This is one of the many reasons why I think my Grandpa is a crazy fella (but in a good way, of course!).
Last January, he gave me a heads-up that we might~ be going to Taiwan on March. Come its first week, nothing was happening. I assumed we weren’t pushing through, so I took it easy with my writing deadlines, moving things around since I perceived March to be a pretty chill working month. But on March 10, he told me to give him my passport, and with much urgency at that, because we were leaving in 10 freaking!!!! days (we haven’t applied for visas yet at this rate, and it takes around 3-4 days to process!). And he already booked tickets for me, him, and my Grandma. YOLO(lo) much.
Apart from scrambling to fix our papers and documents, I booked us a room for 4 nights at the Hotel Riverview located at Taipei’s Ximending District via Agoda. Though it’s a bit of a walk from the MRT, it received great reviews from former guests, claiming that the staff was very, very hospitable and the rooms were squeaky clean. And they were right! I highly recommend this place if you plan to visit Taipei. Yes, it takes around 10-15 minutes to walk from the hotel to the MRT, but you get to pass by the shopping areas and streets lined up with food (haha), so there’s really nothing to lose (except time, if you’re in a rush) because you get to explore more of the city in a very organic manner. You might even end up reaching the MRT in an hour because of all the window shopping. Hotel Riverview’s rates are very affordable especially if you’re traveling with your family or with a group of friends. I enjoyed their breakfast selection, too!
If I weren’t a writer, I’d most probably be a tour guide or put up a local Contiki counterpart and be its only employee hahaha just so I could go around more and meet new people etc etc. I find travel planning oddly therapeutic, and though I’m not a stick-to-the-plan kind of traveler, I do my share of research on must-see places (and must-eat restaurants) in a country I’m visiting. I usually get recommendations from friends because hearing their personal stories and seeing the look on their faces as they recall the memory make things more special. Also, these conversations come with insider tips that you won’t find online! My Grandpa allowed me to plot down the places I wanted to visit so we could go together as a family. He also gave me a free day to explore Taiwan on my own despite his being verryyy overprotective, so that was pretty cool.
Touchdown Taiwan—Taoyuan International Airport. My Tita living in Taiwan told me that the weather wasn’t winter-level cold. “Just bring a jacket,” she advised. The Internet also said that the temperature was sunny at 24 degrees, so I packed shorts and sleeveless tops only to realize that I walked straight into a refrigerator once the exit doors of the airport opened. Internet, y u fail me. Just kidding. After asking around, I found out that Taiwan reaches its warmest season on June-July. On other months, expect the weather to be like Baguio x 5 or 7.
Given my shivering ass wardrobe malfunction and fear of turning into Olaf, I made it a priority to do a bit of “cold weather shopping” as soon as we got to the hotel. But before that, here’s a tourist tip: Taipei offers free Wi-Fi to its foreign visitors. Make sure to visit the information center at the airport upon landing. In my case, their system was down, so they redirected me to one of the Taipei MRT stations where I could avail of this service, so I took a mental note and that priority number 2.
We arrived at the hotel from Taoyuan around 4:00pm (it took us around an hour and a half via car because my Grandpa had arranged for someone to pick us up). After resting a bit, we headed out to get my free Wi-Fi at the Ximen Station (the MRT nearest our hotel), but stopped by 7-Eleven first to get a mobile sim card for my Grandpa. And also, my favorite part of any trip…can you guess?
Taiwan’s 7-Eleven shabu-shabu station is filled with tofu, corn, fish balls, meat balls, crab sticks, and other edibles of the same kin.
Soft-boiled eggs that come in plastic bags. A perfect booze buddy as advertised.
Tea Eggs, 6 of which my Grandpa, Grandma, and I inhaled in less than 5 minutes. Bring this to Manila PLZ.
En route the Ximen MRT station, we passed by the Ximending shopping area which was teeming with more food and stores. It was busy (but not packed) on a Thursday afternoon. Of course, I wanted to stop by and sample more of the Taiwanese fare. How could you not with all those delicious scents causing you to unconsciously gravitate towards their stalls?!?! Torture much. But I could wait (I think).
FREE WI-FI FOR TOURISTS! Just show your passport and you’ll be given access to their hotspots that are ever-so-present in their MRT stations. And it’s pretty darn fast, too. But please use it only when you have to and don’t let it (especially the sneaky little devil that is social media) distract you from enjoying your trip! They also have cute tourist-themed ink stamps that you can fill up your notebooks or travel journals with. I went wild with those as you could see.
We stopped by a military merchandise store located on the opposite side of the road, and we headed back to the hotel to rest up. On our way back from the MRT station, we passed by Ximending again and now, I didn’t hold back when it came to the grub.
Egg Pancakes! One of my favorite things in Taipei. It’s filled with scallions and you can have it also with cheese inside.
Edibles on sticks, innards, and various offal.
Roasted corn basted with barbecue sauce.
There were three night markets I wanted to visit on our first evening (eager beaver). Wu Fen Pu for clothes, Raohe for food, and Shilin for more food. But hitting all three markets in one night was a bit of a stretch, so we settled for Shilin Night Market.
We took a cab going there, but if you want to take the MRT, take the red line to Jiantan Station and not Shilin Station. Leave Exit 1 and cross the street diagonally to the left. It’s not hard to miss. Shilin is known for its food, but thankfully, there were also clothing stores, so I was able stock up on pants and coats to keep me warm for the rest of the trip. Most of the clothes and other non-edible items (lol) sold in Taipei come at fixed prices that are a bit expensive (even in night markets), so keep an eye out for vendors with flexible price tags you can haggle with. The Taiwanese folk, from my experience, are very kind, helpful, and easy communicate with. Even in crowded night markets such as Shilin, you’ll feel safe.