Perfect day in Taipei: Top 6 things to see

Say you want to have an awesome time in Taipei, but only have a day or two to be there. What do you do? What do you see? How can you plan the perfect day in Taipei?

While living in Taiwan, I went to Taipei almost every weekend and discovered the top 6 things to do and see in Taipei. If you’re limited to only a day or two in Taipei, doing these 6 things will maximize your time and make your trip a hit!

 1) Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Chiang Kai-shek is a huge figure in Taiwanese history, so of course there’s a giant memorial for him.

The Chiang Kai-shek memorial is one of Taipei’s main attractions and an awesome photo op. There’s also a museum inside and it’s FREEEEEE!

Chiang Kai-shek aka Asia-braham Lincoln

2) Taipei Taiwan LDS Temple and Yongkang Street

Right smack in the middle of Taipei’s hustle and bustle is the Taipei Taiwan Temple.

It’s actually very small inside and doesn’t function all hours of everyday, so be sure to check the temple schedule before showing up if you plan to do a session.

The temple is also right next to Taipei’s famous Yongkang Street food district, so after visiting the temple, you can stop for lunch.

Jianbing: The BEST Taiwanese food.

Also, if you want to attend church in English in Taipei, the English ward meets in the stake center next door.

3) Taipei 101

Named for its 101 floors, Taipei 101 was the world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2009 and is currently the 8th tallest in the world.

Obviously, you should be several blocks away from the building itself to get a good view of the whole thing.

Or you can hike Elephant Mountain (Shiangshan) to get a view of it sticking out of Taipei’s skyline.

You can also go inside Taipei 101 itself. You can shop, eat, and (if you’re feeling adventurous) take a high-speed elevator to the top (cost 500-600 NTD).

View from the top.

4) Maokong Gandola

The Maokong Gandola is a cable car suspended in the air that takes you on a journey above the forest between the Taipei Zoo and the outskirts of Taipei. You can enjoy a nice view of Taipei and the surrounding hills.

5) Beitou Public Hot Springs (aka Millenium Hot Spring)

Taiwan is covered in hot springs and Beitou is the best place in Taipei to soak in one. Beitou Public Hot Springs is a short walk from Xinbeitou MRT Station. Changing rooms and showers are available. Entry is 40 NTD.

6) Shilin Night Market

A night market is a place where you can buy cheap stuff and eat weird stuff. Visiting night markets is a famous Taiwanese pastime.

Shilin Night Market is one of Taipei’s most popular night markets. It’s right off of Jiantian MRT station. You can’t miss it.

 

And BAM! There’s your guide for the perfect day in Taipei! If you follow this list, you’ll hit Taipei’s top hot spots and go to bed feeling like a Taipei pro.

Note:  Everything on this list is easily accessible from the Taipei MRT and is organized in order of what you should see leaving from Taipei Main Station. If you follow this list in order, you’ll see everything in the most efficient way.

P.S. I recommend buying an EasyCard if you’re going to spend any time in Taipei. They’re cheap and make using the MRT super convenient. You can buy one at any 7-Eleven and most MRT stations.

Top 3 tips for Taiwan

Taiwan is full of beautiful sea views, mountaintops, and the nicest people ever. But since it’s a relatively unknown tourist destination (many Americans still mistake it for Thailand), there are a lot of hidden treasures on the island the casual tourist doesn’t know about. Lucky for you, I spent a year living in Taiwan and I found the top 3 tips to improve your time there.

If you’re planning a trip to Taiwan, doing any of these top 3 things will enhance your trip a bunch!

3) The beach

Since Taiwan is an island, people naturally assume they can visit any beach and have a blast. This is false. Most Taiwanese beaches are rocky, polluted, and unsafe to swim at. But, since I’m from California, I found the best beaches during my year living there. Really, only two stick out: Fulong Coast Park in the north and Kenting in the south.

Fulong is a one-and-a-half-hour train ride from Taipei Main Station, after which Fulong Coast Park is an easy walk from Fulong Station. There’s a sign at the beach warning you to be careful when and where you swim, but it’s safe; the water’s shallow and the waves are small. (Note: There are two beaches in Fulong. One is a hotel beach you need to pay a small fee to enter. The other, Fulong Coast Park, is free.)

I went to Fulong four times but for some reason this is the only pic I have saved.

Kenting is in the very south of Taiwan. There are a couple beaches there. The one I went to is called Little Bay Beach. Again, the water wasn’t rough at all and the waves were small. The sand was more like small pebbles that got stuck all up in my swimsuit area. I loved it.

This is the best picture I have of Kenting. WHY AM I SO BAD AT BLOGGING ???

2) Shoushan (aka Monkey Mountain)

If you want to get up-close-and-personal with wild monkeys (Who doesn’t?), Taiwan is the place to do it. While you can catch glimpses of monkeys on forest trails here and there, the place where I saw the MOST monkeys was in Shoushan by Kaohsiung. Shoushan is a heavily forested nature park and it is absolutely covered in monkeys. Just take a taxi from anywhere in Kaohsiung and you’ll be there in no time.

Formosan rock macaques

The monkeys there aren’t skittish at all; you can see them ambling along the trail or hanging out in low-hanging branches. Just don’t feed them or get too close (for OBVIOUS reasons). (Note: If you do take a taxi to Shoushan, be sure to get your driver’s phone number so you can call them for a ride back into town.)

OBVIOUS REASONS

(Here’s a post about the first time I went to Shoushan  and here’s a video of my dad and me at Shoushan.)

1) Alishan

Alishan National Scenic Area (also called Ali Mountain) is my absolute #1 favorite place in Taiwan.  High in the mountain tops, you’ll find a quiet cluster of shops surrounded by stretches of ancient forest and jaw-dropping mountain vistas. In the year I lived in Taiwan, I visited Alishan four times.

The thing most Taiwanese do when they visit Alishan is book a hotel in the park, spend the night, and wake up really early to watch the sunrise at Chushan Station viewing area. The only problem is that to book a hotel on time sometimes requires planning ahead several months. Even if you can’t watch the sunrise, though, going to the sunrise viewing area at any time of day still gives an awesome view of the valleys below.

The best view of all.

Other things to see in Alishan include the Sacred Trees, Sister Ponds, and other forest paths. Alishan National Scenic Area is actually really small, so you can see almost everything on a day trip (although I recommend staying overnight if you can).

To get to Alishan, take a bus from Chiayi. The bus ride is about 2 hours, but you’re climbing up into the mountains the whole time, so it’s a really, really pretty ride.

 

So these are my top 3 tips for Taiwan! I know it’s not a perfect list, but hopefully you can build a trip around these places or sprinkle them into plans you’ve already made.

Note: I didn’t include Taipei or Jiufen on this list because anyone who visits Taiwan likely knows about these places already. Plus, Taipei deserves a list of its own.

Iceland: Best and worst

You’ve seen it in your newsfeed, you’ve seen it in movies, and now you’re seeing it here: ICELAND. Not just a geologic hotspot with the occasional exploding volcano, it’s also a tourist hotspot exploding with new visitors every day.

But is it all just hype? Is a trip to Iceland really all that and a bag of selfies? Earlier this summer, I spent a week in Iceland, so I can tell you the best and worst parts about visiting.

Worst

1) 24 Hours of daylight (or lack thereof)

During summer, Iceland is constantly exposed to sunlight and during winter, it sees very little of it. For a traveler recovering from jetlag, this constant daylight or darkness isn’t just an interesting phenomenon; it’s a huge inconvenience. Your body is already confused about what time to go to bed; when you couple that with the sun shining all night long or (in winter) not being there almost at all, you get insomnia-filled nights and very groggy days.

Seljalandsfoss at midnight.

2) Expensive food

I’d heard the food was expensive before visiting, but seeing it for myself was unbelievable. Six bucks for a loaf of bread? Five bucks for a pound of oranges?! Even a sandwich in a small café cost fifteen dollars! Iceland is almost literally a giant island of ice, so not a whole lot grows there. Most food needs to be imported, which means it comes with a heavy price tag, both for locals and tourists.

3) Tourism

Iceland is a beautiful country that attracts millions of visitors each year. Unfortunately, those visitors are slowly killing the country’s natural beauty. Plastic wrappers and beer cans litter popular attractions. Old hot springs used for centuries by locals are becoming overused and unsafe because of microbes brought by tourists. With the number of tourists exploding from just under 300,000 in 2000 to 1.7 million in 2016, Iceland is seriously lacking in infrastructure, personnel, and laws to keep their island (population 330,00) from getting trampled under tourists’ feet.

Seljavallalaug Hot Spring

Best

1) 24 hours of daylight

While initially confusing, having 24 hours of daylight became a huge advantage in my trip. Instead of fighting my jetlag, I went with it; going to bed at 4 am, waking up at noon. Iceland is a very popular country, especially during summer. By ignoring the time on the clock, I was able to enjoy all the tourist sights without all the tourists.

Seljalandsfoss at midnight.
Grjotagja Cave at midnight.
Black sand beach in Vik early in the morning (actually, it was 7 am but for some reason no one was there).

2) Chillest people

I mean, they live in a place named after ice, but Icelanders are seriously chill. When I picked up a car from an Icelandic-owned rental car company, they told me not worry if the car got any scratches or whether I returned it with a full tank of gas. “Just make sure all the doors are on when you bring it back.” When a pile of rental camping equipment cost me five times more than I expected, the outdoor store I was at gave me a full refund, even though I didn’t realize my mistake until 20 minutes after the fact AND they supposedly had a no-refund policy. Maybe I’m just special (which I’m willing to believe), but they are a super easy-going and accommodating group of people.

3) Nature (DUH)

Going to Iceland feels like visiting a land before time, but no dinosaurs. Outside the cities and villages, the only manmade thing you can see is the road. No billboards, no powerlines. Just the road and what God put there (and the occasional crashed airplane).

Glacier lagoon
Svartifoss
Ring Road
Dettifoss
Crashed DC 3 on Solheimasandur

Verdict

If you’re visiting Iceland for jaw-dropping landscapes and awesome selfies, it’s the place for you. If you’re looking for a unique vacation to do things and see places no one has done or seen before, you’re several years too late.

I almost drowned in Taiwan.

It was a rainy day in Taiwan and I was chilling in a hot spring. Cool rain splashed down onto my face like angel kisses as my body lay reclined in a warm pool of water. I felt like a precious baby in the womb.

Next to this hot spring ran a river. It wasn’t a big river, but people liked to swim in it. A rope ran parallel from the riverbank to a pole fixed in middle of the river’s stream. Another rope was tied to another pole a little ways downstream. The idea was to walk into the water while holding the first rope, let go, then let the river’s current carry you downstream where you would grab hold of the second rope and pull yourself back to shore.

I watched as a couple people got into the river and floated from the top to the bottom rope. It seemed fun, so I decided to give it a try.

The water was colder than I expected but I was surprised to find that the river was actually pretty shallow – barely waist-deep. I walked out holding onto the rope, tucked my knees up against my chest, then let go, giving myself up to the river gods.

The current was strong because of the rain and my butt kept hitting rocks because the river was so shallow, but it was decently fun; like going on a waterslide while having your butt hit over and over again.

As the ride was coming to a close, I stuck my hand out to grab hold of the second rope, which hovered about six inches above the water. Unfortunately, I have the hand-eye coordination of a newborn baby’s tongue, so when I tried to grab the rope to stop myself, I missed completely and the current continued dragging me downstream.

I’d been counting on that rope to get me out of the river, but since I missed it, my only option was to swim out. I turned my body and began swimming toward the bank, but the current was too strong and wouldn’t let me out. I’d always considered myself a good swimmer, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get any closer to shore. I just kept bobbing downstream, my legs and arms bumping and scraping against rocks on the riverbed.

At this point, I wondered two things.

First, I wondered whether I was drowning. I decided that maybe I was, cuz I’d never experienced this helpless feeling while swimming before, and that’s probably what drowning feels like.

Second, I wondered whether I was going to die. I’ve always thought that I would have an earlier premonition about when I was going to die, like I would wake up knowing that today was the day. Since I hadn’t had any inkling earlier that day, I figured that, no, I was not going to die.

After deciding I was drowning but not dying, I debated whether I should call for help. Since I knew I wasn’t going to die, I figured there was no reason to be overly dramatic. On the other hand, how was I going to get out of this river on my own?

While I was debating all this in my head, I bumped into a small island of rocks close to shore that stopped my progression downstream. I got hold of a big rock, then pulled myself to my feet. I walked ashore, a little tired and scraped, but not drowned or dead (I was right!).

I walked back up to the hot springs and sat down. I watched the river and wondered whether anyone else would try floating down and what would happen in they missed the bottom rope.

Sure enough, another man walked into the river holding onto the first rope, let go, then floated down and missed when he reached out to grab the second rope. I perked up. Would he almost drown like I had? What would he do to get out of the current?

I was amazed to see his solution: he stood up and walked to the shore.

The whole time, the water had barely been waist-deep. I should have realized because my body kept hitting rocks on the river’s shallow bottom. But I’d forgotten and hadn’t realized how simple the solution had been the whole time.

So I almost drowned in Taiwan. Cuz I’m an idiot.

TICKED OFF

But honestly though, going to Loch Ness was really cool. The loch was beautiful and it was a close jaunt from Inverness (the city where I was staying). Very cool, you should go.

lochness4

I had one setback, though. To get to Loch Ness, I had walked along the highway on the east side of the River Ness, which doesn’t have much sidewalk. I had to squeeze against the side of the road and jump fences for 8 miles to get there. I was happy when I finally got to Loch Ness but was not looking forward to taking the same route back.

lochness5

Fortunately, when it was time to go back to Inverness, I found a footpath that ran alongside the river. I didn’t know if it would lead all the way back to Inverness and I couldn’t find it on a map, but I decided to follow as long as it would lead me.

Following this path was a lot nicer than hopping fences and walking on the highway. It went through a quiet forest, past small cozy houses, past big fancy houses, through some kind of abandoned graveyard, then back into the forest.

lochness6

Eventually though, the path became thinner and the forest became thicker. Wearing shorts, sandals, and a T-shirt, my entire body was rubbing against grass, leaves, and branches.

I’d been walking a couple hours, so I stopped to take a break. I sat down to drink some water when I noticed a small dot on my left leg. It was about the size of a lentil and had four tiny legs (kinda of like a spider), but I couldn’t see the head.

I quickly recognized that the thing sticking out of my leg was a TICK, and after inspecting my leg more closely, I realized that there wasn’t just one tick in my leg but two, three, four, five, SIX, SEVEN, EIGHT!!! My only experience with ticks was pulling a blood-filled one off my friend’s dog and reading about Lyme disease in Boy Scouts. So I did the most logical thing: I panicked.

I quickly opened my backpack and found my bug spray (I’d had bug spray the whole time, why hadn’t I sprayed myself?!!) and covered my legs. Then, remembering terrible stories about people finding ticks in their nether regions, I ripped all my clothes off and drenched every inch of my naked body with bug spray.

Since this was my first time having a tick (TICKS) on me, I wanted to get back to my hostel as soon as possible so I could get my tweezers and pull them all out. I was only halfway back to Inverness, but I knew I could get back in less than an hour if I ran. I pulled my clothes back on and ran toward where I thought the highway was; I WAS NOT going back into the forest.

I ran through another field, lots of tall grass, some bushes, over a fence, past some houses and was soon back on the highway. I ran until I was back at my hostel. I was so tired and hungry, but I went straight to the bathroom with my tweezers and started pulling ticks out. One, two, three, four … I lost count after ten. After pulling out every tick I could see, I jumped into the shower — where I noticed yet more ticks sticking out of my leg. I spent at least a half hour pulling ticks out of my leg and cleaning my leg with soap and water.

Visiting Loch Ness is cool, but if you’re gonna walk there, take the path on the west side of the river and don’t wear shorts and sandals in the forest unless you want to get naked naked in ticks.

P.S. No, I didn’t get an STD from the ticks (Scottish Tick Disease).

Get to Loch Ness in 6 easy steps

Most people want to go to Loch Ness and pay their respects to the Loch Ness Monster aka our underwater ally, but also most people haven’t been to Loch Ness, probably because they lack the knowledge of which amulets, rune spells, and passknocks will help get you there. Luckily for all of us, I went to Loch Ness last July and I can tell you how to get there.

If you want to go to Loch Ness, follow my advice. I’m an avid traveller and Nessie fan.

Step 1: Get to Scotland. According to basic geography, Scotland is the country where Loch Ness is. Starting from your country of origin, you can board the closest airplane, bus, boat, scuba driver, narwhal, drawgon (it’s a drawing of a dragon that comes to life and can fly), flying pony, or spacetime jumper and ride it until you get to Scotland.

Step 2: Fit in with the locals. As with any journey, you need to fit in with the local inhabitants if you’re gonna make it very far. Your first option is to dress like a commoner: in Scotland, the men dress like women and the women dress like men. If you’re unsure whether an outfit in feminine or masculine, try a unisex outfit like this:

ladydress

Another option is to wear invisibility garb, which will make you undetectable to everyone but high-level wizards.

invisibilitygarb

A final option is to dress as a wizard, but only do this if you’re prepared to duel regularly.

floralladydress

Step 3: Travel to Inverness. There are several settlements surrounding Loch Ness, the largest and most accessible is called Inverness. Once you reach Scotland and are wearing appropriate clothing, head to this city. Inverness is 8 miles from the loch itself, but you won’t find a bus or train that’ll take you closer.

Even though Inverness is the largest city in northern Scotland, it’s still pretty small, so if you stay there (which you probably will) be sure to book a hotel or hostel ahead of time. You can also pitch a tent next to the river if you want, but be aware of river trolls and kelpies.

inverness

Step 4: Follow the river. To get to Loch Ness from Inverness, follow the River Ness south. You can follow the river by taking a local bus, renting a bike, walking, hitchhiking, running, or riding a forest stallion. Be aware that the preferred currency of the region is nebula amulets, but basically any other amulet will work. Except sparkle amulets. And fart gems.

If you decide to walk to Loch Ness, there’s a safe footpath on the west side of the river, as opposed to the Path of Rage and Gore on the east side. If you encounter a vampire tree on your way, use passknock combination 3R-5R-1L.

IMPORTANT: Loch Ness is 23 miles long and THERE ARE NO bridges that cross the loch or river once you’re out of Inverness, which is good cuz that means there are less trolls, BUT it also means you need to know which part of the loch you want to see before you head out. Are you planning to siege Urduhart Castle? Better take the west side of the river. Looking for the lost graveyard? Better take the east side. Are you taking a boat tour of the loch? Better find out where the boat docks before you leave.

Step 5: Enjoy the scenery. The landscape of Scotland is among the most Scottish in the world. Enjoy the land’s natural beauty, whether you’re sitting on a bus, a forest stallion, or your own two feet.

img_20160723_170804

Step 6: Chill at Loch Ness. If you’ve followed all the steps correctly, you’ll arrive at Loch Ness.

Actually being at Loch Ness is pretty weird though. When I got there, people were just, like, water skiing and having picnics and doing other lake stuff, kinda like it was just a normal lake and there wasn’t a giant monster that lived there. Idiots.

I maintained a respectful distance from the lake’s edge and cast a protective spell over the lake and its local inhabitants and all those who seek for the peaceful existence of our underwater ally.

lochness1

lochness2

King Hong Kong

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This weekend I visited Hong Kong, which was named after King Kong, the sister city to Hong Zilla, named after Godzilla.

Hong Kong is a peninsula and several islands off the coast of China. The peninsula is called Kowloon and the mountainous area above that is called the New Territories. Actual Hong Kong is an island right off of Kowloon. It’s REALLY close, like, Coronado-to-San Diego close. Aside from that, there’s another big island called Lantau (that’s where the airport and Hong Kong Disney are) and other small islands.

hongkong

(Image from ~~Google~~)

Hong Kong is its own city-state, formerly a province owned by England. In the 1990’s, it was “returned” to China, but it’s basically a sovereign nation. You don’t need a visa to visit and it’s pretty western because of the British influence.

I don’t LOVE cities. They’re too crowded, loud, and dirty, but Hong Kong changed my mind. Kowloon isn’t very clean, but the islands (at least Hong Kong and Lantau) are kept very clean considering how many people live there. Also, Hong Kong is so full of people that there are multiple levels of sidewalks to accommodate the crowds. As a result, it doesn’t feel very crowded.

hksidewalk3

As with everything British, everything here was named after Queen Victoria.

victoriapeak2

Victoria Peak.

hkvictoriaharbor

Victoria Harbor. (~~DARN I’m lookin’ fly~~)

Victoria Park, Victoria Secret, blah blah blah. It was British once WE GET IT. (So was King Kong a British king?)

But it was also very Asian. I mean, it’s in Asia, right?

kowloonpark

However, I expected there to be more English-speakers since Hong Kong was once a British colony, but there seemed to be just as many as there are in Taiwan. But I got by. The signs helped.

hkstore2 hkstore1

hkstore3

hkstore4

I was really looking forward to going to the beach. Even though I’m terrified of sharks and other sea creatures, the California in me loves water. Hong Kong’s beaches did not disappoint.

hkstanleybeach

The beach even gave me tips on avoiding shark attacks. That means it was a really safe beach, right?

hksharkattack

(What exactly is a shark-like object?)

Even though I expected Hong Kong to be a gross Asian city, it was pretty clean and great! I loved it and actually want to visit again. Here’s a sick vid I made of my visit:

 

Saucy pants

 

I learned how to make sauce from tomato paste when I was in the Russia. We only bought tomato paste, so I learned by ear how to mix the right amount of water and spices to make the perfect sauce. And this sauce is perfect. You start with a tiny can of tomato paste and end up with a whole ton of suited-to-you tomato sauce. Look at you, fancy pants.

Turn this …

 

… into food.

 

Ingredients

6 oz. can of tomato paste
1 cup water
A fistful of onion (about 1/4 of a large-ish onion)
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 Tablespoon basil
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teapsoon pepper

Step 1: The onion

The top layer (or two) of an onion is papery — you don’t want that. Peel it off and throw it away. The layer beneath that is rubbery. You don’t want that either; throw it away. The layers beneath that should be crisp and easy to cut through: that’s what you want. (This may be “duh” to some of you, but having lived exclusively with guys for the past four years, I know that things like this aren’t always intuitive.)

Cut a quarter out of your onion and chop it into baby pieces (like, a quarter the size of a french fry or smaller). Throw it into a pan greased with cooking spray, oil, or butter. Heat it at low or medium heat. Cook until the onion pieces start to become transparent. You don’t want them to turn brown or crispy-looking.

I used red onions, butt it doesn’t matter.

Step 2: The sauce

While that’s cooking, y’all need to mizz your water with your tomato paste. Dump the insides of your can of tomato paste into a big-ish bowl. Once you did this, dump that 1 cup of warter on top. Mix with a fork (or hand) and you’ll get a saucy mizzture.
It looks like tomato poop lol.
Tomato diarrhea!

Step 3: Get the Spice Girls

Next, you’re gonna want to flavor your sauce. You can just pour the seasonings into the bowl with your tomato-paste-now-tomato-sauce.

1 1/2 teaspoons of garlic powder: Garlic powder is a necessary part of ANYTHING tasting good.

1/2 tablespoon of basil: A delicate herb; it’ll make the sauce taste fresh.

1 1/2 teaspoons of oregano: Given my extensive knowledge of Italian cooking, I can say that oregano is THE Italian spice. Your tomato sauce won’t taste like tomato sauce without it. Likewise, if you ever have a pizza that needs a pick-me-up, sprinkle some oregano on it.

1 teaspoon of salt: Not too much, but just the right amount will make all the other flavors come out (#everysundayschoollessonever).

1/4 teaspoon of pepper: Packs a punch that your sauce will be boring without.

Mixzz all the seasonings with your tomato sauce and stick your finger in it to see if it tastes how you want. #magic

Step 4: Mixzz

Pour your bowl of seasoned sauce into the pan of now-cooked onions and heat until the sauce is warm. Then put it on pasta and eat it.

Obviously, you can add anything to it that you want (like cooked ground beef or veggies).

And voila! You turned a tiny can of tomato paste into a panful of tomato sauce. That’s a big deal, saucy pants.