As part of my 2018 ‘resolutions’, I wanted to follow my posting schedule (I literally plan out my content on a planner lol) to keep my content timely and more accurate (because let’s face it, I don’t have a brain that stores every memory neatly). But the first two weeks of this year has already been a whirlwind. December and January is peak season for friends who are based out of the country to be visiting, and I wanted to meet up with everyone who was in Manila before they fly out again. I also met up with friends I wasn’t able to meet up with last year (because my social calendar really gets booked up during the holiday season) and even met up with anonymous personal blogger Kat because we work for the same global company (and coincidentally work at the same location, the same tower, and even the same floor). There were also some things I am currently keeping under wraps but will write about next month. This post has actually gone up twice already, without me noticing until I get a notification from people who comment on why the post is empty. But now I finally, finally had the time to sit down and write how our annual family trip went.
I’ve always been hesitant about flying out (or traveling in general) near the holidays. I almost always book my flights at least a few days on or before a holiday because Manila airport is not the best of its kind, and I knew the volume of people would cause all kinds of hassle. Long lines at the immigration and delayed flights would never be the ideal start of a vacation. And I was right. It was my first time to fly via AirAsia, and as it was a budget airline, I didn’t really expect a lot. We flew on Christmas Day itself and while immigration and queue to the check-in counter to drop off our luggage was not as bad as I imagined, I got the email about the delay around the same time we checked in and our flight was delayed for more than an hour. I assumed it would happen and did not book a hotel for the night as our tentative arrival time was around 1 AM. We arrived past 3 AM, and I learned the hard way that staying in airports til daybreak was not as comfortable as I thought it would be. (Note to self: if my flight arrives any time before 5 AM, I’ll be booking that same night so I would have a bed to rest on!) We took a gamble and went to the hotel after failing at finding a seat as a lot of other tourists had the same idea of waiting it out in the airport (also because the first airport train schedule was not until 6 AM). The taxi driver was kind, and in his limited English, tried to point out sights that we passed on our way to the airport. I enjoyed my stay in DG Hotel when I went for my birthday, so I booked a bigger room for the four of us. When we got to the hotel, the staff already knew I was checking in early (but not that early) and already had a room prepared for us. They even gave us an upgrade for one night! We got about six hours of sleep and roused just before lunch time so we can start exploring Taipei.
Unlike the last time I went wherein I decided to see Taipei 101 on my last day, we decided to head there during our first day. Din Tai Fung, a Michelin star restaurant, was at the base of the building itself, and we wanted to try to have our lunch there. But once again, the queue was just INSANE, that we ended up buying lunch from the food court. Since it was lunchtime, the place was hectic and filled with locals (who work in the building) and tourists alike. It was a challenge simply finding a table, but hungry people has a rumbling stomach for a will, and hence, we found a way. For some reason, I just absolutely enjoy ordering oyster cake while I’m in Taiwan but never in Manila.
We headed up to the lobby to buy tickets for the Taipei 101 observatory, but once again, was thwarted by the long queue. There were a queue for independent tourists like us, and we saw tour groups already heading for the elevator. We agreed to come back some other time, preferably earlier, to see the sights from the observatory. (Spoiler alert: we ended up not going back) I suggested heading over to Elephant Mountain or the Xiangshan Hiking Trail for another view of the city from above and we decided to walk there. It was only about a kilometer away, and with the chilly weather, it would be a pleasant walk.
The area near the hiking trail was filled with residential buildings, but it was surprisingly quiet. Not a lot of residents were walking in the vicinity while we were there but it’s easy to assume that it’s because it’s a weekday and most people might be at work or in school. Similar to other bustling cities, it seemed that most people in Taipei resided in buildings instead of townhouses or freestanding houses. According to one of the locals we talked to, it’s because housing is cheaper outside of Taipei, which is where most people do not live in an apartment complex.
UBike is a popular way of getting around the city. There’s a kiosk for it in a lot of the tourist spots and outside train stations. You can get an Easy Card for NT$100 if you plan on utilizing their highly efficient public transportation system, and while it’s nonrefundable (unless you don’t plan on going back to Taipei, but mine still worked after more than a year), you get a 20% off discount on fares and you can use it to pay in convenience stores, tourist spots, and for the UBike. You literally just have to tap your Easy Card on the bike stand and return the bike to any UBike kiosk. I saw a lot of blogs where they rented a bike from Taipei 101 and dropped it off at the hiking trail. We didn’t do that though, because we knew we would be hiking and wanted our legs to be as relaxed as they can be.
I read on reviews that the hiking trail would only take about 20 minutes to finish. I was skeptical of course because I knew I don’t do well with anything that involves a lot of physical effort but absolutely did not expect for the stairs to be as steep as it was. I was far from reaching the halfway point when I started contemplating my life decisions and what led myself to be in a dress and Keds (definitely not a pair of shoes you should wear if you plan to climb a lot of steep stairs), climbing a mountain. With my toes getting murdered in my shoes, my legs burning, and my entire physical being drenched in sweat, I pushed on because I was already there (and they do not have a slide anywhere that I could go on to get back to the base of the mountain). I’m ashamed to admit that it took me 45 minutes to reach the top and I had some elderly people (some with walking sticks!!!) pass me by with their energetic gait. They are who I am definitely not gonna be when I reach that age. Haha! I even checked my walking app while I’m in bed that night and nursing my sore legs, and it indicated that I climbed 40+ stories for the day.
The view of the city from above could not be any more rewarding. I spent a bit of time taking it all in (and also, just sitting down because I needed to rest haha). Who knew that I’d be going up a mountain, albeit a small-ish one, in 2017? The year has been so hectic and I can’t even remember how I spent half of it, yet it brought me up there to enjoy the view. While this realization seemed serene, it dawned on me while I’m sitting there, panting and trying to catch my breath. 😀
Once I felt ready to take on those steep stairs again (I swear, it would be a great business idea to put a slide in and charge people so they can use it to get down), we decided to head back to the hotel to freshen up. I really needed to take another bath after sweating buckets. My knees were protesting all this activity while I was walking down those stairs and when we finally got down, my legs were literally shaking. I really should exercise more. We took the train from Xiangshan Station (with its’ cool curved escalator I’ve never encountered before) which was almost empty since it was at the end of the red line (the other end is Tamsui). One line transfer after, and we were back at Daqiaotou Station.
Once we all got to take a shower, we headed once again to the train station for Tour Me Away’s Longshan Temple Tour. It’s a great tour as I already went on it, but I knew it would be three hours of walking and I wasn’t sure if I would still be able to take it. My legs were already tired, and we haven’t really had a good night’s sleep yet. I asked if they wanted to head to Shilin Night Market instead. My dad wanted to head back to Taipei 101 to go see the view at night, but both siblings vetoed that idea out and we decided to eat the night away. While I love traveling solo (or with C), I think the best thing about traveling with my family was that I get to taste a lot since there were more of us to share everything. Most of the things we tried out were great and I would definitely eat again. I finally got to sample an order of stinky tofu which unfortunately needs an acquired taste to enjoy it, because I honestly thought that it tasted as bad as it smelled (and I love tofu). We all were quite full after taste testing a lot of items and we even got to buy some of the merchandise from the variety of stores available in the market. I even bought a beret from one store that sold only headpieces, and I’m still unsure whether it suits me. Let’s see!
And that was our first day in Taipei! While Taiwan is not the biggest country there is, I find that I don’t think I would ever run out of things to do in the country. All the walking and stairs aside, the food is great and the public transportation is something I wish I can bring back home. ❤ (So sorry if this is such a short post, we didn’t do much on our first day because we were just so tired)