Feet to move, places to roam
I had never heard of Taiwan being a common country that travelers visit while roaming through Asia. Their feet usually scratch the surface of Thailand, Cambodia, Bali, Hong Kong, Vietnam… but Taiwan was never usually a country that had popped into many conversations as I sat around hostel common rooms and airport lounges while listening to other travelers tales. I recently had the pleasure of visiting Taiwan during the Chinese Golden Week holiday which occurs the first week of October. Since I am currently in China on a tourist visa, my 60 days were up and I had to leave the country. Weeks prior to me leaving the country, I debated back and forth between which new country I wanted to visit and where I could make the most of the 7 day break. I juggled between the options of Hong Kong, Thailand, and the Philippines but in the end, Taiwan came out number one.
Fall was quickly approaching in China and I was not okay with the fact that my bronzed skin from summer was fading by the second. The week before departure, I was constantly checking the weather in Taiwan and it was looking promising – sun all week and temperatures above 25. Since arriving in China and traveling around the country, all my flights had been delayed, so naturally I was nervous with my flight into Taipei as well. Luckily – China Southern Airlines got me there at my expected arrival time and the week was smooth sailing from then on.
Touching down in Taipei was like arriving in California, Cuba and British Columbia (West Coast of Canada) all at once. The sun was scorching by noon and as the rays kissed my skin that had been deprived of heat the last several days, I began to burn up because as always – I was not dressed properly. My blue and red stripped dress from Zara’s fall collection did not cut it.
I Immediately tried to navigate Taipei’s metro system alone and on the first attempt was successful at getting to my final destination – Happy Taipei Hostel. For anyone that visits Taiwan, this is seriously the easiest metro system I have come across in all my travels and is so efficient! Happy Taipei Hostel is located an easy 5 minute walk from the metro station and around the corner from the Shillin Night Market. The staff employed at the hostel were outstanding. They were young, friendly and willing to help individuals who answered all my questions about the city and gave me a detailed map that led me to Baishawan Bay Beach and I got straight to getting rid of my pasty looking skin.
I spent my first three days in Taipei City alone until I ventured off to Keelung. Keelung is a major fishing village nestled into the northeastern part of Taiwan. Similar in appearance to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco but also labeled a “ghost town” because of the quiet atmosphere. Fishermen out by the water day and night and the smell of seafood wafting across the city. If you are looking for a place to isolate yourself, be surrounded by friendly locals, and escape the hustle and bustle of Asia – this is a location I would recommend! I stayed at Pataw Hostel for one night which is along side a fishing dock and massive boats that double as decorated homes for the men on their long haul days. Given that Keelung is a smaller city, I found that major attractions and things to do were limited. If you do find yourself in Keelung, the Keelung Harbor is a scenic view in the evening as the sun sets and is located in the middle of the city near the bus station and multiple cafes.
Recommended restaurant in Keelung- Queen’s Time: Right alongside the fishing harbor, Queen’s Time offers a wide variety menu featuring coffees, delicious desserts, burgers, salads and of course seafood. With scenic views from inside the restaurant and outside on the patio, this is a wonderful spot to grab lunch or dinner and unwind from reality.
Once it was time to say goodbye to this beautiful fishing village, it was next stop: Jiufen. Jiufen is a scenic mountain area in the Ruifang District of New Taipei City. Winding roads lead to the top of the mountain where On My Way Hostel is plotted, night markets, paper lanterns strung from the top of buildings, and food huts scattered across the town. If you have ever traveled to Santorini, Greece, Jiufen can be described as its twin in terms of the way the town is arranged; the way it looks like buildings are one on top of the other and when you look all the way down, you can see waves from the ocean crashing against the rocks.
After spending the day in Keelung with no tourists in sight, arriving in Jiufen was the complete opposite. This picturesque town is a major tourist attraction well-known to Taiwan that brings people from all around the globe. Jiufen was used as the set for the film Spirited Away which is another reason it reals in thousands of tourist each year. Back in the day, Jiufen was first built by the Japanese and now can be made as a day trip from Taipei to check out the maze of alleyways that wrap around the town and rich culture hidden in all the local, small, shops and cafes. Jiufen offers many challenging hikes that once you reach the top, gives you a panoramic view of the city, and has easy access to the chilly ocean. If you choose to extend your day trip in Jiufen to an overnight stay, there are multiple B&B’s, hotels and hostels such as the one I stayed in, On My Way Hostel (For you English speakers, the owner of Jiufen hostel, speaks perfect English and was very helpful during my stay).
What to do – Jiufen: Hike to the top of Mount Keelung (Yes, this is still in Jiufen!) to catch the sunset or sunrise, you will not regret it. I have never been an earlier riser, but was convinced by other hostel guests that watching the sunrise from the top of the mountain was something I did not want to miss. So, I rolled out of bed at 4:00AM in the clothes I slept in and a pair of sandals (because once again, I am never prepared for anything) and spent an hour hiking to the top of Mount Keelung and watched cotton candy clouds cover all of Taiwan.
Where to eat – Jiufen: The first thing I was told when I arrived in Taiwan was “You will never go hungry”. No matter what restaurant you decide to wander inside of, the food will always score a 10/10, especially in Jiufen. Something I have noticed since moving to Asia is that a majority of the restaurants are family owned and therefore, care about the quality of food that they serve, hoping those same people will come back. The same thing applies to Jiufen. I tried the best pork steamed buns crafted with love by a local Taiwanese man, who also attempted to set me up with one of his 11 children after I mentioned how Taiwan is a country I could see myself one day settling down in.
After watching the sunrise and crawling back into bed to catch a little more sleep, shortly after it was time to get on the bus and head back to Taipei and checked myself back into Happy Taipei Hostel for one last time. I seriously get addicted to a good hostel once I find one. With my remaining time in Taipei, I went to Taipei 101 which I honestly would not suggest you waste your time on. Yes the view is cool, but not worth the time or money. Knowing I was also heading back to China in the next 24 hours, I soaked in all the easy accessible Western food and ate the most delicious beef, cheese burger and fries at Guru House Restaurant. Guru House also offers outdoor seating which is the perfect people watching spot while you spit on your fresh coffee or a handcrafted cocktail.
Where to go in Taipei:
Food – Guru House: https://m.facebook.com/guruhouse.tw/
Entertainment – EZ5 Live House: http://www.ez5.com.tw/new/
Entertainment/shopping: Shilln Street Night Market
Within a shot 6 days, Taiwan managed to steal my heart and I do not think I will be getting it back anytime soon. The upbeat vibe, the willing to help locals, the food, the culture, it is absolutely flawless and perfect the solo traveler.
Hope to see you in Taiwan soon. xx