Asia Trip (Part 2): Taiwan

Finally continuing about my trip to Asia! (Read Part 1 on Singapore and Hong Kong here).

After our three days in Singapore, Joyce, Kuangli, Saahil, and I flew to Taiwan, which was the bulk of my Asia trip in terms of actual sightseeing. Taiwan has been one of the top places on my travel bucket list for years, so I was super excited (and mentally prepared myself to binge eat for the next six days). After checking in to our fabulous Hello Kitty themed hotel, we headed to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial and nearby Yong Kang Street for our first taste of Taiwanese street food.

The next morning we were up bright and early to meet Alice and our driver, Ah Sung, for a three hour drive to Sun Moon Lake. A popular local tourist destination, it’s also home to the Thao, a Taiwanese aboriginal tribe. Fun fact: the owl is considered a sacred animal by the Thao, and there were owl souvenirs/figurines/etc literally everywhere around Sun Moon Lake. Even on the trash cans!

The weather started out pretty freakin’ spectacular when we arrived, and then somehow gave way to this fog of doom that lingered until the next morning when we left. Thanks, Taiwanese weather, for letting us fully enjoy the beauty of Sun Moon Lake.

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Our view literally went from this…

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…to this. Bonus points for these eerie lanterns that we discovered while walking on a trail behind our hotel.

The highlight of my entire trip was the two days that we spent at Taroko National Park. The first day we spent an entire morning driving through Taiwan’s mountains, which offered the most amazing views as we climbed higher and higher, eventually reaching an elevation of 3275 meters. One of the funniest things we saw was an entire town made to look European, so it looked almost like we were driving through the Swiss Alps for a minute (wish I’d gotten a photo, but I was probably sitting on the wrong side of the car, which happened too many times on this trip.)

The view on our mountain drive

3275 meters above sea level

Photo credit: Kuangli

Photo credit: Kuangli

Our second day in Taroko we walked along Swallow Grotto, a path between the Central Cross-Island HIghway and a river gorge (and also a popular spot for elderly Asian tour groups, it seemed). We were required to wear hard hats due to the signs every 20 feet warning “Danger! Falling Rocks” – our driver’s stories about all the land slides in the area didn’t help much either – but we thankfully made it through without seeing anything falling off cliffs.

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Hard hat selfie! Photo credit: Kuangli

Hard hat selfie! Photo credit: Kuangli

Next we hiked Baiyang Trail, a 4km trail that consists of a bunch of tunnels, ending with a water curtain tunnel where you walk next to a sheet of water coming down from the ceiling. Some tips for the water curtain: bring a poncho (or be prepared to get very wet), and take off your shoes.

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Aside from rocks and mountains, this area also has some gorgeous water views. We visited Qingshui Cliff in the morning, where the water looked blue enough to jump right in, and Qixing Lake, home to the prettiest beach pebbles ever. Our driver told us it’s illegal to take any of the pebbles – I’m not entirely sure how true this is, but in any case I resisted the urge to take one as a souvenir.

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Qingshui Cliff

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Qixing Lake

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We made it back to Taipei later that evening for some night views from Taipei 101 (obligatory tourist stop: check!) and some awesomely gimmicky drinks at this bar called Fourplay. We split a cocktail set called the Drug Set, which had everything from shots in syringes and flaming drinks, to helium balloons and lines of sugar (that you “snort” by sucking it with a straw).

View from Taipei 101

View from Taipei 101

The Drug Set at Fourplay

The Drug Set at Fourplay

Our next two days in Taipei flew by in a whirlwind of stuff. We started off New Year’s Eve driving out to Yehliu Geopark and the Nanya Peculiar Rocks, which I admittedly was not very excited about (because… rocks) but they ended up being pretty cool! Plus they made for some great photo ops. We all had fun channeling our inner models and striking some poses on top of the giant Nanya rocks.

We stopped at Jiufen Old Street for lunch, a long, winding street crammed with food and souvenir stalls.

Our last stop on New Year’s Eve was Pingxi for sky lanterns. There were lots of people there writing new year wishes on their lanterns, and we bought our very own colored lantern, with each color representing a different thing (pink = happiness, red = health, yellow = money, blue = career). One thing that’s really cool about this place is that all the lantern action takes place on top of a working set of train tracks, so when the train comes through, you have to jump back for 30 seconds while it passes.

Our very deep and meaningful lantern

Our very deep and meaningful lantern

We ended 2014 with a prime view of the New Year’s Eve fireworks at Taipei 101!

Our last full day in Taiwan was spent being somewhat cultured and also eating a ton. We visited the National Palace Museum, which was packed with tour groups thanks to free admission on New Year’s Day. There was a ridiculously long line just to see the famous Jadeite Cabbage, so we decided to just look at it from afar from the gallery window.

After our fill of jade sculptures, Chinese paintings, and bronze wine vessels, we finally made it to the highly anticipated (for me, at least) Shilin Night Market! Taiwanese night markets have been on my bucket list for literally forever, so I tried to eat as much as humanly possible, especially since it was our last night in Taiwan. Even Saahil said he was impressed with how much I ate, sooo mission accomplished, I guess.

So ends my recap of our Asia trip. It’s already been more than two months since the trip,  and even looking back now I sometimes still can’t believe we were able to plan everything with our different schedules, time zones, locations, etc., and actually see everyone in person again. And though it’s a bit late for end of year reflections, I am super grateful I got to spend the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015 with some great food, new worldly experiences, and of course, amazing friends!

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