Taiwan/Japan 2018 – Day 4 – Getting Out of the City

Breakfast

For breakfast we took a bus from our hotel, three stops, to Fuhang Soy Milk. Fuhang is one of those places that does few things, but does them well. And it is very popular for it. The stall itself is tucked away in the inconspicuous second floor food court of an unremarkable building, but the line snaking around the corner will tell you that you are in the right place. Although the line runs down the stairs and out the door, expect the wait to only take about 30 minutes on an average day.

The menu is simple, and you order in steps. First, choose your soy milk. Either sweet or salty. Next, you choose any baked goods you’d like on the side. The breads are fresh baked in a kiln and come either plain (but with a slightly salty flavor, like a pretzel) or stuffed with egg or a Chinese donut. There are pictures for you to consider while you wait in line. Once your tray is loaded up, way with cash at the end of the line.

Tamsui District

Our main destination for the day was the seaside district of Tamsui. It is reached from downtown Taipei by the subway red line, taken all the way to the last stop.

Tamsui is a small (by Asian standards) town/district near the water with a view that overlooks the Taiwan Strait. On a nicer day, you could ride bikes for the stretch along the water. It is also common to spot locals fishing from the boardwalks and piers. Once the town wakes up, the streets closest to the water and the subway station have the atmosphere of a street fair, but at the time we arrived (10 am), Tamsui was still waking up and many of the stores were still closed.

From the MRT station we walked east, following the waterfront. One store was open this morning; Mr. Brown Cafe. We stepped in for our morning coffee/bubble tea.

After that refreshment, we continued east along Tamsui Old Street. This street is the main tourist shopping street, though at this time in the morning it was only beginning to wake up. A couple of blocks further east, we passed Tamsui Church. However, we didn’t linger, as our destination was Fort San Domingo.

Fort San Domingo

At the end of Old Street, continue about one block east along the road. The entrance to Fort San Domingo is on the uphill side.

Fort San Domingo started as the site of Spanish occupation, but changed hands many times. The compound most recently served at the British consulate up until 1972. Given the extensive history, I was expecting a structure that would reflect its old age. But due to continuous use by various foreign bodies, the main buildings have been continuously updated and remain quite livable by modern standards. The older Fort building contains exhibits that detail the history of occupation of Taiwan by foreign entities. The main building to the west still contains furniture and other elements of the British consulate, giving a glimpse into consulate life.

Fisherman’s Wharf

After Fort San Domingo, we followed the edge of the water back east to the ferry for Fisherman’s Wharf.

The ferry for Fisherman’s Wharf departs every hour, and a one-way journey costs NT60. If you easily become seasick, I recommend delaying boarding of the ferry as long as possible, as the boat rocks quite a bit while sitting at the dock. Once underway, conditions are much smoother. The journey out is about 30 minutes.

The main attraction of Fisherman’s Wharf is Lover’s Bridge.

Perhaps because of the gray weather or off season, the rest of the wharf area was very quite with few shops open. While we were excited to see the iconic bridge in person, there was very little else to do in this area.

Instead of waiting for the return ferry, we took the 26 bus back to Tamsui Old Street. The bus is a comfortable alternative if you’re not into boat rides, and route 26 has convenient stops both near the wharf and near Old Street.

Lunch at Old Street

The neighborhood has dramatically increased in liveliness during our absence. We stopped at two different places for lunch.

At our first location, near where the ferry embarked, we shared a plate of stinky tofu.

At the second location, a sort of big fat dumpling with an outer layer of fried tofu and inner stuffing of glass noodles and fish paste, and boiled fish balls.

After lunch, we headed back to the MRT station.

Chiang Kia-Shek Shilin Residence

On the way back toward downtown Taipei, we made a stop over at the Shilin station of the MRT red line to visit the former residence of Chiang Kai-Shek. The grounds has free admittance, but the largest draw may be the actual home of Chiang and his wife. Entrance to the home was NT100 each.

The former residence is filled with original furniture and various other artifacts from Chiang’s life and evidence of his political influence. Note that very little of the text within the home carries English translations, so if you don’t read Chinese it is advisable to check out an audio tour guide before beginning.

After touring the home, we spent some time walking around the orchards and rose garden on the property.

Dinner

For dinner, we headed to a small restaurant serving guabao. Guabao is a traditional Taiwanese food; resembling a small taco or sandwich made with a Chinese-style bun and stuffed with pork. The restaurant we visited was called Lanjia Guabao and can be found off of the Gongguan stop of the green line.

Yuling says if there is one place you need to visit when you come to Taipei, it is Lanjia Guabao.

Taiwan/Japan 2018 – Day 3 – Around Taipei

Breakfast

One of the reasons we picked the hotel that we did was that it lies just on the edge of the Ximending neighborhood of Taipei. This area is easily walkable, and though it really comes alive at night, it also presented many options for breakfast.

We headed out around 7 am. Yuling had her heart set on a certain type of beef noodle soup commonly had for breakfast. This was easily obtainable from many little stalls in the area. There really isn’t a need to think too carefully about your selection; just find something that smells and looks good. We found one and each had a decent sized bowl for well under NT100 each.

The dish is commonly served with just the essential components: beef, broth, and noodles. You then customize it by adding other condiments such as pickled vegetables.

Lungshan Temple

Our main destination for this morning was Lungshan Temple, a bit south of the south end of Ximending. In addition to its Buddhist elements, Lungshan also includes altars to various Chinese folk deities.

Although it would have been easily reachable by bus or subway from where we had breakfast, we were eager to explore Ximending and opted to walk. At 8 in the morning, the neighborhood is largely very quiet and you won’t find much open with the exception of some stalls selling breakfast items, convenience stores, and a few other odds and ends.

Lungshan Templet itself is a major destination both for tourists and locals. There is no charge for admission. The courtyard after the first gate contains pleasant, artificial waterfalls to the left and right. Proceed from here into the inner area of the temple through a passage on the right. While passing through here, you can obtain incense or candles place in front of the main alter.

Though it was still relatively early at the time we went, the inside was crowded both with tour groups and people visiting the temple to pray. The main alter, and the one that draws the most attention, is a Buddhist one, but if you continue your circuit to the right and around the back of the temple area, there are other altars to different Chinese dieties. We found 30 minutes was sufficient to take in the temple.

Herb Alley

Exiting the temple and turning left, we headed to Herb Alley. This small section of street hosts vendors selling various herbs and teas. Yuling and I each bought a cup of herbal tea for NT10 each.

I recommend spending at least a little time stepping off of the main road and walking though some of the narrower alleys, just to make sure you take in the full variety of goods being sold.

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Chiang played a major role in the history of modern China, both as a political and military leader for the Republic of China. His role is too vast and complicated to summarize here, but basically Chiang Kia-shek is to Taiwan and its government as Mao is to mainland China.

The National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall sits at one end of Liberty Square. Admission is free. The main hall is reached by climbing a large number of steps. Inside, you’ll see a very large statue of a seated Chiang. The theme is very similar to that of the Lincoln Memorial. Two guards stand unmoving to either side. A changing of the guard ceremony takes place at the top of every hour, though we were not there to see it. Besides the main hall, there is a small museum to the left of the main entrance.

When you are inside the hall, be sure to look up at the ceiling as well. Easily overlooked, this was to me one of the most impressive architectural features of the building.

From the top of the memorial, there is also an excellent view of the other buildings bordering Liberty Square: the National Theater, the National Concert Hall, and Arch of Liberty Square.

National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall

We took the subway from there to the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.

Sun Yat-sen was the founder of the Republic of China and played an instrumental role in the overthrow of the Qing dynasty. The memorial hall for Sun, however, is not as grand as that of Chiang’s. It is also closed on Mondays, so we were not able to go in. However, memorial hall itself contains a statue of a seated Sun, very similar to that of the Chiang Kia-shek Memorial Hall.

Besides the memorial hall, right outside (but in the same complex) is Zhongshan park. This little park provided a nice rest from the hot noontime sun. In the middle of the part is a small pond with numerous turtles and koi. A path around the pond is pleasantly sheltered from the sun by trees. At one end of the pond, a small restaurant provides a place to sit and an opportunity to purchase beverages.

Lunch

From the Sun memorial, we took a bus to Ooh Cha Cha, a small, friendly vegan restaurant. Yuling and I both enjoyed a Chai latte. For food the restaurant offers a selection of vegan sandwiches, burgers, salads, and deserts. Plan carefully when selecting your choice, because you were certainly want to leave room for a slice of vegan pie.

Da-an Park

We finished the afternoon by taking a bus to Da-an Forest park. Although it was recommended by a number of guide books and sites we consulted, this is one sight I would recommend be skipped. There wasn’t much of anything to see in the park, except perhaps a small pond that served as home to a number of water foul. The “forest” isn’t really a forest and under the hot afternoon sun we found the small, sparse trees provided little shelter.

Ximending at Night

We spent the rest of the hot afternoon resting in our hotel. Once the sun went down, we headed out again.

The quite, closed-up Ximending that we had passed through earlier in the day was now alive with activity. A number of streets are closed to car traffic. Even on a weeknight, the neighborhood is alive with people getting food, shopping, and spending time with friends.

Similar to our route in the morning, we started on the north end and walked south. One essential stop is Ay-Chung Flour-Rice Noodle. This small but incredibly popular stand sells only three things: a small bowl of noodles, a large bowl of noodles, and a take-home jar of sauce. The line stretched several dozen deep, but given the simple menu service is incredibly quick. The ingredients weren’t exactly clear to me, but it had a slight seafood flavor.

We continued walking south, toward the general area of Lungshan temple. We were heading toward Xuaxi Street Tourist Night Market. Despite the name, you won’t find stalls selling the usual souvenirs geared toward tourists.

What they do have is a large number of stalls selling a variety of freshly prepared local food. Yuling and I stopped at two stands. The first one served a pork-rib soup. Another we stopped at, like many others, displayed various fresh seafood items and vegetables. You told them what you wanted and they would prepare it for you. Seating is generally outside on little tables and stools.

This is certainly a place to go for an authentic experience. However, there are some rough edges. Cleanliness was a bit of concern with some of the vendors. In more than one case, we had trouble finding anyone to serve us at a restaurant and ended up going somewhere else. There are also a fair number of free-roving dogs, which reinforced some of the concerns about cleanliness. For the less adventurous, or simply less comfortable with the available selection here, I would recommend the options further north.

Taiwan/Japan 2018 – Day 2 – Arriving in Taipei

Flight and Arrival

The economy seats on our Eva flight were about par for international economy seats. I divided my time between two movies and snoozing, while Yuling only snuck in one movie. It was my first time requesting a particular meal option (vegetarian) ahead of time on the flight. Eva air was diligent about accommodating my preferences, but the food was not to my taste so I didn’t eat very much on the flight.

One distinguishing feature on Eva were the free travel accessories they provided in the lavatories: toothbrush, sleep mask, and ear plugs.

Clearing immigration was uneventful. Given that our plane was arriving in the early hours of the morning, I was concerned the immigration desks would be understaffed, but we made it through in about 10 minutes. This may have to do with the fact that the bulk of the non-resident passengers were continuing on to other destinations such as Thailand.

Transport to the Hotel

As we had not done much research on transportation options, we were largely at the mercy of Google Maps to provide information on public transit. For us that meant two buses: one express bus from the airport to the heart of downtown Taipei, and a second local bus to within a couple of blocks of our hotel.

The busses at TPE are easily located by following signs after customs. Tickets are most easily purchased by credit card using vending machines located just before you step outside. We took bus 1819, which cost NT140 each. Besides a credit card, you can also pay your fare using exact change (which you likely don’t have at this point) or a reloadable EasyCard (which you can’t buy at the airport).

Once downtown, we still needed a means to pay for the local bus. We stepped inside a 7-11 convenience store (easier to find than a Starbucks in Seattle), and purchased two EasyCards (pre-paid card used to pay for transit among other things) for NT1000 each (100 for the card, 900 for balance).

CitizenM Hotel

We were staying at the CitizenM hotel near North Gate. We arrived a little past 9 am, which was far too early to check in. The hotel staff were more than happy to hold onto our luggage and use their lounge area, however. We paid for access to the hotel’s breakfast buffet, which included your choice of coffee beverage, for NT400 each. From here, we rested a bit and worked on planning the rest of our day.

National Palace Museum

We took bus 304 from our hotel to the National Palace Museum. It is a bit out of the heart of the city. Visiting on the first day made sense to us because we were looking for an activity that wasn’t terribly physically exerting, would fit nicely into the time we had before 3 pm when we could check in, and might be inconvenient to fit into schedules on other days.

The bus ride was about 45 minutes. Expect standing room only. And if you’re considering bringing your bird friend along, you can forget about it.

The first thing you’ll see when arriving at the National Palace Museum is a large gate followed by a long staircase. The actual museum can be seen at the top.

We purchased tickets for NT350 each, and an audio guide for NT150 each. (Neither of us felt the audio guide added much value to the visit, as there is ample text in English available to read). Highlights of this museum include a wonderful collection of Buddhist statues and some intricately carved jade masterpieces. Before leaving, we stopped by the first floor cafe for some bubble tea.

Afternoon Tea

We took the same 304 bus back toward downtown Taipei, but continues one stop past our hotel to the Ximen area. Following a lead from Lonely Planet, we sought out a Japanese-style cafe.

Eighty Eightea serves light vegetarian meals and snacks along with an impressive collection of teas. While many of the tea options are simply served in a cup which you drink as is, others come to you as kettle of water, a series of cups of various sizes and shapes, and of course the loose leaf tea. From there you assemble it yourself. If it is your first time, the helpful staff will walk you through the proper way to brew and serve the tea you selected, and will ensure you understand before leaving you to it.

Given our early arrival, that was enough to wrap up our day. We returned to CitizenM to complete our check in. While the rooms are small by western standards (but normal for what you find in this price range in Taipei), CitizenM includes some unique modern touches. The room is completely controllable using the in-room iPad Mini. This includes manipulating the TV, lowering blinds, and even adjusting the color of the mood lighting in the room.

Taiwan/Japan 2018 – Day 1 – Departing Seattle

Packing and Luggage

A general rule of packing seems to be that it always takes longer than you expect…even when you expect it to take longer than you expect.

I plan to make a future post on packing and some of the essential items that have made their way into our packing list, but for now I’ll limit the discussion to luggage.

Yuling and I have both come to prefer the duo of a small backpack and a carry-on sized, hard-sided suitcase. Because Eva Air has a carry on weight limit of 7 kg (or 15 lbs), our carry-ons won’t actually be carried on, but when it comes to train travel, we found we like the hard-sided suitcases because they stand better on their own. This means they don’t have the tendency to tip over when you take your eyes off of them.

So what made the cut for carry on?

  • A change of clothes. (Useful not only if your bag is delayed, but also if you spill a drink on yourself).
  • Travel pillow. I really prefer this style of pillow, compared to the traditional neck pillows.
  • Charging cables and lithium-ion battery.
  • Medication
  • Extra jacket
  • Kindle

Unexpected Delays

We left home via a Lyft at about 10:30 pm for a 1:20 am flight. What is normally less than a 30 min drive dragged on for about an hour and 10 minutes. A traffic accident near the terminal caused a 30 minute delay between the freeway and the curb-side drop off.

Thankfully there was no line at the check in counter or at the security checkpoint. Yuling and I are now sleepily waiting in the South Satellite gates for the flight to begin boarding.

The flight is serviced by a Boeing 777 in a 3-3-3 seating configuration in Economy. Yuling and I have an aisle/middle combo. Despite booking this flight so close to the day of departure, we had no problems selecting seats near each other.

I was hoping to get in a movie before falling asleep on the 13 hour flight, but at this rate I’m not sure I’ll make it to takeoff.

A Lesson in Flexibility and Non-attachment

As previously hinted at, Yuling and I were planning a trip to Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

Plans change, sometimes very suddenly, and now we’re heading to Taiwan and Japan instead!

The last 24 hours have been a very hectic storm of cancelling reservations and making new ones. I have never disassembled a trip before. For an itinerary we had so carefully planned and researched, it was a very difficult goodbye. However, life goes on and one is reminded not to become attached to a particular vision of the future. Perhaps it is an itinerary we will revisit in the future.

Yuling and I are nevertheless excited about our new plans. We will be departing for Taiwan on March 17th. More details on our new itinerary (which will be a little more improvised) will come in a later post.

Welcome

Welcome to See You In Two Weeks!

Yuling and I created this blog to document our journeys and share some of the lessons we’ve learned while travelling in our free time.

There isn’t much to see yet, but on March 16th, 2018, we will be taking off on a two week adventure through Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam! More details will soon follow, but we hope you will join us.

If blogs aren’t your thing, we will also post updates to our Facebook page. And of course, photos will be coming through on our Instagram account: @seeyouintwoweeks.