December 11, 2016

Taipei & Hualien, Taiwan – Itinerary and planning (5 days, 7 nights)

Found a really good flight deal for Taipei on the first week of December when I came back from Germany back in June, and I booked it immediately. And I finally did the trip last week. Here’s the itinerary. As usual, read the disclaimer before proceed…

Disclaimer:
– Taiwan is known to have very unpredictable weather (especially at Taroko Gorge). It is known to rain at least expected times, has earthquakes and shit. If you’re doing your own planning, please make it as dynamic and as flexible as possible. The length of 5 days and 7 nights was a risky gamble for me, but luckily for us, it paid off (we did not encounter a single rainy day despite the inclement weather forecast). I wouldn’t recommend to do it this short.
– In December, Taiwan has a relatively short daylight. It starts to get dark at about 5pm (fuck me). So, plan your itinerary well.
– This is an itinerary post, I’ll do a separate post for what I think about the places I’ve visited. (link)
– This was planned based on 3 pax – my wife, my 10-yo daughter, and myself. If you’re planning for a group of more than 4, this probably won’t work for you.
– The main objective is to hunt food at Taipei, and to experience Taroko Gorge (Hualien) in its glory. Ergo, it has a lot of walking (Taipei) and hiking (Taroko). With the exception of one day excursion to the Taipei Zoo, there are no other kid themed visits. This won’t be for you if you have a small child in your group.
– If you have a fear of heights, doing Taroko Gorge is probably a fucking bad idea.
– If you have a fear of crowds, Taipei is probably not for you too. That place is just mad with people.


Prep
Train to Hualien: Regardless whether you’re going to stay overnight at Hualien or not, if you’re going to Taroko from Taipei, you’ll need a train ride. This becomes even more critical if you plan to make it a day trip (which I don’t think is a good idea, but it’s a popular option). Thankfully, the Taiwanese is as obsessed with trains as the Europeans, so this isn’t too much of an issue. All you have to do, is head to the Taiwan Railways Administration site, select the ‘From Area/Subline + Station’ as ‘Taipei’, and ‘To Area/Subline + Station’ as ‘Hualien’ (yes, both the same) on the desired date of travel. You will then see a table with a list of trains, just click on the orange colored ‘booking’ icon on your desired ride and follow the screen instructions. Once you’ve made payment with your credit card, you’d be given a booking sheet. Print it out and use it to redeem your ticket at Taipei Main Station (you can collect it anytime when you’re there). You’d be given magnetic tickets to be used on a turnstile machine to access the train boarding gate.
Note: You’d want to book either one of these trains – Taroko Express or Puyuma Express (both are Tze-Chiang Limited Express class trains). Cost is TWD440 per pax and should take just a little more than 2 hours.
Note: Unlike the European trains, the booking is only open 2 weeks before the actual date of travel. So, take note. Tze-Chiang Limited Express trains to Taroko are kind of hot cakes and they get sold out fast.

SIM card (optional): Get a SIM card while you’re there. Helps with the navigation and stuff, and it’s fucking cheap. I got mine (Chunghwa Telecom) for USD15.70 for 7 days of unlimited data and some TWD150 of call credits in it. During my entire trip, I seldom lost the 4G+ reception at all, except at some points at the mountains at Taroko. You can pay in advance for the deal and have your SIM card collected right at the airport terminal. Just swap in the SIM card, and you’re on. You can purchase it here (there’s some other deals for group too). This is optional if staying in contact is not your shit.

Easycard: It’s equivalent to London’s Oyster, Hong Kong’s Octopus and Malaysia’s TnG. Remember to grab one. Can be easily bought at any convenient store, and credit of about TWD500 is enough to last you from a few days to a week. (can use it for buses and shopping too). If you’re out on credit, it can be conveniently topped-up at any metro station/convenient store.

Metro map: Download an offline copy into your phone, so that you can refer to the lines on the go at Taipei. You can get the map here.

Lodging: Book all your lodgings in advance. Most popular places, especially at Ximending, can get full pretty quick. Try to get one that has an easy access to the metro station or bus station. Note that some hotels provide airport transfers as well and that could save you some bucks to the airport (which is far).

Mobile assist: Get yourself an offline map app like OsmAnd, which uses Openstreetmap and allows you to navigate without having an active internet/data connection, just plain old GPS. I personally feel this is more superior than Google Maps but, it’s a matter of preference. This will be critical if you choose not to get a local SIM card with data.

Mandarin speaking wife/girlfriend/husband/boyfriend: For conveniences’ sake / food ordering / direction asking. If you do not have a Mandarin speaking wife/girlfriend/husband/boyfriend, get one.

Day 1: Arrival, Taipei, prep for Day 2

1730 – 2200: PEN – TPE. Night flight (direct from Penang). By the time I reached TPE, it was already 10pm (on certain days of the week, China Airlines offer direct flight from PEN-TPE. It’ll take only less than 4.5 hours to reach there, just like a bus to KL. Cons = the ever unpopular night flight). Immigration at TPE is always busy so, depending on the crowd, takes time to clear, so expect some delay. I cleared mine + baggage claim in a little under an hour.

2200: Collect SIM card at the airport and take a taxi to Taipei. It takes about 50 minutes to reach Taipei (depending on traffic) and costs TWD1000. Should still have enough time to purchase Easycard after the hotel check-in (or even supper, which was what we did).

Day 2: Taipei City

0700: Breakfast. Four Seas Doujiang Dawang 四海豆漿大王 (location). Note that the name ‘doujiang dawang’ (bean curd king) or ‘yong he doujiang dawang’ is an ubiquitous moniker for a type of bean based breakfast food in the city. Just like the name ‘Klang Bak Kut Teh’. They’re more or less the same (at least to me).

0800: National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. (location). Sightseeing. Big area, takes time to explore, walk off.

1100: Lunch. Yong Kang beef noodles 永康牛肉麵. (location). Our heads fucking exploded.

1300: Longshan Temple 龍山寺. (location). Sightseeing. 30 mins.

1330: Bopiliao Historical block 剝皮寮歷史街區. (location). Sightseeing and street art exhibition.

1430: Back to hotel to freshen up. (should be pretty exhausted with all the walking)

1600: Ximen Red House 西門紅樓 (location). Has a fleamarket surrounding the Red House theater for you to loiter around, it’s pretty happening.

1630: Ximending area (location). It’s a shopping district, also known as Shibuya of Taiwan. Lots of street snacks and shops.

1730: Wu Fen Pu 五分埔成衣市場 (location). Fashion street. This place is only for cheap clothes, it’s an insanely big area. If you have a big wife, she’d shed weight after a few visits (but the clothes she bought will replace the lost weight).

1830 till late: Raohe Street Night Market 饒河街觀光夜市 (location). If you manage to finish Wu Fen Pu (we couldn’t), and still not exhausted and is fucking hungry, head over here immediately. The temple (Ciyou Temple) marks the entrance to the biggest and most popular night market in Taipei (you can opt to visit this beautiful temple too). Prep breakfast for tomorrow.

Day 3: Yehliu, Jinguaishi, Jiufen, Shifen excursion

I initially had an elaborate plan to tackle the route covering the Yehliu, Jiufen, Shifen and Keelung with buses, trains, taxi rides and fuckloads of walking. But it was too risky and exhausting, and based on a lot of loose assumptions. In the end, I opted for a small group tour instead, for a reasonable fee of USD84 per person, through this website. In all, I’d have spent more if I went with my plan and probably couldn’t have covered all the areas and would have taken a much longer time (and tiring for my wife/daughter).

0900: Meet the driver at Taipei Main Station (location). Breakfast on the go (we ate some Black Pepper Pork Buns purchased from Raohe Night Market the night before)

1030: Yehliu Geopark (location). Journey from Taipei Main Station to here is just a little over an hour (depending on traffic). Leave at 1130.

1215: 13 Storey site / Yin Yang sea 十三層遺址 / 陰陽海. (location). Short stop for sightseeing. I’d have missed this place if I go with my own plan.

1225: Golden Waterfall 黃金瀑布 (location). Short stop for sightseeing. I’d have missed this place if I go with my own plan.

1245: Jiufen Old Street 九份老街 (location). 2-hour stop. To have lunch here.

1530: Houtong Cat Village 猴硐貓村 (location). 30 mins stop. For souvenirs and pussies stroking. I’d have missed this place if I go with my own plan.

1630: Shifen Old Street 十分老街 (location). 1-hour stop. For souvenirs and good-luck Kongming lanterns. Depart at 1730, journey to Taipei takes about an hour or more (traffic congestion around this hour).

1900 till late: Shilin Night Market 士林夜市 (location). Subway direct from Taipei Main Station. Have dinner here (and more shopping/snacks hunting). Prep breakfast for tomorrow.

Day 4: Hualien, Cycling trip to Cixingtan

My original plan was to rent a bike each for my wife, daughter and myself, and we’d then cycle to the nearest park called Nanbin Park 太平洋公園 (location) from Hualien train station (location), and then take the cycling path all the way to Cixingtan 七星潭 (location). The journey would have been epic with cool wind in our face, sun on our heads and with an ocean view. But alas, we were advised against that by the bike shop owner and the hotel innkeeper because it’d have deemed dangerous for my daughter, who is not used to cycling in traffic (the journey from the train station to Nanbin would require a route through the city). We end up taking a cab to Beibin Park 北濱公園 (location) instead, and walked all the way to Nanbin, and to our hotel – we walked an astounding total of 5km that morning, still get to enjoy the ocean view on that windy day, albeit not as epic as we had originally planned. Here’s how it should have been:

0720 – 0930: Taipei – Hualien train journey. Breakfast on the go (we ate some pork dumplings purchased from Shilin Night Market the night before).

0930: Rent a bike at Giant (location). Giant bike shop is next to this bus stop.

1000: Breakfast (Open). Idea is to cycle towards Zhongshan Rd (location) and look for a spot to eat.

1100: Nanbin Park 太平洋公園 (location). Start cycle through the bike path towards Cixingtan 七星潭 (location). Lunch open, to look for a spot to eat.

1500: Check in hotel at Hualien City. Rest.

1700: Return the bikes, walk towards Dongdamen Night Market 東大門夜市 (location) for dinner / snacks hunting.

2100: Back to hotel.

Day 5: Taroko National Park

There’s no way to do Taroko National Park on your own without your own transport, so, the choice is boiled down to pretty much having a personal guide or a group tour guide. A personal guide (a cab driver, almost absolutely), would run at the cost of TWD3500 – 4500 per car. I managed to find one with stellar reputation for a reasonable TWD3500 (for all 3 of us). The guy speaks impeccable English and drives an almost brand new Camry hybrid (most of the cabs are junk ass Toyota Wish). So I took the service of Neil, and he can be contacted via this page here (the facebook page is no longer valid, updated to Tripadvisor instead). You can check out the all the reviews in the page, I left one for him as well. (Note: the driver may arrange for a totally different itinerary for each group, depending on preference and progress of the group)

0700: Pick up from the hotel, heads straight to Taroko National Park, picks up sandwiches on the way. Going to skip fancy meals, plan is to cover as much Taroko as possible (eat the good stuff some other day).

0810: Qingshui Cliff 清水斷崖 (location). 10-20 mins walk.

0850: Taroko National Park entrance 東西横貫公路牌坊 (location). Short stop for sightseeing.

0915: Shakadang Trail 砂卡礑步道 (location). Approximately 1-hour easy hike – to-fro (~3.5km total).

1020: Eternal Spring Shrine 長春祠 (location). Short stop for sightseeing.

1050: ChanGuang Temple 禪光寺 (location). Short stop for sightseeing, there’s a pedestrian suspension bridge right next to it. Not for the faint hearted.

1105: Swallow’s Grotto 燕子口步道 (location). Approximately 40-minute walk – one-way. (~2km)

1200: Cihmu Bridge 慈母橋停車場 (location). Short stop for sightseeing.

1210: Lunch stop at Tianxiang 天祥 rest stop (location). Just grab a sandwich or something.

1250: Baiyang Trail 白楊步道 (location). Approximately 1.3-hour hike – to-fro (~4.6km total).

1420: Lushui Trail 綠水合流步道 (location). Approximately 40-minute hike – one-way (~1.8km)

1500: Yuefei Pavilion 岳王亭 (location). Short stop for sightseeing, about 200 meters away from the end of Lushui Trail.

1610: Cixingtan 七星潭 (location). Short stop for sightseeing.

1700: Depart for train station (about 15 mins away), for Hualien – Taipei train journey (we got a 5.30pm train back to Taipei).

2030: Ningxia Night Market 寧夏夜市 (location). Late dinner and snacks hunting.

2200: Check in Taipei hotel. Rest (you’d need it, after all the goddamn walking).

Day 6: Taipei Zoo excursion, Maokong, Taipei-101

Taipei Zoo is the largest zoo is Asia. Since it’s at the same area as Maokong anyway, I made it in the plan to visit the zoo (my alternate would be Tamsui, but that’s far out of the way, and might drop Maokong altogether). Plan to start early but, it’s just too hard to do that after all the hiking the day before. This is a revised time (according to what we actually did).

1000: Breakfast. Fresh Soy Milk 廣東汕頭新鮮豆漿店 (location). Old name in the neighborhood, goddamn awesome. (get the ‘salty egg curd’)

1115: Taipei Zoo 臺北市立動物園 (location). It’s a big ass zoo, depending on your stamina, allow up to 3 hours in this place (if your legs are still functioning from the intense walking at Taroko).

1400: Maokong Gondola Station 2 (location). It’s a cable car station at the south-east-most edge of the zoo. Buy a ticket or use your Easycard to take a cable car ride up to Maokong Station (final station). Journey’s about 20 – 25 mins.

1420: Maokong Station (location). Snacks hunting around the surrounding area.

1440: Late lunch. Big Teapot Restaurant 貓空大茶壺茶餐廳 (location). Scenery, food and tea. We spent about 1.5 hours here relaxing, having tea and talking about our trip.

1630: Maokong Station – head downhill. 25 mins journey.

1740 till late: Taipei-101 Mall 臺北101購物中心 (location). Sightseeing, shopping and dinner. If you’re still able to, can head over to Linjiang Street Night Market 臨江街夜市 (location) – which we didn’t because we’re too exhausted exploring 101 alone (it’s huge).

Last station before back to hotel, redeem back Easycard excess fund and clear off all coins on junk food / beer / snacks. Back at hotel, start to pack for the next day.
Arrange to have airport transfer the next day.

Day 7: Departure, Penang

Noon flight, not much to do other than final packing and cab ride to airport. Breakfast at airport.

michaelooi  | places  | 

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