2 weeks free and easy in Taiwan (12 days 11 nights)

Three years ago, Married Girl and I decided to take an overdue post-marriage trip to Taiwan. If you have read my previous post on My reflections travelling as a couple, you’ll realise that we will try to mix some adventures into our city travels, just so that both our travel needs are met. If you are looking for a bit of excitement amidst what the thriving Taipei city can offer, this post might be just for you!


Itinerary in brief: Our trip covers the following areas in a loop, across a 12-days period.

SG – Taipei (台北) – Hualien (花莲) –  JiuFen (九份) – Taipei (台北) – SG

Taiwan-Trip-Itinerary
The train runs along the white route in this picture.

What to expect: This is a free and easy itinerary so you will be expected to travel by public transport! But don’t worry, this route is easy as the train passes through all the cities listed. We also took some day-trips to Shifen and Keelung while we were at Jiufen.

Things to see: The highlights of the trip was the breathtaking Taroko Gorge, a bike trip through the amazing east coast highway (Provincial Highway 11), weaving through the Old Streets of Jiu Fen, hike the less travelled San Diao Ling nature trailas well as visit famous city spots in Taipei such as XimenDing. You can check out my other post on Things to do in Taipei and Hualien for more information about the places we covered.


Day 1: Singapore – Taoyuan Airport, Taiwan
Place of stay: Dongmen, Taipei
Hotel we bumped in: Dongmen Hotel (東門旅店)
Total number of nights: 2
Destination covered: Yong Kang Street

To allow adequate time to orientate yourself and to book train tickets out of Taipei, I will recommend that you spend the day after your arrival in Taipei.

Take a bus from Taoyuan Airport to Taipei Main Station, where you can connect to the city metro (MRT). You can take Kuo Kuang bus (1819) from the airport. The journey will take approximately 1 hour. Alternatively, we heard that the airport rail has also opened and you can now take a train directly to Taipei Main Station.

Taiwan-bus-to-airport
Buses are convenient and a comfortable way to get around in Taiwan.

You will alight at Taipei Bus Station (note, there is also the Taipei City Hall Bus Station, which is not the same as Taipei Bus Station). Head up to Taipei Main Station (for trains and MRT). After orientating ourselves, we took the MRT and headed straight to Dongmen, where we stayed for 2 nights.

Dongmen is centralized and located on the red line of the MRT. It is three stops away from Taipei Main Station. After checking in, we visited Yong Kang Street for dinner. Known to be the food hub of Taiwanese cuisines, and home to the famous Din Tai Fung restaurant, Yong Kang is worth a visit. You can consider spending a late afternoon here, and cover the area within 1 to 2 hours. Also visit the Shida night market, which is just a 10 minutes walk from Yong Kang street. We still managed to grab some snacks at Yong Kang Street despite the time.

Dinner-at-Dongmen-Yong-Kang-Street

Taiwanese-snacks-fried

In the morning, just below our hotel is a morning market that you can visit.

Morning-market-nuts

Morning-Market-Lotus-roots.jpg


Day 2: Tour around Taipei
Destination covered: Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall / Taipei 101 / Tamsui

We took a walk from Dongmen to Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. Strolling will take you around 15 minutes. You should be able to cover the memorial hall in 1 to 1.5 hours. If you have not bought the train tickets to Hualien, you can now head to Taipei Main Station to get them.

Chiang-Kai-Shek-Memorial-Hall
The entrance to the memorial hall.

After settling our transport, we wasted no time and headed straight to World Trade Centre Station, with a hope to visit the famous Taipei 101 observatory tower. The place is like the central district of Taipei, cluttered with skyscrapers and shopping malls. We skipped the observation tower as it was crowded, but of course, not without snapping some photos from the bottom of the building.

Taipei-101-Observatory-post
Taking a quick selfie from the majestic tower.

The last stop for the day was Tamsui. Take the MRT all the way to the opposite end of the red line. Stroll along the riverbank or visit the old wharf, revealing what was once part of Taipei bustling trading post. There are many food stalls and street hawkers selling famous Taiwanese snacks and deserts. Sit around and people watch while you snack away at the delicacies. If you have time, you might want to spend half a day to really cover the entire Tamsui. Alternatively, a 2 – 3 hours should suffice if you only want to explore the riverbanks and nearby streets.

Tamsui-street-Taiwan
The busy streets of Tamsui, especially crowded as this is a favourite spot for locals too.
Tamsui-street-artists
Watch the street artists perform away as you people-watch by the riverbank

Day 3: Taipei to Hualien
Place of stay: Hualien
Hotel we bumped in: LangHuaYiDuoDuo MingSu (浪花一朵朵民宿)
Total number of nights: 3
Destination covered: Hualien city

There are two routes to Hualien, either by the Tze-Chiang Express train, or by a combo ticket that offers a local, bus-transit-train, package. For the combo ticket, you will take a bus to Luodong (a city 1.5 hours from Taipei) before boarding the local train to Hualien. No advanced or online bookings are available for the combo tickets, but the tickets will never sell out. You can buy the tickets via the Capital Bus booth at the Taipei Bus Station. The journey time is about 2 to 3 hours for both, but the cost is double for the express train. We went with the express train to minimise the trouble of transferring our backpacks, but you can try the combo tickets if you want to.

Map-of-trains-route-Taipei-to-Hualien
The grey route is taken by the Tze-Chiang Express, while the blue route reflects the bus-train combo package.

After reaching Hualien, we took a cab to our “Mingsu”. The Mingsu was relatively far away from the city centre, located along the famous Provincial Highway 11. If you don’t like to stay in hotels, you can consider looking for Mingsu, speciality lodgings similar to the English Bed & Breakfast concept. Staying at the Mingsu along the highway will offer you a nice ocean-front view, but it can be a hassle getting to town. Public buses arrive hourly, hence, you will need to time your travel if you don’t have your own transport. Alternatively, you can book an accommodation in the city itself, which is probably a lot more convenient.

We still had the night for that day, but we decided to relax by the Mingsu, enjoying the view that opens out to the ocean. You can try to catch a bus to town and visit the Tungtamen night market if you have time. We ate at a food stall right beside the Mingsu, which is also the home to a young couple with the dream of setting up their own beach-side restaurant one day.

Taipei-Hualien-Train-ticket-stubs
Tickets for the express train with an indication of the cost.
Hualien-Sunset-from-window
The view from our balcony: the sun setting across the Pacific Ocean
Hualien-Home-cooked-food
A homely meal at the house of the couple residing beside the Mingsu.

Day 4: Taroko Gorge
Destination covered: Taroko Gorge, Qixingtan

We rented a scooter for the next 3 days to get to Taroko Gorge, and because we wanted to travel down the scenic Provincial Highway 11. We took a bus back to town early in the morning to hunt for the bike rental shops. There are a whole stretch of bike rentals near the bus station (click on the link for the map). You will need a valid driving license and your passport to rent the vehicle. Rental of a 125cc scooter for a day will cost you around 400NT.

Scooter-Bike-Rental-Taroko-Gorge
The winding road up Taroko Gorge can be quite steep at some parts.

Alternatively, Taroko Gorge can be reached by bus from Hualien. The journey to the entrance of the national park is about an hour’s drive. Board the bus station at the bright orange building beside the train station. Unlike city buses that runs every 10 minutes, buses usually leaves every half hourly or hourly. Be sure to check with the station master and grab a copy of the schedule on the day of your arrival, so that you can better plan your trip for the next few days.

The nearest station to Taroko Gorge is Xincheng train station, where you can also grab a bus into the national park. If you are not keen to rent a vehicle, an alternative option is to stay a night at Xincheng or within Taroko itself before coming to Hualien. This way, you can spend 2 days in Taroko Gorge to explore all the different treks. Accommodations are easily available on sites such as Expedia or Booking.com.

Taroko-gorge

Riding up Taroko Gorge

Visit Qi Xing Tan (七星坛) on the way back, which is along the way from Hualien to Taroko Gorge. Unfortunately, it was raining heavily the day we were there, and we couldn’t really do much. Nevertheless, I can imaging the place to be quite charming, if the weather was sunny. Recommended activities including cycling and relaxing by the beach.

Hualien-Qi-Xing-Tan-beach
The rain definitely did not stop the tourists from coming by.

Overall, we spent only 1 day in Taroko, but I will recommend 2 days if you have the time, and include Qixingtan on the second day.


Day 5: East-Coast Highway, aka Provincial Highway 11
Destination covered: Provincial highway 11 / San Xian Tai

We spent this day riding down the Provincial Highway 11. The highway connects Hualien to Taitung, another major city nearer to the south of Taiwan. Enjoy the smooth ride, empty roads, scenic views and warm breeze. This is a must-do if you are in Hualien, whether you go on a bicycle, scooter or a car. There are many pitstops along the way where you can take photos or a break. We travel all the way to San Xian Tai (三仙台), which was nearer to Taitung, before heading back. Just to note, we came across a few traffic police and speed cameras along the highway, so you might want to keep to the speed limit to avoid a speeding ticket.

East-coast-highway-Hualien-Provincial-Highway-11
The bridge that you will pass by as you ride out of Hualien towards Provincial Highway 11.
Provincial-Highway-11-Hualien-East-Coast-Highway
The highway is well travelled by locals and tourists travelling from Taitung to Hualien. Many places to stop for photos along the highway.
Sanxiantai-Taitung-Hualien
Reaching San Xian Tai view point, before we turned around and headed back to Hualien.

Day 6: Hualien City Centre
Destination covered: Hualien City Centre

On this day, we headed back to town to return the bike and visit Hualien city centre. There are many food outlets in the city, but aside from that, there isn’t really much to do. You will probably only need half a day to cover the main central area. Visit the Tungtamen Night Market if you have time, which we missed while we were there.

Hualien-city
Streets of Hualien is less crowded than Taipei. Low-rise building and shophouses line the street.

Hualien-Oyster-Mee-Sua-Stall

Hualien-Oyster-Mee-Sua


Day 7: Hualien to Jiufen 
Place of stay: Jiufen, Ruifang
Place we bumped in: Long Men Ke Zhan Jiufen (九份民宿龍門客棧)
Total number of nights: 3
Destination covered: Keelung Trail (基隆步道)

It might be a good idea to pre-book your tickets out of Hualien upon your arrival, as tickets are sometimes sold out. Due to this practice, we managed to secure the train tickets from Hualien to Ruifang at the timing that we wanted.

Ruifang Station is where you should alight to get to Jiufen. Once you alight at Ruifang Station, take a bus to Jiufen Old Street (Bus 788). Personally,  I will recommend staying over at Jiufen for a couple of days while you explore the surrounding areas such as San Diao Ling and Shifen.

Jiufen-old-street
Jiufen Old Street is on a hill. The view from our hotel overlooking the sea.

While waiting for the hotel room to be ready, we came across Keelung Trail. From the entrance of Jiufen, walk further up the road to find the start of the trail. The hill provides a breath-taking view of Jiufen and the Pacific Ocean. The hike will take you approximately 1 to 2 hours, but is a relatively easy hike. Other trail includes Teapot Mountain trail, which you will need to take a bus to get there

Keelung-hill-trail
Walk up the main road until you see the sign to Keelung Trail.
Keelung-trail-hill-Jiufen
The walk is beautiful, with Lalang decorating the steps all the way up to the peak.
Keelung-hill-Jiufen
From the peak, be rewarded with a breath-taking view of the open sea.

Day 8: Jiufen & Keelung
Destination covered: Jiufen Old Street / Miaokou Night Market

We spent the next day exploring the old streets of Jiufen. Walk up and down the winding alley and stairways, through rows and rows of shops selling souvenirs and food. This is where you can buy home the famous Jiufen Ginger tea with assorted flavours, or try the renown Lai Ah Po Yam and Sweet Potato Balls desert (images below). Expect a crowd, especially on the weekend, as tourists flock over for day-trips from Keelung and Taipei city. We skipped the Gold Mine Museum, but you can probably head there if you have the time. You can take a bus further up the hills to the museum, or to the Teapot Mountain trail.

Jiufen-desert-Lai-Ah-Po

Lai-Ah-Po-Desert

Jiufen Old Street
Shops lined up against the narrow alleys. Especially crowded in the day.

Near mid-afternoon, board bus 788 again directly to Keelung city to visit the famous Miaokou Night Market. The journey will take you approximately 1.5 to 2 hours. Remember to check the timing of the last bus back to Jiufen. Miaokou night market is famous for their seafood, and is a walk away from where you alight. Keep your stomach empty and stroll along the night market to fulfill your seafood craving. After that, take the same bus back and be mesmerized by the night view of Jiufen, as shops and houses are littered with lights. Take a relaxing stroll back to your hotel and rest for the night.

Keelung-Miaokou-night-market
The night market with its assortment of stuff. The market opens at 5pm.
Keelung-Miaokou-night-market
Choose from the many stalls to fulfill your seafood craving.

Day 9: Sandiaoling
Destination covered: Sandiaoling Waterfalls / Houtong Cat Village

From Jiufen, you can easily get to Sandiaoling or Shifen using the Pingxi train line. Tickets can be bought at Ruifang train station. Trains arrive hourly, so be sure to plan your return.

Sandiaoling is known for its tranquil trails and waterfalls, especially popular amongst the locals. Get off the train and follow the train tracks to the Sandiaoling village. Once there, signs should guide you to the start of the trail. Reaching the 3 waterfalls and back should take you no more than 3 hours.

Sandiaoling-Hiking-Train-tracks
Follow the tracks to the village. Grab some light snacks and drinks if you do not have any.

We initially planned to visit the waterfalls before heading straight to Shifen. However, we met some friendly and enthusiastic locals who urged us to continue on from the third waterfall. From the Sandiaoling trail, you can actually continue on the Pingxi trail all the way to Houtong Cat Village. Houtong Cat Village is located one station before Sandiaoling. The trek will take you approximately 4 – 5 hours, and you can basked in the peace that nature provides. We skipped Shifen as we reached Houtong pretty late. Worth a hike if you are a trekking enthusiast, or prefers to be off the beaten tracks. If not, you should have ample time to cover the waterfalls and head to Shifen for other activities.

Sandiaoling-hiking
Continue from the last waterfall to the Pingxi Trail
Sandiaoling Waterfalls
There are waterfalls along the Pingxi trail as well.

Day 10: Jiufen to Taipei Ximending
Place of stay: Taipei
Hotel we bumped in: Rainbow Hotel
Total number of nights: 2
Destination covered: Ximending

From Jiufen back to Taipei, you can take a bus (1062) directly from Jiufen Old Street to the SongShan Station, a station on the Green MRT line. The bus journey takes approximately 2 hours to get to SongShan. From there, connect via the MRT to Ximending, where we stayed for the remaining days of our trip. Same route applies if you are heading from Taipei to Jiufen.

We arrived in early afternoon and decided to walk around the area just to orientate ourselves.


Day 11: Ximending
Destination covered: Ximending

If you noticed, you will not have spent much time on shopping thus far. So spend the last day at Ximending free and easy, shopping for clothes, stationeries and food.  Ximending is a good place to shop. Known as the youth centre, you can get all kind of funky, intricate products or trendy, fashionable apparels. A must-try, however, is the Ah Zong Mian Xian (oyster noodles), opened since 1975. If shopping is not for you, you can also choose to visit anywhere else that you want to see in Taipei.

Ximending-Taiwan-Food
Eat and shop before you head back home. We definitely took our time to explore Ximending.
Ah Zong Oyster Mian Xian-Ximending-Taipei
Ah Zong Oyster Mian Xian, since 1975, is a must try. Located in central Ximending.

Day 12: (End of trip) Taoyuan Airport, Taiwan – Singapore

For the last day, make your way back to the airport. We took a cab as we have too much things to carry.  Also because we wanted a relaxing end to the trip.


Some comments about the itinerary

So that concludes our 12 days free and easy itinerary to Taipei and Hualien. We didn’t pack our schedule tight, as we prefer to take our time to explore each destination. You can definitely tweak the itinerary to maximize the places to visit.

Also, this itinerary consists of a variety of activities, from city shopping to trekking to bike trip, and may not be suitable for everyone. Taiwan is relatively easy to travel, and there are tons of resources online that you can follow up from my blog.

If you like this itinerary but will like to make some amendments, keep a look out for the copy of my itinerary that I am thinking of uploading in the blog. On and off, and whenever possible, I will share the Excel Spreadsheet (primitive, yes, but functional) that I use to plan my itinerary.

Lastly, if you liked what you have read thus far, drop your email and be updated about the Married Traveller’s travel stories, travel tips and travel reflections!

AMarriedTraveller

AMarriedTraveller.com is a couple's travel blog that aims to inspire others to create their own travel adventures and embark on their journey of discovery.

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