- My parents moved back to Taiwan in September, so it made sense to finally take a trip back to Taiwan. I hadn’t been since…well, a different lifetime ago. We decided to tack on Hong Kong as well since Chi-Chi had never been.
Day 1 – Hello Taipei
We landed in Taiwan pretty early in the morning. Taiwan was pushing a tourism promotion when you land at the airport where you could win prizes such as cash and metro cards. I want to make it known that I won absolutely NOTHING. Note to Taiwan, tourism promotions are more effective if EVERYONE wins something. Just saying.
We dropped our luggage off at our hotel, the Solaria Nishitetsu in Ximending, then immediately headed off to look for breakfast. The area was just starting to wake up, so we started with amazing scallion pancakes from a street vendor. We got additional Taiwanese breakfast items from Yong He Soy Milk, where I also managed to knock over their shrine cups while paying for our things. I swear the gods punished me multiple times later on during the trip. I scurried away and was afraid to go back to the spot the rest of the trip…sad face.
⇲ Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial
The morning was still early, so we walked over to the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial and the exhibits in the base. Something worth noting is that Taiwan seems to have really upped their souvenir game. The CKS Memorial was the first place we spotted some genuinely nice trinkets, but it wouldn’t be the last.
We walked back to Ximending to continue our snacking, getting fried chicken from Hot Star, drinks from Dian Dian, rice noodles from Ay-Chung, and tea from Gong Cha before we finally checked into our hotel. We rested a bit in our room until the evening when we headed out for our first dinner in Taiwan at Master Jim Beef Noodle in Da’an. We rounded out the night with some pretty great drinks at East End.
⇲ East End Bar, Proverb Hotel
Day 2 – Sun Moon Lake
We woke up the next morning ready to catch a train to Sun Moon Lake. Well, technically a train to Taichung, then a shuttle bus to Sun Moon Lake. Before that though we first had breakfast at the hotel. I’d been talking up Taiwan’s breakfast game to Chi-Chi…in particular hotel breakfasts. And I was hoping Solaria’s wouldn’t disappoint. Thankfully it didn’t, as they had a wide range of Taiwan staples alongside additional Japanese offerings as it was a Japanese brand. We also made it a point to grab a Taiwanese bento for our train ride from the Taipei Main Station, though Chi-Chi’s options were more limited (she’s not fond of bones in her food).
The morning skies were a bit gray and overcast, and we were hoping it would clear up. But unfortunately the entirety of the bus ride to the Fleur de Chine, not only did it stay overcast, but it also started raining. Damn you weather. Thankfully though the resort was so damn amazing that we were fine just roaming the premises. We did however Uber over to Wen Wu Temple, which was the least we could see if we couldn’t actually see the rest of the area. While the temple only seems to get bigger each time I visit, the first punishment for breaking the shrine cups the day before struck when I slipped down a wet set of stairs and busted my elbow and ass. Damn you gods.
⇲ Fleur de Chine, Sun Moon Lake
Side note, Uber is available in Taiwan. So for those that are from areas like New York City, the rides are incredibly cheap. Like stupidly affordable (comparatively). Additionally, if your Mandarin is as bad as mine, it also makes the destination and payment considerably easier. Win.
We headed back to the resort after sundown in time for our teppanyaki dinner. Though as we passed through the food hall, the buffet honestly would’ve just been as fine. Everything looked and smelled amazing. Our teppanyaki was likewise great, though they did overfeed us. And there was one particular kid screaming just outside the room.
We relaxed back at our room and enjoyed our massive soaking tub that faced out towards the lake. It was similar to our room on Lake Biwa in Japan, though it wasn’t open air.
Day 3 – Back to Taipei
We woke up early the next morning to more overcast sky! Seriously, the weather just wasn’t going to cooperate with us on this trip. We went to check out the breakfast spread to judge their worthiness, and it definitely didn’t disappoint. Considerably more options than Solaria (not surprising given the size and price) with the added bonus of ala carte chefs ready to make whatever you wanted. Damn it was delicious.
We packed our things up, then chilled out with coffee in the lobby bar while we waited for our shuttle back to Taichung. We took the high speed back to Taipei where we re-checked into the same hotel (the Solaria) before heading out in the evening to the Shilin Night Market. We didn’t get to try as much as we’d have liked before we got tired and headed back to our hotel to rest.
⇲ Shilin Night Market
Day 4 – Off to Guangfu
We caught a morning train to my mother’s hometown of Guangfu to meet up with my parents. They had booked their own ticket at some ungodly hour, and I opted for a more reasonable 10am train. We had booked a room at the Sugar Factory Hotel, converted company housing for the Hualien Sugar Company that my grandfather used to work for. We were in fact staying in a Japanese-style house that my mother actually grew up in when she was young, though not the exact house. That house was however still intact, and we actually walked past it after we met up with my parents.
We met up at the Sugar Factory Ice Cream Shop, which I’d been going to since I was a kid. It’s since expanded to include souvenir shops, restaurants, and the aforementioned hotel. We toured the area, fed the koi fish, and even tried the odd ice cream burrito we’d seen in YouTube videos (tbh it’s not bad as it looks). We walked over to my grandmother’s house, which felt smaller than I remembered as a kid. My fourth aunt joined us to chat with my grandmother before we took a car ride over to their house where they were preparing a massive banquet for friends and family, including some that were coming from Taipei and Kaohsiung. The food was prepared by my aunt and her husband and was amazing. After getting stuffed stupid and chatting with my family, we retired back to our hotel for the night.
Day 5 – Back to Taipei…again
The next morning we checked out the hotel cantina for their breakfast spread. There were some dishes that we hadn’t had yet, such as wild grain congee and amazing freshly made soy milk. Everyone should take a trip to Asia just so they know what real soy milk tastes like. It’s not even comparable here in the US.
After we checked out, we walked back to my grandmother’s to chat one last time before our train back to Taipei. Once we were back in Taipei, we got a tour of my parents’ new apartment in New Taipei City, then headed back into Taipei proper to check into our new hotel, the Citizen M. After resting a bit, we headed to Da’an to do a bit of shopping at the Sogo along Zhongxiao Fuxing Road. This particular Sogo held alot of nostalgia for me as it was the first Sogo in Taiwan and the one that I frequented growing up. Not to mention the center of our shopping and random drink outings in the area during Love Boat. They even used to have an amusement park on the roof, though those went out of style long ago.
⇲ Nagi Ramen
Day 6 – Christmas Eve and Taipei 101
By this time we had gotten used to a morning routine of coffee hunting, then waiting for shops and sites to start opening. We grabbed coffee from the Coffee Club around the corner from our hotel, then continued onto Tianhou Temple, the Bopiliai historic area, then finally the oldest temple in Taipei, Longshan Temple. There was definitely a snack or two along the way as well.
We started making our way to New Taipei City to meet up for lunch with my dad’s side of the family. The aunts, uncles, and cousins on my dad’s side are always a blast to hang with. Incredibly chill, and love taking group photos. The food was typically Taiwan weird, but that never surprises me.
⇲ Taipei 101
Everyone headed to my parents place after lunch to chat more and do a bit of karaoke. It was the first time they’d been, so it was also a bit of a housewarming tour. Chi-Chi and I headed to the Xinyi district afterwards to make our way up the Taipei 101. Though the weather was still donkey shit, it didn’t matter as much at night. The whole area was incredibly mobbed though as…holy shit, it was already Christmas Eve! Everyone was getting their Instagram on throughout the mall and up on the observation deck. Like the CKS Memorial, the souvenirs in 101 gift shop were pretty top notch. Both of us ended buying handfuls of random tchotchkes.
We had a bit of a hard time finding a place to eat that didn’t have an hour wait (Din Tai Fung was a 150 minute wait) so we landed on Chips for burgers and fries. It wasn’t half bad to be honest. Chi-Chi dragged me to a cat cafe afterwards, where we got to watch cats battle it out in turf wars surrounded by pictures of boy bands. Very surreal.
⇲ Chips, Xinyi
Day 7 – Xinyi, Shilin, and Christmas
We got up bright and early the next morning for our coffee routine. Except the shop we were going to try (next door to the one we went to the day prior) was gone! For real it was full of people literally the morning before…what the heck? Ah well, Coffee Club again then.
EDIT: It looks like the coffee shop was undergoing renovations? Ah well, bad timing…
After we had our coffee in hand, we had a quick breakfast at a local breakfast spot, then called an Uber to the National Palace Museum. Everything was going swimmingly until we got there and discovered that it wasn’t open on Mondays. Motherfucking Uber driver could’ve at least given us a heads up. Whatever, we weren’t too far from my favorite pineapple cake spot, so we cabbed it over to Sunny Hills in Songshan. They are hands down my favorite pineapple cake, and we loaded up on a number of boxes for friends and family.
Having jammed all the gift boxes into our bags, we hopped on a bus towards Xinyi (aka the Taipei 101 area). With lunch around the corner, we tried Din Tai Fung again and this time only had to wait 30 minutes for a seat…yay! We ordered the OG soup dumplings, which were amazing, along with truffle soup dumplings, because bougie. To be honest, they weren’t as good as I’d have liked. I mean if they’re not as good as the original soup dumplings then there’s not much reason to order them. I also mistakenly ordered a single one the first go around, so it was particularly funny when they arrived with a basket and opened to reveal a single sad dumpling inside. Well whatever, another item checked off. We continued shopping around the area, took an afternoon break at Cafe Trico, then found a sweater for Chi-Chi.
⇲ Din Tai Fung
We started making our way back to Shilin as we were meeting my mom’s side of the family for dinner at Tainan Seafood. Alot of my mom’s side were able to make it, though only a few cousins were able to. After our massive feast, the young’ins headed out to Shilin Night Market so Chi-Chi could try some of our checklist items that we didn’t get to earlier in the trip. Classics like stinky tofu, taro balls, and sausage in sausage (lol). My cousins went easy on her though and ordered the lightest, least nasty stinky tofu.
Day 7 – Last Day in Taiwan and the Grand Taipei
For our last day in Taiwan, we switched up our hotel to something I’d been meaning to try for a long time; the Grand Hotel Taipei. It’s easily the most recognizable hotel in the city, and I don’t think there are any comparable hotels in Taiwan or the world. We grabbed breakfast nearby at Comida, then checked out early so we could drop off our luggage at the hotel and head out. We headed to Beitou, another neighborhood that was part of my childhood. It’s considered the hot spring district, and my relatives have lived in the area for decades. We walked the hot spring area, then explored the Beitou Hot Springs Museum, a relic of the Japanese colonial era (they introduced hot spring culture to Taiwan). Before we left, we also dropped by my third aunt’s little coffee shop to say hi. If you’re ever in the area, drop by for a spot of coffee.
⇲ Beitou Hot Springs Museum
We continued onto the Zhongshan area for lunch at Kurogeya with my college friends Milton and Dave. We then headed to the National Palace Museum…again. It was open this time I swear. I was eager to show Chi-Chi the myriad of treasures in the collection, but the big two (the pork belly jade and jadeite cabbage) were loaned off to the southern branch. One final divine punishment…damn you gods! We had to make do with tiny souvenirs of said sculptures, along with plenty of other random souvenirs. For real, Taiwan really stepped up their souvenir game.
We headed back to the Grand Hotel to relax, enjoy the views out to the city from our room terrace, then had dinner at the massive hotel restaurant buffet. Waaay too many options, holy shit. The hotel grounds too were seriously massive (we hunted down a Family Mart that were purportedly on the premises).
⇲ Grand Hotel Taipei
Day 8 – Hong Kong!
Our last morning in Taiwan meant one last Taiwanese breakfast, and there was no better place to take it than at the Grand Hotel. It was as extensive if not more than what they had at the Fleur de Chine, which is saying something.
We headed off to Taoyuan Airport for our afternoon flight and landed in Hong Kong early evening. After checking into the Burlington Hotel in Wan Chai and exploring our shoebox-sized room, we headed out to my friend Liz’s office nearby. My other friend Carol joined in soon after, and we headed to dinner at Zhejiang Heen. My friends couldn’t have known this at the time they booked it, but this was the restaurant where I proposed to my ex-wife. I may or may not have had a whole mess of memories overwhelm me, but that’s not really for this post. The food was by far the best food we had during this Hong Kong trip.
After dinner we headed to a nearby bar called Kuromaru. The bar was super chill, and we had it pretty much all to ourselves. The drinks did take more or less an hour to arrive, more than enough time for my friend Jen to finally join us after getting back from her trip. We drank, cheered, then made additional plans to meet up again Friday night.
Day 9 – Roaming Hong Kong
While not quite the same breakfast options as Taiwan, I figured we had to hit up a cha chaan teng to get a taste of Hong Kong. So we strolled the area a bit before settling on Red City Cafe. This was Chi-Chi’s first time having a typical cha chaan teng breakfast, and probably the last. It’s not that it’s bad or anything, it’s just um…not for us. But hey, when in Rome right? The lemon tea was great though.
⇲ Victoria Peak, Hong Kong
Since it was still early in the morning, we strolled a bit through Admiralty on our way to the Peak Tram. Google Maps actually took us up and over Hong Kong Park which was a bit of a sweaty hike. There wasn’t much of a line yet, so we were able to take the tram up without much fuss. The Peak wasn’t overly crowded, so we were able to enjoy the amazing views out to Hong Kong. The weather had cleared up the last few days we were in Taiwan, which carried over to Hong Kong.
We came back down from the Peak and decided to head out to the Big Buddha on Lantau Island and made it as far as Tung Chung before realizing the wait for the Ngong Ping Cable Car was ridiculously long. We made the call to reserve tickets for the next morning instead and headed back to Hong Kong Island to the IFC to do a bit of window shopping and grabbing a quick lunch at Can Lah (it was ok).
By this time it was still only the mid-afternoon, so we took a taxi back to Admiralty to have afternoon tea at the Upper House. The Grey Room had since become Salisterra, but for all intents and purposes was the same place. Chi-Chi was unfortunately unimpressed by the afternoon tea set, but I thought the drinks were good nonetheless.
Jesus, did we really do all this in one day? Hmm, the photos say so. We took a taxi over to the Star Ferry port to catch a ride over to Kowloon. We found a nice viewing spot and watched the sunset over Hong Kong Island while waiting for the Symphony of Lights. I think Chi-Chi was expecting something a bit more elaborate, but it was fun to watch regardless.
⇲ Tsim Sha Tsui
We continued exploring Tsim Sha Tsui after the light show and noticed that we were next to where we had planned to meet with my friends again the next day, the K11 Musea mall. I don’t know anything in the States that comes even close to how nice the K11 was. We wandered their shops and spaces and eventually came across a small wonton noodle shop tucked in a corner for dinner. Super delicious.
I’m going to safely say that we retired to our hotel after dinner. Seems like we did plenty in one day, right?
Day 10 – Last day in Hong Kong
Aw, our trip’s winding down…sad face. The first thing on our morning agenda was to make our way back to Lantau Island. No problems hopping on the Ngong Ping 360 this time! The 20+ minute ride to Ngong Ping will always be amazing. We explored the souvenir shops leading up to Po Lin, climbed the steps to the Big Buddha, then gazed up at its big butt. After taking a numerous photos of the gorgeous views, we headed back down and got some local tofu pudding before riding the cable car back.
⇲ Ngong Ping 360
Once we were back on Hong Kong Island, we hopped on the glorious ding ding towards Causeway Bay. I may have been running low on particular clothing essentials, so headed to Uniqlo for some quick shopping. We then roamed the area a bit, picking up pineapple buns from Lucky Star (the woman manning the window rudely thru change back at Chi-Chi though), then continuing on to Hysan Place where I was reminded just how awful their circulation paths are. Seriously, it’s absolute shit. But they had a 3-story Eslite, so we headed there to peruse their wares because I forgot to take Chi-Chi to their flagship store in Taipei.
We had a quick lunch at an okonomiyaki shop in Hysan’s, but we both ordered prepared dishes once we discovered that we had to make our own okonomiyakis. Nope to that, too tired. After our late lunch, we headed back to our hotel to relax a bit before the evening.
We headed back out to Kowloon in the evening to meet up with my friends again for drinks at a private club. I didn’t get the name and didn’t take any photos because they weren’t allowed, but we did get nice leather pouches to stash our phones in! The drinks were good though, and the space thoroughly fancy (my friend Liz helped design it). We had an awesome dinner at Deng G Sichuan afterwards, then wrapped up our last night in Hong Kong.
We had one last breakfast the next morning at APT., checked in our luggage at Hong Kong Station, then did some last minute shopping before catching the train to the airport. Buh-bye Hong Kong, buh-bye Asia.
⇲ APT Coffee, Wan Chai