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Trip to Taiwan

This trip holds a special place in my heart. It’s been a long time since my last solo backpacking adventure, and I couldn’t contain my excitement. Interestingly, this trip wasn’t initially part of my plans. My work schedule had been exceptionally hectic, with numerous flights to various cities and sites this year. While I did enjoy those trips, reading the book “Die With Zero” pushed me to make a firm decision to embark on another journey. I had two options: hiking in the mountains or traveling abroad, and after careful consideration, I chose Taiwan.

Two months prior to my departure, I began my quest for affordable tickets. This wasn’t a business trip where I could opt for expensive flights; luckily, Batik Air had a promotion. After securing my ticket, I needed to arrange my visa through TETO, as there is no Taiwan embassy in Indonesia.

Day One
After clearing my schedule and obtaining permission from my manager, the day finally arrived. I had meticulously prepared everything in advance. The Batik Air flight went smoothly, and I was fortunate to have front-row seats for both legs of the journey. I had a layover in Kuala Lumpur before heading to Taipei, where I struck up a conversation with a fellow Indonesian traveler pursuing her PhD at NTU. We exchanged information, with her humorously mentioning that “Taiwanese cuisine is quite bland.”

Day Two
I touched down at Taiwan Airport in the morning. Following immigration, I procured a SIM card and an Easy Card for transportation, which cost me a total of 600NTD, a reasonable price. To reach the city center and my hostel, I took an Express Train and then continued with the MRT. My hostel was conveniently located near an MRT station, and I easily found it with the help of Google Maps.

Since I arrived at the hostel well before check-in time at 3 PM, I decided to explore the area. My hostel was very close to Taiwan Cathedral, so I attended the Sunday mass there, even though it was conducted in Chinese. It didn’t bother me as long as I could attend the mass. Afterward, I hopped on a bus to Fuang Soy Milk. I quickly fell in love with the city as it was incredibly accessible by bus. From that point on, I relied on buses for my daily commute.

Fuang Soy Milk was a bustling restaurant with a lengthy queue, around 100 meters long. People suggested arriving early in the morning, but I joined the queue and waited patiently for about an hour before enjoying my meal, which consisted of soy milk and cakwe. To be honest, the taste didn’t strike me as exceptionally unique. After finishing my meal, I returned to the hostel and passed the time until I could access my room.

My accommodation was a shared room for four people with bunk beds. I was the first to arrive, and I found the hostel to be excellent, boasting cleanliness and comfort. They offered numerous rooms, and the bathroom featured warm water and even a washing machine. After a refreshing shower, I took a short nap. Originally, I had planned to continue exploring the city the next day, but I found myself getting restless in my room, so I decided to visit Elephant Mountain.

Elephant Mountain is a park near the city accessible by a single bus ride from my hostel. I mistakenly thought it would be an easy hike to the top, but I was in for a surprise—it was a steep climb with hundreds, if not thousands, of steps. Many other hikers were on the trail, and I perspired profusely until I reached the peak. Although it was exhausting, I felt a deep sense of happiness—this was my kind of adventure. From the summit, I had a stunning view of Taipei City and the iconic 101 Tower. I spent about an hour soaking in the scenery before making my way back to the hostel. The descent was a different challenge, and my legs trembled as I reached the parking lot, where I took a much-needed break.

For dinner, I bought some noodles and snacks at Nixia night market, conveniently close to my hostel. Surprisingly, it turned out to be the best night market I visited. In the middle of the night, my roommate, Takahiro from Japan, arrived. We had a brief conversation the following day, although his English skills were limited.

Day Three
I left the hostel early while Takahiro was still asleep. I was delighted to discover that my room rate included breakfast—what a deal! For approximately 3000 NTD or 1.5 million IDR for five nights, I indulged in a hearty breakfast with noodles, dumplings, bao, rice, and vegetables. I savored the meal, knowing it would provide the energy I needed for the day’s adventures.

My first destination was the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial. This vast area featured a prominent statue of the former president of China, including Taiwan. The venue was enormous, akin to a football field. Although the day was scorching hot and humid, the vivid blue sky, a stark contrast to Jakarta’s, made my visit enjoyable. I explored the museum and learned about Mr. Chiang, although I later discovered a different perspective during a walking tour.

I spent my morning there before searching for a beef noodle restaurant nearby with good reviews on Google. It turned out to be a short walk from the memorial. Donning a cap and sunglasses, I braved the heat and made my way there. However, the beef noodles were not as impressive as I had hoped; the broth was excessively spicy.

Next, I ventured to the 101 Tower, a famous skyscraper with an observatory. It was conveniently located not far from the memorial, and numerous malls surrounded the area, tempting me to buy a NatGeo backpack. After a brief exploration, I headed to the 101 Mall, a luxurious shopping center housing many renowned brands. I quickly queued up to purchase an observatory ticket, which cost 600 NTD or 300K IDR. The line was quite long, and I had to wait patiently until I reached the elevator. To my surprise, the lift whisked me to the top in just around 40 seconds. From the observatory, I enjoyed a panoramic view of Taipei City, although I found observatories in Tokyo and Seoul more impressive, perhaps because those cities are larger.

Upon returning to the hostel, I desperately needed a shower after sweating profusely throughout the day. I encountered Takahiro, who was planning to head out as well, though our destinations differed. That night, I visited Shilin night market, while he chose Nixia night market. Shilin is renowned for its iconic snacks, but when I arrived, it was not as crowded as I had heard due to changes brought about by COVID-19. I tried a baked bun with pork filling and tanghulu, my first experience with sugar-coated fruit. Stinky tofu and claw machine games were common sights, but I couldn’t bring myself to try the stinky tofu due to its pungent odor.

That evening, a new guest joined our room—Jung from Seoul, who was only 20 years old. He was excited to converse in English with fellow guests and expressed his desire to visit Jakarta someday.

Day Four
This day marked the highlight of my trip to Taiwan, as I joined a tour to Taroko Gorge, a decision I later cherished. I had booked the tour through Klook, and the experience was incredibly convenient. I had to be at the main station by 7 AM, and there was a bit of drama as the morning bus route was different, with not all buses operating at that time. Fortunately, I made it on time. Many tourists joined the tour, hailing from the USA, Canada, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Our tour guide added to the enjoyment with his humor and informative commentary.

I struck up a friendship with Natasha from Indonesia, Stephanie from the Philippines, and an Australian couple. Interestingly, I initially thought Natasha was from China or another country until she spoke Indonesian. Long story short, Natasha, Stephanie, and I formed a close-knit team during the tour.

Taroko Gorge was a breathtaking and magnificent sight. Taiwan’s formation, owing to tectonic activity where land masses collided, creating a mountainous terrain, left me pleasantly surprised. We embarked on a hike amidst towering mountains, and the scenery was indescribable. Words can’t capture its beauty. We took countless photographs to commemorate the experience.

We returned to Taipei City in the evening, and the three of us decided to dine at Ximending Night Market. This market had a modern vibe, complete with street performances. We savored famous treats such as Xing Fu Tang, doughnuts, and vermicelli, with the latter being particularly delightful due to its rich flavors, including a hint of bonito.

We also tried our luck at the claw machine games, although I must admit I wasn’t particularly skilled at them.

Day Five
A rainy day awaited me, and I had scheduled a walking tour recommended by Natasha, which was not originally on my list. The tour promised to provide detailed insights into Taiwan’s history, so I eagerly booked it. I had to meet the group at 7:30 AM near a temple, and despite the heavy rain, I pushed through to the meeting point. I arrived a few minutes late, thinking the tour might be canceled due to the downpour, but to my surprise, it was still on. I spotted a group of people in the distance, all with umbrellas. I joined them, and we continued the tour under our umbrellas. Two individuals from Germany and Spain wore waterproof jackets, while others, including visitors from Japan, Canada, and the Philippines, opted for umbrellas. Our shoes inevitably got soaked, but we visited temples, a historic building, the post office, the presidential building, and concluded at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial. The tour guide shared insights into Taiwan’s history, spanning from European colonization to Japanese rule and Taiwan’s subsequent history. I learned that Taiwan had positive sentiments towards Japan for its constructive contributions during their rule, while the statue and memorial of Mr. Chiang were ironically built by his son. Taiwan seemed to have developed a sort of “Stockholm Syndrome” towards its history.

In the evening, I explored Raohe night market, a smaller market with fewer visitors. I sampled some fried rice from a restaurant run by Malaysians, though it didn’t quite meet my taste expectations. Afterward, I headed to the riverbank to watch a spectacular fireworks display. It was a fun experience, as the riverbank was bustling with people, and the fireworks show lasted for approximately 10 minutes.

Day Six
This day was filled with tours to four different places. First on the agenda was Yehliu Geopark, situated along the seashore. The park was shaped by erosion and wind, resulting in unique rock formations, with the most famous one resembling a lady’s head, known as the “Queen’s Head.” I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the park, even though the scorching heat forced me to limit my time there.

The second destination was Jiufen, a former gold mining village. In the past, this village thrived due to its gold resources, but it turned into a ghost town after mining ceased. However, it has since become a popular tourist destination. Upon arrival, I found it to be less impressive than expected, with numerous stalls selling various items. It might offer a different experience at night with its lantern-lit streets, but I was glad not to stay there long. I purchased nougat, cookies, and taro balls as souvenirs.

Our third stop was a waterfall, requiring a short hike of a few hundred meters. We were fortunate to visit after a morning rain, resulting in a greater water flow. On other days, the waterfall would have been less impressive due to the dry season.

The final destination was Shifen Village, known for releasing sky lanterns. Many tourists bought lanterns and wrote their wishes on paper before releasing them into the sky. Surprisingly, this activity wasn’t limited to the nighttime; it could be enjoyed during the day as well. The village also featured a train track and station. I spent time observing people flying their lanterns, and I couldn’t resist trying some ice cream rolls with shredded peanuts and passion fruit juice to quench my thirst.

In the evening, I indulged in oyster pancakes, giant squid, and milk tea boba at the night market, savoring the delightful flavors.

Day Seven
It was time to return to Jakarta, and I boarded the same flight. This journey had truly been a wonderful adventure that I would cherish for a long time to come.

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