Merry Christmas!
On Christmas day, we took a 2-hour train to Taipei where we planned to spend a few days finishing our visit to Taiwan.  The train was SO busy that we weren't able to book seats for the trip, so, we ended up standing in the train's door-area for most of the trip.  

We originally had plans to do a bunch of day trips outside of the city, but the surrounding weather wasn't exactly cooperating.  So far, we'd had a really good visit of several Taiwan sites and we could see that the trains and attractions were getting busy for the holidays, so instead of fighting the conditions, we decided to just stay in the city to visit closer sites. 

Elephant Mountain Trail (and friends)
We went to a popular nearby mountain called Xiangshan (means "Elephant Mountain" in Chinese), to hike the Elephant, Tiger, Lion and Leopard peaks.  The ~1.5km hike to Elephant peak is only about 183m high, but you can see the nice view points of Taipei 101 and the surrounding area.  To make the hike longer, we continued along the trails to visit all of the other animal peaks, but the best view was from the Elephant peak.

You can't visit Taiwan without a stop at Taipei 101 - Taipei’s iconic skyscraper with a big shopping area around.  We had hoped to visit the Starbucks at the top of Taipei 101, but sadly discovered that it is currently closed.  Instead, we checked out the mall area and had dinner at the popular restaurant called Din Tai Fung, known for their XiaoLongBao (Soup Dumplings).

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall - we lucked out and got there just as the changing of the guard was happening.

National Palace Museum: We came here to escape the rain and saw some of the famous Taiwanese/Chinese artifacts, like the Ivory balls and the meat rock (yep, that is a thing). Unfortunately, the famous Jade cabbage was not there.

The Ivory balls were particularly interesting, consisting of 18 to 24 free-moving spherical layers, intricately hand-carved from a single piece of ivory!  Wow!  Here's a video to learn more about it:  Ivory Balls 

While wandering the city, we saw random sites and stopped at 2 of the bigger temples, Lungshan Temple and Songshan Temple.

On the food side, Taipei was as delicious as the rest of our food experiences in Taiwan.  Some of our favourites:

Ninxia Night Market - "Banh Mi" in a deep-fried bun 😂 and Taro Balls from a stall that had a massive lineup so we joined the queue 

Cha'Ge Bubble Tea (large bubble tea for 50 TWD - ~$2.25cad)

Various street food stalls near the Taipei Main Train Station including Fouzhou Pepper Buns (~$2.25cad), China Pizza (~$2.25cad), Vegetarian Dumplings ($0.65cad for a large dumpling, $0.25cad for the small), and Soup dumplings.

Taiwanese Spring rolls with a delicious soy milk tea (93 TWD - ~$4cad, for the combo) at He Yicheng Delicate Cake

Really beautiful, delicious, yet affordable (170 TWD - ~$8cad) poke bowls at Haloa Poke

Happy New Year!
For some reason, a lot of flights out of Taiwan are scheduled as red-eye flights.  We discovered that all of the hotels triple their prices on New Year's Eve, so, on Dec 31st we checked out of our hotel, went to an afternoon movie (Wakanda Forever), had dinner, and hopped on the airport MRT to arrive 5 hours early for our 1:30AM flight. 
On New Years Day, we arrived at our next destination at 8am and sleepily tried to wander around to kill time.  Luckily our hostel allowed us to check in early at 12:30pm, so, exhausted, we both crashed for the rest of the afternoon and evening.  

Ah the fun of travelling 😂.


Bubble Tea is milk tea with a bunch of tapioca balls at the bottom.  Taichung is one of the cities that claims to be the birthplace of the famous drink, so one of the first things we did here was to visit the local tea house claiming to be the original inventor: Chun Shui Tang Siwei.  You can read about the bubble tea origin debate here: Who invented bubble tea?

Although the Chun Shui Tang bubble tea prices were very high for Taiwan (170 TWD compared to 50-60 TWD at most other places), we decided to have dinner here.  Both the bubble tea and food turned out to be really good (especially the Beef Noodle Soup which had an amazingly rich broth).  Since it had been a cold rainy day,  the sit-down dinner with warm soup and sweet chewy bubble tea made for a perfect way to end the evening.

Not far from our hotel, there was a small street dedicated to anime, called Animation Lane.  Since we had such a nice time visiting the art areas of Kaohsiung, we decided to check it out.  The animation lane area was fairly small, but the art is really nicely done.  When we were there, you could also see the sketches of their next project in the works for Dragon Ball.

The rest of our time in Taichung was spent walking the streets of the city where we saw temples, historic Japanese buildings, craft markets, parks, and a really fun dessert place called Miyahara that looks like it was teleported here from Harry Potter.

As usual, we finished our day at Yizhong Night Market.  Our favourite dishes at this night market were a warm Korean-style seaweed purple-rice roll with kimchi & pork floss (really good and not greasy!) and an egg-cheese-thai-basil scallion-pancake sandwich (greasy but crispy, chewy, and so tasty).

Sun Moon Lake

A lot of locals and travel blogs recommended visiting Sun Moon Lake, one of the "8 Views of Taiwan" (according to the Taiwan government).  Since the forecast predicted 1 day without rain while we were in Taichung, we decided to give it a try.  

From Taichung, the only way to get to Sun Moon Lake is by bus (or private car/scooter).  We tried to catch the first bus of the day, but it passed our stop because it was completely full (despite it being a weekday).  We opted to walk to the bus stop at the start of the route (near the Kaohsiung main train station) to improve our chances of getting on, and managed to catch the next bus.  After a 2 hour bus ride, we finally arrived at the lake and found our way to Giant Bikes to rent some bikes for the day.

The bike ride around the lake is about 33 km with a mix of dedicated pathways and windy roads shared with cars.  The Giant staff recommended we go clock-wise around the lake so that we would be biking on the side of the road/path that is nearest to the lake.  

Our first stop was the Wenwu temple, which is the biggest temple on the lake.  Compared to the other temples around the lake, this one was the most worth visiting (in our opinion).  

Our next stop was at the village and wharf on the South side of the lake where we wandered the Ita Thao shopping district and sampled some local-made vinegar and snacks from one of the vendors. 

We made some quick stops at a couple more temples and the futuristing-looking Xingshang Visitor Center, before returning the bikes and taking the bus home.  

Sun Moon Lake is the largest lake in Taiwan and is known for its clear calm waters surrounded by mountains and forests.  Compared to the lakes and mountain scenery that we are accustomed to in Canada, this lake wasn't anything particularly new or unique for us (first world problems 😂), but we did still enjoy our relaxing cycling activity around the lake.


From Guanshan, we took a local train to Taitung to catch a TRA train to Kaohsiung, the second largest city in Taiwan. 

Our first stop was "Pier 2", a unique pier dedicated to public art.  Here you could see several murals, statues, and other art installations.

Within Pier 2, we decided to stop at a local restaurant called Sunny Hills to taste Taiwan's famous Pineapple Cakes. To our surprise, the restaurant provided a free pineapple cake and a cup of tea.. very tasty! 

From Pier 2, we walked North along the Love River which flows through the city and has some crazy jumping fish that you can catch a glimpse of on occasion.  We detoured off of the river to visit Lotus pond (lake), which is home to a few unique temples. 

The Dragon and Tiger Pagodas were closed, but we had a nice view of them from the outside. 

Luckily, the Spring and Autumn Pavilions were still open, so we entered the mouth of the Chinese dragon, went up and down the undulating body to see murals depicting various (interesting) characters/stories, and finally exited from the dragon's butt. 

The last water temple was the Zuoying Yuandi Temple.  At this temple, there was a section where you could toss a coin toward a bell in a hole and if you got it in, different characters would play a drum for good luck and future wishes.  Dom gave it a try and hit the bell, but instead of dropping into the hole, it bounced back past his shoulder and into the garbage bin.. not sure what that signifies about his future luck!

We continued around the lake to visit the Confucius temple and reach the East side of the lake just in time for the sunset. 

On Day 2, we went to Weiwuying Street Art Village, a neighbourhood near the Weiwuying Station that has hosted a number of street art festivals over the past years. It was quite impressive to see the number of large apartment buildings covered with so many fun and interesting street art pieces.
From the Weiwuying, we decided to stop by a Costco to see what kinds of "Taiwanese" products they had and to buy a Costco-sized box of Taiwanese pineapple cakes. 

We finished the day at Sanfeng Temple, known for their many strings of lanterns that are lit up at night. 

Food was also a big part of our 2 days here. 

At the Ruifeng Night Market, we tried egg&cheese cake, a crunchy pancake with Mexican flavours, and Scallion Pancakes.

Near our hotel, we also discovered delicious cheap Taiwanese breakfasts at Xing Long Ju.  We tried big soup dumplings (a fluffier style than what we'd had before), an interesting soybean-based soup, and an egg sandwich made with pastry instead of bread.  Dom especially loved the half-sweet soy-milk that they made there.

For dinner, our favourite food was the Taiwanese spring rolls from Roll Overlord.  It was a bit far from our hotel, but we went out of our way to go there every day that we were in Kaohsiung.  It was a really delicious healthy veggie dish, to help balance out all of the greasy night market food we had been eating 😂!

East Rift Valley Cycling Tour

One of our main reasons to go to Taiwan was to do a cycling tour that Jen’s dad highly recommended: a 3-day bike ride along the East coast of the island.  Unfortunately the tour that David did was already fully booked, but we were able to book a similar 3-day tour that was slightly shorter (126 km instead of 160 km), called the Giant Adventures - East Rift Valley Cycling Tour.

Day 1
Our first day started with a bus ride from Hualien to Guangfu where we had lunch.  We then walked to a nearby parking lot where we met the tour support team and all of the pre-sized bikes and water bottles were pre-labelled and laid out.  

After an explanation of the equipment and bike safety (in Mandarin), we adjusted our seats and tested out our bikes to ensure everything was in good working order.  We then started our easy 26 km ride from Guangfu to Ruisui.  

The weather was not on our side - it was raining fairly hard at times, but the Giant team was experienced and well prepared, providing us with rain covers and shower caps to go over our helmets.  It was a little chilly, but we still enjoyed the ride.  

We made a number of stops along the way, including a sugar factory where we sampled a Popsicle made from Roselle juice.  It was very unique but delicious!

Our first hotel, Hoya Spa Hotel, was at the Riusui hotsprings, so we were given vouchers to use the hotsprings before meeting up for dinner.  It was perfect for warming up after the chilly riding day.

Day 2
The day 2 weather was a bit better - no sun yet, but at least the rain had stopped. This was our biggest day - 60 km from Ruisui to Chishang through various rice fields and villages.  

Even though there were about 40 people in our group, the tour was amazingly well organized.  In addition to a lead rider, there were also 2 other support team riders in the middle and back of the pack.  There were 2 support vans that followed us the entire route - one for bike support and one for photos and snacks.  Anytime we approached a section of road where there was a specific turn that we needed to follow, someone from the support van or team magically appeared at the intersection to point us in the right direction.  

The bikes that they provided were excellent quality and in great condition (super fun to ride!) and if anything went wrong with a bike, the support van was there to resolve it immediately.  There was also a photographer taking pictures of us along the way, which they uploaded to the cloud and shared with everyone via QR code at the end of the day.

The route was broken up into several small segments with lots of snack stops along the way, including a factory known for their delicious (warm) milk and buns!  We also stopped in a village where you could buy rice snacks from a rice farmer cooperative.  Jen was addicted to some rice crackers that they bought for us to try.  The snack van provided hot and cold water, ginger tea, Pocari Sweat electrolyte packets, an assortment of cookies, candy, and fresh fruits, as well as sunscreen and bug spray. 

We finished our day at the Taiwan Sugar Pond Makino Resort

Day 3
On our last day was a 40 km ride from Chishang to Guanshan, and lucky for us, the sun came out!  

Since we couldn't understand Mandarin, some of the daily events were a surprise for us.  We started our 3rd day pushing our bikes around the property of our hotel and we had no idea why.. we arrived near a fence when suddenly a hippo popped its head out of the water!  It turned out our hotel was in an animal park of some sort, so we spent the first part of our day walking around to see the animals.

The rest of the day's ride was spent cycling through the local rice fields where international artists had art instalments in various areas along the route. 

We also visited a tree in the middle of the rice fields that was apparently made famous because of a handsome actor that biked to drink tea under that tree, in an old EVA Air advertisement. We just went to another tree nearby to take individual pictures as the original tree was quite busy  

In addition to all of the snack stops along the route, we were fed huge breakfast/lunch/dinners with a good variety of local dishes.  Many of the areas that we visited are known for having very good rice - we thought "umm it's just rice..." but it actually did taste great and had a nice slightly chewy and sticky texture that we enjoyed.  Along the route, the tour support team also picked up some delicious dragon fruits that were red on the inside and the sweetest dragon fruit we ever had!

We ended our tour at the Guanshan train station.  After returning our equipment and having our last snacks from the back of the support van, we were given bento box dinners to take with us on the train-ride home.

If you happen to be planning a trip to Taiwan, we definitely recommend the bike tours with Giant Adventures.  Here is the link to their tours: Giant Cycling World Travel

Hualien Street Food

We came to Hualien because it was the starting point of our Giant East Coast cycle tour, but we also wanted to arrive here a couple of days early to taste the local foods and see Avatar 2 before starting the bike trip.  

Hualien is a nice medium-sized city - no super touristy sites (other than Taroko National park), but plenty of interesting streets and areas to stroll through. Our main goal was to eat typical Taiwanese food from this region, and we were not disappointed. 

The first thing we wanted to try was a fried egg and scallion pancake (Cong You Bing - 40 TWD, ~$1.75 cad)) that Jen's mom told us about. There seemed to be 2 competing stalls near our B&B - the Yellow Car and Blue Car.. of course, we had to try them both.  Both reportedly have hour-long lineups but we decided to try going at an off-hour (ie. 3pm) and managed to avoid the crowds.  Both were really delicious, but overall, we liked the blue car better as they make and serve each individual order one at a time so the pancake is hot and super crispy when you eat it.  The yellow car, in comparison, seemed to be making and serving the pancakes out in batches - probably faster for them to process the line this way during busy times, but it did result in our pancake being lukewarm and less crispy by the time we got it.  Besides the fact that everything is deep fried, what really makes these pancakes so good is that the egg yolk is still hot and runny.. it's then surrounded by a bit of delicious brown sauce and crispy onion-flavoured dough.. mmmmmm! 🤤

Most of the rest of our delicious food experiences were at the Dongdamen Night Market, where we found a great variety of food stalls to try. 

Stinky Tofu Fries 

Puffy Taro and Sweet Potato Balls

Roasted Corn (~$8cad - the most expensive piece of corn we’ve ever eaten!)

Coffin Bread

Passion Fruit Bubble Tea (40 TWD, ~$1.75 cad)

Mashed Potato Omelette 

BeiGang Spring Rolls (50 TWD, $2.25 cad - our favourite discovery!)

Our very lovely accommodation, Alien B&B, usually served a fairly typical "western-style" breakfast, but they offered to bring us a "typical" Taiwanese breakfast to try.  It included Turnip Cake, Omelette Crepe, Fried-Dough Sandwich (Shaobing Youtian) and warm Soy Milk.  It was so much food (especially since we aren't really breakfast eaters), but it was really delicious!

On our second day in Hualien, we had another new experience..  we felt our first sizeable earthquake. 
As with any other regular day, we were just strolling down a street when all of the sudden the store windows started bending and the ground started to move - not just a small vibration - the ground actually moved horizontally in a left/right swaying motion. It happened so fast and only lasted a few seconds, but it really made our hearts race!  We went into panic mode and felt jumpy for some time after, but the locals around us did not seem affected at all.  After some research and talking to our B&B host, we learned that earthquakes are very common on the East coast of Taiwan, so I guess they are all just used to it! 

Taroko Gorge

Ever since Jen's dad and his friend told us about the cycle tour that they did in Taiwan, we've wanted to go.  Since Taiwan only recently started re-opening post-covid, we were a bit unsure about how the self-testing and quarantine worked so we decided to arrive a week early before starting the bike tour.  It turned out that as long as you self-tested negative every other day (for 7 days), you could still go out to eat/travel/visit, so after staying a couple of days in Taipei, we decided to take a train to XinCheng to visit Taroko National Park.

On our first day in Taroko we checked out the major highlights.  We took a local bus over to the furthest attraction and then slowly made our way back. 

Baiyang Trail
This trail was created early on and was used to build the infrastructure of the dam in the region. It’s about 2km long and passes through 9 tunnels along the way. Unfortunately for us, part of the trail was closed for restoration (due to a landslide), so we could only access the pathway up until the second tunnel. 
To access the trail, we had to walk on the main road with cars until we reached the tunnel entrance.  It was a bit weird, but we did have a really nice view along the way. 

Tunnel of Nine Turns
We hopped on the next bus and made our way to the tunnel of nine turns.  Here you walk along an old section of the highway (700m x 2) where you can admire the proximity of the cliff-side and the man-made tunnels. 

Swallow Grotto Yanzikou Trail
The "swallow grotto" name comes from the holes on the cliff side where swallows come to nest.  This trail used to be a part of the main road, but because the area was so popular for visitors to stop at, it was causing traffic issues.  They've since created an alternate route for vehicles so visitors can now explore the area without causing traffic issues, but you still have to be careful of the occasional tourist vans/buses passing along this road.

Changchun Shrine
This was our last stop for the day. We first stopped to eat a late instant-noodles lunch, walked along the trail to visit the shrine, then caught a bus back to our B&B in XinCheng. 

On the second day, we hiked 2 slightly longer trails, called the Xiaozhuilu and Shakadang, near the Taroko Visitors Center. 

Xiaozhuilu is a short but fairly steep trail that links the visitors centre to the Shakadang trailhead.  There are a lot of pretty narrow, steep stairs.  

Funny enough, this trail doesn't seem to be very popular, so you start out feeling like you're wandering completely alone along a cliff-side, surrounded by nature.. then about half way into the trail you suddenly encounter a dark empty emergency exit tunnel in the middle of nowhere.. it sorta felt like we were characters walking in a post apocalyptic movie. 

Shakadang was a lovely 3.1 km long trail (6.2km out-and-back), which is dug out along the side of a river cliff.  On this trail, you can really appreciate the beautiful blue water both from above and up close on the river, whereas on other trails you can only see the water from high above.

Staying in XinCheng instead of Hualien saved us a lot of travel time to Taroko (our B&B was only 6km from the visitors center), but there wasn't much to do in XinCheng.  We did, however, discover a nice place called Master Zeng, where they make fresh hand-made mochi!