Taiwan. Jan 2019. Part 1

Just returned from another trip to Taiwan last week, thought I would like to write a bit about it. That would be my third time in Taiwan and I would say that it was the most memorable and personal one, so far.

I had the pleasure to fly with the company of my cousin, Nana, and her husband, Jackson. For the first time in the many flights I have been making, I actually had someone to talk to en route to my destination.


The Flight to Taiwan

The actual flying part of my flight was very standard; nothing much happened and thankfully, free of air turbulence. However, there was a bit of a nuisance right before taking off.

Soon after I got to my seat and sat down comfortably, I was told by a stewardess that I have to be relocated to another seat. Without telling me a reason, I was instructed to follow her to the head of the plane with my belonging. There, she spoke to and received a set of instructions from another stewardess who was clearly her superior. Again, clueless about the whole situation, I was marched back again to my original sitting location.

Back at my original seat, the somewhat incompetent stewardess took just a bit more time before finally bringing all three of us (Nana, Jackson and myself) to another row of seats, upon Nana’s request, instead of just displacing me alone.

Note that the plane was already filled up with all her passengers in their rightful seats, waiting for the take off. There was an uncomfortable amount of eyes on me as I went up and down the aisle. I certainly did not enjoy all that unwanted attention one bit.

Later during the flight, I got hold of another stewardess and asked for an explanation. She told me that my original seat was deemed faulty and unsafe. I made it a point to relay to her, politely, yet firmly, my displeasure of being “thrown” around without a reason. To which, she apologised (of course) and I let the matter rest.


Day One (7th Jan 2019) Taipei

Landed in Taoyuan International Airport at around 0600 hrs. After clearing the customs and collecting our luggage, we left the airport on the efficient airport express train. In no time, we arrived at Taipei Main Station.

A quiet Taipei Main Station.
Nothing opened yet.

At this wee hours, none of the shops were opened yet, so we had a hard time finding a place to get some coffee. In the end, we settled for a Starbucks in one of Taipei Main Station many underground malls.

After some much needed caffeine, we went straight to the hotel which Nana and Jackson will be staying, to drop our luggage. No longer encumbered by our suitcases, we explored the neighbourhood for some local breakfast. In our eagerness to sample a bit of everything, we ordered a little of everything to share among ourselves and ended up stuffing ourselves a bit too much.

 

From a small little shop, we sat down on the table they provided on the roadside and partook a “local breakfast” consisting of the classic Taiwanese braised pork rice (with an egg), a small bowl of noodles, a bowl of pork meatball soup and a bowl of dumpling soup. The food was decent enough. The dumplings, unlike to the meatier and more substantial ones I had in Hong Kong, were a bit too light in both contents and flavour for my liking.

I wonder if the family of three seated right next to us, whom I believed was from Hong Kong because they communicated in fluent Cantonese, feel the same about the dumplings? Anyway, the mother kept telling her young daughter not to stare at us because it is very rude to do so. Very cute.

 

A short walk from the food stall, we came across a shop which specializes in the traditional soy milk and fried dough stick combination. Still hungry, we went in for our second breakfast. The mini pork buns caught us by surprise because Jackson ordered “Xiao Long Bao” and they definitely were no the “Xiao Long Bao” we are used to. Nevertheless, these mini pork buns were fresh and delicious.

As we had flown through the night and could not sleep well on the plane, as the day stretches on, we found ourselves to be too exhausted and sleepy to enjoy ourselves. Some time around noon, I parted ways with Nana and Jackson soon after Constant Companion RR rendezvous with us at Xi Men Ding. That afternoon, I had to take a nap to recharge before heading back out for dinner.

To be frank, there really is no reason for us to fly into Taiwan at such early hours. However, because time off from work is so limited and precious, I like to arrive at my holiday destination as early as possible to “maximise” all the time that I have.


Day Two (08th Jan 2019) Taipei

“The Wettest Day”

Rainy Taiwan mountain area.
Rain, rain… Go away!

Months before the trip, Cousin Nana has kindly arranged and signed us up for a day tour package. In the package, a driver (also guide) will pick us up and drive us to a few different places of interest. However, on that particular Tuesday, it rained for  most of the afternoon and none of the locations we were going to, were indoors. On the contrary, they are mountainous and/or coastal areas.

Cousin Nana came most prepared, wearing her adult-sized, disposable poncho the moment the rain started pouring. Among us, I am sure that she was the driest and warmest throughout the trip. In fact, she was so ready she even prepared extra ponchos for the rest of us.

Constant Companion RR gratefully accepted and worn a bright yellow poncho shortly after the downpour started. By the end of it, she ended up looking like a really miserable and bitter banana. While I did try to put on a poncho, I found it to be too restrictive for me to take pictures in.

Because Constant Companion RR was being herself, always helping herself with my stuff, she took possession of my down jacket to keep warm under her bright yellow poncho, leaving me with the other jacket that I have brought for that trip. That jacket was not waterproof like a raincoat, even though it was coated with a layer of “special wax” (Constant Companion RR has warned me against sending that jacket for normal washing, in order to retain that layer of “special wax”). Since it is actually more of a heavy windbreaker than anything else, understandably, it did little to retain my body warmth. In fact, drenched by the persistent rain over time, all that trapped moisture in the jacket made it cold to the touch with the consistent assault of the strong, freezing wind.

It was not the greatest day for outdoors activities, but because things went the way they did, for better and worse, the day was something we will remember for a long time.

Day Trip – Jin Gua Shi

The day started with a hearty breakfast in a local eatery right opposite the hotel Cousin Nana and Jackson were staying.

 

That morning, Constant Companion RR selected a few braised items, mostly bean products. Again, I was not too impressed by the bowl of dumplings soup. At this point, I am almost certain this is how the dumplings are normally served in Taiwan. Of course, I never miss any opportunity to eat the braised pork rice.

After breakfast, with dark clouds forming above our heads, our friendly driver/ guide, Mr.Chen (if I remember correctly) picked us and we started the day right as scheduled. With Jackson seated in front and us at the back, we struck a lighthearted conversation with Mr.Chen regarding various subjects which are mostly related to Taiwan.

Halfway to our first location, the rain started coming down. Due to the rain, we remained in the car as Mr.Chen brought us to the first three attractions and shared with us some history and facts. As I am not one who listen and remember things too well, I will now try to describe whatever I saw.

  1. At one part of a coastline, you can see a clear separation between two bodies of water. I believe Mr.Chen mentioned that because the water flowing out to the sea was mixed with some mineral, making it more “dense” thus unable to blend in well.
  2. From a bridge, Mr.Chen diverted our attention to a set of rocks with a stream running through. He explained that on better days with better conditions, those rocks will be gleaming all gold like. From his phone, he brought up a picture to give us a better representation of his description.
  3. A beautiful cascading waterfall. Mr.Chen made it all mysterious by telling us that nobody really know anything about the source of all that water which flow non-stop.

The rain made it hard for any real pictures taking, the only picture I have to show is the beautiful, yet mysterious waterfall, which I took through the back window of the car.

Mysterious cascading waterfall in Taiwan.
Water falling from the sky, water falling from the rocks.

Since we were well ahead of our schedule, and the Gold Museum, though not in the itinerary, was around the corner, we requested to drop in for a look. As soon as we stepped out of the car for the first time, we quickly realised that it was a mistake.

With our tickets purchased, we looked forward to spend some time in a sheltered and warm museum of some kind, admiring relics of the past and maybe learning a couple of new things. However, it was not as simple as we thought. The “Gold Museum” was actually an entire park with restored and preserved buildings used in the past for gold mining. So in order to get from one attraction to another, we had to brave the rain and strong, mountain/coastal wind.

Pulling our jackets closer to ourselves, we soldiered on. First we visited an old Japanese style home. We had to remove our shoes and put on the provided slippers before stepping in. Within, I took some pictures and enjoyed being sheltered from the outside elements, but there were only so much to see in there, in no time, we found ourselves putting back on our already wet shoes and stepped out again.

We walked further into the park, but none of us were in the right frame of mind to enjoy/ admire anything. It was hard to focus on anything when all that was in my mind was to stay alive. Ground was wet and slippery, wind chilled our bones; we were in a pathetic state. 20 minutes in, we called it quits and scurried back to Mr.Chen.

*After I came back from my trip, I researched on this “Gold Museum” aka Jinguashi Gold Ecological Park, and boy, does it look fun. One day, I will visit it again and hopefully, on a clear, sunny day.

Day Trip – Jiu Fen

This would be my second trip to the charming mountain town of Jiu Fen. Again, I did not have the pleasure to experience it with better weather condition.

The only difference this time around is that we had a guide, Mr.Chen. According to him, if we did not eat this particular dish, it would be as though we did not come to Jiu Fen at all. Shortly after informing us of the critical food which will complete our Jiu Fen trip, and bringing us to a couple of highly recommended (by him) shops, Mr.Chen wished us luck and took his leave, no doubt hiding somewhere dry and warm. We were given approximately 2 hours to wander on our own.

The first thing we did was to run into the nearest cafe for a hot beverage and shelter. We left the cosy cafe after we felt more comfortable and had steeled ourselves for the horrible travel condition outside.

In my opinion, there is no better way to explore a rainy Jiu Fen than to wear a fitting poncho with warm clothing underneath. Walking around with an umbrella like I did for both times, can be tricky especially when the street of Jiu Fen can be narrow and you have to maneuver between other fellow visitors. Besides, a good poncho will do a better job keeping yourself dry.

During this trip, I noticed some of the visitors were wearing these long plastic, clear plastic “socks” on their feet, which were secured right below their knees. While it is a wonderful way to keep your footwear from getting wet, I am not too sure about walking around with plastic between the soles of your footwear and the ground. I reckon you will not be getting too much traction which can be hazardous.

We strolled along the old street of Jiu Fen, stopping only for food and taking pictures. There were some shops selling souvenirs to bring home, but nothing really caught my eyes.

 

Right before we return back to Mr.Chen, we ordered up what he deemed as the quintessential food of Jiu Fen; some tofu wrapped fish cake. It was good, but nowhere as life changing as claimed by guide.

Overall, I feel that my first visit to Jiu Fen certainly had more character.

Day Trip – Hou Tong Cat Village

A quaint little mountain town, the once busy coal mining Hou Tong was facing declination before experiencing a revival when a cat lover drew a lot of attention to it with her pictures of the stray cats from the town, online. The town folks took advantage of this and started filling up their town with all kind of cat related things. There are pineapple cakes in the shape of a cat, cat merchandises and even cat themed cafes.

Now visitors flock in from all over just to, well, gawk and take pictures of the numerous stray cats, wandering the town freely and unrestricted.

 

As a cat lover, Constant Companion RR benefited the most at this location, any discomfort temporary forgotten. Each time we encountered a stray cat, she would swoon and immediately try to “establish communication” by speaking in her very own gibberish “cat” language.

 

From Houtong Railway Station, visitors can walk across this sheltered overhead bridge to the Cat Village. The multi-faceted bridge seems out of place with its surrounding, looking too modern and a little alien.

 

It is nice to know that both the stray cats and the town both have something to gain out of this; the stray cats get taken care of and in turn, the town gets tourists.

Day Trip – Shi Fen Waterfall

Last location of our day tour, we were brought to see the lovely Shifen Waterfall. Took a bit of time to get here; by the time we arrived we had only about 30 minutes before the waterfall close for the night.

After alighting from our ride, there was still quite a bit of distance to traverse before reaching the waterfall. Not wanting to miss the waterfall, we made a beeline towards the attraction, skipping past the many shops which were slowing down to close for the day.

We managed to reach with a bit of time to spare which we spent to take pictures of ourselves and the waterfall.

Panoramic shot of shifen waterfall.
Shifen Waterfall.

Not long after, the announcement came, informing all visitors that the park will be closed soon. By this point, just as we finished our day tour, the rain stopped.

Mr.Chen ferried us back to Xi Men Ding where we bid him farewell before heading back, exhausted, yet strangely, satisfied with ourselves as though we were survivors of a “horrible ordeal”.

Day Trip – Dinner

tw jan19 part 1 81
Local street food at the night market around Long Shan Temple.

That night after we parted ways with Cousin Nana and Cousin-in-law, Jackson, Constant Companion RR and I made our way down (via walking, of course) to a night market in the vicinity of Long Shan Temple.

The area is known to be a little messy; you can find many questionable looking characters roaming the streets. Honestly though, I did not feel unsafe walking around. Just keep your wits and common sense around you, and you will be just fine.

I would recommend tourists to visit for the many food options they can find and to experience the general feel of that place. That night, Constant Companion RR recommended me to try a bowl of “Geng“, knowing that such food is right up my alley. And she got it right too. She ordered me up a bowl of Cuttlefish “Geng” and it blew my mind with the first sip I took.

Day Trip – Afterword

Throughout the day, we were up against the weather; it was just our luck. Sure we were cold, wet and at many points, miserable, but that did not mean there was not any fun to be had.

As much as we could, we made the best of it and enjoyed ourselves. It is just an different type of enjoyment, the kind one can only get being in constant discomfort together with loved ones.

We cannot always have what we want and being dealt with something different is fine; variety is after all, the spice of life.

Thank you for reading! I still have another 5 days worth of my trip to write about next.

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I design fine jewellery for a living.