If you are just starting to travel around SE Asia I feel like Taiwan is quite possibly the best place to begin. Why? 1.) Lots of people speak English, so getting around isn’t too terribly difficult, 2.) The public transport system is super easy to navigate, 3.) Uber is available (generally less expensive than taxis in SE Asia) making getting picked up when its raining (Taipei and rain seem to go hand-in-hand) easy. When reading through our destinations pages you’ll begin to notice a trend – we like to get outside the city and explore. Although we didn’t have as many days to spend in Taiwan compared to some of the other places we have adventured; we did make sure that we got a bit outside the Taipei city limits and would recommend you do the same for a more well-rounded experience. Hopping on the train bound for the city of Hualien to check out Taroko National Park, in particular would be a great way to incorporate this without complicating your trip too terribly. It’s an absolutely breathtaking place to be.

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[ D A Y  • 1 ] Tokyo → Taipei: Shilin Night Market, Cixian Temple

Up, up, & away we go! Nǐhǎo from Taipei, Taiwan! It’s an interesting city on a beautiful green island which seems to perfectly blend Chinese & Southeast Asian culture.  We hopped on board our first international flight leaving from Tokyo to explore this metropolis for a few days before branching out to explore other parts of the island as well. Upon arriving @Taipei International Airport we took an Uber to our Airbnb in Da’an and dropped off our luggage.

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Too excited to stay in, we turned right back around and Ubered to Shilin Night Market to fish for our shrimp dinner (Miles absolutely loved it), grab a Taiwan beer, and indulge in some of the best street food we have ever tasted. Cixian Temple is also right there and it was totally different than the temples we have become accustom to in Japan – So. Much. Color! After cruising the market and filling up on #allthestreetfood we made our way back to Da’an to turn in. Great first impressions of Taipei!

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Shilin Night Market:

  • Hours: 1530 – 0100
  • Admission: Free
  • Location

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Cixian Temple:

  • Hours: 0600 – 2200
  • Admission: Free
  • Location

[ D A Y  • 2 ] Taipei: Lungsuhan Temple, Bopiliao St., Quingshan Temple, Ximen, Chiang Kai Shek, Da’an Forest Park

We woke to rain. Lots. Of. Rain. Ugh! The forecast for a trip looked less than stellar when we boarded the airplane in Tokyo and the forecasters were proving that they had (unfortunately) nailed it. Oh well, a bit of rain never hurt anyone, so here we go – day 2! We ventured over to Lungshan & Quingshan Temples to start the day. Lungshan Temple is the most well-known temple in Taiwan, while Quingshan Temple is much smaller and quieter.

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In between the two temples, we meandered through historical Bopiliao St. to see some photography exhibits (yasssss!!).  After taking in Quingshan Temple we ducked around the corner and headed for Huaxi Street Market which is mostly street food vendors. If there is one thing we have learned as we bounce around exploring is hungry kids make poor travel companions. Having snacks on-hand and picking up food throughout the day is key for us and helps avoid meltdowns in our experience.

So pork buns for the win here! It was still raining when we headed to Ximending, the first pedestrian only zone in the city to explore and grab a cup of coffee. This is also where our umbrella was stolen. Lesson learned: Keep your guard a bit higher (in Japan we rarely lock our bikes due to the low rates of theft). So this was an excellent reminder and we have become a lot more vigilant moving onwards. As a side note, the umbrella company from which our umbrella was from had AWESOME customer service and replaced it free of charge, y’all! It’s companies like this that I stand behind 100%. Incredibly high quality product + excellent customer service to boot – check out the travel umbrella, here if you think you might be headed to Taipei – chances are you’ll need one. After our umbrella fiascoe we walked in the rain to see the changing of the guard @ the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial (why not just totally embrace the weather?)

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Naturally our newly minted 4-year-old found #allthepuddles on the way. We were SOAKED. Miles (of course) was less than impressed by the ritual (which happens @the top of the hour between the hours of 0900 and 1700). We started to head back to our Airbnb and stopped in Da’an Forest Park for what?….well, puddle jumping! Soooooo much rain these first two days, but when you’re in a city, so very different than the one you currently live in, it’s impossible to stay inside! Here’s to hoping for sunshine in the coming days (fingers crossed!).

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Lungshan Temple:

  • Hours: 0600 – 2200
  • Admission: Free
  • Location

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Quingshan Temple:

  • Hours: 0600 – 2200
  • Admission: Free
  • Location

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Bopiliao St: Initially built/developed in 1644, this beautiful street has obviously seen a lot of change through history. It has been made it a historical site and the Taiwan government has worked to repair buildings, keeping true to the look/feel of the street from 200 years ago. Today, it’s a beautiful place to celebrate the art + history of Taiwan. When we visited, there were several photography exhibits that were pretty interesting.

  • Hours: Closed on Mondays, 0900 – 2100
  • Admission: Free
  • Location

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Huaxi Street Market: While this place really comes alive at night, that’s not always the easiest with kids. Most of the shops have been there for years and have risen to be prominent/important in Taipei culture. In particular, the market is famous for its snake soup, a dish you can apparently only get here. As we came early in the day, those shops were closed – but this time that was okay with us!

  • Hours: 1600 – 2400
  • Admission: Free
  • Location

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Ximending: This Youth shopping district is one of the more popular tourist places in Taipei and reminded us a little bit of Harajuku in Tokyo.

  • Hours: 24 hours, Most stores open ~0800
  • Admission: Free
  • Location

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Chiang Kai Shek Memorial:

  • Hours: Everyday, 0900 – 1800
  • Admission: Free
  • Location

Chiang Kai Shek Changing of the Guard Tip: Get there a bit before the top of the hour (maybe ~15min before) to secure a good spot. The ceremony takes place nine times a day between the hours of 0900 and 1700.

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Da’an Forest Park:

  • Hours: Open 24 hours
  • Admission: Free
  • Parking: We walked although there is underground parking available
  • Location

[ D A Y • 3 ] Taipei: Taipei 101, Taipei Zoo, Maokong

SUN! SUN! SUNSHINE!!!!!! Why yes, we did a family happy dance in the Airbnb before heading out for the day. Taipei 101 was first on the agenda and totally walkable from where we were staying in Da’an. We grabbed breakfast and coffee along the walk and ate as we went. We had a lot to see this day and wanted to take advantage of the good weather. A very quick 37 second ride to the 89th floor of Taipei 101 (the tallest building in the world from 2004 – 2011) was a really neat way to see how big Taipei is and it was also fun to see some of the places we had visited the first two days with a bird’s eye view.

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After taking in the views we headed to Taipei Zoo, the largest zoo in Asia, to visit with some adorable giant pandas. I loved meandering through the grounds here. So green. So lush. And the zoo was SO empty. Our kids absolutely loved this day so much!! From all of the animals to the big expanses to run to the ice cream – as Miles would say, “It was ALL GOOD!”

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We had originally planned on taking the gondola from inside the zoo to Maokong to have dinner at a tea house, but at the last minute we had to rearrange our days because of all the rain. This meant that Taipei Zoo and had to land on Monday and unfortunately that is the only day the gondola is closed (bummer!!). As such, we ended up getting an Uber to take us up to the Maokong area so we could have dinner. Thank you, Mister Sun for making an appearance (finally) on our trip! Ending the day with a sunset in Maokong @ Yao-Yue Teahouse (“inviting the moon”) to experience the taste of “high mountain tea” (and for the record, it’s ridiculously good).

Taipei 101:

  • Hours: Everyday, 0900 – 2200 (last admission is at 2115)
  • Admission: You can definitely purchase tickets through the official website as well as in person, however, purchasing them through Klook’s website will save a good bit. We were $16.75usd/adult and the kids were free (kids qualify for free admission if they are under the height of 115cm and (not surprisingly) children must be accompanied by one paying adult).

Taipei 101 Tip: If you don’t want to spend $16.75/adult to go up to the 89th floor you can snag a reservation at the “Highest Starbucks in the World” on the 35th floor inside Taipei 101 for a great view as well. You’ll need to make a reservation (the number to call is +886 2 8101 0701) for this and yes, there is a spending minimum you’ll need to meet (NT$200, $6.50usd/per customer). Maximum amount of time here is 90min per reservation. We did try to call and make a reservation, however most of the baristas speak Mandarin and there was a language barrier. We tried to have the guide we had scheduled for Toroko Gorge call, but the reservations were all booked up by the time we reached out.

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Taipei Zoo:

  • Hours: 0900 – 1700 (animal exhibits close @1630)
  • Admission: 60$NT/Adults (~$2usd), 30$NT/children (~$1usd)

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Taipei Zoo Tip: This zoo is big and a stroller was certainly nice to have, however, if you’re on the fence about whether or not to bring yours to Taiwan or not I would probably leave it. Taipei (in our opinion) was pretty stroller friendly, however, we didn’t need it for most of the excursions we did. If you want one (we sure did) for the zoo renting is the way to go. The stroller rental for the day was $1.66usd + $33usd deposit. The deposit is 100% refundable when you return the stroller. Less than $2 to rent a stroller for the day and not have to lug it around for the entire trip?! Totally worth it. **Make sure to save the receipt from the stroller rental, as you will need it to get your deposit back (simply giving the stroller itself back wasn’t enough…go figure).**

Maokong

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Yao-Yue Tea House: We have never been big tea drinkers, but this place was amazing. They will walk you through the process (ritual?) of making tea properly and even if you decide the tea isn’t for you, I promise you that the view will be. Tables are outside perched on the side of a huge ravine with sweeping views of Maokong. I couldn’t imagine a better place to watch the sun set over Taipei.

Yao-Yue Te House Tip: The Tea House is located across the street from the bus stop. When you’re all done and ready to head back you can use these buses to get back to the MRT stations – Bus Route BR15 Terminal for Taipei Zoo MRT or Bus Route S10 via Wanfang Community MRT Station. The bus will drive right on by, so make sure to wave so they know you are wanting to hop on board! We hopped on board the bus bound for Wanfang Community MRT Station and from there we Ubered back to Da’an to turn in for the night.

[ D A Y • 4 ] Taipei → Taroko National Park → Taipei

There is no denying that 0500 wakeups with littles are painful, but on occasion they are worth it. We left the busy urban streets behind for the day and trained down to the city of Hualien (~3hour ride) to hike some of Taroko National Park (1 of Taiwan’s 9 National Parks) + experience “The Marble Gorge.”

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The views, the fresh air, the abundance of waterfalls following the heavy rain from the previous days made for one of the most beautiful places I have ever been (hands down our favorite part of the trip). Although we tried to capture all the scale of the views; you truly have to be there to feel the magic. We departed Hualien @1935 after having dinner @Bafang Dumpling (~10min walk from Hualien Station) to head back to Taipei. Although we did this park as a day trip it can most definitely be made into an overnight trip (there’s a whole lot to see!) as well.

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Taroko National Park:

  • Info: https://www.taroko.gov.tw/en
  • Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
  • Admission: Free – although we recommend you get a guide/driver. It made it much easier to get from train station through Hualien to the National Park. Our guide even showed us a few “hidden” spots that helped make the trip special.

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Purchasing Train Tickets from Taipei → Hualien Tips: The Taiwan Railway website is somewhat confusing, but after spending a few minutes tinkering around it actually becomes fairly simple (so don’t get frustrated and give up). It’s easy to buy/reserve tickets online, and we had no issues buying tickets ahead of time, paying with credit card, and showing up at the station to hop on the train. Use this website to purchase your tickets ahead of time: https://www.railway.gov.tw/en/index.aspx

[ D A Y • 5 ] Taipei: Yehliu Geopark, Jiufen, Shifen

More rain. We slept in a bit since our previous day had been a bit long and left for Yelieu Geopark @0900 to hang out with some pretty rad rocks. From the Geopark we headed to Shifen to stroll down the old streets of the former mining town and visit the falls. You can take part in a lantern release here as well if you choose. As much as our family really wanted to take part in this I felt like maybe it wasn’t the most environmentally friendly decision to do so as I kept thinking – Where do these lanterns eventually land? Who cleans them up? The mental picture of waste littering the countryside made me sad.

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Overall, this stop wasn’t nearly as picturesque as I had pictured initially in my mind (most likely because of the weather), however the weather did clear up a bit once we arrived at our last stop of the day,  Jiufen and this last minute parting of the clouds afforded us some great views from the mountain town.

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Thankful we didn’t strike out the entire day weather wise! If you are running short on time for your visit to Taiwan and only have space in your trip for one of these places I feel like Jiufen was the best. Neat little alleys filled with lots of shops + foods to try and if you’re there on a clear day you get a spectacular view from the mountain top!

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Yelieu Geopark:

  • Hours: 0800 – 1700
  • Admission: 80$NT/Adults (~$2.62usd), 40$NT/Children 6-12 (~$1.31usd), Free for children under 6

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Shifen: Small coal town which grew under Japanese rule, but recently is known more for its lantern festival which occurs annually in late February/early March.

  • Hours: No specific hours
  • Admission: Free, but making a lantern to release costs ~100-150$NT/each (~$3 – 5usd).

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Jiufen:

  • Hours: No specific hours

[ D A Y • 6 ] Taipei → Tokyo

We left for the airport @0415 to make our direct morning flight via Scoot Airlines from Taipei to Tokyo. Penny can be a firecracker and very unpredictable when it comes to flights, but lucky for me just a little into the flight home she captured the attention of this Singapore based flight crew. This team really made traveling with two extremely tired littles so much easier (+ fun!) and this momma is so thankful! See you, Taiwan, and thank you for the amazing time!!

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