February 2019 - Tzengs trip to Taiwan
Taipei & Taroko National Park

Summary:

After hearing of our friends, Jeff & Julie Yeh's successful 3-generation family trip to Taiwan in January of 2018, and how much their four grandchildren enjoyed the trip, we got encouraged.

When our two sons' families expressed enthusiasm in visiting Taiwan, it was decided that February's school break would work for everybody. Summer is jut too hot and humid to visit Taiwan.

There were 8 of us making this trip - including two sons, two daughters-in-law, and two granddaughters (age 10 and 8.) This would be our two DIL and the two grandkids' first trip to Taiwan, and none of them spoke Chinese or Taiwanese. Should we rely on English-language guided tours? Then we heard from another friend, LihLih and YC Chang's successful family trip to Taiwan for a group of 10. They used a combination of chartered bus and public transportation in Taiwan, no English-language guided tours and everyone had a blast. So, we thought we knew what to plan. We'd contract vans, using taxis and metro while in Taipei, but book an English-language guided tour for the excursion to Taroko National Park.

Philip and Ayumi left their home ahead of the rest of us to spend 4 nights in Tokyo, then we all arrived at our Taipei hotel on the evening of February 14th. Below is our customized Taipei map with landmarks highlighted. We did not get to visit all of the marked places, but we left them here for our next trip to cover.
(Click on the "View Larger Map" link on the upper-right to view map in details.)

Time Zone

Taiwan does not change to Daylight Savings Time anymore.  Therefore, in summer Taiwan is 12 hours ahead of Boston; in winter Taiwan is 13 hours ahead of Boston.

Money

$1 USD ~ 30 NTD (New Taiwan Dollar) (roughly 30)

Therefore,  100 NTD =  $  3.3 USD (Take the right-most zero off, then divide the rest by 3)
              1,000 NTD = $ 33.3 USD

Here are some pictures for you to get to know the NTD bills and coins

The NT100 (red) and NT1000 (blue) are the most commonly used bills.

NT500 bill is purple, and about the same size as the red NT100 note. Make sure you look at the numbers on the note to not mix them up when paying for taxi fares in dim light.

NT50 now comes in coins, but it is only slightly larger than the popular NT10 coins. Again, try not to mistake a NT50 coin for a NT10 coin.

Island-wide Trains

高鐵 (Taiwan High Speed Rail): http://www.thsrc.com.tw (click English Language)
臺灣鐵路局 Taiwan Railway: https://www.railway.gov.tw/

Two Airports in Taipei

  1. Taoyuan Airport 桃園機場 (airport code TPE) - located in Taoyuan county, about 45-min drive from Taipei train station. Taxi fare was about NT1100 if taken from airport to city. From city center to airport taxi fare was fixed at about NT900.
  2. SongShan Airport 松山機場 (airport code TSA) - a smaller airport located within Taipei city, only 7km from Taipei train station. Taxi to Taipei train station took about 15 minutes, taxi fare was less than NT300. If travel by MRT, it is on the Brown line (BR), at BR13, Songshan Airport station. https://guidetotaipei.com/visit/taipei-songshan-airport

Taoyuan Airport (TPE) Transportation

INFO: http://www.taoyuan-airport.com/  (Click on English Language)

1. By Airport MRT - https://www.taoyuan-airport.com/english/taoyuan_metro The Airport MRT is right under the Airport Terminal building, cost: NT160/pp from Taoyuna Airport Terminal 1 (the A12 stop) or Terminal 2 (the A13 stop) to Taipei Main Station (the A1 stop). Express MRT only take 40 min. From there, take a taxi to your hotel.

2. By Taxi: the fare to downtown Taipei was by meter, should be around NT1100 (less than USD$40), the drive was about 45-min under normal traffic. If your luggage cannot fit into a small yellow cab, at the taxi line, tell the attendant you need a station wagon. Fare should be the same as a small cab. If your party is more than 4 PAX, an 8-PAX van should cost about twice as much as a taxi cab.

3. By Airport Bus to Taipei Main Train Station - Fare should be around NT140/pp. https://www.taoyuan-airport.com/english/buses. The drive should be about 45-min under normal traffic.

Getting Around in Taipei

- Taipei MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) MAP: https://english.metro.taipei/cp.aspx?n=1BE0AF76C79F9A38. Taipei Main Train Station is about at the intersection of Red10 and Blue12.

The MRT is a breeze, may be easier to just purchase an Easy Card. Each person needs his/her own; no sharing because you need to scan in and out each time you ride. The internet seemed to have a lot of outdated info. The card cost a non-refundable NT100, then you may load multiples of NT100 to it. (We loaded each card with NT400.) Any extra money on the card that you dont use can be refunded at any manned MRT station. We also used this Easy Card to pay for bus, entrance to the Taipei Zoo, as well as riding the Mao-kong gondola. (Some of us needed to add NT100 to the card toward the end of the trip.)

- Metered taxi were plentiful and fares were reasonable.

- The cost for contracting an 8-PAX van through our Taipei hotel was
        4-hour (minimum): NT 3800 (USD$126)
       Each additional/hr:   NT  850 (USD$ 28)
       Therefore 7-hr cost NT 6350. We booked vans the evening prior.

Lodging

A friend recommended this hotel below. Green World Hotel is a hotel chain with more than ten locations in Taipei. This one, "Station", is the one located near the Taipei Main Train Station (8-min walk). She said the interior of the hotel was relatively new, location was convenient, the included breakfast was good, and had a coin-operated laundry facility for guests' use. We booked three of their "Deluxe" type rooms using booking.com.

o Green World (Taipei) Station (洛碁驛大飯店, No 21, Section 1, Chongqing South Road, Taipei, Taiwan 100. (Here 100 is the postal code).
Address in Chinese: 台北市 中正區 重慶南路一段 21號
TEL: +886-2-2381-9199 (If calling within Taipei: 2381-9199. If calling within Taiwan but outside of Taipei: 02-2381-9199)
Hotel URL: http://station.greenworldhotels.com/en/green-world-station/ Direction from Taipei Main Train Station to the hotel:
Take Taipei Main Station Exit M5 to the street level, then walk 5 minutes.

Our review of the hotel:
This hotel is opposite the HQ of The First Commercial Bank, and a short walk to Heng-Yang Road (衡陽路), XiMenDing (西門町) and BaoQing Road (寶慶路). This was Mei-Ching's familiar ground during her college years. Vincent was born and raised in Taipei, so he is familiar with many more areas of Taipei than Mei-Ching is.

PRO: We were quite happy with the familiar and bustling neighborhood. The included breakfast was good, service staff was courteous, and many shops, restaurants, eateries near the hotel.

CON: (1) Taipei station is huge, taking a metro from this stop required a long walk underground to get to your metro platform. (2) The hotel did not have connecting rooms, nor QUAD rooms. After conferring with the hotel by phone, we booked a triple room with a King bed and a Twin bed (and paid an additional fee for the 4th person) to make do for Austin's family. Next time we'll need to find a hotel with two connecting rooms, or a QUAD room.

Flight

We all flew Japan Airline (JL) both ways. The 6 members departing from Boston searched airfare on Matrix https://matrix.itasoftware.com/, then purchased tickets directly from airline's website. P/A purchased their tickets from a travel website during the Black Friday sale.

Since JL and AA are partners, one may purchase JL tickets from either AA site or JL site. Beware of the class of tickets purchased. At the time of our purchase, AA sold JL's "N" class economy tickets that could not select seats beforehand, while JL sold their "S" class economy tickets that could select seats right away. "S" tickets were about USD$112 higher than the "N" tickets. If selecting seats right away for the long flight is important to you, call to confirm the seat-selecting capability of a ticket before clicking on the "Purchase" button.

Internet

Our hotel provided free WIFI. However, we could not use Taipei city's I-Love-Taipei free WIFI network due to difficulties encountered in activation.

On the 2nd day in Taipei, both Philip and MC purchased a local 14-day SIM card for NT500/each for our unlocked iPhones. The SIM came with enough data and some calling time. The downside was that our phones then had Taiwanese phone numbers, any text sent to our US phone numbers could not reach us. The work-around was to sent text to our email addresses instead. Or we should have brought an old iPhone and put the local SIM in that old iPhone to be used as a hot spot.

Laundry

The hotel had only one washer and one dryer. It cost 60 NTD for each use of washer or dryer. One needed to find an optimal time to do the laundry when the machines were free and you were also free.

Food

So many that the adults enjoyed, but for the grand children, it was the bubble tea (珍珠奶茶) that they loved the most.


Itinerary and highlights:

Day 1 - Arrival in Taipei  (2/14/2019, Thursday): Link to our photo

The day before we left home, Boston was experiencing a snow storm. Luckily, by Wednesday morning the snow stopped, and our JL flight leaving on 2/13 at 12:30pm was on time.

The flight from Boston to Narita Japan took 13hr 50min. After an 1hr 40min layover, we boarded JL flight 809 to Taipei, and this 2nd flight took 4hr 15min. Therefore, the total flying time was about 18 hours, plus 1hr 40min layover.

We touched down at TPE airport (桃園機場) at 9:15pm. The 6 of us took 2 taxis to our hotel. P/A flew from Haneda (羽田機場) to SongShan airport (松山機場). Since SongShan is in Taipei city, they arrived at our hotel ahead of the rest of us.

After some greeting and excitement, MC and VT decided to unpack and call it a day. But P/A and Austin/Elena and A&G went out to a noodle and dumpling chain shop called 溫州大餛飩 for a late night snack.

Day 2 - Taipei 101 etc (2/15/2019, Friday): Link to our photo

We took today as an "orientation" day. After breakfast, we strolled to the Presidential Office Building (MRT Red09, take EXIT 1), stopping along the way at several shops to take a look.

From the Presidential Palace, we walked to the Freedom Square (also known as Liberty Square (formerly Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall), MRT Red08). Did not know it was that far, otherwise we should have taken taxis instead. Everyone enjoyed the beautiful square with a flower park and the two oriental style halls.

From the MRT station by the Freedom Square we bought MRT EasyPasses for every one. We then took  MRT to Taipie 101 (台北101) 101-story-high, for a time it was the world's tallest building, but has since been surpassed by several other towers around the world and was ranked at No. 9 in 2019.

The first thing we did after arriving at Taipei 101 was to head to the famous soup dumpling restaurant called Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐) to put our name on the wait list for a table for 8. Luckily, on a Friday at 1:30pm, the hostess said our wait time would be about 30 minutes. We all went different ways to browse the food court on the bustling B1 level to pass the time. In about 20 minutes, our table was ready. Besides soup dumplings of various fillings, we all loved the cold appetizers of marinated baby cucumbers and eggplant, as well as fried rice with boneless pork chops.

After lunch we went up to the Observation deck on the 89th floor of the 101 tower. We all had our WOW moments. Back down to Taipei 101 food court, we enjoyed bubble tea, and this was the first of many bubble tea A&G would have during the trip.

Austin's family called it an early night, only P/A and us went out to dinner. Dinner was just around the corner at "Liu Shandong Beef Noodles" (劉山東 牛肉麵), a Michelin Bib Gourmand mentioned eatery as "good value" (NTD$150). It was a very humble place. The beef noodle was good, but there are many nicer eateries in Taipei serving good beef noodles too. (Google "Liu Shandong Beef Noodles" to see its pictures on Yelp.)

Day 3 - Tamsui and Xin-Beitou (2/16/2019, Saturday): Link to our photo

Today's plan was to visit Tamsui (淡水) and XinBeitou (新北投). We contracted a 9-person van for the day for the convenience. We also stopped by at the Taipei Grand Hotel(圓山大飯店) to see its classical Chinese architecture.

Tamsui (MRT Red20) was Taiwan's shipping and commerce center during the 19th century. There is a Fort Santo Domingo built by the Spaniards in 1628. The fort has since changed hands to the Dutch, the British, the Japanese and then the Chinese. Next to the fort is the former British Consulate which now houses a museum. Its an interesting place to learn a little bit about Taiwans history. The Tamsui old street (淡水老街), lined with shops and eateries, was a major attraction. Everyone bought something to eat along the street.

Vincent's material grandfather used to own a house with hot springs in XinBeitou where Vincent spent many weekends and school vacations when growing up. The reason we came to visit XinBeitou was to show A&G the neighborhood where they often heard Agong talked about with fond memories. (Agong is the Taiwanese pronunciation for Grandpa).

Beitou is a town. XinBeito, meaning New Beitou, is a hot spring resort. XinBeitou (新北投) can be reached by MRT by taking Red22 to Beitou, then transfer to the pink line for just one stop to XinBeitou, R22A.

In the evening, we walked from our hotel to Ximinding (西門町) intended to see the lantern festival, but there were about 200,000 people in there as well. Too congested to move, and Gabby was tired from walking. We went to a restaurant in ChungHwa Rd but the wait queue was long. We then walked back to the Three Coins Restaurant (大三元酒樓) on Hengyang Road, but were told that unless we had a reservation, they were all booked full for the evening. (Ah, this was a Saturday evening.) In the end, we retreated back to our hotel and bought pork & pepper buns from across the street for dinner. P/A continued strolling in town and found dinner somewhere.

Day 4 - Taipei Zoo, Maokong Gondola, & Jiu-Fen (2/17/2019, Sunday): Link to our photo

The weather was cloudy with occasional misty showers. This was the only rainy day we encountered while in Taipei.

We split up 3 ways today. Gabby wanted to see panda, so Austin's family and MC went to the Taipei Zoo, located in Muzha (木柵, MRT Brown01). Since Taipei Zoo is at the starting point of the Taipei Maokong Gondola (貓空纜車), so after the zoo we rode the gondola to the hilltop. At the last stop, Maokong station, there were tea plantations, restaurants and trails.

P/A wanted to go to Pingxi to see the Pingxi sky lantern festival (平溪天燈), as well as visiting the Jiufen Old Street (九份老街). Phil hired a uber to take the two of them from Taipei to Jiufen for NTD1200. But Jiufen was raining very hard. They bought an umbrella, walked the old street and found something to eat, then cut their trip short to uber back to Taipei.

VT decided to stay close to the hotel and stroll the neighborhood, reminiscing the old times and taking pictures. VT's former high school was not far from our hotel, and Chongqing South Road (重慶南路), the street where our hotel was, used to be a street of many book stores where he spent many after-school hours browsing books.

In the evening, our group of eight took 2 taxis to Yong Kang street (永康街) for dinner. Yong-Kang Beef Noodle was vetoed, because Phil said they had already had beef noodles twice by that point. So we walked a few doors down to Dongmen Dumpling House (東門餃子館) to enjoy a hearty dinner of many dishes.

Day 5 - Taroko Gorge (2/18/2019 Monday): Link to our photo

Back in January, we booked a 1-day English guided tours to Taroko National Park (太魯閣國家公園) with Edison Tours for this day.

The tour price included hotel pick-up/drop off, r/t train tickets between Taipei and Hualien, English guided tour in Taroko National Park, and a delicious lunch at the elegant Silks Palace Taroko Hotel (太魯閣晶英酒店). 

We had to get up before daybreak because a van from Edison Tours was to pick us up at 5:40am to take us to the train station. The train ride from Taipei to Hualien took between 2 to 3 hours. Our local guide, Sophia, was waiting for us at Hualien train station. There were about 18 people when all gathered together, and a 50-seater tour bus was ours for the day. Sophia had to introduce every highlight in both English and Japanese, because there were four Japanese tourists in the group. We returned to our Taipei hotel around 8:00pm. In all, this was a 14-hour tour door-to-door.

VT did not join in today's excursion to Taroko. He had been to Taroko with MC in a slower pace years ago, spending one night at the Silk Palace Taroko and one night at a hotel in Hualien city. Therefore, he chose to take today easy in Taipei. The younger generations all enjoyed today's outing. Getting up so early did not seem to hamper their spirit at all.

In the evening, the 6 younger generations went to 添好運 near Taipei train station for dinner. 添好運 (Tim Ho Wan Taipei) is the Taipei branch of a Hong Kong Michelin one-star dim sum restaurant. With none of them speaking Mandarin (well, may be Austin still remembered a little), they had a good time ordering from the waiter. Elena said it was fun.

Day 6 - Lung Shan Temple, 大三元酒樓 (2/19/2019, Tuesday): link to our photo

We took two taxis to Lung Shan Temple (龍山寺, MRT Blue10), a 300 years old historical and popular temple built in 1738. Even though the temple had declared policies to reduce incense-burning, some incense-burning were still taking place because the air was dense with incense fume. We also saw an excursion group from Princess Cruises visiting the temple. A Princess cruises' ship must be docking in Keelung harbor today.

We then taxied to Shin-Kong Mitsukoshi department store (新光三越百貨) in Shin-Yi district (信義區) (not far from Taipei 101) for lunch and then sampled several pineapple biscuit (鳯梨酥) from different vendors in the B1 level of the department store. Each family purchased several boxes of pineapple biscuit from the vendor they liked. SunnyHills pineapple cake (微熱山丘), the one that MC and VT are partial to, had an outlet on the 1st floor of Shin-Kong Mitsukoshi department store in Shin-Yi district.

Dinner was at the Three Coins restaurant (大三元酒樓), a Michelin 1-star in Taipei. Philip had done his homework and wanted to try a few Michelin-starred restaurants near our hotel. The roast duck (roasted from the white-feathered Cherry duck, 烤 櫻桃鴨), and sauted crab on vermicelli (蟹肉粉絲) were two of the outstanding dishes of the evening. This was P & A's last day in Taipei, they had already spent 4 days of their vacation in Tokyo before arriving in Taipei.

Day 7 - National Palace Museum etc (2/20/2019, Wednesday): Link to our photo

P/A left Taipei from ShongShan airport on Japan Airline. They would change flight in Haneda, Tokyo to the US.

Today's plan was to visit the National Palace Museum (故宮博物院). Only MC and Austin's family went. We took MRT to Shilin (士林, Red16), then connected with frequent bus (NT$15) to the museum, all paid by swiping our Easy Cards. At Shilin MRT station there were uniformed station employees helping visitors, pointing to which bus we should take to the Palace Museum.

The museum exhibits treasures from the Forbidden City in Beijing China, which the Nationalist moved to Taiwan in 1949. Some of the famous collections include a Jadeite Cabbage (翠玉白菜) and a meat-shaped stone.

However, when we were there, both the Jadeite Cabbage and meat-shaped stone were on loan to the museum's southern branch in Chiayi (嘉義), so we did not get to see those. We did see some other amazing jade and carved ivory.

There were many dining services available within the museum complex. Without studying the options ahead of time, we went to Silks Palace Restaurant (故宮晶華) because we liked the look of it - nice and relaxing atmosphere. We had beef noodles, roasted pork on rice, and some dim sum. The portions were small, but we were paying for where we ate. This beef noodle was less oily, and Elena liked the beef noodles best here.

We stopped by at Shilin Night Market (士林夜市) on the way home just for A/E to see what it was like, no intention to eat there. (NOTE: The MRT station closest to Shilin Night Market is R15 Jiantan 劍潭, not R16 Shilin.)

Dinner did not go as planned. MC saw a signage of Chang something near our hotel and thought it was the popular Beard Chang's Braised Pork Rice restaurant (鬍鬚張 魯肉飯), so she lead everyone there. But the place turned out to be an eatery with a Chang family name, not Beard Chang's. Also, Angelina did not want to eat in a "restaurant without doors", so it did not pass that criteria.

As we walked south on Chongqing South Road toward a Japanese restaurant, VT saw a pizza restaurant and said, "How about pizza?" The two grandkids were all for it, so we stepped in. Some of us ordered pizza, some ordered spaghetti. The pizzas tasted different from what we were used to in the US, might be due to the kind of cheese used. But it was an interesting adventure.

Day 8 - YangMingShan National Park etc (2/21/2019, Thursday): Link to our photo

We chartered a 9-person van for half a day to drive the six of us to YangMingShan National Park (陽明山, Shan means Mountain) and Shilin's former president Chiang's residence (士林官邸) to see its gardens and special flower exhibitions. The green forest, cherry blossoms, manicured gardens and blooming flower beds were all very pretty.

At the end of the outing, we wanted the van driver to drop us near GuangHua Jade Market for us to buy a bracelet to replace the one that Gabby accidentally lost on Tuesday. But before that, our driver took us to a street (濟南路二段) a few blocks south of the jade market where he said we should be able to find options for a quick lunch. We chose a beef noodle shop called "72 Beef Noodles" (72牛肉麵, 台北市濟南路二段71號) because they braised (燉) beef for 72 hours. The beef noodles were very good. Elena and the two grandkids were all very receptive to Taiwanese beef noodles.

We had a 6pm dinner reservation at an All-You-Can-Eat buffet at Shin-Yeh Japanese Restaurant on the 6th floor of No. 12 Guanqian Road.(欣葉日本料理 館前店). Shin-Yeh Japanese Restaurant has several locations in Taipei, the Guanqian Road branch is about 5-min walk from our hotel. With so many varieties of delicious food to choose from, everyone had a great time. Angelina was very pleased to be able to go to the beverage station to order watermelon juice and ice water in Mandarin all by herself.

Day 9 - Going Home (2/22/2019, Friday)

We liked the 9-person van from yesterday (with thick cushy seats and better shock absorbers), so we asked the van driver to drive the 6 of us to Taoyuan airport this morning. (NT$1800 one-way for a van).

We only had 1-hr at Narita airport to transfer to JL's dreamliner direct to Boston. The JL check-in agent at Taoyuan airport noticed our tight transfer, so she put an orange-colored tag on each of our luggage to indicate an expedite handling of these bags. It all worked out, we made the transfer in Narita and our bags made it too.

We arrived Logan airport Friday evening at 5:30pm. It was cold and flurry outside the terminal, but our minds were still filled with the warmth from Taipei's weather and fun activities from the past days. The grandkids enjoyed the trip very much and would like to visit Taiwan again.

~~ Addendum ~~

A few places we did not get to go, but we'd like to list them here for consideration in the future: