The beautiful thing about being a digital nomad is that even when you’re sedentary, your next trip is could poke it’s head out of your passport at any moment! I was expecting a rather ordinary January at home, mostly hanging with the parents as my condo was still being rented out after my last 4 month trip when one day, my dad is sent on a business trip to Taiwan. Like a 5 year old hearing that his parents are going out to pick up pizza, candy and a batmobile, I eagerly shouted out “CAN I COME??” Before I knew it, my homebody January turned into a father son adventure!
While the business centre of Taiwan is clearly the capital of Taipei, my dad’s trip was centred around Taichung. I spent two days there, exploring on my own until my dad finished up and we spent the next 5 days in Taipei together.
Pro tip: when flying in, take the red eye. I boarded at 12:50am flew for 12 hours, most of which slept, and landed at 6am (the following day because you cross the international date line) so there was basically no jet lag. I had a solid rest and it was morning. I was ready to explore!
To get to Taichung, I had bought a HSR (high speed rail) ticket online ahead of time so that I could head that way as soon as I landed in Taipei. It zoomed by at almost 300km/hr and I go there in about an hour. Unfortunately, my dad was quite busy there so that was all solo travel for me.
Two days later, he finished and we returned to Taipei to explore the city together for a few days
Coming back to Taipei
The train up from Taichung dropped us in the middle of town, at Taipei Main Station. Our first mission was to find our hotel. Scratch that, our first mission was to get out of the station. We were comparing the hotel’s location on Google Maps with the map inside the station of the surrounding area and we just couldn’t match the two up. Then we realized that it was flipped 90 degrees and north was actually left, not up! Who does that??? This was actually a common occurrence throughout Taipei, not sure what their deal with not putting north up was…
Day One – Taipei 101
Of course, one has to see it when coming here. We touristed out and went to see it on our first day. That being said, there’s plenty to tack on to a trip in the south eastern side of the city. The Taipei Zoo, Maokong Mountain and Elephant Mountain are all in the same general direction, albeit on a different metro line so you’ll have to transfer half way through, but still very much in the same side of town. We got a 72 hour metro pass and used it so much the ink wore off.
Ok, so we didn’t actually go to the Taipei Zoo. Not really our thing. But at that same station is the start of a gondola that takes you up the Maokong Mountain, an area well known for its tea. The views are amazing, the teas are blissful, and there is a ton of museums and information about culture and cultivation all around.
I could have easily found a little guesthouse and spent a night here. Lots to do, many teas to try, and another great place to watch the sun go down at night and up again in the morning! There are many trails and hikes to explore passing through plantations while enjoying the view!
A nice little hike in the center of the city. It’s just one stop away from Taipei 101 so very easy to include in a day’s plans. Great views of the city and the famous tower, plenty of little bits of information on the way up about the local flaura and fauna and great bit of exercise, not only from the hike, but from the various pull up, sit up and push up stations on the way up. Bring your gym shoes!
Day 2 – Tamsui
Time to hit the opposite side of the city, head north west to Tamsui for some more old streets, Taipei occupancy history and boardwalk views! On the way, stop at the Xinbeitou metro station (one station off the Beitou stop on the Red rail on the way to Tamsui) for Thermal Valley.
What a badass name! As most of Taipei, nature intermingles seamlessly with the city. The hotsprings ran right along the streets and the central thermal valley one, that is literally hot enough to cook eggs, was basically in the middle of a regular neighbourhood. Steam rose abundantly, giving it a eerie view, and you know it’s real because it smelt quite a bit of sulphur. Unfortunately, the public pools where you could bathe in were very crowded and if you didn’t have a spandex swimsuit and one piece for the ladies, you weren’t getting in. No go on boardshorts. You could buy a pair of acceptable swimwear at the entrance but it seemed like a money grab so we carried on.
Plenty more to do in the area though. There is an aboriginal museum, a beautiful library (but unless you can read Chinese, it’s really just a quick photo opp) and a couple museums. There are plenty of hot spring resorts but unless you really need a hot tub, this is one place I didn’t feel the need to spend the night.
Many people come here to see Fort San Domingo, and for good reason. Truth be told, the fort itself is rather underwhelming, but it’s probably the landmark that summarizes the timeline of Taiwan’s occupancy from the Spanish, the Dutch, the Chinese, the Japanese and I think the English and Americans flirted around here too for a bit. Unfortunately, just like their maps, all the panels seem to be arranged in no particular order but all the info is there if you can piece it together.
The fort seems far from the Tamsui metro station, but it is definitely walkable. It won’t take more than 30 mins follows the boardwalk, which follows the old street, which is littered with food alcoves and shops. We bounced between the boardwalk and old street as we made our way over, grazing happily every time we felt like our stomach digested a bit and made a little more room.
Day 3 – Northern Outskirts of Taipei
Time to get out of the city and see the north east coast. Checkout Yehliu geopark and the coastal town of Jiufen.
We did them both in one day so it’s doable, but Jiufen is another one of those places that I wish I spent at night at. We took a taxi from Taipei to Yehliu, asked him to wait 2 hours and then take us to Jiufen. The whole thing was about 4 hours and cost us 2500 NTD. His ride back didn’t need to be factored into the time.
I’ve never heard of a geopark before, instantly understood why it was called that once I arrived. The coastal rocl must be made of a very particular kind of mix of minerals that corrode at different rates because they create some very interesting shapes. We saw mushrooms, candles, even a queen’s head! You can walk out to the very tip of the park and gaze north over the unadulterated ocean, with nothing but maybe a few ships insight!
The pictures online make Jiufen look extremely charming and picturesque. I thought tea shops would spring out from every alley and food from every window. It was a little unkept, narrow, and crowded. We didn’t know in which direction to go and what to do. So we found Jiufen old street and walked along it. It would eventually pay off!
At first, it only got a little more interesting, but it seemed like every restaurant and shop owner was completely unaware of the beautiful scenery they were sitting on. Restaurants weren’t facing the view, windows often didn’t even exist, or shops instead of tea houses were in prime view locations.
As we carried on, all of a sudden, everything changed. Restaurants because cute and cozy, and faced the valley below with large windows and tables up against them. They had terraces and balconies and people were happily sipping tea everywhere. We had finally found the promised land!
Our train back to the city was departing from Riufang station, which was a 4km walk away from the little street. Despite the long walk, the view and dense vegetation around was beautiful, so we decided to carry on rather than taking the bus. The street eventually turned into a little cobblestone path that trees were arching up over. It looked like a picture book. I really do wish I had booked a night at one of the guesthouses on the second half of the street and tried every tea house and every delicious pastry in the area, and woke up to the sun poking up over the gorgeous valley!