A couple weeks ago I found myself on a plane to Taiwan with one of my closest friends, Angela of lushangel.com. As a first-timer in the country, I felt like I had an advantage being with someone who has actually been a few times to ensure a holistic experience. I don’t usually pre-determine my own itineraries until the day of the trip so I usually miss out on big must-sees. Little did I know, we would both get a completely new experience of the country thanks to KKDay Philippines. True to its promise of being a travel platform that connects travelers with authentic local tours and activities, KKDay made sure we both saw a different side of Taiwan.
To be honest I was really looking forward to this trip. All I knew about Taiwan was that all my friends who go take pictures of the most diverse and sometimes most obscure street food. And trips where I get to eat are my favorite. Food has always been a priority when I travel. So I was really looking forward to this.
While the chunk of the itinerary was care of KKday—a quick browse through the website reveals countless options for activities, tours, and different modes of transport—the misadventures were all ours. For instance, (1) the brilliant idea to have dinner at Din Tai Fung even if it’s already where we usually eat in Megamall. We literally ordered the exact same things we order anyway; (2) A creepy Asian guy kept knocking on our door at disturbing hours of the morning asking for ice and while Angela was ready to fight combat-style, I, on the other hand, had to mentally scour the room for a weapon—the only one being my hair iron; (3) Roughing it out with our commute even if nothing is in English and riding a local bus because we were running very low on cash and then choosing to walk an obscene number of blocks to Chiang Kai Shek memorial because, again, #cash; (4) Having to look for hotpot restaurants and wanting nothing else but; (5) Finally convincing Angela to go on a night out but leaving before 12 midnight a la Cinderella cause we were exhausted and tapped out.
Day 1: Taipei
We got to Taipei at around 3AM and started out strong the following morning. 9AM sharp and we found ourselves in a baking class. I’ve always wanted to go on trips where I could take cooking classes to learn how to make the country’s delicacies and recreate them back home. I do have to lay it out though that I am not a fan of pineapples. So imagine my apprehension entering an activity that involved baking a pineapple cake. I do love baking though and have always enjoyed baking growing up so I gave it my best. After a few minutes of kneading dough and mixing flour, we were able to create and taste our own creations. Not only was the experience fun and nostalgic, I have to admit the tarts I made were pretty good, if I may say so myself.
Find out more about the Kuo Yuan Ye Pineapple Cake Making Experience here which includes high tea with pastries, a tour of the pastry museum and shop, and a chance to try on traditional costumes for just Php591.
We headed to Jiufen right after which is about an hour away from the city by car. This is a more popular destination for tourists and those who visit Taiwan almost always include this in their itineraries. Jiufen is a busy street. Trying to take an outfit shot without photo bombers is near impossible. Jiufen is uphill with lots of stairs but you don’t necessarily feel that it’s a hike precisely because of stall after stall of food offerings. It’s ridiculous. Most of the time, I had no idea what they were even selling. There were milk tea options, grilled food, peanut ice cream which we tried, some sort of fish ball or squid ball that had flavour options like curry, and there were options I probably wouldn’t dare try, but either way the whole way up was pretty mesmerising and distracting. We took a while just trying to figure out what to buy. We headed to Jiufen Tea House to experience traditional high tea and it was a great respite from the chaos of the streets of Jiufen. The view was pretty cool too overlooking the water. Then the most magical thing happened. Angela introduced me to hotpot. And for that I will be forever grateful. (K, so technically she didn’t introduce me I had it once in my life but damn this girl really sold the dish and now I am an addict and it’s all I can think about.)
Find out more about the Jiufen Teahouse experience here for Php 606.
We got back in the evening and, just had to try “authentic” Din Tai Fung. To be honest, I couldn’t really tell if there was a huge difference between the Taipei branch and Manila’s but it was great nonetheless. Even if we had to wait an hour for it. We then headed to Ningxia Night Market which was right by our hotel. I was pretty surprised with this night market. My general idea of night markets has a decent balance of apparel, novelty items, and food. This particular night market was a long strip of stall after stall of street food. If you want to experience the street food scene, I would definitely recommend going to night markets. Obviously they’re cheaper than restaurant options and it’s always more fun to eat things on a stick. Go crazy.
Day 2: Taichung, Taiwan
The second day was even more interesting than the first. It was a lot more cultural than I thought it would be and that made all the difference. We headed to Taichung which is an hour away via the high-speed rail which means it’s far. The call time was at 6:30 AM and, of course, Angela and I woke up at 6:40. I don’t know how we pulled off that Amazing Race-like sprint to the train station and how we weren’t left behind despite literally running in the train station just to make it.
Post the anxiety, we headed to the Wufeng Lin Family mansion and garden complete with a tour guide. The story of the family is pretty epic. They moved from Mainland China and climbed up the ranks of military in Taiwan despite initially being a private arm. The place was hit by a terrible earthquake years ago and parts of the buildings were completely ruined. They have been rehabilitating the place since. The artwork, like the paintings of the doors, date back to the Qing dynasty and cost millions of dollars to reinstate. The whole place is beautiful and picturesque and we took our time with photos. What I personally love about it is the fact that this historical place is also trying to tap the younger markets and be more current (they plan on installing mystery game rooms and the tour guide, bless him, was so adorable. He was showing us a music video of this girl group who used the place to shoot). While other more traditional places tend to scoff at the modern, this place embraces it.
We also went to the New Guangfu Village, an old military village turned hip community with quaint local shops. An exciting stop was the WuFeng Farmer’s Association Distillery where we tried at least 6 different types of sake with different alcohol contents. Tip: the one with honey is the best.
The Wufeng Lin Family tour is inclusive of the three destinations (including the distillery!) for Php 1520. Find out more about it here.
I like all things carpentry—or at least the idea of it. My uncle plays around a lot in their garage and I always feel much closer to him and my roots when I use tools he would probably be impressed by me using. We headed to Carpenter DIY after lunch (which we had at an old hospital—talk about a unique experience) to carve our own wooden spoons. It took almost three hours to create that tiny utensil. I’m not even kidding. It involved using heavy machinery and arm muscles. It’s a lot harder than it looks but definitely rewarding.
For more information about the wood carving experience and its inclusions for Php 1773 here
Full disclosure: I wasn’t extremely adventurous with the food. Or maybe the number of street food options was just overwhelming. Note to self: must go back. I do know of some Taiwanese staples and those I had repeatedly: Beef noodle soup, xiao long bao, hotpot, and milk tea.
When we got back to Taipei that night we scoured malls for hotpot options and lined up for a while to get our fix. Then we finally braved the hours past 9PM for a night out and met up with Angela’s friend, Rain, who was kind enough to take us to Frankie’s, a bar with a great view. The last day was pretty much spent roaming the city before our late night flight. Angela brought me to the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial because she insisted the trip isn’t complete if I didn’t at least see it. So we hiked to it. Just kidding. It was level ground. But took us half an hour still. Then we headed to another must-see: the Taipei 101 to check out the Taipei Observatory (PHP 862) where we took an embarrassing number of outfit shots despite the many, many onlookers. No shame in the OOTD game. For our last meal in Taipei we went to Commune A7, a fancy food park and had our last dinner (which happened to be Korean) and my final milk tea cup.
A big shoutout to KKDay and AirAsia for making this trip possible. Browsing the website again made me realize that there are so many other activity options and tours in Taiwan and I can’t wait to go back and book through them again. ‘Til the next!