After two days of travel we landed at Taipei airport just as the sun set. Immigration was only a short line and then we were out in the main terminal where our first order of business was cash. The ATM turned into a bit of an adventure. Leandra put in her card, input her pin, selected the amount… then received a receipt with no money. Uh oh. Turns out the receipt said ‘canceled’ in simplified Chinese, which of course we couldn’t read. After several failed attempts we found another machine and Eric’s card worked. Cash acquired, we found the attached bus terminal, paid the equivalent of about $5, and got on our bus to the main train station. Traffic was bad getting into city so it took about 1.5 hours.
From the train station we made our way to the MRT station, and took the red line to the Dongmen stop. We got completely turned around coming out of the station and only the next day realized that north isn’t always at the top of maps, and even more confusingly, the orientation of the map can change within the same metro station. After going several blocks in the wrong direction, we turned around and found our hotel.
Going the wrong way, however, took us past the famous Din Tai Fung, so after dropping off our luggage, we decided to head back and try the famous xiao long bao (soup dumplings). There wasn’t a long wait and we were seated just as we finished picking out our items on the paper checklist/menu.
These bites of deliciousness hooked us, and we returned three of the four nights in Taipei.
After our late dinner we wandered around the area soaking in the scene.
Having exhausted ourselves, we went back to the hotel for a well-earned sleep in a real bed.
For our first full day we decided on a day trip out of the city to Pingxi.
Doing some last-minute research we found out that the Shifen waterfall overlook had been recently closed… Boo. While it would have been a highlight, we decided to continue with our plans and experience the rest of the valley.
One of the great things about Taipei is the ability to get to hiking via mass transit, and this was our first experience. First we took the MRT back to the main station, then figured out tickets for the Pingxi branch line east of Taipei. We couldn’t get the machines to give us the tickets we wanted, but we were successful via the attended ticket window. These tickets got us to Ruifang station, where we could transfer to the Pingxi train itself.
In Ruifang we obtained a map from the visitor center and advice on train tickets. The easiest option was a one-day pass which let us get on and off the train at multiple stops. Also important- take a photo or write down the schedule for return trips, as they are not always easy to find at stations along the way, and trains only come ~45-60 minutes. We had a 25 minute wait for the next train and made a rookie mistake by staying in the waiting area. Seats go fast, so early arrivers wait on the platform and get on as soon as the train opens the doors. By the time we got there all seats were taken so we stood for the most of the 40 minute journey.
Lingjiao was our first stop, where we intended to visit Motian Waterfall. Signage was lacking, so we took some photos of the bridge while reconning the area.
Leandra mentioned she had seen the waterfall just before we pulled into the station, so we figured out that we needed to cross the tracks and go down some stairs. Once we did we found a lush forest area that was nearly empty of other people and enjoyed the view for a bit.
Since we had 20+ minutes until the next train we decided to walk to next town. Unfortunately it was less scenic than we had hoped.
We took the train to the end of line in Jingtong and explored the village. This valley is famous for lantern ornaments, and we enjoyed watching several groups paint, then release, their lanterns at the end of the train tracks.
We also found the red love bridge and lots of bamboo ornaments with wishes written on them too.
On our way back to the train station we stopped to try a pork roll at Yang’s stall- bean curd, taro, pork, onion are in pre-made rolls that are fried on demand and cut into bite size pieces. They had crunchy texture and a slightly sweet flavor that made for a great snack while we waited for the train.
On the return we stopped at the popular village of Shifen. The town was very busy, with lots of lanterns being released along the train tracks in the middle of town.
Everyone was walking along the train tracks so we did too.
We spent more time enjoying lanterns, some of which we could read.
With so many food options in town we couldn’t pass up another snack, and were quite happy with the curry croquette we choose.
The train back to Ruifang was quite crowded, so we stood for the 30 minute ride, then had a 30 minute wait for the Taipei connection. We were quite happy when the train arrived as it was starting to get quite cold (low 40s)!
After a quick refresh at the hotel we headed out to Yongkang Street market, our first night market.
Wow, so much bustle! We saw slices of beef being seared with a blowtorch, various meats and seafoods on sticks, lots and lots of clothes…. and so many lights. One cart had shaved peanut brittle with ice cream and cilantro that we had to try.
Since we were nearby we stopped in at Din Tai Fung for another helping of dumplings, and this time also tried the mini sesame buns. A good mix of sweet and savory with fine black seeds, they were lightly sweet and quite a tasty treat.
On our way out we noticed the nice view of Taipei 101 so we walked closer for better view.
After a very full day we slept well yet again.