Guest post and photos by Laura Koebel
Soon after moving to the Philippines, Taiwan became high on our list of places to visit. This small island has a big history and although the many national parks are a big draw, its awe-inspiring landscapes are not all it has to offer. Taiwan has a modern, vibrant city, beaches, hot springs, amazing food; we wondered what took us so long to get there. Being ruled by Japan from 1895 until 1945, Taiwan is organized, efficient and the Taiwanese are amazingly friendly, polite people. We departed Manila the evening of December 25. Our plan was to spend the first two days in Taipei before taking the train to Taroko National Park and return to Taipei to ring in the New Year before heading back to Manila.
Taiwan with Kids
Taipei is one of our favourite Asian cities. At around 300 years old, it is a very new city by Asian standards. From monuments to temples, funky cafes and dessert bars to the many night markets, its streets have something for everyone. When travelling, we like to fill our days, which can be hard with two young kids so we were happy that Taipei had playgrounds seemingly at every turn. Not to mention other kid friendly attractions; more than we could even visit.
The city’s metro is extensive, orderly and easy to use (signs and announcements are also in English), not to mention fast and affordable. The streets are easy to navigate and traveling with a stroller was never an issue. There seems to be a park near every metro stop and finding a free public toilet was never difficult. In our first two days we explored a mix of attractions to appease both us and the kids and each night we ended at one of the fabulous night markets.
After a few days in Taipei we departed for the Xincheng. With assistance from local colleagues, we booked the fastest train to the Taroko National Park. In only two hours we were out of the city, sandwiched between the beautiful shoreline and the marble rocks of the Taroko Gorge. We allotted two days to explore the park. It was enough time fall in love with the beautiful scenery but left some areas to explore for next time. We said see you later to Taroko National Park on December 31 to arrive back in Taipei with enough time to check out the Taipei 101 area and scout the best place to catch the amazing firework show. And it was in these last two days that we found the very best night market.
9-Day Taiwan Itinerary
Taipei City Sights
Taipei is a beautiful fusion of Chinese, Japanese, Southeast Asian and American culture as well as its balance of modern day and old world. We pleased our kids on the first day by visiting the Taipei Zoo and riding the Maokong Mountain gondola. Our second day we watched the changing of the guards at the National Chaing Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, let the kids run off some steam at the amazing Daan Park/Playground, visited the original Ding Tai Fung restaurant and Longshan Temple. On our return to Taipei we explored the more modern Taipei 101 area, climbed the 154 stairs of Elephant Mountain, walked to the top of Beitou Hot Springs and bathed in a private hot springs room.
Culinary Adventures in Taipei
Eating your way through the city is one of the best ways to experience Taipei. Its cultural diversity is reflected in the many cuisines it has on offer. A trip to Taipei is not complete without visiting at least one night market. We didn’t just go to one, we went to six! We ended our first full day at Dihua Street and the Ningxia Tourist Night Market. Dihua Street is known for its Chinese medicine and textile shops. We sampled and bought the famous Brown Sugar Ginger Tea, which is known for its many health benefits. On our second night we were in the Longshan Temple area, home of four night markets. These markets were smaller and seemed to run into one another and were nowhere near as good at the Ningxia Night Market. Coincidentally, we saved the best night market for last. The Raohe Night Market topped them all in terms of variety, selection and with an amazing vibrancy.
We enjoyed squid cooked so many different ways, the most amazing dumplings and kiln baked pepper pork buns, okonomiyaki (Japanese version of a cross between pizza and a pancake), and Chinese burritos to list a few of our favorites. But we couldn’t get enough of Dà Cháng Bāo Xiǎo Cháng (small sausage in a large sticky rice sausage) that was especially delicious at the Raoche Night Maket. On the sweeter side we had to try the shaved ice and jelly desserts, Tanghulu (sugar coated fruits), Imagawayaki (disc shaped pancakes with red bean or custard filling) and we had our fair share of the popular, Taiwan invented Bubble Tea. We were adventurous enough to try stinky tofu soup (minus the duck blood), oyster omelets, smoking cookies but not quite ready to try the “frogs eggs” milk tea drink, chicken and pig feet.
Where to stay in Taipei with kids
There are so many great areas in Taipei and a full range of accommodation for every budget. When we first arrived we stayed near the Taipei Main Station because of its proximity to many attractions. Twing Stay was affordable with either hostel or hotel rooms, offering a shared kitchen and complimentary breakfast. When we returned to Taipei we stayed at an Airbnb in the City Hall / Taipei 101 area so we would be within walking distance to watch the fireworks.
Hiking in Taroko National Park
Taroko National Park is one of Taiwan’s top tourist destinations. It hosts what many consider one of Asia’s scenic wonders, the Taroko Gorge, an 18km marble-walled canyon. Named by the local Truku aboriginal tribe, Taroko means “magnificent and splendid”.
It was a good thing we arrived mid-day because it took us more than a few hours to get acquainted with the area and the transportation options – or lack thereof. We did have time to venture into Hualien for dinner. Without any bus schedule clarity we took a taxi the 20-30 minutes in and out, which ran us about $32 USD roundtrip. We weren’t overly impressed with the city and really wanted to be out in nature but we took advantage of the amazing dumpling restaurants. We didn’t realize how difficult it would be to find food and snacks for our mountain adventures so we got what we could while in Hualien. There are not many restaurant options in Xincheng but we were lucky we were there for the Friday night market. It was definitely our most adventurous meal of the trip!
The next morning our first stop was the National Park visitor center where we made our two-day plan. With Taiwan being prone to earthquakes and typhoons, many of the trails were closed. Taking the bus is the most affordable option (you can join group tours or hire a taxi or private tour guide for the day) and it was convenient enough we took it both days.
Our first day in the park we bought a day pass for the 302 bus, which we hopped on in the Xincheng train station parking lot. We had no idea what we’d have time for so our three stops this day were in an odd order. With the road splitting for part and us having to back track a little, I would recommend doing it in this order: First Shakadang Trail, second Swallow Grotto, and last the Changchun Shrine. Most of these stops are considered scenic walks (not intrinsically defined, but generally wide and well maintained trails at low grade, or even portions of road) and easy to do with the kids (our two-year-old was in a hiking backpack). The most difficult walk of the day was the small hill to the Changchun Temple and the stairs up to the bell tower. There is a steep road leading to a suspension bridge that had both kids being carried for a short period, but the stairs were an easy negotiation for our daughter with the allure of ringing the bell at the top.
On our second day we had a more ambitious plans for a proper hike through the forest. We were going further up the gorge to Tianxiang so we hopped on the 1141 bus just down the road from our hotel (on the main road from Hualien). The staff at the visitor center recommended we hike the Lüshui Trail (registration required onsite at the headquarters) from Wenshan to Lüshui, which was by far the better direction. The trail didn’t have amazing views but it was a challenging trail in the beautiful, lush forest. After the 3.5 hour hike we took whatever bus we could catch back up to Tianxiang where we ate (one of the only areas that we visited in the Park with food) and visited the Xiangle Temple.
Where to stay in Taroko National Park with kids
This area was a harder destination to book accommodation without a recommendation or already visiting. I chose the Taroko Aluwa Homestay because it was just off the beach, so close to Xincheng train station and Taroko National Park. What we did not know before going was that there are limited transportation options in this quiet area. Our hotel was amazingly accommodating though, picking us up at the train station when we arrived and driving us to the train station to catch our bus. Next time we will stay in walking distance to the train station, bus stops and main street at either the Starry Inn or the Taroko Liiko Hotel. While there isn’t a lot to the town, we would choose the proximity to the park as the priority for visiting the area.
For the kids, highlights of the trip were the Taipei Zoo, especially seeing the Panda bear and eating in the Panda bear café and of course the grand Daan Playground. For culturally rich experiences, watching the guards change at the National Chaing Kai-Shek Memorial Hall (happens every hour on the hour during the day), and experiencing bustling Raohe Night Market were tops. But as far as active adventure and beautiful sites are concerned, the stunning scenery of Taroko National Park and the view from Elephant Mountain were the winners. The great moments the whole family will remember are ringing the bell at the bell tower above the Changchun Temple and of course watching the amazing fireworks show from the Taipei 101 to ring in the New Year.
When to visit Taiwan
Low season in Taiwan is November through March excluding Chinese New Year. It is cooler but as a Canadian, I wouldn’t consider it winter temperatures. Shoulder season is September and October and April through June. July and August is high season and can be very hot. Rain is very common in Taiwan all year round but Typhoon season starts in June and could go until October, which can affect flights, traffic, sailing and access to remote areas.
Other places to visit in Taiwan with kids
We’ve bookmarked the following places to visit when we next get to Taiwan:
- Zhuili Old Trail in Taroko National Park (permit required, limited hikers per day)
- Shilin Night Market
- Explore the Town of Jiufen
- Nanya Rock
- Yamingshan National Park
- Yehliu Geopark
How to get there
Fly to Taipei, Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport with any international carrier. Some hotels will book your train tickets to Taroko. Online train bookings are a bit of a challenge, and seats are only made available at midnight 14 days before the departure date. The reservation and payment are made online, but the tickets need to be picked up locally at any 7-11 (which are everywhere). Tickets can book up quickly on poplar routes, especially during holiday periods.
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