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.

Fantasy island vacation

Who hasn’t fantasized about being shipwrecked on an island? Quiet, solitude, and the struggle to survive. Sounds like a really good vacation.

Unfortunately, most of us will never get the chance to actually be shipwrecked on an island, but two weeks ago I came the closest that I’ll probably ever get.

Orchid Island is a two-hour boat ride (or thirty-minute plane ride) from the east coast of Taiwan. Even though it’s technically (and officially really is) a part of Taiwan, it’s a completely different world from Taiwan, isolated by water, distance, and bad cell phone reception.

The island is only 28 miles (45 kilometers) in diameter, with one road that circles the whole island and another that cuts through the middle. The coastline is mainly cliff or rocky coral and the west half of the island has some pretty rough waves, but the east half has much calmer water and some sandy beaches, so there are a couple good swimming spots.

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The island is made up of mountains covered in dense jungle with few trails and lots of snakes, so exploring inland isn’t really an option.

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Orchid Island is a tropical island, which means that one minute it feels like the air is trying to smother you with a wool blanket, then the next minute the sky is trying to drown/electrocute you.

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When I visited, there was a big holiday in Taiwan, so every hostel and hotel was filled to capacity with tourists. Me and my crew managed to find places to sleep, but it was definitely  a tight squeeze. Even though the hostels were full, the island still felt quiet and isolated, which made me wonder how much more peaceful it must feel on a normal day.

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We spent our time swimming, hiding from thunderstorms, and trying local food.

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Because the island is tropical, it’s home to poisonous snakes (including sea snakes) and plants, so dodging those made the experience that much more exciting.

The locals were hecka nice and helpful and the pigs, dogs, goats, cats, and chickens that ran through the streets gave the whole experience a rustic feel.

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Even though I probably won’t get to experience being shipwrecked, at least I feel shipwrecked if I go to an island that’s isolated, peaceful, and occasionally tries to kill me.

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.

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(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.

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

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Victoria Peak.

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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.

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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.

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

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(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: