I booked this trip back in March, so we took our time planning our itinerary. Lucky for me, I was traveling with my good friend Mimi, who is probably the most organized person I know. We listed the places we wanted to go to and built our trip around that. It was only my first time traveling to Taiwan, but it was going to be Mimi’s third time, so I wanted to make sure we didn’t do too many repeats for her. We settled on visiting Shifen, Jiufen, and Taichung apart from Taipei.
We set out two days to travel a few hours out of Taipei and booked a private car to get to Taichung and a bus tour for our Shifen and Jiufen day trip. Would 10/10 recommend booking a car through Winner’s Tailor-Made VIP Tour if you want a hassle-free way of getting in and out of the city. We also booked our airport transfers with them. The rest of the trip was spent exploring our area in Ximending and checking out the art spaces in the Huashan and Songshan districts. Since our flight out was early Tuesday morning, we spent the entire Monday walking around (for almost 12 hours!), making sure to make a night market stop (we ended up in Raohe Street Night Market) before heading back to our hotel.
Where we stayed
I have to admit I booked Hotel PaPa Whale solely on how it looked. Haha! The reviews it got on Booking.com were pretty good and its location was ideal—not too far from all the action in Ximending, a 10-minute walk from the Ximen station, and generally a quiet area compared to the central area of the district.
Shifen Waterfall and Jiufen Old Street
My only request was that we spend my birthday at Amei Teahouse in Jiufen. Little did I know that it would be raining the entire day and we would be soaked by the time we headed to the teahouse. We arrived at GaKuDen bakery where we picked up some bread (and cake for some candle-blowing later that night) before hopping on the Klook bus that would take us to our first stop: Shifen Waterfall. By the time we got to the drop-off point, it was already drizzling. I had brought a long a pocketable parka, but by the time we made our way down from the waterfall viewing deck, I was drenched. I ended up buying an umbrella before we headed to the tracks.
I skipped the sky lanterns (please consider its effect on the environment before you participate in this tourist trap) and just checked out the shops lining the tracks at Shifen. I wanted to try the peanut ice cream, so I was waiting for my order when a familiar voice asked, “Masarap ba?” To my complete surprise, Patty was standing in front of me with her backpack and everything. She followed us to Shifen straight from the airport because she’s awesome like that. I wish we had my reaction on video because I’m pretty sure it was pure shock. I had invited her to come along, but she told me she was out of leaves. LOL! Apparently, she and Mimi had been corresponding the entire time trying to figure out where she could catch us. Thankfully, our Klook guide Michael let her join the bus (she also purchased a voucher) heading to Jiufen.
We arrived at the Jiufen drop-off past 5pm and it was raining very hard. The wind was strong and since our clothes were already soaked, we were freezing! Jiufen is a hillside village that has about 200 steps to the top, where the street is lined with shops. There are several tea houses lined with paper lanterns in the area, but we headed to Amei, which is supposedly the inspiration for the location of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. I was already exhausted at this point, and I had to pull myself up the steps just to make it to Amei. We were directed to a table outside and we had a view of the pretty lanterns a few steps below. We decided to enjoy our tea and skip the rest of the trip up the stairs and head back down when it was a few minutes before our meet-up time. Our oolong tea was served with an assortment of snacks. I enjoyed the sesame crackers, mung bean cake, and pineapple cake the best. You could also purchase these along with tea sets and souvenirs at the shop. They gave us complimentary postcards with a beautiful photo of the tea house. This was easily one of the best parts of this trip for me. We headed back to the city and we polished my two cakes (one chocolate and one cheese) before we completely passed out.
A day in Taichung
We were surprisingly up early the next morning for our day trip to Taichung. Taichung is about two hours away, so we wanted to make the most of our day. We originally planned to go the DIY commute route, but realized that we might have trouble finding taxis in the city. We opted to book a private car that made our trip stress-free. Our driver Will was helpful (answered all our questions and gave tips on which spots to hit back in Taipei) and, more importantly, spoke English.
We left our hotel a few minutes after 8:30 and made it to our first stop, the Zhongshe Flower Farm, a little before 11. There were so many fields to take pictures of (and with), so we spent about an hour just going around. We made our way to Calligraphy Greenway for lunch (where we had a bit of trouble ordering, haha), and walked the stretch to look at some art. I realized belatedly that the shops I wanted to see were on the side streets and not the main road, so we didn’t get to see them. We were running out of time, so I just made mental note to go back if I ever find myself in Taiwan again. Our next stop was the Rainbow Village, a military housing that’s painted in all the colors of the rainbow. A retired soldier does all the painting and he’s usually in the area, so you can meet him and take a photo with him. After taking all the photos we could, we headed to Miyahara, excited to try the delicious ice cream we saw online prior to our trip. The space where it’s housed was an old optical shop that the pineapple cake-making company Dawn Cakes transformed into a gorgeous store. I kid you not, it looks straight out of a Harry Potter book. The Honeydukes-like store sells all kinds of treats from cookies to chocolate to cheesecake and other delectable pastries. We made our way to the ice cream place only to see an extremely long queue. Since we were already running late on our schedule, we knew there was no time to wait in line. We relegated to buying a cheesecake to share and took as many photos we could. The packaging was so beautiful, we actually took home the box! Our last Taichung stop was Chun Shui Tang, the home of the original pearl milk tea, circa 1983 (a full year younger than me!). We opted to visit the original store since we were already there. If we had more time, it would’ve been nice to sit down and try some of the dishes served here, too. We still had about two hours of travel ahead of us, so we took our pearl milk tea to go and enjoyed them on the way back to Taipei.
We’re only halfway done, but I’ll reserve the rest of our Taipei adventures for my next post. Up next: All the good eats in Taipei, creative parks, cute shops in Dihua, plus all the Eslite branches we visited. Haha! Are you headed to Taiwan any time soon? What places did we miss? Let me know so I can visit the next time I go!