I was very fortunate to be able to book a four day, 3 night vacation to visit Taiwan. Although it was my second time visiting the country, I was still excited to see it as a solo traveler instead of with a tour group. I had about two months to plan this vacation so we were able to follow my usual trip planning procedures using Google Docs with my travel partner researching up the sites we wanted to visit. We had some specific sites we wished to experience and visit: See as much of Taipei as possible, experience the Pinxi Sky Lantern Festival with a day trip along the Pinxi Line, Visit both Jinguashi and Jiufen, and lastly to enjoy hot springs in Yangmingshan Park. I am happy to share this 4 day trip itinerary with you and maybe will focus on some of the aspects of this trip in separate post in the future.
Our Flights: Armed with Delta Skymiles and the new changes made January 1, 2015 regarding one-way tickets being bookable with the airline and its partners, it was great news for us. Luckily, I had access to both of my mom’s and grandma’s Skymiles accounts with enough miles to book 1 one-way each for 17,500 miles + $12.39 tax aboard Korean Airlines (I know it was not that great of a deal, but there’s nothing much I would have used the 18,500 miles on the account). Additionally, I also decided to use some of my Avios miles that I transferred from my American Express Gold Rewards card – 25,000 miles after $500 spend in the first 3 months; at a 1:1 transfer, I was able to secure a pair of business class tickets to Taipei Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) from Incheon International Airport (ICN) with Cathay Pacific on the outbound for 8,000 miles + $145.68 each.
Departing on a Business Class ticket with Cathay Pacific from ICN, we were able to access the Cathay Pacific Lounge. Although quite small and with limited options in food and drinks, it was a great way to relax a little before the flight. There were some dim sum choices available, cup ramyeon, fruits, yogurt etc for the morning. There were also some Apple computers to use but I felt the wifi in the lounge was a bit slow; especially in Korean standards. Aboard the plane, we were both pretty full from the lounge food, but still opted for meal service.
The breakfast menu is as followed: To start: Juice selection, Fresh season fruit, Fruit Yogurt; Followed by: Baked cheese souffle with chicken sausage, streaky bacon, potato, mushroom and broccoli OR Stir-fried noodles with barbecued pork and mixed vegetables. We both chose the barbecued pork option with a Hong Kong style milk tea. The seats were not the greatest, albeit it was their 772 regional plane, it offered near flat seats and the entertainment screen was smaller than both Asiana and Singapore Airlines Regional Business Class products. Returning on a Economy Class ticket, we were lucky to have the third seat in our row empty and combined with the generous leg room in economy class aboard Korean Airlines, the flight was just as enjoyable and spacious. Another positive was the meal served, a choice of beef or spicy chicken, rice and bok choy, with salad, fruit cup, and bread. They did run out of the beef option but I was satisfied with the chicken option and an extra fruit cup thanks to service recovery from the cabin crew.
Depart: CX421 09:20-11:05; ICN to TPE; Business 16,000 Avios Miles + $291.36CAD
Return: KE694 19:15-22:45; TPE to ICN; Economy 35,000 Delta Miles + $24.78CAD
Total Cash: $316.14 for two passengers.
Our Hotel: As I was responsible for the flights, it was my travel partner’s responsibility to find suitable accommodations in an accessible location close to MTR station and preferably by Taipei Main Station as well. We decided on a quaint boutique hotel smack in the middle of Ximending District in Taipei, just one MTR stop away from Taipei Main Station, and where a lot of youth shopping and street food runs rampant.
The hotel: VIA Hotel: Ximending– you can read my Tripadvisor review here. We decided to choose this hotel based on its accessible location in Ximen Station (under 5 minutes walk away) and the nice pictures shown on the Booking.com website which showed a bath tub in the bathroom- the deluxe double room. The bed was extremely comfy and both the bathroom and the room itself felt spacious enough for two people. Our only concerns was being on the 2nd floor (same floor as reception) it could be loud at times outside the room in the morning and evening.
Total Costs for 3 nights: 9,368 TWD including service charge and taxes.
Taoyuan International Airport – Ximending Hotel (VIA Hotel) – Dim Sum at Golden Lion Restaurant 金獅大酒樓(金獅樓) – National Palace Museum 国立故宫博物院 – Shillin Night Market 士林夜市 – Longshan Temple 龍山寺 – Shaved Ice/Bingsu at Three Brother and Sister 三兄媒
Golden Lion Restaurant (金獅大酒樓)
After checking in to the VIA Hotel in the Ximending, I had researched ahead of time for a dim sum place close by and found this place: Golden Lion Restaurant. It was on the 9th floor inside a small mall building selling cell phones and other electronic accessories. We ordered 3 dishes as the time was near 3pm and we just wanted something in our stomach. We were not served any beverage (water or tea) but when paying for the bill, they had charged us for tea, which we complained and was voided. The dim sum taste was above average, obviously not as good as those found in Hong Kong or even back home in Toronto, but it was still better than those in Korea. It is quite difficult to find the restaurant and the staff only speak Chinese Mandarin and there is an automatic 10% service charge.
Find it here:
National Palace Museum (国立故宫博物院)
This was the second time I visited the National Palace Museum, albeit the first time it was only for a photo session in the exterior of the museum. Whereas this time, I was able to explore around the museum for around 2 hours and was generally impressed with the layout, exhibits, and the amount of artifacts on display. I was most intrigued with all the jade displays, especially the jadeite cabbage and the Buddhas. The museum also features numerous Chinese artifacts which I have seen similar ones from my time in Beijing. General admission is 250NTD, or 150NTD if you have an ISIC card for students.
Find it here:
Take the MRT Tamsui-Xinyi Line to the Shilin Station and take bus R30 (Red 30 – Low-floor bus) to the National Palace Museum. Other routes that will take you to and near the Museum plaza are buses 255, 304, 815 (Sanchung – NPM Line), Minibus 18 and Minibus 19.
Shilin Night Market (士林夜市)
The next stop after visiting the National Palace Museum until it was closing was to visit one of the well-known night markets that Taiwan offers: Shilin Night Market. The Shilin Night Market offers not only a variety of food options, but also some shopping and some carnival style games as well. But as this was around dinner time, the focus was on the street food. The night market is very easy to access from the Taipei Metro system at either Shilin Station or Jiantan Station, with the latter being closer.
My favourite choice of food was the flaming beef, particularly since it is rare to eat beef while in Korea. We also had some fried chicken, steamed stuffed buns, stinky tofu, fried milk, grilled mushrooms, and so much more.
Find it here:
Take the MRT to Jiantan Station on the Tamsui-Xinyi Line 2 (Red Line).
Longshan Temple (龍山寺)
One of the sites we wanted to visit during our stay in Taipei was the Longshan Temple, which means Dragon Mountain Temple, and is a Buddhist temple; but in recent years, it has some influence from Taoism as well. I really like the design and highly details of it, especially the dragons found around roofs of the buildings. Although it was raining at night during our visit, we had arrived 30 minutes before the closing time of 10pm and were fortunate to still be able to take some photographs of it.
Find it here:
Take the MRT to Longshan Temple Station on Bannan Line 5 (Blue Line)
Three Brother and Sister (三兄媒)
Another thing on our list of things to eat was Bingsoo! Yes, there is bingsoo here in Korea, but we wanted to try the Taiwanese version of it, especially with mangos. We had found 3 franchises/stores that were well known including: Ice Monster, Smoothie House, and Three Brother and Sister. Staying in Ximending, we found the Three Brother and Sister location quite close to our hotel and tried two bingsoos, one mango with mango ice cream; and the other a mix of mango and strawberries. Both were fantastic and really delicious, albeit on the small size compared to Korea, but definitely much cheaper too.
Find it here:
Close to MTR Ximending exit 6 No 23, Hanzhong Street, Taipei City 台北市汉中街23号
Pinxi Line – Houtong Cat Village 侯硐 – Pinxi 平溪 – Shifen 十分 (Pinxi Sky Lantern Festival)
On the second day, our main mission was to visit the Pinxi line to see the Pinxi Sky Lantern Festival. After grabbing some street food from some stalls outside the hotel in Ximending, we begun our day starting from Taipei Main Station and taking a train to Ruifang Station (about 40 – 50 minutes) to transfer to the Pinxi line. As expected, once we arrived at Ruifang station, that was where everyone disembarked to transfer to the Pinxi line. The Pinxi line is a single railway line, with only the stations splitting into two tracks. The line itself goes from Ruifang Station to Jingtong Station with frequency of one train per hour.
Houtong Cat Village (侯硐)
The first stop on the Pinxi line from Ruifang Station was Houtong Station, also known as “Cat Village.” I am not much of a cat person myself, but thought the idea of seeing this would be really interesting. We had about 45 minutes to explore around it, snapping photos of the cute cat-themed shops, cats, and the natural scenery around. I got some cat shaped pineapple cake, which was just as delicious- they also offered blueberry and cranberry flavours too.
Find it Here:
From Taipei Main Station, take a northbound train (except Keelung-bound trains) towards Ruifang Station. Transfer to the Pingxi Line (平溪線) and alight at Houtong Station.
Pinxi 平溪 – Shifen 十分 (Pinxi Sky Lantern Festival)
The next stop was Shifen Station on the Pinxi Line for the Sky Lantern Festival, one of the main reasons Taiwan was the choice for this holiday vacation. I had seen photographs of the lantern festival that takes place every year around February and March that shows hundreds of lanterns being launched into the dark night sky all at once, and thought sure, this should be on my bucket list of things to see around the world.
As per usual, the area around the station was packed with other tourists and locals all there for the same festival. There were numerous shops, and stands with souvenir items, food items, and selling these huge sky lanterns where you can write your dreams based on love, fortune, health, and happiness, or anything else you would like to wish for. After exploring around a bit, we made our way to Pinxi station, thinking that’s where the Sky Lantern Festival would be taking place, but once we arrived, it was near empty, so after a quick walk around the old streets of Pinxi, we boarded the train back to Shifen for the real action with a stage and larger crowds about a 15 minute walk from Shifen Station.
Find it Here:
From Taipei Main Station, take a northbound train (except Keelung-bound trains) towards Ruifang Station. Transfer to the Pingxi Line (平溪線) and alight at Shifen or Pinxi Station
The Red House 西門紅樓 – Lunch at Lin Tung Beef Noodles 林東芳牛肉麵 – Jinguashi 金瓜石 – Jiufen 九份 – Taipei Main Station 台北火車站
The Red House (西門紅樓)
We had seen this building everytime we were exiting or entering Ximen Station and it was on our list of places to see, so we stopped by for a bit to check the interior of Taiwan’s first opera theater. Opera as in Chinese soap opera musicals in traditional Chinese clothing. They had some information and displays inside the building and we were able to pick up some post cards from their gift shop.
Find it Here:
At Ximen Station Bannan Line 5 (Blue Line) Exit 1 or 6
Lin Tung Beef Noodles (林東芳牛肉麵)
Next up was lunch before going to Jinguashi and Jiufen for our day trip. We found somewhere close to Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT Station and this was for one of Taiwan’s specialty cuisine, the beef noodles. I’ve had it before at the lounge in Beijing International Airport but this tasted much better. A bowl of noodles was very satisfying and filling. Additionally, there are many side dishes available, similar to that in Korea, however, these were not complimentary, but was about 30 TWD (about $1).
Find it Here:
Take the MTR to Zhongxiao Fuxing Station (Blue/Brown line), walk along Fuxing S. Road until you reach Bade Road, make a left there and the shop will be on your left after a couple of small streets
There wasn’t much to do at Jinguashi but she wanted to stop by here to check out the Gold museum located there. Unfortunately, once we alighted from the bus, it was pouring rain like a huge downpour. We had to purchase ponchos from a shop there and set about exploring the area with some sites such as old Taiwan house model, as well as the Gold Mining Museum where the world’s largest piece of gold is displayed. There’s a saying if you could lift it, you could take it home.
Find it Here:
Bus 1062 departs regularly for Jiufen and Jinguashi from Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT exit 1. Alternatively, take the train to Ruifang, then a bus just in front of the train station. Passengers might clear out at Jiufen, but all buses do continue up the mountain to Jinguashi.
The main place for our day trip outside of Taipei was to visit the “Red Lantern” city- Jiufen, made famous by anime movie Spirited away. Once there, the alley ways seemed very familiar and it was then I realized I had already been here on my last visit to Taiwan (with a group tour) but that was during the day time. Once the sun had set, the lanterns were on beautifully. Unfortunately the rain had still not stopped yet and we were exploring the different shops and food stalls with umbrella in hand. After this time, I will remember Jiufen as the place we saw hundreds of people all carrying umbrellas through narrow alleyways and stairwells, albeit most of them were tourists too, mostly from Japan. While there, I tried some soup dumplings and a red bean porridge as well.
Hot Spring Chuan Tang 川湯 in Yangmingshan National Park 陽明山國家公園 – 8 Ways Dumplings near Taipei Main Station (八方雲集) – Taoyuan International Airport
Hot Spring Chuan Tang (川湯) in Yangmingshan National Park (陽明山國家公園)
This hot spring place was in a secluded place inside Yangminshan National Park, but what a gem. The location was very beautiful with some cherry blossoms still blooming, Koi ponds, and the design of the buildings etc were all done tastefully. We had to purchase a food ticket for 800TWD which included the use of the hot springs for 45 minutes, and with that ticket we had to spend it on food and drinks from their restaurant and bar. We opted for a fried rice dish, and a hot plate of beef sirloin. I opted for a mango slush and she had a salmon sake hand roll to go with the meal. The hot spring itself was not as nice as their displayed photos, but was still relaxing especially after a rain-filled trip to Taiwan.
Find it Here:
Take the subway to MTR Shipai (石牌) station exit1 -> Bus No.508, 535, 536 -> Get off at this stop (XING YI LU SAN 行義路三)
8 Ways Dumplings (Ba Fang Yun) near Taipei Main Station (八方雲集)
Another can’t miss item is the dumplings, “xiao long baos”, most famously from Din Tai Fung, however, we were never near one so we had to settle for another place closeby to Taipei Main Station before catching the airport bus back to the airport. This place was really cheap, like $2 a dish with many choices of dumplings (steamed, fried, meat, veggie, etc). She smartly purchased some frozen ones to bring back home to Korea.
Find it Here:
八方雲集鍋貼水餃專賣店- No. 39號, Huaining St, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City- About a 5-10 minute walk from Taipei Main Station
*Some of the photos in this blog taken by: @caroline_navi