Hey there! I am back with more Taiwan! As I said on my previous post, this was quite a long trip, so I decided to make this post about the highlights and what I really recommend visiting/doing while you are there.
Something that was quite special from my trip is the fact that I was able to spend the Lunar New Year in Taipei. Since I was staying with my sister’s host family, I was able to really experience their culture and customs during this special time, which was absolutely amazing and a once in a life time experience (thank you Dodo and Charles!!).
With that being said, if you are thinking on visiting during this time of the year, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. The reason is, that for almost a week, most things are either closed (which is the only time in the year when this will happen) or absolutely packed with tourists from other Asian countries, so if you want to enjoy some of the Lunar New Year celebrations, but also enjoy doing tourism around the city, I would recommend to start your trip at least a week after the Lunar New Year. This way everything will be open and with less tourists, but you can still catch some celebrations, like the famous Pinxy Sky Lantern Festival.
It was really hard for me to find information about the Pinxy Sky Lantern Festival online, especially in English, given that the festival happens on different dates every year, following the Lunar New Year date. Thankfully, I found this blog post that was really helpful (http://www.escape2taiwan.com/blog/pingxi-sky-lantern-festival-2015-in-taiwan/). Basically, what I learned was: there is 3 days of celebrations with lights and lanterns after the Lunar New Year in the town of Pinxy, first date is 4 days into the New Lunar Year (first full moon), second is 9 days into the New Lunar Year and the third is 15 days in. Each day the celebrations are a bit different and they get bigger every time. While I was there I managed to get to the first date, which I mention on my highlights below.
I have listed my favourite things we saw/did while in Taipei and surroundings. Please consider I had a lot of time there so I saw lots, but below is what really caught my attention and I would 100% recommend. While I was there, 90% of the time was raining, so there are certain things that I don’t recommend doing with bad weather, however the rest you can’t let the rain get in your way!!!
Let me know any questions about my trip and I will try my best to help!
- Elephant mountain
This was probably my favourite thing out of the whole trip. The views from the top of the mountain are unreal! If you don’t have much time in Taipei (or money, this is free!) and you have to choose carefully what to do… COME HERE. It is seriously so much better than going to the top of Taipei 101 (which is also very cool but expensive and veeery time consuming, lines are LONG) because from here you can see the whole city including the Taipei 101, which is what makes the views so special.
We decided to wake up extra early and try to catch the sunrise and even though we arrived a bit late, we still were able to catch the light changing and starting to fall on the city and we got the big rock all for ourselves for hours! That’s the best picture spot!
- Tour Me Away (Old Town Taipei & Chill Out Tour)
These tours are so helpful to find your way around the city, all the tour guides are from Taipei, the tours are in English, and its free!! (leave a tip though!). I really loved doing these tours, the tour guides are really nice and will help you in absolutely any information you need for your trip. We did the Old Town Tour on the first few days and later on the trip we did Chill Out Tour. They have different tours during the week (you can find their website here) and they even have a bar crawl! If you don’t get a chance to do them, try following their routes which I found really good to see lots of things in a nice walk.
- Wufenpu Market
This clothes market is not especially beautiful but if you like shopping, you will love it! I found lots of interesting stuff here, but you have to search well. We came here at least three time during my trip and found different shops every time, its like a maze!
- Fhilin Market – the underground side!
I found the Fhilin market to be a bit too touristy , however, the food market underground I thought it was fantastic! Its really authentic and you get all the foods that you must try during your trip in one space, and you have places to sit! Here we tried oyster omelette amongst other things and I loved how it was packed with Taiwanese people, which also means it was cheap as chips 😉
- Memorials + temples
There are numerous memorial halls and temples in Taipei. I think it is safe to say they are all beautiful, really colorful and interesting, so don’t hesitate to stop and take a look inside when you find some on your way. I would say the most popular are: Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall , Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, Xing Tian Temple, Longshan Temple and Songshan Temple. Make sure you take time on your trip to, at least, visit those five.
- Din Tai Fung restaurant
The food in Taipei was so amazing. And this restaurant… OMG I could have eaten here every single day. It is said to have the best xiao long bao in the world, it also has a Michelin star and it is so cheap! We ate for £10 each and we ordered everything that sounded good. Keep in mind big parties can take a while until they are given a table, however, my sister and I always got a table right away because it was only two of us. But don’t get discouraged, take a number and check the Quintian neighbourhood, which was one of my favourites (included on the chill out tour), then order everything on the menu!!!!! (jokes aside – try the shrimp and pork steamed dumplings… they will change your life!!).
- Yehliu Geo Park
We were really lucky and caught an amazing sunny day to come here and it was SO cool. All the pictures in the Geo Park turned out amazing and it looks like we are in the moon! If you are into photography you will get great photos here. In the same day, we also went to Jiufen, sadly, because it was Lunar New Years time, almost everything in the town was closed which was a shame, but it looked like a great shopping spot and has amazing views so don’t miss it on the way to Yehliu.
- Maokong gondola
We decided to take the Gondola on a national holiday so when we got to the bottom there was a 2 hour line. We decided to take the bus up the mountain and come down with the Gondola instead which was a great idea. The mountain was lovely to explores, there were a couple of markets and the views were great.
- Pinxy Lantern Festival
We got there by bus, it took quite a long time since the roads were closed for the celebrations so make sure to catch the bus or a taxi there because they didn’t let any private vehicles get close to the town. Once in Pingxi we took a walk around the market, so many souvenirs shops and food, it was really lively and fun. We then decided to buy a lantern to decorate and light up, there are shops all around the town where you can buy these and they will give you all the materials to decorate. We had so much fun decorating our lantern! The woman from the shop was absolutely amazing and got our camera and took so many pictures of us while decorating it! Then her husband took us to the top of the town where everyone was releasing their lanterns on the train rails! This was absolutely unforgettable, we were the only western tourists there and every one was so nice to us and cheered as our lantern went high up the sky! Later on the day we went to the school grounds where the official release of the lanterns takes place and it was breathtaking.
Nice weather only:
We came here on a gloomy and rainy day. And even though you get quite good views from here, this place seemed like it would be so much better while sunny. It had arcade games and lots of souvenirs shops, but when we came everything looked quite depressing and half of it was shot. We were also planning on getting a boat to go back to Taipei from here which looked amazing, but it started raining and we decided to not do it. All in all not very exciting.
- Gaomei Wetlands
Now, I have a LOT to say about this lol. Even though the internet tells you the Wetlands are in Taichung, they are actually two hours away from the town. We waited to come to the Wetlands until the end of my trip because we wanted to catch a sunny day, no point to go if you cant see the sunset properly. Once we decided to go because we saw the weather was going to be good in Taichung, we got there (after a long train ride) to only realise we had to catch two long bus rides to the Wetlands. Long story short – when we got there the weather was absolutely horrible! (of course its so far away from Taichung the weather was totally different from the town), there was absolutely nothing around to shelter us from the rain and the km per hour winds and it turnt out the buses were not regular at all and we had to wait for a couple hours in the freezing cold.
MORAL OF THE STORY: if you decide to go make sure you check the weather is absolutely amazing in the wetlands. Take a private car or a taxi- trust me is not worth the headache of buses to come here and hopefully you catch an awesome day- like my sister did a few months after we went together!
and lastly, if like me, you saw this pictures floating online and thought OMG I NEED TO GO THERE. Do not bother, this place has been demolished and sadly doesn’t exist anymore *crying face*, we found out on the way there!