Seeing Taipei for Less (than 500 php)

In every country that I went to, I made it a point to see the city from a different point of view. This has resulted to me bringing my family to the observatories of the Eiffel Tower, the Space Needle, the World Trade Center in New York, the Tokyo Tower, and the N Tower in Seoul.

For my trip to Taipei, it would have been against tradition not to do the same, even with the absence of my family. But because I had no one else’s company (read no one to share expenses with), I had to think of ways to see the city without breaking my budget.

Good thing I found two solutions to the past dilemma: 1. Brave the Elephant Mountain Hiking Trail and; 2. Reserve a spot for Starbucks on the 35th floor of Taipei 101. I’m proud to let you know that I completed both tasks. How’s that for extra?

The Elephant Mountaing Hiking Trail, also known as the Xiangshan Hiking Trail.

There’s a funny story behind my quest to reach the start of the trail. I have Google Map’s inefficiency to thank for it!

I planned for my second day in Taipei to be all about the touristy areas, which included the trail. You would think that, because so many tourists have gone to the mountain, Google Maps would also be familiar with it and show you the easiest way to get there. Big NO. GM, which I will henceforth call the app, showed me the directions on which way to walk to Elephant Mountain. And of course I, being the extremely reliant tourist that I am, followed GM without question. She had me walking for 30 minutes!

I’m making sure that the same won’t happen to you though. Instead of walking from  the Taipei 101 building, as I did, you will need to ride the MRT to reach the Xiangshan Station, which is the station right after Taipei 101’s. I should have known this, since the trail is apparently of the same name!!! But it wasn’t like I was looking at the MRT Line-Maps to know it that well.

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Once you get out of the station, proceed straight towards the pole where multiple bicycles are lined up. Just get to the end of the bicycle line and read the pointing signages from there. You can’t miss it.

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I’m really talking about this pole (haha):

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The pole behind the tree

You’ll see that the trail is just 580 meters away. Follow the road until you’ll get to a fork, with one road going uphill. Need I say more?

Trust me, you’ll know once you’re there (or see this sign:)

How to see Taipei for Less

Arriving at the very top of the trail can take a while, and since it was raining, I didn’t give myself the privilege of time. I wasn’t about to throw caution to the wind and ruin my camera! So make sure you check the weather on the day you choose to go to the mountain.

Seeing Taipei, Taiwan for Less Budget

Fortunately for me, the hiking trail has a couple of baby viewing decks before the ultimate viewing deck. Like levels before you reach the end of a video game (lol). So if you don’t have enough time to finish the entire hike, or if you don’t need the work out, the first viewing deck should suffice. On it you’ll still see this beautiful view:

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I’m sorry if this picture’s overused, okay!! haha. Also, my camera died right after this was taken *tears*

The Starbucks on the 35th floor of Taipei 101

I’ve talked about this starbucks and how it’s one of the things I admire about the Taipei 101 building. But that post was a bit general and somewhat like an introduction to the basics: a 200 TWD minimum charge and a limited stay of 1 hour and 30 minutes.  On this one, you’ll know how you can get a spot up there!

By calling this number: +886 2-81010701 because guess what, getting into this starbucks is by reservation only. 

No need to worry since the representative speaks fairly good English – at least in my experience. Other bloggers have said that they had a bit of trouble talking with the representative.

Make sure that you call a day before your intended visit, because Starbucks won’t take on-the-day reservations. Although, there’s no stopping the daredevils from trying! Also be informed that Starbucks has a fixed schedule for your reservations, so you can only choose from 4 time slots on the weekdays and 3 on the weekends.

To make sure that you’ll quickly find your way to Starbucks’ designated waiting area, on the day of your reservation, it’s best if you enter through Door 7 facing Xing Yi Road or the door facing the SongZhi Street.

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As you can see, there’s a big 7 by the side of the glass doors

Once you enter Door 7, go right towards the security “round table.” Behind that is the waiting area, which is marked by a stand with this sign:

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You’ll see that Taipei 101 has a dress code, and even though I did see a couple of tourists wearing shorts and slippers, it’s still better to abide by the code lest you lose your reservation. You wouldn’t want that to happen because up there is such a good viewing point, that is if you get a good seat.

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all seats are taken – by bags! lol

Seeing Taipei, Taiwan for Less

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I wasn’t joking. 200 twd is definitely worth this big a coffee
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and this beautiful a view.

Hostel Review: Travel Talk Taipei

Quite a number of people have expressed to me their surprise that I was only able to spend around 5,000 PHP during my entire stay in Taipei. Some have told me that they couldn’t believe that I only spent 1,925 on a 3 night accommodation. At that point I remind them that I stayed in a hostel.

I can’t say that this is generally true, but from what I see, hostels aren’t a Filipino’s first choice of lodging. We like to stay in comfy hotels, and we value our privacy. Because of our strict Catholic upbringing, and because of how we’ve always been told to be wary of other people, we’re not comfortable sharing rooms with strangers. So you can imagine my surprise when I was told that I was going to be in a two-bedroom with a man, even though I originally booked for a six-bedroom. In my head, security alarms went off. But thankfully, my roommate was just the sweetest Japanese tourist you could ever meet. I would give him a shout out here, if I only remembered his name. Haha. 

Generally, I loved my very first stay in a hostel, which is why I thought of making a review. The Travel Talk Taipei Backpackers’ Hostel will be reviewed in 4 categories: location, amenities, comfort, and cleanliness.

First up:

Location

Since I was traveling alone, I made sure that I could get around easily. I Google mapped Travel Talk Taipei and found that it was only a few hundred meters away from bus stops, and the Xingtian Temple Train Station. There’s also a temple 400 meters, away from the hostel, where we can look around to kill time before check in. The Lin An Tai Old House is also just a kilometer away.

Travel Talk Taipei is right smack in the middle of the touristy destinations. The Shilin Night Market and The Grand Hotel are 4 kilometers north from the hostel. Just a 20 minute train ride away. The Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, Taipei 101, and Elephant Mountain Hiking Trail are just 3 km, 6 km, and 7 km south from the hostel, respectively. The popular Ximending District is 5 km also just south of Travel Talk Taipei. So I would say that the hostel is very conveniently located.

To top that, once you go out of the Travel Talk, you’re faced with a big main road and you’re already right next to a 7/11, massage parlors, and some restaurants. At the back of the hostel, there’s a mini night market, dessert stores, and boutique shops that one can just easily reach at night for when you no longer want to go out.

Location’s a 5/5 for me.

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Amenities

It’s a hostel, so it’s all about the basics, baby! Bathrooms, beds, and common room, I mean. There are about two toilet cubicles and two shower cubicles, together with three sinks, on the first floor. On the second floor, they have the main bathroom, a much comfortable space in comparison to the ones on the first.

The bedrooms are a bit small but have more space than what backpackers need. But what is the standard size for hostel bedrooms? I wouldn’t know; this was my first time staying in one. Lol. I personally had no complaints about the space since I only needed a place to crash in, not do jumping jacks. The only major downside is that when you’re placed on the second floor, you can hear people taking their showers in the main bathroom. You can hear noise in the first floor bedrooms too, but even worse. You can hear horns from the streets and people taking their showers in the other building. Between the two, the upper floor bedrooms are a better choice.

A review of Travel Talk Taipei Backpacker's Hostel

A review of Travel Talk Taipei Backpacker's Hostel

Inclusions in Travel Talk Taipei Backpacker's Hostel

I give amenities a 4/5 because all the necessary ones are there.

Comfort

To make up for the noise and lack of space is the fact that the beds, pillows, and duvets where surprisingly very comfy. I slept like a baby when I was placed on the second floor. It felt like I was still at home, in my own bed. And for the sake of comparison (also because I am currently writing this post on a hotel bed in another country that I will soon be blogging about), Travel Talk Taipei’s pillows are more comfortable than the ones I have now!

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But I unfortunately got transferred to the lower floor after two days. For that last night, I almost cried in the middle of it because, not only did I hear noise from the outside, I heard noise from the inside too! I’m so sure that one of my roommates grinded his teeth while he was sleeping. So it’s easy to say that I didn’t get any sleep, at all, during that one night.

But I give all the people, who run Travel Talk Taipei, all the credit for trying to make me feel welcomed while I was there. Even the other lodgers did their best to make small talk, no matter how awkward it was. Even that roommate, with the bad sleeping habit, made the effort to talk to me whenever the silence in the common room got overwhelming.

So comfort is still a 5/5 for me.

Cleanliness

Cleanliness could be debatable, depending on what’s important to you. The bathrooms were spotless. The trashcans were always emptied out, and they always had tissue paper. I would say that the bathrooms were pretty well maintained for such an inexpensive place. The bedrooms were the same, although they won’t fix your bed for obvious reason. It’s just that I noticed that whenever I went in barefoot, I couldn’t feel any grit on the floors. Lol!

The common room, though, needs a bit of tidying up. The floors are always swept and mopped, that’s for sure. I just meant that it needs arranging. The common room just doesn’t seem neat for some reason. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe it’s because of all the baggage on different corners of the room, and the notebooks, books, and papers just strewn on the tables.

The sofas are a bit old and needs redressing. To solve that, they cover the entire furniture with big cloths, which I had no problem with. I rarely used those sofas anyway. I just thought that it was worth mentioning, for the people who may be a little ma-arte on that area.

Cleanliness is a 4/5 for me.

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Conclusion

So the hostel’s not perfect. It has its cons, but I think that its pros completely override the negative. Would I stay there again? Definitely. In terms of overall experience, I’m rating the hostel a 5/5.

Willia and The Town of Cats

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a dog person. Never in my life did I tell myself or my parents, that I wanted a cat for a pet. Cats scare me. Just look at those soul piercing eyes or the killer claws that could tear through all the layers of my skin. So it was quite a surprise that I had the courage (and energy) to go to the little cat village in Houtong.

I set out to the town of cats on my second day in Taipei, right after my vist to Jiufen Old Street. I took the 1602 bus to the Riufang Train Station, which is the main station that connects all the nearest towns to the big city. Once I arrived, I sought out the Information Center that’s right next to the station entrance. The lady working was such a darling for being so eager help. I was to go by the station’s platform gates and tap my Easy Card, that had about 60 TWD left, before allowing myself in. I slowly found my way to Platform 4 where the train to Houtong had already been waiting for a few minutes. I hopped inside, praying that I wouldn’t get smushed by the electronic doors. Thank God I still had a few more minutes before they closed!

I was in Houtong after about 20 minutes, a short but enjoyable ride. As I got down from the platforms, I immediately saw different kinds of cat decor on the ceiling and on the walls. I saw a lone cat inside the station, huddled around by three adults and one child with their cameras out. I knew, right then, that the cat village is as interesting as other people say it is.

And yet, that’s not to say that I was a bit disappointed. I expected cats swarming the village like in that facebook video going around. That wasn’t the case; seeing a big number of cats at one time is quite a rare sight in the village. But don’t let my disappointment ruin your interest because Houtong has quite a story.

Town of Cats Taipei Taiwan

Houtong used to be a small, but extremely rich, mining town producing about 220,000 tons of coal per year, which made it the largest distributor in Taiwan. This industry attracted thousands of tourists and immigrants leading to the formation of at least 900 households and a number of around 6,000 residents. But for some reason, that didn’t stop the industry from falling, which eventually led to the decline of the population.

Then in 2008, thanks to some volunteers who decided to take care of the stray cats together with the power of the internet, Houtong slowly became a talked-about tourist attraction to what we now call the Cat Village. Because of this influx of tourists, locals are now making cash by putting up cat-themed cafes and souvenir shops. In literally all the stores I went into, I did not fail to hear songs sung by “cats.” It was mostly songs sung, not in lyrics, but in meows, which truly emphasized the uniqueness that this area has.

Cat Souvenir Shop Cat Village Taipei Taiwan

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Houtong Cat Village Taipei Taiwan

Tourist Center Houtong Cat Village Taipei Taiwan

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The Houtong Cat Village is truly not one to miss! For more info on costs and how to get there, don’t hesitate to send me a message on my contact page, or leave a comment below! 🙂

4 Things to Admire about Taipei 101

Ever since I posted about my trip to Taipei, ads on the admirable country have strategically popped up whenever I scroll through my facebook feed. Whenever I see them the only thought that forms in my head is, “I hope other people are seeing this,” because they should know how stunning Taipei is!

Along with these ads come striking photos of the famed Taipei 101 – the iconic skyscraper that looms over the rest of metropolitan. Consisting of 101 floors, Taipei 101 held the title of Tallest Building in the World, from 2004 until it was surpassed by the Burj Khalifa in 2010.

But I have insuffecient knowledge to be able to talk about the architectural achievements of this geniusly-made tower. I’ll let Snarkynomad’s article, “Why Taipei 101 is the coolest skyscraper in the planet” do that. His extensive write-up is amply detailed, yet easily understandable that it’s nowhere near a burden to finish.

I’m really here to talk about what’s inside the tower.

 The Food Court

It’s no surprise that Taipei is home to great food selections, as is the rest of the Asian countries. The food court, on the lower ground floor of Taipei 101, brings together all these delicious, aromatic Asian cuisines at such an easy reach. Literally, it is easily accessible but also figuratively kind to the pocket.

Once you enter, your senses will immediately engage as you take a whiff of the flavorful smell of food; hear the chaotic noise of utensils clinking, oil sizzling, and people with different languages talking – loudly.

I wouldn’t call it an ordinary food court though, otherwise, what would be the point in talking about it if it were, right? Taipei 101’s food court is a premium joint that offers the “real deal” for not-so-premium prices. At least, that’s what my boyfriend likes to point out.

Din Tai Fung

There are heaps of gems inside the acclaimed tower, but for food enthusiasts, Din Tai Fung may be their piece of cake. Sure the Michelin rated restaurant has a number of branches in all of Taipei, but if you’re already in Taipei 101 (to go up the observatory no doubt), you might as well enjoy the goodies in this branch.

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There will always be a mindblowing amount of people waiting outside this particular Din Tai Fung, since it is inside a tourist attraction. Consequently, waiting for an hour or even more is an experience that needs a great deal of patience. But it’s worth it once you get a taste of their famous xiaolongbao, along with their long list of dimsum goodies.

What to eat at Din Tai Fung

I can’t say the same for all the branches but in this particular one, you can see the huddle of neatly dressed chefs expertly making their celebrated dumplings by hand. This is what makes the place worthwhile since one is able to enjoy his food and simultaneously get entertained by the deftness of the restaurant’s kitchen staff.

The second fastest elevator in the world

Taipei 101 formerly held the title of having the fastest elevator in the world, moving at 60 km/h, before the Shanghai tower came about. And according to wikipedia (no shame), the contraption can bring you from the 5th to the 89th floor in 37 seconds. There’s no harm in me believing the questionable website as this statement is proven by the video that my boyfriend posted when he rode on Taipei 101’s elevator.

Snarkynomad also points out that the elevators go up so smoothly that someone actually balanced a coin on its edge, and it stayed upright even as they reached the top! Clearly, a ride on the skyscraper’s elevetors isn’t one to miss. It’s like an amusement park ride that everyone, who went, should be able to say that they rode on. The space mountain in every Disneyland.

The Starbucks on the 35th floor

Every tourist, who knows about the Starbucks on the 35th floor of Taipei 101, likes to think of it as a secret that no other tourist is aware of, even though they already are. Be that as it may, I’m calling this not-so-hidden gem the best treasure for the reason that it offers a bird’s eye view of the city without burning a hole in your pockets.

View from Starbucks on Taipei 101

Going up to Taipei 101’s observatory can cost you 600 TWD. Starbucks, on the other hand, charges only a third of that price. Not only can you get comfortable in front of an astonishing view, but you also get to delight yourself in a fulfilling brunch. The only downside to this is that visitors are only allowed to stay for an hour and a half. Although an hour and a half is more than enough time to get over the serenity of the city.

DIY trip to Jiufen: How to get there

If you enjoy street food, cheap shopping, mersmirizing views of the Pacific Ocean, or if you’re just a really big fan Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away,” then you need to get yourself to Jiufen.

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A former, almost forgotten gold mining town, modern day Jiufen has transformed itself into one of the most visited tourist destinations in Taiwan. This comes as no surprise, as the energy from hawking food vendors and shuffling tourists is a cultural experience of its own – one that you wouldn’t want to miss.

Going to Jiufen is one of the easiest excursions that I’ve done in my five years of DIY traveling. If I, the most worrisome person that I know, was able do it alone then I’m pretty sure that everyone else can. So if you ever find yourself planning a trip to Taiwan and including Jiufen in your itinerary, here’s how to get there:

1. By Tripool

Great news! I recently found out that Round Taiwan Round has come up with a revolutionary, but most importantly, cost efficient way for group travel. They’ve introduced to us Tripool, which enables us travelers to enjoy the cost-benefit of carpool, but also have the luxury to customize our itineraries for our chosen areas.

For only 30 USD per person, or 70 USD per person for an English tour guide, not only will you enjoy the privacy of a smaller group during your ride to Jiufen, you will also have the chance to see other notable spots within the area! This is the easiest way to go, if you ask me.

The even greater news?

You can get 5% off your purchase if you use the code CebuAdv at https://www.rtaiwanr.com/jiufen/jiufen-custom-shared-tour

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2.  By Train

This is probably the fastest (50-60 mins.) way to get to Jiufen, although it won’t bring you directly to Jiufen.

For around 50 to 80 TWD, your first leg of the ride will start in Taipei Main Station, from there you will need to ride whichever railway train that will bring you to Riufang Railway Station. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you which platform or what color line the trains run on, because their platform numbers change and railway trains do not have colors like the MRT. You’ll be on your own on that one, buddy.

Once you step out of Riufang Station’s main entrance, make sure that you’ll face Mingdeng Road Sec. 3. Cross to the other side of the road and look for the lone bus stop. Wait for the Keelung bus with Jinguashih as its last stop. I’m not sure about the bus number but the bus will most likely have a big flashing sign in front of it that says JINGUASHI. If not, you can ask for the number from the personnel at the information booth inside the station.

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Jiufen is the last stop before Jinguashi. It will take about 10 – 15 minutes to get there from the station.

3. By Bus

By bus is how I traveled to Jiufen, so I can be a little more specific here. This takes about 2 hours and it will bring you directly to Jiufen for 113 TWD, which isn’t so bad.

You will need to start from whichever MRT you’ll be nearest at and navigate your way to Zhongxiao Fuxing Station, which is where the blue and brown MRT lines meet.

This is the train station that you need to go to for Jiufen Old Town Taipei

At the station, get out at Exit 2 and follow the sidewalk to your right until you find a bus stop below an overpass. You can also go through Exit 1 and just cross the street towards the second exit.

Exit two for bus stop for bus 1062 bus to Jiufen Taipei
The bus to take to get to Jiufen Old Town in Taiwan

At the bus stop, wait for the bus 1062 with Jinguashi as its last destination. As I previously mentioned, Jiufen is the destination right before Jinguashi so watch out for that on the indicator inside the bus. You’ll know you’re there once the bus stops in front an extremely fine view of the ocean.

The view from Jiufen Old Town, Taipei Taiwan