Posted by: daradoodle | March 7, 2009

Taiwan (台湾), Week #2

And we’re back!

As soon as we arrived at the Tainan (台南) train station, we hopped in a cab to our accommodation. With a name like Hotel Dynasty, how could it not be promising?

The brownie points were indeed scored when learning about the free laundry machines and soap powder on the roof of the building. This was excellent since we’d been in Taiwan for a week and the dirty clothes were piling up. There was also a workout room that we didn’t use because let’s face it, we were on vacation. One breakfast per day came with the room, so we paid the difference to add another meal.

We spent our first night walking around the city and sampling some of the local food. Each city in Taiwan is known for their special xiao chi (小吃), or small eats. Guan cai ban (馆材板), or coffin bead, is a popular xiao chi in Tainan and one of my favorites. A piece of toast is deep fried on both sides then a little door is cut out of one side and a stew of peas, carrots, chicken and seafood is poured into the center. It’s extremely tasty! We liked guan cai ban so much that we ate this both nights we were in Tainan at this location —->>> #218 Minzu Lu, Section 2

guanzaiben aka coffin bread

guan cai ban (馆材扳) aka coffin bread

Boys dancing in front of a mall

Boys dancing in front of a mall


bao bing (刨冰) in Tainan

Hotel dy-NASTY

Hotel Dy-NASTY


Another perk about Hotel Dynasty was that, once again, the staff was extremely helpful. They not only provided us with train and bus schedules, but they also booked us the tickets. With their help, we plotted out how to get to popular hot spring destination, Guanziling, in Tainan County. We had to take a train (walking distance from the hotel) to Shinying then grab a bus directly across the street from the train station. We were in transit for just over two hours, but had two wait two hours in Shinying for the next bus.

We hopped off the bus at the bottom of the mountain in Guanziling then trekked it up a steep incline to find many hot spring resorts and restaurants along the main road. We were using The Rough Guide to Taiwan on this trip and the book recommended Mutsun Spring, a Japanese style hotel and hot spring retreat. We paid NT$1350 to soak for 35 minutes, which was plenty of time, in a private room that included a small outdoor patio, shower, toilet, vanity area and a nice size tub. The natural spring water was hot (as expected) and cold water was on tap to cool down the temperature if needed. Bliss!





Mutsun Spring



Private room


Mineral rich hot spring water is good for the skin



We sipped complimentary tea in the courtyard before setting off to find the Fire Water Cave, or Shui Huo Dong (水火洞), where methane seeping from the side of a mountain continuously burns on top of a pool of water. I asked the receptionist at Mutsun Spring how long it would take for us to walk to this natural phenomenon and she said 30 minutes. What she didn’t mention was that it was uphill the whole way at a 90 degree incline! It took us nearly an hour to get there, but Nate found a cobra skin on the side of the road, so that made the rigorous journey worth it. Here’s a video of the Fire Water Cave.

We made our way back down the hill in 30 minutes and grabbed a drink from an outside cafe before returning to Tainan. We were wiped out from all the hiking, so the evening consisted of packing bags and getting shut eye.

After breakfast the next morning, we walked back to the train station to venture to our next destination, Hualien (花莲), which is located on the northeast coast of Taiwan. I had learned through the receptionist at Dy-NASTY that there were no trains that traveled straight across the island from Tainan to Hualien. We would have to go either all the way down south then up the east coast, or back up north through Taipei, the way we had already come, down the east coast. Since we didn’t have time to stop off at any southern points, I really wanted to take the southern route… and I thought that was communicated to the receptionist. Welllll, I was wrong. We got to the train station and realized that we were standing on the same platform that we had stood on the previous day when going Guanziling, which is just north of Tainan. I’ll admit, I was a bit bummed out that I wouldn’t get to see the southern region, but the train ride to Hualien would have been six hours either way. As the train chugged along the northern coastline of the island, despite the rain and clouds, the view of cliffs and crashing waves was magnificent.

Other than the little mishap with the booking of the train tickets, up until this point, I had experienced the best and most consistent customer out of any trip I’d ever been on. And that didn’t change once we arrived in Hualien.

Conveniently located next to the Hualien train station is a Visitor Center. I asked the woman at the desk how far our accommodation, the C’est Jeune Hotel, was from the station and she said that it wasn’t walking distance and that she’d phone them because she knew they had a shuttle. Excellent! The guy from the hotel picked us up within 15 minutes and moments later we were in the lobby of what could have been a contemporary art museum. Art is a big deal at this hotel with featured artists’ work frequently rotated out. Each room is also decorated with at least one piece of the guest artist’s work.


C'est Jeune Hotel lobby



That night we ate an interesting… Western… I guess you could say, dinner at a place called Truck Road. I can’t find a website or any information about this restaurant online, but I’ll tell you that the decor made me feel like I was in a Joe’s Crab Shack in the southern States, or my favorite mac n’ cheese spot in NYC, Chat n’ Chew. Basically, a very kitsch American vibe with the whole Coca Cola sign, old gas pump, Superman figurine, thing going on. I was hoping to score a cheese burger, but we ended with something that was similar to a meatloaf… but it had a cheesy center. The whole meal was a bit odd, but it didn’t taste bad, so we left satisfied.

Before walking back to the hotel we dipped into a dive bar where there was only one other patron, a young woman sitting by herself. All of a sudden the music changed, the fog machine turned on and the gal walked up to a small stage in the middle of the room and began singing karaoke. It was bit awkward because it was only us… and her. I felt inspired after listening to her sing two songs and knew that the night wouldn’t be complete without a tune from MADONNA! That’s right. I sang “Crazy For You” like no one had ever sang in Hualien, or at least I’d like to think so. The night was complete.

The hotel breakfast (included with the room rate) the next morning, I’ve gotta be honest, wasn’t one of my favorites. The drink selection was strange (soup?) and the food was under room temp. We didn’t dilly dally over the meal though because we had a full day ahead of us. With the Downtown Hualien bus stop only a 15 minute walk away, we powered there to catch a bus to Taroko Gorge. After nearly two hours on board, we were dropped off at Tiansiang (天祥) the last stop inside of the National Park, where we found ourselves surrounded by mountains and raging water. Submerged in some of nature’s finest creations, we stumbled upon waterfalls and marble formations throughout the day.














The best part of the day was seeing what I like to call a Free Range Monkey! No kidding! We were walking down the road and in mid-conversation Nate stopped and said, “That is a monkey!” We stood still facing the woods for a few minutes and sure enough, I saw the monkey too! I pulled out the guide book and indeed there was a little blurb that mentioned sightings of the rock monkey being common in Taroko National Park. Unfortunately, the monkey was camouflaged up against the trees, so I couldn’t score a good photo. He was monkeying around :::bad ump bumb:::

And the worst part of the day was when Nate almost fell off a cliff. We were walking down the main road and although there was a guard rail, edges of the asphalt were missing due to erosion. All of a sudden Nate was down and one of his legs was hanging over the side. Needless to say, after that I made him walk on the other side of the road.

We hiked a total of about six hours by the time we reached the middle of the park. The last shuttle was scheduled to stop off at this point at 6:30 pm. By 5 PM, it was pitch black. Our only source of light came from the gleam of a traffic tunnel. At 6:45 I started getting nervous because we were literally out in the middle of nowhere. But once again, the nerves got the best of me because a few minutes later, our amazing bus driver pulled up and welcomed us with at big “Hello!”

We picked up some Hualien xiao chi (小吃) of soup and xiao long bao (小笼包) before heading back to the hotel.


A local Hualien soup & xiao long bao (小笼包)


The next day was New Years Eve Eve, which meant it was time to head back to Taipei to ring in the New Year. This time we stayed at the Holiday Inn East Taipei, located in the Shenkeng suburb of Taipei, a hop skip and a tunnel away from the Taipei 101.

I can’t remember the last time I stayed at a Holiday Inn and I was really impressed by the place. The room had a living area with a flat screen TV separate from the bed area that also had a flat screen. A free shuttle on site brings guests to the Taipei 101 a few times a day during the week and more frequently on the weekend. Reservations must be made in advance with the concierge, but when the shuttle is full, it’s no big deal because there’s a convenient city bus stop in front of the hotel.

We found a few awesome western style restaurants around the city including G’day Cafe that offers a bottomless cup of coffee and Grandma Nitti’s Kitchen in the Shida part of town. We meet up with my buddy ole pal, Paul from Scotland, who had also flown over from the Mainland to spend the holidays with his girlfriend and buddies from the University of Edinburgh. Some of the Edinburgh gals had a New Years Eve house party, so after we checked out the Taipei 101 scene downtown, we swung by to be a part of the festivities.


A massive New Year televised production in front of the Taipei 101



A male pop-singer performs

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

The last few weeks I was in the U.S. before coming to China, I worked on a game show for ABC and the director told me about the time he was in Taipei for New Years Eve and watched the 101 building explode. I didn’t know what he was talking about so I went on Youtube to educate myself. Now it’s your turn to educate yourself by watching this video. You can hear in my voice that I was just a wee-bit excited by the spectacle.


2009 ❤

The last few days in Taipei were spent checking out tourist attractions such as the legendary National Palace Museum. Originally located in Beijing at the Forbidden City, the National Palace was founded in 1925. Pieces of the collection were moved to Taiwan first in 1931 during the Sino-Japanese War and again in 1949 during the Cultural Revolution. The government shipped about 600,000 works to Taiwan to preserve history. The museum is comprised of three floors displaying rare books, religious sculptures, furniture, antiques, paintings and calligraphy, and my favorite, emperor’s curio boxes.




After the museum, we popped over to Miramar Entertainment Park to take a ride a Ferris wheel that’s 100 meters high. We made the mistake of getting in the shorter line for the “translucent bottom” cars because there’s only four of these on the darn thing! Since the wheel takes 17 minutes to do a full rotation and there were already a few people ahead of us, we were waiting for quite a while. However, due to the wait, we made it to the top of the Ferris wheel just as the sun began to set.





That night I saw my first movie in a theater since being in Asia, which was Changeling starring Angelia Jolie. A great film based on a true story about a missing child and a corrupt Los Angeles Police Department in the 1920s. There’s a shocking twist to the story not mentioned in the trailer that left me disturbed for a few days. If you didn’t catch the film on the big screen, make sure to pick up a copy at Blockbuster or your local DVD shop.

The amazing trip came to an end early on a Monday morning and I had my teary eyed good-bye with Nate. The vacation was chock-full of excellent food, excellent customer service, excellent accomodations and most importaly, excellent hospitatlity.

I left Taiwan feeling rejuvinated and suprisingly more conifdent about my Mandarin speaking skills than when I arrived. I felt that the people of Taiwan really gave me a chance to speak to them, even if I didn’t use the correct tones. They tried to understand what I was saying and didn’t blow me off immediatly because of the way I look (like a foreigner). I returned to Shanghai with a new sense of confidence for living in Asia. I started the next portion of my year in China with more knowledge and a fresh slate.

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  1. Great Post! What an adventure you are having over there!

  2. Riveting Read! Felt I was there, you have a great balance of information and history and I love the pictures, especially the hotel interiors. Most important you mention and show the food. Hey and Paul turned up again. You deserve the award.

  3. Whoa…. were you in Taichung just recently? because I can swear I saw you on the number 82 bus on saturday/sunday. I am an Asian exchange student here for one year from Canada.

    • Hey Kirei, Unfortunately, I wasn’t in Taiwan on Saturday or Sunday. I hear that everyone has a twin somewhere on this planet. Perhaps you saw mine!

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