Category Archives: Taiwan

Taiwan Vacation

We were lucky enough to be able to go to Taiwan for 2 weeks as a family for a visit.  I was hoping to sell Caroline on the idea of moving there one day, but it seems the jury is still out on that one.  Nathaniel would have to adjust to being a permanent celebrity, but he doesn’t seem to mind that idea at all.

We were able to see most of my mission areas.  We also got  a taste of the rest of the island.  This trip held lots of firsts for both Nathaniel and Caroline, so there was an adventure around every corner. We had fun together and are already planning our next excursion.

Taoyuan 桃園 and first trip to Yingge 鶯歌

We were able to leave the airport around 9:00PM and took a taxi to our hotel.  I remember being amazed at the traffic and the taxi driver’s lane straddling, even though it should have been no surprise to me.  Maybe I had been away from Taiwan so long that I thought I might have exaggerated all those stories.

We stayed at the Hara Zuru Hotel 原鶴商務飯店 which is close to a Holiday Inn Express, but it just didn’t seem right to go to Taiwan just to stay at an American sounding hotel.  Not that Hara Zuru sounds Chinese or is anything close to its Chinese name.

The hotel room was pretty small and the mattress was stiff, but we were exhausted and ready for sleep.  Unfortunately, my body wanted to wake up around 3:00AM and I had to force myself to stay in bed until a reasonable hour.  We didn’t take many pictures of the room, but this one shows the control panel for the TV and lights.  This hotel, and a few others we stayed in, made it so the key activated the power for the room by being put in a slot by the door.  The sign above the slot said “Insert for Energy”.  We thought that was a great idea–no misplacing the key either coming or going.

I intentionally chose a hotel near a train station, but the station was not on the main line and the map the hotel provided did not even show it, so we were well into our walk before I realized we were going to the wrong station.  I asked a man on the street for his opinion on the best way to get to the train station and he suggested waiting for a bus (this was not the only time on our trip where a map with no scale falsely led me to believe we were way closer than reality).  This was also our first taste of Nathaniel’s celebrity status because a woman came over and gave him some “sweet jelly” Jell-o type stuff just because he was there.  When the bus came, we took it to the Taoyuan train station where I have been many times before and traveled to Yingge, an old ceramics town.

Caroline was in charge of the camera since it was her first trip to Taiwan and she would notice interesting things.  Here’s the typical street shot like the kind you seen in postcards with all the Chinese signs.

Taipei 台北

We booked the Q-stay hotel in Taipei near Ximending 西門町 and a couple blocks from the subway station.  This hotel had the highest ratings in all of Taiwan and was only about NT2200 per night.  It does not look like much from the outside–you might not even realize it is there.

On the inside, it was great.  The room came with a computer, a nice bathroom and a nice view.  The bathroom had a glass wall, so the bathroom did not block the view of Taiwan from the bedroom, you just had to remember to pull the curtains when you were in the bathroom.

We could see the Presidential Office Building and the 101 skyscraper from the window.

Our first stop was the Taipei 101 skyscraper.  It opened last time I was in Taiwan but I never rode the elevator to the top.  I must have been paranoid the weather would get bad and once again miss the opportunity since I made it such a priority.

The tower has its own mascot, the “Damper Baby”.  Actually there are a few, each with its own color and personality.  Here’s the red one, the one that greets you as you enter the 101 mall.


Here’s a typical view from the observation area.  No buildings of comparable size anywhere around.  Also, it’s kind of hazy, but this was about the best weather from our whole trip for this tour.  Good thing we went first!

Of course, being an engineer, we had to go check out one of the dampers.  Don’t worry, Caroline was excited to see it too.

The 101 was also a major celebrity moment for Nathaniel.  Most people in the observation level made sure to get lots of pictures of our baby, and everybody on the outdoor deck oohed and awed over him to the point they didn’t even look over the side.  As a treat for being so wonderful, we found a yummy smoothie place in the mall, many, many stories below these great views.

On the way back from Taipei 101, we stopped at the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial in the Memorial Hall Square.  The first is a picture of either the National Theater or National Concert Hall.  They both look about the same and flank the CKS building.  The second picture is the Memorial itself.  A very impressive structure.

We then walked to Yongkang street 永康街.  We had to go see if Ice Monster was still there.  It was, but the name seems to have changed and the desserts weren’t as large as I remembered, but it was still great.  It could be because I had to share it this time. The 抓餅 stand (we’re not too sure how to say that in English, but “yummy” might work) was still across the street, so we were able to have a balanced meal.

We then walked over to the temple and new stake center (new when I was in Taiwan) and a couple sister missionaries took us on a tour.

Zoo day

Breakfast was great–we had Taiwanese bacon omelets and egg burgers.  Caroline liked this style breakfast just as much as I do. Too bad they didn’t come with recipes.  In English, of course, for Caroline.

We thought it would be fun to visit the Taipei zoo.  We were one stop away on the subway when some really helpful folks told us we were at the final stop and needed to get off in Muzha 木柵.  I asked them if they were certain, since everything I had seen shows one more stop.  They were, and we got off.  The subway train, of course continued the zoo station, so we waited for the next one and continued on our way.  We think they were trying for extra baby time since they tried really hard to get us to sit by them on the train and it never worked out.

Nathaniel found the bears and monkeys amusing.  Well, the monkeys at least.  He really liked the rock beside the bear display better than the bear.

Caroline was a good sport and let us ride the Maokong gondola 貓空纜車 to Maokong where we had dinner.  It was quite a bit longer of a ride than I expected and the sights were definitely worth the trip.  Afterwards, a lot of Taiwanese people I talked to about the trip expressed their lack of faith in the safety of the gondola and that they would likely never ride it :-)

When we returned we saw a nice musical water feature (水舞 ) by the gondola station.

That evening, we met up with Michael Hong who took us to the Shilin night market 士林夜市.  We ate their famous 雞排 (giant fried chicken).  And there were also hot dogs in rice buns that were really good.  And soy milk with old Chinese Medicine Jell-o stuff drunk through a straw, which was way better than it sounds. And Caroline bought a cute hair barrette.  Given the right company and my wallet, Caroline could have bought the place out.  Shilin is the best shopping in all of Taiwan.  Michael Hong said so.  Oh, and for first timers like Caroline, night markets are when vendors set up booths in designated streets right about sunset and people come from all over to eat and shop.  They happen every night, and just about every city and city district has their own.

Longshan Temple

Nathaniel was really tired the next morning, so we stayed at the hotel most of the morning letting him (and us) rest.  In the afternoon, we decided to take the relatively short trip to the Longshan temple.

Once again, Nathaniel was treated like a rock star and everyone wanted to take his picture.  But it’s  good though.  Now Caroline knows the Chinese word for cute.

Banqiao 板橋 and Danshui 淡水

We went and visited the Cai 蔡 family in Banqiao.  When I first met them, they had 3 boys.  They now have a fourth son.  See, he’s in this picture.  The other brothers were at school when we were able to stop by.

Bro. Cai sells fruits and vegetables in the neighborhood by their home and he gave us a few.  Nathaniel REALLY liked the fruits almost single-handedly ate all of them over the course of a couple days.  It was nice since we were a little concerned (as always) that he wasn’t eating much.

We then rode the subway to Danshui (a river delta port town with good food, shopping, and parks) and took a boat across the river to Bali.  Not this boat, though, it was stuck.

Here is a view across the river.

Here is Nathaniel enjoying the other side.

Keelung 基隆 and back to Yingge 鶯歌

Even though our hotel was practically in Ximending, we had not explored it yet, so the morning we headed for Keelung we first did some exploring close to the hotel.  Too bad we didn’t make it at night.  Most of the shops were closed when we went that morning

Our hotel was close to the Red House.  It’s Taiwan’s first public market built by the Japanese when they were in charge here.

We stayed at the Ocean Business and Boutique Hotel 歐香精品商旅 in Keelung.  We had to pay extra for the first night since it was a Saturday, but Sunday and Monday were normal prices.  Shortly after arriving, we met with my old friend Johnny Boy who we went to the Miaokou nigh market 廟口 with later in the evening.  Before that, though, we had to wash our clothes.  The lady at the front desk told us where the nearest laundromat was (after we already followed google maps to a location that was no longer a laundromat).  This is Nathaniel playing his own laundromat game–open and close all the machine doors over and over again.

The laundromat was great once I convinced myself that the instructions on the machines really do say not to add detergent as the machine automatically does it for you.  All our clothes were washed in plenty of time not to miss our appointment with Johnny Boy (Mr. Miao) and his family at the night market.  Caroline agrees she could get used to doing laundry that efficiently all the time.

Being a Saturday night, it was plenty crowded.  I chose curry rice for us all and we were able to squeeze onto a tiny bench surrounded by hundreds of people and eat our meal.  There was another bench immediately behind us at another table that was so close our backs were touching.  The non-existant gap between the benches served as the path the cooks took to deliver food, so it was pretty claustrophobic, especially with a baby on my lap. I joked with Caroline that I can’t complain in America anywhere when we have to wait at crowded restaurants after that experience.

You can see some of Miaokou in the background of this picture, but it doesn’t begin to do justice to what we experienced :-)  This is a bridge in a teeny, tiny park area not to far from our hotel, which was right on the edge of the night market.

On Sunday we went to church and saw a lot of people I remembered from when I was there and many of them even remembered me.  A few ladies helped translate for Caroline.  Nathaniel had somewhat of a fever, so one sister came to our hotel and  gave us ibuprofen and a thermometer for Nathaniel.  That evening we just let Nathaniel sleep and relax so we would be able to go to Yingge with the Miao family on Monday.  The medicine really helped and when Nathaniel woke up he was happy and playful again.

We went to the museum in Yingge again, this time we saw the top and bottom floors.  Johnny Boy and I did a fair amount of goofing off, pretending to burn ourselves in the fake furnace among other things.

The Miaos really liked this old-school bike and carriage we discovered by the side of a random shop.  So we all jumped in and took pictures.

The Miao family took us out to a nice place for lunch and to My Family Steak 我家牛排 for dinner.

The next morning, Nathaniel’s fever seemed to be coming back and he wasn’t feeling well.  We decided to take him to a doctor at the Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Keelung.  I called ahead to get a feel for how much money it would cost and if they would accept my US health insurance.  Turns out they said it would cost less than our co-pay would have been in America, so I didn’t even bother with the insurance.

The service was really efficient.  We drew a number and waited a few minutes to talk to someone at the counter and explained our situation.  They scheduled an appointment for us and told us where the elevator to the Pediatrician was.  When we got there, however, we realized the appointment was scheduled for the next day for some reason.  I told a nurse that we were hoping to leave that day, and she was happy to fit us in.  They checked Nathaniel out and recommended some medicine for the fever, sore throat, and congestion.  Then we went downstairs and paid about $20 at a big vending-style machine before our number was called at the pharmacy and we got the medicine.  It all probably took about 30 minutes.

Hualian 花蓮 and Taroko National Park 太魯閣國家公園

I called ahead and reserved a couple of nights in the 愛上不老海洋 (Young Ocean Love) bed and breakfast.  I was warned on the phone that they would be taking a trip and breakfast would not be available the first morning.  Since we typically enjoy breakfast shops anyway, this didn’t seem to be any problem.

While in the Taxi, I asked the driver if all the buildings on the street of our bed and breakfast would also be bed and breakfasts and he jokingly said all of Hualian is too.

Nathaniel got his own bed and he loved the teddy bear–the first thing he did was run over to it and cuddle up with it, before we even noticed the room had a teddy bear.

Caroline was definitely more excited about the awesome ocean view across the hall but still connected to our room.  And we were both taking in the fact that while the room was up 5 flights of stairs, no elevator, we didn’t have to go downstairs to use the bathroom like we thought we were going to have to do, and the room had an air conditioner, which the rest of the building seemed to be lacking.  Once cooled and rested, we found the decor to be great and our stay wonderful.

I asked the man who greeted us where a good place to eat was and he recommended a foreign-style pizza restaurant.  The food was great–perfect for Caroline’s birthday dinner!–and Caroline kept her Chinese sprite bottle as a souvenir.  He also recommended a Taxi driver to take us to the Taroko National Park and show us around for about NT2000.  There are some guides that speak English, but the one I contacted was already booked for the day, so I just translated for Caroline.

She graciously provided an umbrella for us, but once we got into the park we no longer needed it.

There was a section where we were able to walk through some tunnels and helmets were provided.  They didn’t have any in our son’s size, so I let him try mine on.  Fortunately, there was no evidence of any rock falls on the ground, so we felt relatively safe passing through.

We walked across a pretty scary-looking rope bridge for some excitement and our taxi driver’s favorite part was that my shoulders were taller than the gate at each end of the bridge.

Our driver recommended we walk up here to feel the fresh, cold water at the beginning of its spring.

On the way back, our driver recommended we get some green onion pancakes 蔥油餅 from this really popular shop.  They were really good and something we definitely need to find in America, although I imagine eating them for every meal wouldn’t be too healthy.

Apparently there is a Chinese legend that the green onion pancake influenced the development of pizza in Europe after Marco Polo tried to have it recreated when he returned to Europe.

I asked one of the workers if she knew of a local laundromat and she said they had a washer and dryer in the back that I could use.  At first I thought she was subconsciously talking to me with a “foreigner” accent due to my accent, but it became apparent that Chinese was also not her first language when she asked me to read the controls on the washing machine to her.  Turns out she was Indonesian and work has been back and forth to Taiwan a few times for work.  It was a great relief to be able to use their washing machine, but the dryer was incredibly slow, and even with a tiny load, several hours later the clothes still felt like they had just been removed from the washing machine.  Around midnight I packed all the wet clothes in a couple of backpacks and walked about 15 minutes to a laundromat where I was able to dry the clothes in under half an hour.

The second morning, they prepared breakfast for us and we realized just what we had missed the first morning.

 Trip to and stay in Kaohsiung 高雄

Since it was going to be Thursday and our return flight was on Sunday and we were still on the east coast, we decided to take the long train ride all the way to Kaohsiung in one day, skipping Taitung 台東.  The weather that day was beautiful but hot–great for spending the day taking a train ride–and we were able to see much of the island from the train.  We decided that most areas looked like what would happen if the Rockies met the Appalachians–tall, tall mountains covered in trees and green.  Also, there were places that felt like Colorado had moved to California, or vice versa depending on what you saw first.

We changed trains in Taitung, so I was able to take this picture proving we were actually there (briefly).

Unfortunately, the station is out of town, so the only food to eat was lunch box 便當 from the station, and some ice cream treats from a little store.  There were fruit vendors, but they were all selling the exact same type of fruit.

Here we are in Kaohsiung after a long day in the train.  We still needed to take the subway to the Sanduo Shopping District station 三多商圈站.

After a little bit of confusion and following conflicting directions from people on the street we found the building where  La Villa de Sweetheart 甜心小屋 was supposed to be.  The nice lady named Reishi I talked to on the phone offered to meet us at the subway station and I planned on calling from the exit.  Unfortunately there were no pay phones nearby, so we ended up finding the building before finding a phone to call her from (actually I saw a phone in front of a 7-11 first, but at that point I was so lost I thought I better not even try to call).  Turns out the building was across the street from the subway station the whole time.  The room was great (ballet themed) and Nathaniel again had his own futon-style sofa bed to sleep on.  We turned it around against the wall to reduce the number of sides he could fall off to one.  We put pillows under this end and he still managed to fall off in the night, but was saved by the pillows.

We went for a stroll and decided to check out the IKEA store.  There was a nice play area for Nathaniel and as usual, there were plenty of admirers who showed up to admire him.

We heard there was a ferris wheel further down the road, so we started walking in the general direction.  It ended up being a longer walk than we were prepared for after a day riding trains, so I told Caroline we could eat at TGI Fridays and take a taxi back after the ferris wheel ride.   The ferris wheel was Hello Kitty themed and on top of the mall where we ate.  Walking up to the mall, the wheel lights up in lots of interesting and pretty patterns, like this one.

Nathaniel loved the ride and was squealing with joy and jumping around the whole time.  It was a fight to keep him in his seat.  The car we were in had a Hello Kitty pillow that he really loved, but also spurred on his bounciness.  Caroline held on extra tight to the cab for him. Here’s a picture from inside the ferris wheel.

Proof that we ate at Fridays in Taiwan.  The drinks are much smaller and they don’t come around to fill up your cups as often… which might be good since it leaves me room to actually eat my meal.

While we were out, Reishi sent an email with things to do in Kaohsiung.  Since I was unable to reach a friend I wanted to visit in Taichung, we called her the next morning and were able to get another room for the next night.  This time it was “comic” themed.  There were more stuffed animals inside which Nathaniel loved.  We decided to take the duck boats–buses that can drive on the streets and in the water.  But went to a station that only has them on weekends and we were a day early.  Instead, we were able to take the Old City Cultural Tour Bus 舊城文化公車 a tour bus that lets you off wherever you like to go explore.  This is the first place it stopped.

Here we are at the largest Confucian temple in Taiwan.

We went up inside dragon and tiger pagodas.

Caroline thought the entrance to our house should have one of these.  She was also amused by the murals painted inside the mouths of the dragon and tiger and joked that they were pictures of previous victims.

The tour bus went around this lake.  Had we taken the amphibious duck boats, we would have circled inside the lake.

Back to Taoyuan 桃園

Since we spent an extra day in Kaohsiung, we decided to take the High Speed Rail back to Taoyuan and skip Taichung.  Kaohsiung is the end of the line from Taipei, and there were only a few other people in the car with us, but we picked up more passengers at each stop.

Nathaniel was pretty tired and slept most of the way.

Here is the train zooming away after we get off in Taoyuan.

Our last hotel was by far the most expensive of the trip and also had the largest room.  We were kindof hoping to do some final shopping and eating in the neighborhood, but there was really nothing there.  So we also ate the most expensive meal of the whole trip ~NT1200.  The food was fantastic and all-you-can eat so we couldn’t really complain.

The airport lobby had an STOL light airplane called the “Alluvion Legend”.  It seems it is also called the “Sandbar Legend”.  It appears there is a company in the area trying to sell these as kit aircraft.  Prior to this, I wasn’t aware of any private experimental aircraft in Taiwan.  It seems designed for taking off from river banks and other off-airport locations.

Final Thoughts

All in all, it was a great trip.  We survived the 24 hour days from starting airport to finishing airport both ways.  Nathaniel was better than we expected during those flights.  He even managed to fall asleep on take off for nearly all our flights.  Next time we hope to have window seats as we arrive or leave Taiwan.  We didn’t this time, so missed out on seeing Taiwan from the air.  We did get to see lots of fun and interesting things that we couldn’t have otherwise, and we got to do it all together.