Not your usual Taiwan itinerary (Part 1)

This is my third time to Taiwan in ten years. I have been to all the major tourist attractions, save for Taroko Gorge. Nevertheless, I managed to put together a 9 days itinerary that worked well.

Our trip began with sampling the beef noodles at Ling Dong Fang. At 9pm, there was still a queue. Waiting time was 20 minutes or so.

The new outlet has a nice facade

I recommend ordering upgrading the bowl with more beef slices as the normal portion is simply not enough!

I have tried Yong Kang beef noodles on my previous trip and i must say, Ling Dong Fang is better! The beef is more tender and taste is balanced.

Breakfast the next day was at the infamous Fuhang Soy milk. As mentioned in reviews, the queue started near the MRT exit. Queing time was about 40 minutes, which was not too bad actually.

The queue snakes around the corner of the building and up the staircase
The kitchen is open for all to view
Is it good? Absolutely! Best i have tasted!

Having been to Taiwan so many times, i have never visited the CKS memorial hall. It’s a 20 minutes walk away from Fuhang Soy milk, so why not?

i was there just in time to witness the changing of guards, which happens hourly. It was the most (somewhat unnecessarily) elaborate one i have seen.
An appropriately grand architecture

Another 20 minutes’ walk brought us to Ding Tai Fung, which is our must-visit restaurant in Taipei. Enroute, we picked up coffee from Cama coffee, a coffee joint that does bean roasting on-site. I believe this is a trend others will start to imitate soon.

Kids posting with the mascot of Cama Coffee. The coffee bean roasting machine is just behind the glass on the right
As expected, a long queue at Ding Tai Fung, with an estimated waiting time of 65 minutes. In the end, it took 75 minutes before it was our turn. Half the people waiting were tourists.

You should install the Ding Tai Fung app to get real-time updates on the queue number. There was a park in the neighbourhood which was good for people watching on the Sunday afternoon we were there.

A queue at a scallion pancake stall near Ding Tai Fung. No, not a good idea to stuff yourself before you meal at Ding Tai Fung.
A very relaxing place to chill while keeping watch of the Ding Tai Fung queue number
Every dish is good, including the appetizers
The mandatory Xiao Long Bao, the best ever. We don’t bother to patronize any Ding Tai Fung outlet outside of Taiwan
The fried rice is also a must-order
Tried something different this time, Zha Jiang Mian. This is done Taiwanese style, and it tasted good of course.

We spent the rest of the day meeting up with a friend. Taipei is mostly about food, and a single day was more than enough for me.

After picking up the rental car early the next morning, we headed straight to Yang Ming Shan. This turned out to be a very good idea, as it started to get packed after 1130am. At this time of the year, it is the season for the Calla Lily flower (海芋).

A scene that reminds me of the mossy forest on Yakushima Island, spoilt by the pipes running across. At Shuicheliao Walk (水車寮步道)
Swimming snake
Terraced fields at 小瀑布海芋園
This pretty plant, in various shades of green, yellow, red and brown is something you will find throughout Taiwan. It’s actually a grain that can be added to rice as a healthy supplement.
Hydrangeas at 高家繡球花田第二園區. Would have been much more impressive when they fully bloom.
The colours are pretty indeed

Miao Bang (苗榜) is probably the best place to view the Calla Lily, and they lure you to do lunch in their premises by allowing you to offset your bill with the amount you paid for entry (this is the practice throughout Taiwan). Having read some negative comments (although i think the food wouldn’t be terrible), we did lunch across the road at Mama Wei (媽媽味餐廳). The actual place i intended to have lunch (原鄉私房餐館) was closed for the day. We did still go into Miao Ban to view the Calla Lily (plus a dose of caffeine).

It’s true, Miao Ban is the best place to view the Calla Lily. Because they reserved large patches for viewing only, whereas the other gardens allowed visitors to pick the flowers (for a fee of course).
Big and white, clean and bright

The other attractions of Yang Ming Shan are nearby. We took a walk on the trails around Lengshuikeng Hotspring (冷水坑). There’s actually a hotspring here where you can dip your feet into.

The lake was really pretty
Milk lake
The weather was not on our side at Qingtiangang grassland
Plenty of trails for hiking lovers
The smelly slimy pit that is paradise for the buffalos
Oblivion though surrounded by tourists
You’re supposed to stay within the bounded trail but most people ignored the advisory
Tudung-clad wefie addicts who spent a good half an hour doing all sorts of pose. Pity the weather.

From Yang Ming Shan, you have only two logical options – either backtracking to Taipei or going further north (east). I chose the latter and headed to Jinshan.

Jinshan is famouse for its sweet potato. Unfortunately, it’s still not as good as the ones from Okinawa.
The duck is the famous dish at the Jinbaoli old street. It was sold out before 6pm. I find it strange that they can operate almost within the premises of the temple. Unless they built the temple?
Bridge design that is probably unique to Taiwan
Ruined European looking mansion near the coast
You can actually walk this rocky trail by the coast, aptly called the “mysterious coast”. It looks mighty interesting! A permit may be needed, i’m not sure. Jinshan is hardly known as a tourist attraction, but i think it’s worth spending half a day doing this trail.

Since my original plan to have the duck for dinner didn’t work out, the next best option was 兄弟食堂. The food was honest to goodness.

Super tender clams, in typical Taiwanese basil sauce
Steamed fish – was a little tougher than we are used to
Sweet potato leaves, of course, in an area known for sweet potatoes
Their signature dish – tender pork in special caramel sauce. Very nice.
Day 1 itinerary

Shifen and Pingxi (along with Jiufen) are among the most visited attractions in Taiwan. I had to visit to check them off the list.

The touristy thing that we didn’t do at Shifen old street. The lantern end up as litter all over the place.
Ice cream with shaved peanut crumbs wrapped in popiah (paper thin pancake) skin
Queing for the famous sausage at Pingxi old street. It’s not bad.
Nice fried squid. Pricey with big portions, but too filling.
Sweet potato and yam balls topped with ice, sold in the shop next to the sausage stall. Nice for cooling down after eating the heaty stuff.

We did lunch at 豪哥肉麻面 which was an excellent choice. They’re located further away from the rail tracks area which were jam packed with tourists.

卤肉饭 which didn’t feel overly fatty. The gravy was thick and heavy, in a good way.
The meat broth and noodles were excellent, especially the broth, The noodles is done Fuzhou style.

I wasn’t so keen to see Shifen waterfall, since i’ve seen it so many times on Facebook photos, and the waterfall looks artificial to me because it is dammed up. The trek to the waterfall was longer and more tiring than expected, especially with the hot weather and the crowd.

An impressive start – walking across the pot hole filled bedrock river
I found this little waterfall along the route equally, if not more interesting than Shifen waterfall
It’s a pity they dammed up the waterfall. Yes, it looks more pretty, with water flowing down evenly across the breadth of the river, but it looks man made.

We drove to Luodong, Yilan to stay for the night. The plan was to check out Luodong night market, but it was a major disappointment – the food was not particularly nice. Anyway, i took the route across the Pinglin mountainous area instead of following the suggested quicker route on Google maps, and we were rewarded with being able to buy tea leaves from a tea plantation. This was exactly what we were hoping for.

We bought our tea from the owners of this building
Direct from the source
And this is how they sort the leaves
Terraced tea plantation
We arrived at Luodong early enough to go for tea. This slice of homemade cheesecake was quite nice. They seem to like to freeze the cheesecake in Taiwan.
A very well maintained and cozy cafe – Lil Secret Cafe.
This little shop near our hotel sells nothing but red bean soup and Tangyuan (汤圆). Couldn’t resist the temptation.
Super delicious

Luodong night market is wraps around a park. The famous stalls here are Sanxing spring onion and mutton soup.

The spring onion from 三星 town is supposed to be good but i can’t really tell the difference
Despite frying it this way, the onions still tasted too raw
Oyster pancake from the 广东粥 stall is decent
Just next to the 三星葱饼 stall is this stall selling 卜肉 which is a nice snack
Day 2 itinerary

Day 3 – Taroko Gorge. There was roadworks going on, which limited the time we had to check out the Baiyang trail. Nevertheless, we had a good time at Yanzikou trail. I suppose one cannot claim to have been to Taroko Gorge if one hasn’t been to Yanzikou.

Enroute to Hualine/Taroko Gorge, the sight that is not to be missed – Ch’ing-shui cliff. Cliffs that dive almost vertically into the ocean, simply awesome.
One of the viewing points just next to the road. Such a deep gorge carved out by the river!
This was as far as i could go on the Baiyang trail, which was supposed to lead to a waterfall. In order to get past the roadworks area, i had to rush, or risk losing out an hour (they only grant passage hourly) to explore Yanzikou trail. It gets dark within the gorge very quickly.
Near the Baiyang trail entry point
You can say Taroko is beautiful no matter where you look. Love how the layered cliffs are highlighted by sunlight.
Exploring Yanzikou tunnel
The colours are striking
It is just a short walk of about 300m one way to see the best of Yanzikou trail.
It’s pretty cool to check out the tunnel
These small rocks fell just 8 metres or so in front of me, so don’t take the advisory to put on the safety helmet lightly. The danger is real!
Kids loved donning the helmet. Part of the fun.
Carving out tunnels was a huge undertaking
The Shakadang trail is probably the least impressive, but still worth checking out as a last priority
The clear turquoise coloured river is mesmerizing

I made an attempt to rush to Hualien to grab hold of the famed fried egg onion pancake, but alas, they were closed by the time i got there, around 630pm or so.

The yellow truck shop seems to be the more popular one, although it seems the blue truck shop was the original one

The place i chose for dinner was 大后山深夜食堂, as i was more interested in trying the common local dishes. Decent food and reasonable pricing, since the restaurant caters to locals.

I don’t remember what it was called but it was somewhat like chives. Nice taste and texture.
Fried battered tofu with crispy topping. Nice diish.
This is what the typical Taiwanese fried noodle looks like. Always comes with gravy, as do most Taiwanese dishes.
Thick slice of cod. Taiwanese cod texture is not as good as the Norwegian one, although, taste wise, it is fine.

Before heading off the next morning, we had breakfast at 山东豆浆大王.

Huge variety, and endless stream of customers
Gyoza, egg pancake, fritters wrapped in thin bread, and soya drink. Not everyone can appreciate the savoury version of soya milk, but i quite like it.
Day 3 itinerary
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