after two days and nonstop eating in Taipei I was well acclimated and wanted to have more.
first I was afraid that one week for Taiwan and all the amazing food will not be enough. well.. I’m sure you can spend here months traveling around the country, but for me the available 7 days to get a taste were perfect.
I was ready to visit the countryside (haha, it’s a strange word here) anyway it was funny when the locals asked my plans and I replied “leaving Taipei now but staying on the island for 5 more days”. almost everyone asked back “which island” or “Thailand”? :D okay, maybe it’s not the proper term to use here, but that’s the reality. just as locals look like Chinese. of course I have to be politically correct, but the case here with a little irony sounds like that with the Sicilian in Italy. I can totally understand that Taiwanese don’t like to be called Chinese (I hate it too when people try to find out where I am from and the first tips are always Russia or Romania :P), anyway dear people of Taiwan: sorry to say that, but your country is called the Republic of China, your foods are based on the Chinese cuisine, you speak some kind of Chinese.. and you live on an island. :) I respect nations so I didn’t call here anyone Chinese (if you don’t want to be rude do the same!) just enjoyed their Chineseness.
but back to my trip around Taiwan. first of all I have to state that I changed my mind so many times that even I had lost count. :) but exactly this made it more relaxing, without stress to follow a timetable and (except the limit of the days) I had all the freedom to do what I want. isn’t it beautiful to travel (live) without restrictions and the pressure to explain – even to yourself – why you don’t want to do what you have planned hours before?!..
original plan: a one day trip to Jiufen-Shifen-Pingxi, to visit old towns and train station and beautiful waterfalls.. etc.
reality: few hours in Shifen
the full pack trip is highly recommended by aaall travel bloggers, but honestly.. it’s not a big deal. if you are a newbie traveler, haven’t seen any old towns in your life and you like to crawl in crowd then it can be a good #whatcanidoinmysparetime trip. but if your taste is similar to mine you can live happily ever after without visiting these places.
the reason why I changed my mind is that they are insanely mainstream. marketing works perfectly: by searching for each location you will find nice shots, but if you look at them closely you will recognize that there’s only an old tea house, some alleys with typical souvenirs, nice but #forbiddentoswim waterfalls and everything is really about tourism and money. moreover all pictures are taken from the same angle which means a lot of people waiting selfie-ready for their turn. if this is what you are searching for, then do it – for me it is only a mass destruction of the experience.
why I chose even Shifen? very simple: sky lantern on the train tracks + the waterfall looks cool in pictures (yess, wanted to have some water). I counted only few hours before heading to the South, so it was a good decision to see how local transportation works in the neighborhood of Taipei. no matter which old town you want to reach, the way is the same and by train is very simple (Google Maps can help to check the route and at the ticket counter you can ask for the timetable). take the East Line train to Ruefang – here you have to decide where to go (Jiufen or Shifen), but don’t panic everything is tourist-proof >> to Shifen change to Pingxi Branch Line >> get off at Shifen Railway Station – impossible to miss it:
the travel takes about one and a half hour and it’s chill and cheap. I’m sure that a full sunny Sunday is not the best time to visit this place, but as I was not in a rush just took it easy. first of all I waited about 15 minutes for people to leave the station via the narrow street. then checked the Jingan Suspension bridge and was walking on the tracks while people painted their lantern and let them fly. well, I have mixed feelings about this thing. first it looks awesome how those colorful lanterns take off, but what goes up must come down; higher trees and hidden parts of the woods are full with fallen lanterns (locals try to collect as much as they can, but still) so this mass tourism consuming is less eco friendly than wonderful. and of course it’s about the money too so tourists just paint the balloons in a hurry, have few seconds for the pictures and selfies, then let them go and walk away. is it really worth the experience? (my subjective answer is: no, and don’t want to imagine how this all looks like in festival season..)
from the old town street the waterfall is about 20 minutes walk and the way is pretty nice. during the walk I didn’t have that many people around but arriving to the waterfall.. well, it was hard to find a spot to take photo without people hanging in there. :D but I got my music in my ears, enjoyed the sunshine, the kids were fun (they didn’t really cared about where they were), so that short time I spent here walking around was okay.
of course you can find all kind of food in Shifen, but I was more interested to leave, go back to Taipei and get some exit soup in my favorite street, so I just tested the fried ice cream, which is pretty fun. best to eat right after you got it in your hands as it’s still hot outside and cold inside. I had all flavors (vanilla, strawberry, chocolate) and surprising my favorite was the strawberry (I’m basically a chocolate lover). :)
ohh yes, and this is what Shifen is famous for.. but if you ask my opinion the Maeklong Railway Market in Thailand is much much cooler!
the way back in town was okay too (if you don’t want to wait 20-30 minutes for the train check in advance the schedule) and I was so fast that had a lot of time. so I could enjoy a veggie dumpling soup (I love to see how ladies are sitting around a table and filling the dumplings so fast while chatting.. it always makes me smile), then a short walk around with my favorite bottled Chun Cui He latte, watching skateboarders in the business park and finally go to the station and just wait for the train.
original plan: a night in Kaohsiung and next day to Kenting National Park to spend there 1,5 days
reality: stayed in Kaohsiung
the most interesting part of this trip was to obtain the train ticket. the best choice for long distance traveling is the High Speed Rail: it’s cheaper than a domestic flight, in gross time faster too, just more expensive than other TRA trains – but no question about what to select if you don’t have that much time to get from A to B. the hostel gave me 20% discount from the HSR price, the only problem was that I received a voucher and had to switch it to “real” ticket. I went to the Main Station the day before to find out the timetable etc. and it was the most annoying 40 minutes of my stay in Taiwan. it’s okay that you have to wait sometimes a bit longer in the queue, it’s okay that not everyone speaks English – bit strange on THE main station, at the main counter, but that’s life -, but how to call it when an agent asks you to come back in an hour as there are other people who want to travel now and as he’s the only person here who speaks (a bit of) English will help you to get your ticket. as I haven’t heard anything like this before I was pretty surprised.. but this is Taiwan. I asked at another counter if they can help me (no luck), so I went back when I saw the main counter was free, and funny that a girl without proper English could show me the timetable and after selecting the train could give me the ticket. what I can recommend in this country: patience, relax & smile. it’s good to be prepared for such situations (you will face that at least once for sure), but no worries you will be able to get what you need.. and I’m sure that freaking out or something here will not help you, as they will not understand it and it’s just an unnecessary stress for yourself. :)
the HSR is really cool (of course with WiFi on board) and with 2 stops in between arrives in Kaohsiung in less than 2 hrs – you have to get off at the Zuoying station (just don’t be confused about the names) and from here the local MRT takes you everywhere.
all I knew about Kaohsiung that it’s called the most pleasant city of Taiwan and it has some great street art. my hostel was next to the train station which usually means dodgy and less clean areas, but not here. I stayed in the Pineapple Backpackers Hostel (what can I say, pineapple rulz :D) and I liked it: good location in a cute little back street, friendly owner (no reception), clean rooms (take off your shoes rule) and of course beds have curtains.
after checking in I didn’t leave the house, but had to find out what’s next: go to Kenting in the morning (how and how long is the trip etc.) or maybe just stay in the city as my very first impression was nice. well, it was a pretty fast decision: I couldn’t enjoy Kenting beach very well in a rush and after I realized that “Love” is the name of the river the cuteness was overloaded and won.
in the morning I woke up pretty lazy, so after checking the map just started a walk to find some food and discover the city. it was Monday and after the busy Taipei Kaohsiung felt empty: wide roads but without real traffic, big green areas, peaceful people, ohh.. and finally “white people” around. :) after 4 days the first time to see someone “similar” was funny. they are mostly students here and no one’s really interested in anyone else (not like in Taipei).
I grabbed some pork dumplings and sat down in a shady part by the canal. it was right before lunchtime just some old people chilled on benches and it was not the main business area, but really so silent and sunny that I had to check several times that I am where I think I am and didn’t mix the cities or slept for a day..
after my brunch :) I walked to the Love River, enjoyed the noisy birds and the sound of laughing men who played chess in the park, then climbed to the Shoushan Martyr Shrine. everyone rides a scooter but by walk is not that bad either and I saw this on the way.. when you think you have found a romantic place with a view :D (yess, that’s a scooter wreck)
on the hill the shrine is only the second main attraction.. the first one is the LOVE installation in the well-kept park. with the city view it looks awesome and on the platform you can see the word “love” in 32 different languages, including in Hungarian! ;)
it’s a relaxing place and thanks to the weekday it wasn’t full with people. I left the park in the direction of the harbor and really liked the atmosphere of this area: smaller buildings, wide streets, workers packing different things and of course local shops and the smell of food everywhere.
I spent the sunset at the Lotus Pond. as I mentioned earlier MRT (in Kaohsiung: KRT) is superb in Taiwan: I love to travel with locals, other hands I couldn’t feel big distances in the city so it was easy to jump from one end to another. at the lake you can visit many temples, there’s a wake park and you can run around or do whatever you want. the way from the metro to the lake was one of my favorite. the Chongde road leads there (from the station: Ecological District) what turns into a flyover: it’s actually a freeway for bikes over the Cuihua road, a nicely designed “bridge”.. at sunset as it flowed over the busy road, with the view, and the music, and coffee in my hands.. it felt sooo good. :)
it was fullfullfull with tourists but I went into the Dragon & Tiger Pagodas and I recommend not simple run in and out.. check the strange and weird and scary miniature stories on both sides – this kind of creativity and visuality amuse me always, they are really funny!
as I definitely wanted to see a Taiwanese beach (that would have been the main reason to go to Kenting too) and luckily Kaohsiung has one, I spent the next day on Cijin Island. the easiest way to go there is with the ferry from the Gushan Ferry Pier (it’s a very short travel) and from the Cijin pier you can go around the elongated island.
it’s full with food vendors, souvenirs, activities.. but for me the beach was the main attraction and as I arrived to this sight, it was priceless:
and now watch this gif while listening to my Kaohsiung song ;)
(yess, I have one for every location.. so stay tuned)
what else could I wish for.. in December.. on Tuesday? that was the first moment during my trip when I felt totally SMILE from head to toe. sunshine, salty air, blue sea, curly hair.. me alone on the empty beach. simply perfect. this is why I booked my flight, this is why I came here, this is what I miss so much. and the sugarcane juice.
actually I was disappointed a little about Taiwan. I haven’t got big expectations, just because of the good marketing I had the real #wanttogothere feeling. unfortunately the satisfaction didn’t come with the experience and this is always a bit sad. but after I tasted here the sugarcane juice with pineapple and tapioca and lot of other fruits my opinion was changed: nothing bad can happen as long as there is sugarcane and a place what got this awesomeness cannot be so bad. (sounds strange? well, I’m a tamagotchi: when I got food all good and I simply can measure things along it. other hands I’m in a deep relationship with sugarcane since 2013.)
btw the selection of food here is as good as everywhere else in Taiwan, I reached a matcha overdose too (I love it in every form, specially as ice cream and waffle.. on the same plate ;))
earlier I was a kind of tourist who traveled through the lens of the camera. actually this time I didn’t even take a camera with me, I only had my mobile (all photos I share were taken with my Shitsung and I think they are not that bad at all). I focused on the #righthererightnow and many times even forgot to take any pictures.. this is why I don’t remember all the food I ate and it’s okay. I don’t have any fix recommendation or signature dish here, just eat what you see and smell, it will be all good!
Kaohsiung is so different than the capital. people are more relaxed and slower, the city seems lighter and cleaner and of course it has the sea (that’s a big advantage). for me it’s like the Taiwanese Singapore – I have the same confusing feelings with SG compared to other Asian cities.. you know, the same same but different. :)
I wanted to visit the Fo Guang Shan Monastery too but totally forgot about it (this may happen when you are overrelaxed :D). I just realized it on the train but didn’t want to turn back.. so maybe next time. beside this you can sip cocktails in sky bars, visit the city zoo, hunt for cool street art, do some activities and many many more. Kaohsiung seems to me a livable city and it was a really good decision to stay here at least for 2 days.
original plan: sleep in Taichung, during daytime visit Lukang Mazu Temple and Nantou Mochi Museum
reality: 12 hours sleep and walkaround in Taichung
before leaving Taiwan I had a last day to explore. as I’m a huuuge mochi fan (really, it’s the best food invention on earth) and there’s a real mochi museum, of course I wanted to visit it.. just the online marketing was once again better than the reality.
the train from Kaohsiung arrived in the central district of Taichung, which is full with street food, typical “Chinese” shops, old small buildings, stinky streets.. you know, just all what comes with years and everyday life. actually even this is what I love so much in Asia, thus I always chose these areas.
I stayed in the Backpack 41 Youth Hostel and it was.. hm.. interesting. the hostel itself was okay (good location, clean conditions, big beds but without curtains), just the dorm was crazy. I’m not sure and I didn’t ask, but really got the strange feeling that few girls (women) were escorts (with nice words to say). the first night was really exhausting: non-stop moving, door closing and every kind of noise until the morning – as I had a very peaceful life till now, it was really frustrating.
after waking up I tried to find out the way to the Nantou Mochi Museum. it was funny that the girl at the desk first didn’t understand what I was talking about but after I showed here pictures about the food and the place she realized that she had been there before.. and she loves mochi too. I don’t have a strange accent and mochi is pronounced “mochi” :D, anyway after few minutes it turned out that this museum thing sounds better than what it is. other hands going there with public transport would have been bit long/complicated, so no matter how much I love mochi somehow I didn’t feel the motivation to go. (they have the same selection what you can find in Taipei Main Station, nothing extra or special.. maybe just the #doityourself, but for that at least 6 ppl are needed.) after this decision I skipped to visit the Lukang Temple too (which was in the opposite direction), so I went back to the dorm (it was finally empty and silent) and slept for few more hours. :)
I got up around 1PM and totally hungry. at the moment I stepped out into the street a delicious smell came from the other side.. there was a nice and pretty busy soup vendor. it’s typical that you have to put in “self service” everything you want in your bowl then give it to the lady who prepares/finishes it with soup and noodles, but the dried things look strange (except the vegetables) and without common language it’s hard to find out what they are. I was confused and too hungry to think clear and take the responsibility for my decisions. the most important mission was really to find something to eat and after a restart and deep breath I got it (pork belly with veggies, egg and noodle).. and then the cutest coffee as well.
with enough fuel I was ready to take the city. right after I found a hobby/game shop and bought my next Beargguy :) then walked to the Taichung Park, which has a nice lake and a strange goat statue. from here headed to the west district to see some civilization (it’s the business area). surprisingly Taichung reached the ultimate level of foreigners. really, I saw here all of nations and honestly don’t understand why. there’s nothing interesting in Taichung, even the most insignificant city ever. anyway it’s still not for foreigners: how much I like these subways.. you know exactly where you are and which exit to select.. :D
and I’m not a shopper type anymore, but here was the first time I went into a mall.. and it was weird:
what I really liked in this city was the afternoon time; when empty streets and closed shops opened and everything changed to a vivid bustle.. with a lot of pak-choi. it’s always cool to catch that moment when the vendors open their places, start to organize stuff and of course start to cook and the different but somehow perfectly harmonized smells fly on the streets. there’s a typical aroma with Chinese spices what I love so deeply.. sometimes with bit more chili or even with “stinky” fish. the evening started and people after work (on the way home) filled the streets and loudly enjoyed their meal on the plastic stools. there are several places where prepared BBQ sticks are waiting just for us. you collect which one (endless variations from meat to veggies) you want and then just wait till they grill it for you. I stopped at Gekiuka Yakitori and took a pork (daging babi), a chicken and a veggie-bacon stick.
regardless of Taichung was very neutral for me the last evening with good food and long walk back to the hostel was perfect. just like my very last Taiwanese food experience.
I had my flight from Taipei, so first had to reach the TPE airport from Taichung. I chose the United Bus company to get there (cheaper than the train, direct connection to the airport, WiFi on board, around 2 hrs travel time), and because Mercury Retrograde just started (without being too spiritual I really felt that things went more slowly or complicated) and I didn’t want to miss my flight, I have oversecured my arrive: it meant that I had to wake up just before sunrise. I left the hostel and walked on the empty main street to the bus station. I love this time: when the night is over but the day still hasn’t started yet. the moment right before nightpeople and daypeople change each other. the air is warm but somehow fresh, not heavy with breaths and exhaust fumes yet.
of course I got my survivor 7-Eleven kit :)..
.. but definitely wanted to have some real breakfast too. and then by the canal I saw a smiling old man next to a food cart. he had there exactly what I needed: noodles, fried eggs, meat, veggies and soup. a typical Chinese breakfast, actually with the best smell and feeling what we are expecting from a real Asian street food. the street lights were still on, only a garbage truck struck noise, we both looked tired but kept smiling. :) I took only noodle with eggs, pak-choi and soy sauce, but it was delicious in its way. :)
if you have read my previous Taipei post maybe it’s clear that I liked the Taiwanese countryside a bit more than the capital. the food is the same (good), but people are different, the vibe is different and because of this it can be more enjoyable.
and just an extra surprising thing, which is typical throughout Taiwan: no matter how dirty some streets, areas or subways look like, you can find everywhere “clean” and free!!! public toilets (they are regularly cleaned, always have paper and hand wash, no tips or fees). it was really new for me (you cannot find something like this in Europe) and till now I haven’t really cared, but if you’re a girl on period it’s good to know that you don’t have to hunt for and then find disgusting places when you need.