Seeing The North Eastern Part of Taiwan
This is the day when I fell helplessly in love with Taiwan. It's the day when I wish I could freeze time for a moment and take it all in — the sights, sounds, and smells, yes even the stinky tofu!
On our second day, my parents and I woke up early and went to the Taipei Main Station. It was our meeting place with our tour group that I booked through KKDAY (more details in a separate blog post). We have to be in the 7/11 located in the East Gate. I wanted to arrive in the station early so I can find the exact stall. One of my personal travel rules is to have a few extra minutes as a "grace period" for mistakes. And for this tour, it was super important not to be late even for just a minute because they'll leave you behind!
There are several 7/11 stalls in the main station and it was a bit confusing to find the right one where the group was set to meet. Good thing there are English signs all around the place. We arrived in the meeting point a little too early and stayed as far away as possible from the automatic doors. Why? Because every time it opens, the super cold wind comes in and we were already freezing inside the station. My tropical ass couldn't handle it haha!
When we met with the rest of the people in our group, we were grouped into two. My parents and I were grouped with fellow Filipinos and we talked a little about our experience in Taiwan so far. We also talked about the strong earthquake we felt during our first day. A 6.1 magnitude earthquake hit Hualien City, which is located in the eastern coast of Taiwan. Although it was far from Taipei, we still felt how strong it was especially because we were staying on the 8th floor of our hostel.
After doing the headcount, our tour guide, Sharon, ushered us into the bus and then we were off. It took an hour to go from Taipei to our first stop of the day which was the Yehliu Geopark. Finally, I was able to see the coast of Taiwan in that area. It reminded me so much of the Taiwanese TV shows that I used to watch like Meteor Garden and It Started With A Kiss.
It was raining very hard when we arrived in the area. Since we were on the coast, the cold wind was super strong. The temperature was also dropping to 9 degrees celsius already. My parents and I weren't able to enjoy the place very much because of the weather and the large crowd. The upside was we indulged in some tasty squid balls as big as my fist. Again, it was so good even if the vendor only added pepper and salt. There's something so distinct about their food that I can't seem to forget.
Shifen Old Street
Next place on our itinerary was Shifen Old Street. It took us another our to reach the place but it was a-okay because I was able to take a nap in the bus. When we arrived, Sharon, our tour guide, gave us the lowdown about the place. She told us where the best restaurants to eat at and the must-try food like the chicken roll and pork sausage.
Since my parents and I wanted to write our wishes on a lantern and release it to the sky, we followed Sharon to a store that sells the lanterns. I think we paid 200 NTD for the multi-colored lantern. The ones with only one color was 100 NTD each. Every color represents a specific "wish category". You can refer to this list for when you're thinking of choosing your lantern when you visit Shifen.
papa people watching while mama buys some chicken rolls at the back #priorities
After writing our wishes, one of the store's staff ushered us to the middle of the train tracks. Then I handed her my phone so she can take pictures and videos of us while we release the lantern. Honestly, it was a bit anticlimactic. The staff was rushing to give us directions. It was like, "Okay. Smile. Next. Okay. Go! 1, 2, 3... go!" and then it was over. Although it was anticlimactic for me, the look on my parents' faces were priceless. I can tell they liked the experience and that they were happy so that's all that matters.
We were given an hour to do whatever we want in Shifen so my mama used this time to shop. My papa and I, on the other hand, were busy people watching. The train that passes through the railroad came at around noon and it was so cool seeing it in real life. I was standing half a meter away from the railroad's concrete fence when the train passed by. I was sooo close and it felt awesome. Some of the passengers even waved at us. Sorry, no photos for this part because I was busy being in the moment!
Jiufen Old Street
Now this is the place I'm most excited about. Although it was still raining cats and dogs, my excitement never went away. I was one of the people who got out of the bus first haha! Armed with my thick scarf, my pair of pink gloves (that I purchased in Ximending because I couldn't bear the cold anymore), and my trusty umbrella, I walked up to the starting point of the street.
When everyone was inside the tourism office, they tried the ginger tea that the office was giving for free. My parents liked it so much that they even went back for a refill. The kind lady in charge handed me a paper cup and told me to get some for myself. The paper cup wasn't the usual one. It's more like a thin paper cone (but they call it cup lol) but I was surprised at how sturdy it was even if hot tea was poured inside it.
Even before we got off the bus, Sharon already told us how much time we can spend in the place before we go back to Taipei City and handed us a photocopy of Jiufen Street's map. She also told us that we were allowed to stay behind and go back to the city on our own if we wanted to. I wanted to stay there longer than an hour and 30 minutes but I felt lazy to figure out how to go back to the city. Nevertheless, it only took me milliseconds to fall in love with the place.
We started climbing up the steep and wet stairs carefully and stopped for a few minutes in shops that caught our interest. There were a lot of Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro items on sale because Jiufen Old Street is said to be an inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki's movie, Spirited Away. I watched this movie years ago and didn't finish the entire thing. I watched it again after our Taiwan trip and it made me appreciate the movie even more.
When we reached the famous Ah Mei Tea House, I was stupefied by its beauty. There was another tea house across it and it was slightly elevated so we climbed up there to take some photos. The owners of the said tea house were kind and polite too. They were all smiles while observing us snapping photos to our heart's content.
Ah Mei Tea House was unbelievably beautiful with all the red lanterns hanging outside that stood out from the olive green walls and the plants hanging below the windows. The soft yellow lights inside the tea house with people exchanging conversations while sipping cups of tea looked so romantic. The people going up and down the narrow and steep stairs, holding their umbrellas, didn't bother me at all. In fact, it added more drama to what I was seeing. In my head, I was convincing myself that I wasn't dreaming; that this was real life.
I know I've expressed my appreciation with all the things I've seen in my previous travel posts. I've expressed how stunned I was with the charm and beauty of all the places I've been to, but I guess nothing has ever stunned me more in this magnitude than that day in Jiufen. It made me wish I could get a hold of time, freeze it for a moment and bask in it's beauty.
We walked a little further up and passed by several food stalls and yep, there was something super stinky out there. I knew it was stinky tofu even before I saw the stall and the guy boiling it. It was so distinct that I couldn't compare it to anything. Sharon advised us to try the deep fried ones first because they're bearable than the boiled ones but I didn't take the risk. I easily get disgusted and I didn't want to vomit in front of people because I felt like it would be very disrespectful.
Of course, I couldn't leave a memorable place without getting a little something to remember it by (aside from photos). So I stopped by one of the shops and bought several postcards and a cute little blue lantern. The postcard is now hanging on my wall and the little lantern is perched on top of my books inside my room.
After the tour ended, we went back to Taipei and arrived in the main station. We bid our goodbyes to Sharon who was such a ball of energy during the trip. I really liked her sense of humor especially when she joked about the stinky tofu. If I'm going back to Taiwan and decide to book another tour to the North Eastern part of the country, I'll definitely book the KKDAY tour again and maybe stay in Jiufen for a few nights (yes there are places where you can stay in Jiufen!).
This day of our trip was easily my favorite. Seeing the coast and checking out the natural rock formations in Yehliu was nice even if it was raining hard. Writing my parents and I's wishes on a lantern and releasing it in the middle of an old railroad that's still functional up to this day was incomparable to any experience I have. Climbing up the steep and narrow stairs of Jiufen Old Street and finally seeing the Ah Mei Tea House — the inspiration behind Miyazaki's popular movie made my heart fat and happy. Seeing my parents enjoy and experience new things made me even happier. I honestly couldn't wait until I travel with them to a different country again.
My heart is definitely full.