I’ve had my fair share of travels and explorations around the Philippines ever since I was young, but for some reason the opportunity to travel abroad has yet to come – at least until recently.
Getting a glimpse of other parts of Asia has always been on the to-do list, and because my initial, supposed-to-be first trip abroad got postponed due to unforeseen events, I thought it would take a long while before I’d actually be able to do it.
Fortunately, thanks to a friend who was willing to get out of the country, and after a few conversations more than necessary about buying tickets and making plans, one day we booked a flight to Taiwan scheduled a little over six months in the future and got a pretty good price for round trip tickets. We wanted to make the trip final, and it seemed like buying flight tickets was the only sure way that we’d push through with it.
Arriving in Taiwan
Our flight was on a Friday night at 22:55 (10:55 PM), so that definitely contributed to the cheaper rate, but we also decided to choose this time so as to not have to take a leave at work.
After overcoming some tension at Philippine immigration (the officer at the counter we lined up to was SUPER slow) and after an almost two-hour flight, we arrived at the Taoyuan International Airport at around one o’clock in the morning (there’s no time difference between the Philippines and Taiwan).
We were all prepared to answer “interrogation” questions from immigration and came prepared with the necessary documents we were able to research and as instructed to us by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (return ticket, proof of accommodations, and itinerary). Surprisingly, I wasn’t asked any questions at all. The immigration officer got me through the whole process of getting my fingerprints, my photo, and stamping my passport with a couple of gestures and no verbal conversation whatsoever. I wasn’t even asked for my any of the necessary documents we prepared beforehand. My friend, Bea, was asked nothing but until when she was planning to stay. I guess that was easier than what we expected.
From the airport, you basically have a couple of choices of how to get to Taipei City: the train (MRT), a bus, or a taxi. Uber also exists in Taiwan, but considering the distance, it’s not worth it. We inquired at the tourists information desk, and recommendation was to either take the train or the bus. The trains open at 6AM, so since we cleared baggage and immigration at around 2AM, we had a good four hours to kill.
After a good nap at the airport (since the tourism officer did tell us, “you can sleep here, nobody cares” after telling us that using the train system would definitely be safer considering the time), we explored to the lower level of the airport to the convenience store and ticketing booths. Upon finding out that a bus to the Taipei Main Station (basically the New York Grand Central Station of Taiwan) leaves at 5:30AM, we decided to go with bus instead, although the travel time wold be a little over and hour and a half.
Finding the Airbnb & Checking In
At the Taipei Main Station, we did get a little lost as we underestimated how may levels there were and how complex the system can get, but we managed to find our way to the correct platform and the correct train that would bring us to the Xinyi District where we were to check ourselves in to our Airbnb accommodations. We alighted at the Taipei 101/World Trade Center Station which cost us around NT$ 20. From there we walked to the Airbnb place – following only vaguely Airbnb-translated Mandarin instruction, might I add – and acquired the key from the lock box at the place’s front door that lead to a hallway of doors, on of which was the door to our room.
Taiwan Itinerary: Day 1
Initially, we planned on going to the Taipei Zoo and the Maokong Gondola on day 1, but after checking in and freshening up, we fell asleep until around before 11 AM. Our tita bodies got tired and we wouldn’t have enough time for the zoo and the Maokong Gondola considering the time travel would take up, so instead, we decided to try out the rentable eco-bikes we passed near the exit of the MRT station.
These bikes are released from their stations after you enter your payment through the kiosk (usually using a credit card or the EasyCard, which is similar to the Beep card in the Philippines). The YouBike charges NT$10 for every 30 minutes, however, we did find out the hard way that using a credit card means you pre-authorize a purchase and the system will waaay more than the price displayed. Apparently, this happens with credit and debit accounts a lot and the real cost of the service will be deducted from your account once the system has reported the actual cost. We have yet to resolve this, but I’ll try and keep this updated.
LUNCH: Give Me Them Noods
For lunch, we, of course, had to have local food and lucky enough, the area near the Airbnb was walking distance to the street lined with restaurants and shops. Unfortunately, I have never in my life been able to read and understand Mandarin, so I won’t be able to share the name of the place where we had these amazing noodles. although the place was a little bit hot due to the lack of air conditioning, the food was great and at a price not too bad (we probably spent around NT$ 150 each) compared to other restaurants. Along the way, there was also this cool milk tea place where I tried this cranberry juice (I think?) concoction that I still don’t know the real name of.
Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial + National Concert Hall + National Theater
A must see in Taiwan would definitely be the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial. This 76-meter, octagonal structure was erected to honor the former president of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-shek.
Having this on our itinerary was like hitting two birds with one stone, or three birds in this case. When you visit the memorial hall, you already get to see the National Concert Hall and the National Theater as they are all located within the Liberty Square (though the entire complex is generally referred to as the CKS Memorial Hall).
Aside from the beauty of the CKS Memorial, both the National Concert Hall and the National Theater are grand structures with traditional exteriors. The size of these buildings paired with striking red pillars and orange tiled roofs make for a great sight.
Aside from the buildings themselves, Liberty Square also provides a great taste of the local people as the national park is utilized by citizens for organizational or community events. While we were there, we saw two different drum line groups rehearsing, a group practicing a performance with flags and rifles, and a fair for Mothers’ Day.
Underground Book Street + Ningxia Night Market
After taking lots of photos at the CKS Memorial area and enjoying the sights, we were starting to feel hungry. We technically hadn’t had anything except lunch and some drinks. The next stop on our revised itinerary was the Ningxia Night Market in the Datong District. This would require us to take the train again to the Zhongshan MRT Station.
Once again, we got a little lost. We spent a whole lot of time wandering around the station and the Zhongshan Metro Mall (they’re connected). On the upside, we got to observe the locals again as there was a public indoor space where dancers and cheerleaders could rehearse. The area was complete with outlets for the music players and a long, mirrored wall. Also, we got to explore the relatively new Underground Book Street the Eslite Bookstore basically connects 2 MRT stations. There were also some other cute stores in the same area. (Unfortunately, most stores didn’t allow photography)
From the station, it’s a bit of a walk when you’re hungry, but there are a lot of stores you can pass by along the way before getting to the actual street market.
The Night market was not a let down in terms of the variety of food and the lively atmosphere. Although it can get a little claustrophobic in some areas, you could find interesting food choices anywhere you turned your head.
When visiting the street market, be prepared to spend a significant amount of New Taiwan Dollars, though. For our trip, we were able to try the fried seafood ball, torched beef wagyu cubes, the grilled giant squid tentacle, grilled clam with filling, and the fried chicken roll (not photographed). Winners of the night in terms of food were the wagyu cubes and the fried chicken roll.
Before calling it a day, Bea convinced me to try and get a reflexology foot massage despite it being pricey at NT$500. I’m not the biggest fan of massages, but it seemed like a good idea since we walked a ton that day (according to Bea’s pedometer, we walked over 23,000 steps!).
We were instructed to change into shorts provided by the shop which was named Lechen Massage. If you’re not a fan of massages, I wouldn’t recommend reflexology for you because the day after, I felt like my left leg was bruised a little bit even though I did inform my masseuse to not apply hard pressure. My right leg felt fine afterward though. About 50% of the time I was in semi-pain; 20% of the time I was anticipating the masseuse to insist on pressing one specific spot, so I basically enjoyed the rest or the 30%. Massages aren’t for everybody.
On the way back to Xinyi District, we got to enjoy a train with fewer people and we also got to see the Taipei 101 Observatory lit up at night.
Taiwan Day 1 Travel Diary
For a summary of how our first day in Taiwan went, check out the video below and watch my Travel Diary for Day 1 in Taiwan.
Day two and three coming soon!
I’d love to hear from you! What do you think about my first ever trip abroad so far? Let me know by reacting and commenting in the section below!