooms, the smell was suffocating and downright nauseating. I would recommend them if not for that mishap, but if you can get to New Taipei City near one of the MTR stations you'll be close to more action.

With quickations, the goal is to relax, but I want to keep myself occupied as well. I booked two activities on both Saturday and Sunday through Viator. I usually look to Viator for ideas rather than actual bookings, but they have been pretty clutch lately. I booked a full day tour to the Taroko National Park in Hualien, a coastal city 2.5 hours south of Taipei on the east coast of Taiwan. To get to Hualien, we took the express train and had optimal views of Taiwan's east coast. It reminded me a lot of the ride up the 1 to Big Sur in California.

We learned on the way that people were killed the day before after being crushed by falling rocks at the gorge; the park was just re-opening to the public. Lawd! They waited until we got good and on the bus before telling us, but by the grace, we had a lovely day with no accidents.

This. park. is GORGEOUS. It is Mother Nature in full splendor. None of the pictures I post here will remotely do it justice. I'm still shooting with my iPhone 6+ by the way, but even your DSLRs don't take the place of Taroko being seen, inhaled, exhaled, fully sensed.

Train ride from Taipei to Hualien: 2 hour ride.

Assigned seating on the ticket.

"Everyone use the bathroom before we board the bus" Arghhh!!
The dreaded squatty potty; must have your own tissue as well!

Headed to Taroko, 45 minute drive from the train station.

Taking it all in. So peaceful, so serene.

Hardhats required for the gorge. 

Please believe I did.


Suspension bridge kindly reminded me of my fear of heights.
Some Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ish!

Eternal Spring in the background

We ended the day at the local beach (name escapes me). It was so beautiful and the weather was pleasant, I'm so glad the rain held off! Knowing that I was returning to freezing temps in South Korea made the visit that much more lovely.

Selfies and sunshine!

This day trip was pricey, overpriced to me, but I'd do it again. It included a really good traditional lunch at a five star hotel in the park, our guides-which you need at Taroko-all entrance and access fees, roundtrip transport from the hotel to the train station, bus transport from the train station to the park, and roundtrip train transport from Hualien to Taipei and back.

On Sunday, I did a half day trip to nearby Jiufen Village on the northeast coast of Taipei. We stopped along the coast on the way and took in some interesting sights, among them, a large limestone formation in the fishing villages.

Looks like a tornado shaped rock.

More interesting rock formations.

Jiufen is an impressive shopping centre that is filled with Chinese and tribal culture. I saw locals paying homage to "tribes" at Taroko and in Jiufen (did not snap pics out of respect). I did some research and learned about the Taiwanese Aboriginals. They make up about 2% of the present population in Taiwan. Taiwan stands out from PRC and the other sovereign areas of China in that the remnants of Aboriginal culture is still evident in many places, especially touristy areas. The Aboriginals in Taiwan are descended from the so-called Austronesian peoples, also found in Indonesia, Oceania, and Madagascar. Taiwanese Aboriginals thrived before the Han invasion of the 17th century, but have since become an underserved minority in the nation. Very interesting to say the least! I am an absolute culture junkie, and I'm always learning something new at each locale. There is an Aboriginal Festival in Taiwan that I am going to research more about.

Tribal store owned by a Taiwanese Aboriginal in Jiufen.
Chinese writing and tribal prints: a mesh of cultures.

Coinage for the visit

Purchased a hand-made fan; it was clutch for the 80 degree day (prints on the other side)

The reason I eat vegetarian on most trips.  

Goods for sale

And of course: western influence abound

For those wondering, yes, Black people are unicorns in Taiwan as well! Initially, I did not get a lot of stares and gawks, but as soon as we got to the coast my goodness. I was in direct competition with Taroko's sights and scenes! I took a picture with a woman who treated me something like a celebrity-I usually DON'T oblige pictures. I found the people of Taipei to be friendly and helpful, unlike my experience in South  Korea so far. I mentioned Uber left me hanging at T.G.I.Friday's on Saturday night. The manager called a cab for me and made sure I got back to my hotel safely. While waiting for the cab, I was asked if I need any help by passers-by; sure they may have been a bit curious but I appreciated the gesture. These were stares of curious surprise, versus the stares of indignant surprise that I experience here in South Korea. Most people I encountered spoke English; Taiwan is a little more diverse than South Korea so there's that.

All in all, this trip was just what I needed. I think a weekend was enough time for a visit to Taiwan for me. I did not desire to do any shopping, but maybe add a third day if you're looking to hit the night markets. I hear the west coast is just as serene as the eastern coast of Taiwan; adventurers might want to venture out there. If I am looking for peace, I know to return to Taiwan. 

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  1. Awesome photos! My husband has a close friend who plays basketball in Taiwan and I definitely want to go over for a visit while we're living in Japan and it's not too far! I've heard great things.


  2. Looks like an amazing adventure with the pictures to match! Thanks for sharing!!

  3. The squatty potty!! NOOOOOO. I loved all your photos but the suspense bridge was my favorite. That should be placed on a post card. I have a healthy fear of heights too. I would have been so nervous cross it.

    Jay of www.relaxedthairapy.com

  4. I love your photos, Taiwan is such a beautiful place. I would love to visit, I'm been really wanting to visit Japan as well.

  5. I loved reading about your experience, thanks for such great recommendations. I am anxious for my move abroad so that I can see more of the world as well.

  6. I love your adventures, it keeps reminding me that I need to get outside of the USA. That "Squatty Potty" is not cool, like at all. lol

  7. Beautiful pictures!!!! The Suspension bridge, Lawd help me!!!! Everything looks Beautiful!!!!! I want to travel in 2016!!!!

  8. Great pictures. I'd heard about the squatty potty but I'd never seen one. It looks like you conqured that bridge. Also, it sounds scary to go the park right after some people had died there. They should have told you that before getting on the bus.

    1. They did tell us, but we went for it anyway. I'd like to think that grace and mercy follows me where ever I go ;-)

  9. I have never been off the North American continent, but these pics say i must travel more abroad.

    1. A year ago this time, I, too, had never been outside of North America. It's amazing what zeal and determination will do for ya. I'm 6 continents in now! Go on and see some world <3

  10. I had to pin this for future reference because I am inspired as a new travel writer and this is definitely on my bucketlist to visit! I cant believe they had that squat potty though...no bueno! Great review!!!

    1. Awww thanks for reading! I thought it was information overload at first, but in my travel research, I often find that some travel bloggers don't post enough details for me to truly get a grasp of a place.

      God bless my bladder, 'cause the sqautty potties are always a NO.

  11. I promise I want to be like you world travelers but I don't know how I'd make it through the flight! But the scenery and all you described makes me feel like I was almost right there lol

  12. Happy you were able to get away! I hated squatty pottys in China..maybe you lucked up with western toilets now and then :)

  13. That marble and waterfall are gorgeous! Sounds like a really cool adventure of a trip. LOL at you being a celebrity attraction. Crazy how rare we are sometimes.

    Oh and about that squatty potty. No. Just no. :)

  14. OMG I would've passed out at the thought of using the squatty potty! LOL But the pics look beautiful and looks like you had an amazing time. I did wonder if there were any/many blacks there, so thanks for letting me know we would be unicorns when we finally do get to visit :) Stay safe!