Our Kyoto to Kansai Airport train ride was smooth as by this time we were more familiar with the busy Kyoto Train Station to find our way. We purchased the Limited Express Haruka discounted ticket by showing our Icoca & Haruka and passport at the ticket office the night before so we just hop on any Limited Express Haruka train for the 1 hour 20 min ride nonstop to Kansai International Airport. Our flight was at 12:15 pm arrived in Taipei at 2:25 pm. The immigration lines were a little bit crazy and took around half an hour wait. Once we got through, claimed luggage, and straight headed out to look for an ATM machine. After withdrawing around $200 USD worth of Taiwanese Dollars, we went to the ticket office to purchase the “Easycard” which is an electronic, rechargeable card that you can use to pay for any type of public transportation as well as to pay at convenient stores.
Next, we walked to the train station to catch the Taoyuan Metro Express to Taipei Main Station and along the way, Jason saw a post office. He went in to check it out while I was watching our luggage outside. He sure did took a long time, came out, and asked me for Taiwanese Dollars lol! He bought two beautiful stamp books that related to 2 of the 4 most famous ancient time novels:
There are two types of train to Taipei Main Station – the express train (purple) that takes only 35 minutes and the commuter train (blue) that stops at every single station along the way for an additional 20 minutes so make sure you board the express train. The one-way ticket is TWD160 around $5.25 USD for the express train; we paid with our Easycard. After Japan, everything in Taiwan felt inexpensive 😀
We stayed at Palais de Chine Hotel that is conveniently located right across from the Taipei Main Station, I booked it through Orbitz when it was on sale for $495 USD for 3 nights with coupon code. I plugged in the hotel name in Google Map and it even has the direction on which exit number to get out of Taipei Main Station that’s closest to our hotel, Taipei Main Station is well marked with plenty of signs to guide you to the exit number! Review of our hotel room later in the post as I was super hungry that as soon as we dropped off our luggage in our room, we headed straight out for a late lunch!
We walked to Kao Chi Restaurant – Zhongshan branch (高記); it was only an 11-minute walk and we were the only customers there at around 5 pm – too early for dinner I guess. The interior decors were really nice and comfortable.
We ordered so much food because we were super hungry lol! They had a promotion for a free dried beancurd with pork or some dessert; we picked the dried beancurd with pork and it tasted very good!
Being in Taiwan, the soup dumplings (小籠包) are a must! We ordered the crabmeat soup dumplings, they are definitely fresh but the flavors were on the light side; I was expecting more crab taste.
The fried rice was decent for the other entrees we ordered.
Fried shrimps with salty egg yolk, they were really crunchy which are different than the Shanghainese style that I had.
The spicy crab, doesn’t that look yummy??? It was so good with rice, however, not as great as the black pepper crab we had in Thailand.
We also ordered a sweet taro appetizer as Taiwan is also famous for its taro. Our small table for the two of us filled with food and the waiter was really impressed that we finished the dishes! He was probably thinking where do those two came from like they had been starved for days LOL! Our late-lunch cost $81.45 USD for all those food!
We walked back to our hotel after the filling late-lunch. Our room’s atmosphere was on the dark side perhaps to create a romantic mood. The size was definitely on the small side but they did a great job of utilizing the space so it doesn’t feel cramped either. Our bed was comfortable with a sofa that’s convenient to put our bags.
The free hotel wifi was very fast to do my work. The restroom’s design concept like an “open kitchen” with the tub right next to the entrance door…hum..not sure if I like that.
The toilet and the standup shower only separated by a piece of glass.
The toiletries are a Chinese brand but has this strong medicine herb smell that I don’t like.
The room where you first walked in through the restroom area and then to the bedroom.
After some rest, we ventured out to check out one of Taipei’s famous night markets – Ningxia Night Market (寧夏夜市). The first section of the night market are stands selling household products like pillows, towels, and even games that you can pay to play and win prizes.
The second section is the food stands….you name it!
This one is beef cooked by burning flame, it smelled so good when we passed by!
All sorts of seafood and vegetables to grill:
Another seafood stand:
Freshly cut fruits:
It was busy! Some food stalls have seatings on the back!
Those drinks looked colorful!
We browsed through the food stalls and we didn’t have the appetite to try any….some looked dirty as the food was not covered and right next to a busy street with lots of traffic. We walked to this famous oyster pancake place called 赖记鸡蛋蚵仔煎 that’s right on the corner at the end of the night market. There was a line of people so must be good so we lined up too! Look at the buckets of eggs….
That’s how she make all those oyster pancakes!
There are seatings right next to the stand in this narrow store:
OMG, the oyster pancake was soooooooo GOOD! It has the “fried” aroma and yet the pancake itself is very chewy and sticky, love the taste and texture! No wonder such a long line, we definitely recommend it!
We walked back to the night market for more photos:
Then we had dessert at Beans Village (豆花庄). Taiwan’s famous desserts: tofu pudding and shaved ice. I was so disappointed at both! The tofu wasn’t as silky as I expected it to be; I had better tofu pudding in London’s Chinatown! The shaved ice was a huge disappointment. It was not the flavored ice and then shaved type but rather than pouring syrup on plain shaved ice. I had better shaved ice at Snowdays in New York!
We walked back to our hotel at 11 pm and felt totally safe walking at night. The next morning, we headed out early to visit the famous breakfast spot – Fuhang Soy Milk (阜杭豆漿). We got there at 7 am and the line snaked down to the first floor outside; it was that popular!!! They even have a map of the waiting line so it’s not blocking other stores!!!
The line moved rather quickly and soon our turn!
You can see through a glass wall of how they make the bread and rolls:
A picture menu that you need to decide before you get to the counter…those ladies there were like rush-rush!
We ordered two cold soymilk, a dried radish roll, and a sesame flatbread with scrambled eggs:
We got our food pretty quickly and then look for seatings in the food court. The soymilk and the breads were good but not impressive that worth the wait! The food was cheap enough that I didn’t record the amout….less than a few dollars for our breakfast.
After the breakfast, we took the bus to Chia Te Bakery (佳德) for its famous pineapple cake (鳳梨酥). My cousin went to Taiwan last year and she bought back the Chia Te pineapple cake and ever since then, other brands of pineapple cake in the US are not the same! Chai Te’s pineapple cake is not super sweet, filled with fresh pineapple fillings, and the cake itself tasted some creamy. Words can’t describe it but once you tasted it, you can tell the difference from other pineapple cakes! Also, they made it fresh and to guarantee the quality without adding preservatives, it has a short shelf life of only 40 days.
Besides the classic pineapple cakes, they have pineapple & egg yolk cake which I recommend and it even has a shorter shelf life of only 15 days!
They also have other fruit flavors like logan, cranberry, strawberry, etc. I bought the logan ones and pretty good too!
I also like the crispy pineapple topping pastry:
To purchase multiple boxes, fill out the form and go to the counter where they have boxes of 6, 12, or 20 pieces. They are the same price per piece so for gifting purpose, I choose the box of 12. I ordered 10 boxes of 12 each pineapple, 6? boxes of the pineapple & egg yolk, 2 boxes of logan, and 4? boxes of the crispy pineapple topping pasty and they packed all into this big box and weighed 30 pounds LOL!!! The total cost was $246.92 USD haha but all my family, relatives, and friends liked the souvenir.
Jason carried this heavy box all the way of course 😉 We took the bus to get back to our hotel…..now talking about the buses in Taipei. Taipei is a huge city but well connected by many lines of buses and some metro lines. Buses are the way to go in Taipei, they are never crowded, clean, comfortable, and very frequent. Also, Google Maps has real-time information on the bus so it’ll actually display the waiting time for the next bus! The only thing I found it weird was some buses you pay (tap the Easycard) when boarding and some you pay when exiting. At our second bus ride, we figured it out!!! On the back of the bus near the back door, look at the sign, it lights up on rather pay when boarding (上) or pay when exiting (下)! The bus ride is only TWD15 which is around 50 cents USD, super cheap!!!
After we dropped off the huge box of ChiaTe back to our room; people were probably thinking how crazy we are! We had to walk back to Taipei Main Station to catch the bus to Ximending (西門町) to explore that district of Taipei and also that we booked a transportation tour to Shifen (十分) and Jiufeng (九份) which meets at Ximending at 1:15 pm. We got there around 11 am so we had time to browse around and have lunch before the day trip.
There are many old stores like this one….those glass containers of treats, I remembered we had those when I was little at convenient stores!
In between old residential buildings embedded a library that’s dedicated to Mazu, a Chinese sea goddess.
Surrounded by old residential buildings and modern high skyscrapers is the Ximen Red House (西門紅樓) – a historic theater.
Many shopping malls nested in residential apartments and huge ads surrounding buildings:
We walked to Niou Dien Beef Noodles (牛店) and put our name on the waiting list before the restaurant open, we were once again #1 on the list haha! There was a guy who was there before us but we were the first to figure out to put our name on the waiting list. As soon as the restaurant opened, we got a table and time to order Taiwan’s famous beef noodle soup!
My delicious bowl of beef noodle soup full of beef flavors and spiciness for TWD$280 around $9 USD, I like it! This is the best beef noodle soup I had!
After the yummy lunch, we walked to the 7-Eleven at the front of the street to get drinks. One activity that I like to do in Taipei was to check out the drinks section in convenient stores and there’s a convenient store at almost every block in Taipei 😀 We tried the grass jelly drinks but I much preferred the milk tea drinks!
We waited right at GakuDen Bakery for the bus that we booked through KLOOK.com The bus service is not a tour but more like a transportation service to visit both Shifen and Jiufen to save time rather than taking public transportation. It only cost $16 USD per person for the 7-hours transportation service (since then they changed the tour to include a stop at Shifen Waterfall for $19)! They offered morning 9:30 am and afternoon 1:30 pm trips and there’s also an English speaking lady in the bus accompany the group to explain on the logistics and walked us to each point of interest. We booked the 1:30 pm bus because we wanted to see the lanterns light up at Jiufen. The bus was comfortable and in one hour, we arrived at Shifen….the famous town that tourists release sky lanterns right on the rail track that runs through the town.
Our “tour guide” explained that we have 1 hour 30 minutes to explore the town and to release the sky lantern and be back by 3:45 pm. She walked us to one of the shops to use the restroom and the shop offered a discount on the sky lantern for our group. There are two types of sky lanterns – single color for TWD150 ($4.90 USD) or multi-colored for TWD200 ($6.50 USD). You can see that almost every single stores on each side of the rail track are selling sky lanterns and each store has staffs to help taking photos of you releasing the sky lantern haha!
Another cute souvenir to bring home are those mini sky lanterns with blessing wordings…some are even glow in the dark or LED-lit activate by motion.
We purchased the multi-colored sky lantern and the staff clipped on a stand for us to write our wishes on with the traditional ink and pen.
Guess what my wish was?
It took a while to write all four sides with wishes, we aren’t greedy people! Some Korean girls releasing the sky lantern in front of us:
Classical residential buildings in Shifen:
Then, there was an alert that a train is coming so the staffs quickly clear out the rail track.
Once the train passed, business resumed. They really get this down to science, very pro LOL! Once we finished writing all 4 sides, a staff came, lit up the sky lantern, positioned it on the rail track, took our cellphone and camera, and pose 1, 2, 3, 4, release!
Our sky lantern was flying away, how far will it reach?
It was too bad that it was overcrowded that it was impossible to have a photo without other tourists, otherwise could be very cool photos! We walked down the rail track to check out the town and stores.
Another train is coming!
There’s also a suspension bridge called “Peaceful Bridge”.
It was also crowded at the bridge too and we had a few seconds of opportunity to hide the people on Jason’s back:
Back to the town where we bought the mini sky lanterns as souvenirs.
We headed back to the meeting point and next stop was Jiufen which nested in mountains.
Our bus parked at the parking lot which required some walk down the hill to reach the old town of Jiufen. The parking lot was surrounded by those “houses” (those are actually graves)…must be very rich families!
Our tour guide walked us down to the hill to the entrance of the old center of Jiufen and the meeting time back at the parking lot was at 7:15 pm so we had more than 2 hours spending in Jiufen. When walking down the hill, the view was very pretty especially with the colorful temple!
Jiufen old street filled with shops on each side and with those red lanterns. It was packed with tourists once again!
There are plenty of snacks along the street!
As well as souvenir shops like this one for the ancient pens.
We came across a store that sells handmade glass figures – the work is so detailed and at good prices! Jason got the golden dragon for TWD1250 which is around $40 USD. The flower plants are so pretty too much they are too big to hand carry back home.
Happy customer 😀
We continued walking through the old street….
Hungry Jason stopped for snack – fried seafood! It tasted freshly fried yum!
One of the famous food stall for taro balls – 赖阿婆芋圓 but we weren’t hungry to try it out.
We made a turn and headed out for the view of the sea and check out the sun setting but for sure we won’t get a colorful sunset; the sun was too “cool”. That location is good for photos of the surrounding mountain and sea:
Then, we walked back toward the famous Ah Mei Tea House (阿妹茶樓) down this street. It was super crowded!
There it is, the most photographed building in Jiufen because it was said to be the inspiration for the Bath House in the Japanese film – Spirited Away.
Isn’t it beautiful….except for the heads?
As the sun was setting but not strong enough to give it a more golden tone.
I had yet another seconds of opportunity to have a photo without being photobombed, so lucky!
Down at the street are more red lanterns and tea houses.
Jiufen is very photogenic and it really reminded me of Spirited Away due to the red lanterns and windy stairways.
However, it was so hard to get a good photo!
Another window of opportunity!
Then, no more luck.
We still have time before the sun actually set so we browsed around shops…
and made our way up to the street where lesser tourists there. Surprisingly, there’s a beautiful temple that hardly any tourists go, what a hidden gem!
The details and colors on the roofs with those dragons are absoluately amazing!
A closer look of the details….woah!!!
We headed back down to the spot where we waited for the sun to set…the sun was very “cool” that day.
After the sun has setted, we walked back to Ah Mei Tea House again to photograph the light up red lanterns and it was still crowded!
I put my f/2.8 in good use!
The tea house is so pretty! When planning the trip, I was thinking to stay overnight in Jiufen so we can stay late at night and early in the morning to photograph the town but I changed my mind since we had a short time in Taipei that it’ll be wasting time switching hotels. Thinking back, I should’ve stayed overnight in Jiufen for photos!!!
It was almost time to walk back to the parking lot and the stores are closing as well so the town looked like catered to tourists.
At the entrance of the old street, there’s a 7-Eleven where we got drinks again! I love the Taiwanese milk tea drinks in beautiful bottles too! I tried the pink (rose flavored) and lavender one, both have the rich taste of tea and creamy! Best of it was it’s so cheap at less than $1 USD and buy one get the second one at 40% off OMG! I would buy them just for the bottles…by the way, I saved those bottles and brought them home!
We got back to Ximending at 8:15 pm and we took the bus to Jin Din Rou (京鼎樓) to meet up with Jason’s nephew who happened to be in Taipei for a month to teach English. Jin Din Rou is famous for its soup dumplings which often compared to the international chain – Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐). We got there pretty late in the evening at around 9:30 pm and they open late till midnight! There was no line at all when we arrived probably it was late dinner.
We ordered the beef noodle soup and it was just average since we had a great beef noodle soup at lunch! I can tell you that don’t order beef noodle soup at soup dumpling restaurants because it won’t taste as good as the ones in beef noodle soup restaurants!
Both the pepper fried beef and the garlic fried vegetable were good but not impressive!
Jason ordered the shredded pork and radish? noodle soup, it was definitely less flavor than the beef noodle soup.
Now the main “dish” – soup dumplings! Disappointingly, the flavors were on the light side. Now I started to question, is it us who used to the heavy flavored soup dumplings in the US or what? Perhaps, the authentic ones should be light flavored?
Note that they only accept cash so luckily we had enough cash with us! Once again, we walked back to our hotel at almost midnight and felt absolutely safe! It was a long day but very productive 😀