Christmas over Taiwan

I vaguely remembered how we decided to go to Taiwan again for our end of year holiday for 2018. This is our third time over the last 4 years, and perhaps it had something to do with remembering just how much fun we had every time we go there. Besides, it is a rather budget friendly country along with my familiarity with their national language (i.e. Mandarin). In terms of frequency of us going there in the last couple of years, it’s probably only second to Japan. Similar to last couple of times we went there, we only booked the air tickets and accommodation in advance, with little to no planning of the actual itinerary at all for each day. It’s probably due to a combination of laziness, and perhaps realising that we don’t actually lose out all that much even if we don’t plan ahead. Whilst we didn’t have to deal with relocation back in Singapore this year, I still remembered just how busy I was at work right up to the day we left for Taiwan! In fact, this is one trip where we almost had nothing firm planned at all! Fortunately, we still managed to make plenty of discoveries every day, and didn’t feel like we missed out on anything! Goes to show the power of the Internet, a mobile phone and Google search on the go.

Our 17 days holiday break (between 24th Dec 2018 and 9th Jan) essentially concentrated around 3 main areas namely:

  • Yilan (宜蘭) – North Eastern part of Taiwan
  • Taipei (臺北) – Capital of Taiwan
  • Taichung (臺中) – Central West part of Taiwan

Apart from Taipei, the other 2 areas were new to us. They are areas where majority of tourists spend little time at, definitely not over 5 days each like we did. I’ve been to quite a few places around Taipei, but I definitely still have many areas of Taiwan I haven’t been to. I’ll leave those for another trip!

Choosing to fly into Taiwan on Christmas eve definitely felt like a non-event. We arrived on an overnight flight on 24th Dec on Jetstar, so we had a whole day there. Christmas isn’t celebrated here, nor was it a public holiday, so most went on with their lives like it’s just another day. You do see Christmas trees occasionally (e.g. in a mall), but that’s about it. Unlike our previous trips here, it was raining this time round. Originally, we planned on spending Christmas eve going to Leo Foo theme park for Ethan. We made the call not to go, given it will likely be too cold and who goes to an outdoor theme in winter anyway? Instead, we hanged out at Gloria Outlets and a small shopping mall (Metro Walk Shopping Center) near the airport a bit. Ethan was taken care of.. 🙂

And eventually checking into our 1-night layover hotel @ Hedo Hotel in the Taoyuan area as well. The only highlight I can probably recall was our first bubble tea since we arrived, and remembering just how good it was!

The next day, we basically spent the whole day making our way to Yilan, which included a Shinkansen ride to Nanggang (南港), followed by a bus to our first stop in Yilan region (i.e. Su’ao 蘇澳). Luckily, it wasn’t a boring trek, as along the way, we discovered “Spongebob” at Nanggang station, allowing us to spend a bit of time there at the rather quiet shopping mall on top of the Nanggang station.

Finally, we took the rather quiet bus that took us all the way to Su’ao. And I must say, the fact that you can get FREE fast WiFi on the bus these days were a huge convenience for us. Once again.. Ethan was well taken care of…

Eventually we made it to the first “proper” hotel for our trip, called Lakeshore Hotel (蘇澳四季雙泉館) where we spent just 2 nights. I didn’t have a whole heap of expectations set for it, given we got a good deal for it, but it did come with a good view.

To be clear, Su’ao is actually famous for its cold spring, and I take it most sane people wouldn’t come here right in the middle of winter for its spring. So, why did we come here? I guess it had to do with the fact that the hotel room does offer twin baths that you can soak yourselves in either hot or cold waters of Su’ao with a million benefits to your skin. All I can say is that, if it wasn’t for the hotel stay, we probably would have been pretty bored at Su’ao.

Most of the time we had in Su’ao was spent either chilling up at the roof top swimming pool/hot spa, relaxing in the lounge area with unlimited snacks (though just 1 glass of wine/per day), or just lazing around in the room.

To be fair, we did spend a day out of Su’ao town itself on a rented scooter to explore the region.

The ones worth calling out included….

Lucky Art Crayon Factor (蜡藝蠟筆城堡)
I was hesitant about coming here at first, given Ethan (our four year old son) has never shown much interest in art or drawing of any sort! He did think we were taking him to ‘school’ at first, as there were so many other kids there. The tickets granted us a few different workshops (all conducted in Mandarin) which we all sat through and took about 2 hours from memory. Mandarin is not Ethan’s strong point, but we managed to get through all of the activities with a big smile on Ethan’s face.

Kili Bay Pearl Milk Tea Cultural Center (奇麗灣珍奶文化館)
Yes, you could say that me and Ethan are bubble tea fanatics, and there’s no way we were going to pass up on a “Pearl Milk Tea Cultural Center”. We even joined their pearl milk tea making class (again conducted in Mandarin only), where Ethan got to make his own bubble tea!

I couldn’t leave without buying a bag of pearls and tea bags to make my own when we get back to Singapore

Neipi Beach (內埤海灘)
The last part of our Su’ao tour was a beach side cafe, which we stumbled upon on Google Maps, called Poseidon cafe. The process of getting their allowed us to see the fishing port / harbour, before arriving at Neipi Beach where the cafe was. It was pretty late in the afternoon by then, and unfortunately Ethan pretty much passed out on the scooter on our way there. He didn’t get to see much of the beach or cafe, and all we got to do was sit at the cafe to enjoy a cup of their sea salt latte.

The beach itself was a pretty nice sight, but I wouldn’t put it in the same pedigree as Gold Coast (of Australia), or say the Perth beaches. The clouds angrily looked at us and it was pretty obvious that it was going to rain!

Before we knew it, we had to say goodbye to the wonderful Lakeshore hotel. We did our last bit of “chilling”, had takeaways from nearby town to sample a bit of local cuisines, and soaked a bit more in the “hot spring” before we had to go..

For the next part, we made our way to the next Yilan area called Jiaoxi (礁溪) on local train. We went with an Airbnb apartment. To be honest, once we checked into the place, we were definitely not as excited about it as our last hotel. Yes, it had a built-in bath, but it was simply tap water (certainly not from the natural spring nearby). The place generally needed a bit of a refresh (not as nice as the pictures), and a good indicator of our enthusiasm for it was that we didn’t take any photos of the room itself!

Anyway, as the Jiaoxi area is famous for its hot spring, it’s definitely a livelier place, with the town visibly larger than Su’ao. We spent a lot more time exploring the area itself than we did in Su’ao. A few discoveries we made included..

Ramen shop combined with foot onsen (泡脚拉麵)
I guess if you’re short on time.. why not combine dinner with a foot spa. Must admit it was a bit of a gimmick. We had to line up and waited in line for this one, but did it anyway. The food itself was ok.. but I guess they’re not famous for that.. 🙂

Brick Ark Museum (積木博物館)
This wasn’t high on my list, but I was glad we went. It was even a bit out of the way for us, as it was a good 20 mins cab right out of Jiaoxi to get here. When we did eventually arrive, the place definitely feels like it’s designed for parents to bring their kids. Though, looking around at the different exhibits, I did get to learn quite a bit about the history of Lego and how it came about too. The most fun part for Ethan was probably the workshop that got him building a few crafty bits with Lego pieces.

Lanyang Museum (蘭陽博物館)
I had no idea what type of museum, or what it was about before I went there. I just knew it had a rather unique building shape.When we made it there, there were probably just as many people there who just wanted to take photos/selfies out of the building as people who actually went into the museum. It turned out to be a museum dedicated to show the history, and unique culture of “Lanyang” (蘭陽) region (basically the eastern part of Taiwan). As boring as that sounds, the museum did a pretty good job illustrating the many facets of people, culture, history etc etc to keep us all interested

There were enough interesting bits for kids too, at least it kept Ethan entertained for a while.

Toucheng Laojie (頭城老街)
We found this on Google Maps and decided to visit it, as we were done with Lanyang Museum with plenty of day time left to spare. As it was fairly close to the museum, we waved down a taxi and just rocked up. Once we were there, we walked the “old street” which reminded me of what we saw in Penang (Malaysia) with arts painted on many patches of walls around old houses, just slightly smaller in scale. The most interesting part for us, was probably the old fashion ice cream shop we found (again, through Google search). The best description I can provide is that, it’s like a watered down version of your usual full cream ice cream. Still pretty good! I did try so called “Millet Donut” which was pretty good as well.

Jiaoxi Hot Spring Park (礁溪溫泉公園-森林風呂)
There are two major “public” hot spring parks, at least from my limited research with Google. One is “Tangweigou” (which we didn’t end up going), and the “Forest Furo”. I suspect both are very similar, though my impression from user’s reviews was that Forest Furo is a bit newer/nicer. It did provide a decent attempt at replicating the authentic Japanese onsen (溫泉) experience as long as your expectations aren’t set too high.

For starters, it’s definitely on the small side. We’ve been to plenty of small onsens in Japan, but this one just seemed a bit overcrowded. It did offer a few range of pools with various temperatures. Having said that, we were done in less than an hour, after soaking in a couple of baths. As the baths are separated by gender, it meant it was just me & Ethan together, while wifey had to go separately on her own. It was a “proper” onsen experience that we do need to go completely naked, but what I probably not expecting was that there weren’t really not that many kids there. Ethan didn’t seem to mind, and fortunately he liked the whole experience.

Five days were all we put aside to cover all the above. We did feel like we missed out on one part of Yilan, known as Luodong (羅東), which is where the largest night market (for this region) is. Apart from that, we felt it was long enough to get a fairly good feel of Yilan. We took a bus to Taipei on the 6th day, essentially getting ready for the new year, along with checking out parts of Taipei we haven’t been to the last time we were here. Let me talk about that in another post.

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