The end to 2015 was a bit of a haphazard exercise, to put it plainly. Holiday planning took a backseat while we moved to a new place (Same unit type, just down from 61st floor to 17th Floor) and just a couple of days before Christmas when our holiday was suppose to start. Apart from a booked flight and accommodation for a few days in Ho Chi Minh, and a few days in Taiwan, there really wasn’t much thought into what we were actually going to do. Disaster began when we arrived at the airport to check-in, when we were told we didn’t have the correct visa arranged to go to Vietnam!!
I was aware of the pre-arranged visa requirement, as I have been there in the past. However, I’ve read online that the rules have changed to ‘Visa On Arrival’, which I misinterpreted to mean that there is no requirement/procedures prior to arrival into the country. Except I was dead wrong, when I discovered on the day that we (as in me and Ethan on Australian passports) needed an approval letter from immigration department prepared before departing for Vietnam. It was Christmas day, so it was too late to do anything about getting a visa. Quick on my feet, I’ve decided to abandon going to Vietnam at all, and called up Vietnam airline reservation office in Vietnam to change the booking to proceed to Taipei on the day without stopping over Ho Chi Minh for a couple of days. Fortunately, the lady at the other end of the line understood English pretty well, and it was sorted with less than 1 hour to actual departure time!! Yes, it did mean that I had to forfeit my Ho Chi Minh accommodation booking, but it meant that I can take off on the day!
Well.. the decision to go straight to Taipei meant our total stay in that city was 10 days instead of 5. Proved to be the right decision, as we felt like we could stay longer! The holiday started with a stay in Yusense Hotel (有诚商旅) close to National Palace Museum. Naturally, we started with visiting the museum.
It was also close to Mirramar Entertainment Park, with a big ferris wheel. We took it for a ride, and performed our first ‘mid air nappy change’ 🙂
Then it was a visit to nearby Shilin night market (士林夜市), as well as Beitu Hot Spring Resort (北投天玥泉會館) where we enjoyed a private onsen experience.
We spent a day (although it was a rainy one) to the Taipei Zoo (臺北市立動物園), along with nearby Maokong (猫空). Ethan appear to have enjoyed it, shouting out animal names or sounds he recognise like ‘nay’ for horse..
The nearby Maokong was only a short gondola ride away, which featured plenty of ‘high tea’ and ice cream opportunities…
… And featured this transparent floor gondola!! It wasn’t as scary as we thought it might have been.
The second part of the stay involved moving to ‘Home Hotel’ where we intended to stay right next to Taipei 101 where the fireworks was. We had a room which had partial view of Taipei 101 itself, although in hindsight, that wasn’t really needed, given we watched the fireworks outside with the crowd anyway!
I had pretty high expectations of the fireworks display itself, given there were talks about it being the ‘last one’. Some say they weren’t able to get enough sponsors, some say there were environmental concerns.. whatever it was.. the real thing wasn’t as impressive as I imagined it to be. Don’t get me wrong. It was nice, just not THAT nice..
We could at least say we’ve been there.. done that.. and even scored a decent spot at the New Year Concert…
Except.. we had a baby. The music was probably too loud, and we felt like we were given the look for bringing a baby along! So we left..
We did enjoy our stay in the city though, visiting the shopping centres nearby, namely Shin Kong Mitsukoshi, along with famous Taiwan ‘original’ restaurants ‘Ding Tai Fung’
And ‘Shin Yeh’ (欣葉)..
Both of which have franchises in Singapore. For Din Tai Fung, we are regular customers of near the one we live (Marina Bay Link Mall). Was it worth the long wait at the ‘original’ store? Probably not.
A Taiwan holiday would be incomplete if we didn’t visit the numerous night markets everywhere. We covered quite a few, namely Shilin Night Market, Raohe Night Market (饒河夜市), Huaxi Night (華西街觀光夜市) and Wufenpu (五分埔）.
The bigger names were, as one would expect, tourist traps. The lesser known ones, like Huaxi.. felt a bit more ‘genuine’.. but we didn’t quite expect it to be more of a market for ‘dirty old men’ where plenty of porn CDs/DVDs were sold.
Anyway, our last stop was at XiMenDing (西门町） where we stayed at a place we booked via AirBnB. It’s the first time we’ve used that service, and we were probably lucky to have found a damn good host (I only know her as ‘Newz’ on AirBnB or 许小姐). Super helpful, friendly, went way beyond her responsibilities to help us.
Whilst XiMenDing was interesting, we actually used half a day to travel out of town to visit a couple of places outside of Taipei, namely Jiufen (九份) and Shifen (十分). The most memorable part was probably the ‘Lantern Release’ (发天龙) at Shifen..
A close second would be the supposedly ‘Niagara of Taiwan’ or Shifen waterfall..
We were quite lucky that we had a good driver that liked kids!
Overall, I was glad we stayed longer in Taipei than original planned. It was my second time here, and the last time from memory was almost 10 years ago! As the driver told us, Taiwan haven’t changed all that much at all, apart from a couple of new MRT lines. I concur! Nevertheless, the trip was a great end to 2015, and a great start to 2016!