The Balucanags escaped to Taiwan!
This is the first time I am travelling with 4 out of 5 of the siblings. My middle brother couldn’t make the trip because of work commitments but hopefully, he can join us when in the coming trips.
If you guys don’t want a hassle, land at Taichung Airport, it’s so chill out there.
Ximending Shopping District
On the way out to find a place to eat, with very little sleep, we stumbled upon one of the many exits of the Ximending Shopping District. They say this is the Harajuku of Taipei and they are not wrong. We did not realize how massive this area is until the second and third visit. Conveniently, it was walking distance to where we are staying too. Take your time to look around this place – it is worth it. My youngest sister went NUTS buying makeup goods because it’s all on sale for Chinese New Year.
Do not pass up seeing all the shops – they have all sorts of interesting merchandise – like the ones below!
The Red House
Before we got to Ximending’s most iconic building which was built in 1908 to serve as Taipei’s first public market, we stumbled upon a pretty large five storey H&M (we didn’t go in despite the pleading screams of our youngest sister), a television studio building and a criminal mastermind placement of snack shops along every damn exit of the shopping district. You can imagine the ‘what’s this one?’ and the ‘wait I gotta get this!’ comments from all sides. We passed by some gay sex shops and honestly, I only found out later on that the south area of the Red House is the city’s gay bar district. Inside the Red House, there are artists’ and local designers selling their original works – from postcards, home displays, clothes to jewellery. Honestly, I was thisclose to splurging more than half of my trip budget.
Huashan 1914 Creative Park
We got lost – at first. That served as a first lesson to me in public transportation. We got off after six bus stops which was quite far from each other and found ourselves at a very quiet residential area. As we tried to find the other bus stop, we stumbled upon this large old -school dollar shop run by a kind old man. It had uneven floors, uneven lighting but it was so charming. We managed to get to the correct bus stop but we had to walk another 25 minutes just to get to the park. We stumbled upon a historical site, a beautifully preserved Japanese Colonial-era house for civil servants on Qidong District. There isn’t much I can tell you about it since it was closed early that day. When we finally got to the park, there was a band playing – may have been local and it was a packed venue. Most of the shops have interesting trinkets and displays but most of the things that I personally wanted was probably illegal to bring back to Hong Kong so I just didn’t even bother looking as much as I wanted to because it will just break my heart. But overall, it was a nice park to explore since there are exhibitions and you can really see how they want their youth to explore their creative side.
Raohe Street Night Market, Songshan District
We had to take another bus to go here because it was quite far from where we are (for a moment, I hoped it was walking distance but we’re not as lucky). We took a bus and everyone fell asleep, except me and I was fighting to keep awake by reciting the names of my enemies – ok maybe not, but I was really fighting it out so we don’t miss our stop. The bus stop was not so far from one of the oldest night markets in Taipei and as soon as we got there, it was food galore. I had those spicy mushrooms, red bean fish dessert, the dumplings were out of this world and the juices were so sweet! No sugar added, the fruits were fresh af. There are carnival games and prizes, quaint stalls and shops and a large area specifically for claw machines. Food was cheap. At the Eastern end of the night market, is the Ciyou Temple (慈祐宮), built by local residents during the Qing Dynasty era (1753). The temple is dedicated to the goddess, Mazu. It was still breathtaking to see even if it is was going through a small renovation. Songshan District became our ‘north star’ in finding our way around in Taipei.
Jiufen (九份) Old Street (Chiufen, Ruifang)
We started the day a little later than expected. We went to Beiman Station – closest to where we are staying and took the opportunity to get an Easy Pass for the public transportation. I was quite excited to go to Juifen because Hayao Miyazaki based the decommissioned gold mining town after Spirited Away. The town was founded during the Qing Dynasty and was virtually isolated until the discovery of gold during the Japanese occupation in 1893. Many of the buildings in the town remain unchanged to this day. We took a bus to Juifen and that was when the rain started and persisted as we got closer to our destination. It was a pretty long ride too and I was a little scared that we may have missed a stop. When we got off the bus stop, the wind felt as unforgiving as the rain. The cold danced around us in welcome and we felt it bite our bones. But despite the cold and rain, the Santorini of Asia is still beautiful. Walking through the streets of shops and tea houses, you understand how people fall in love with Juifen. We ate lunch at this family owned beef noodles shop which has been opened since the 60s. The noodles were homemade and the beef and soup was amazing. My youngest brother and I bought ocarinas for souvenirs. You can watch them paint the ocarinas right in front of the passing crowds. The filtered coffee shop near the bus station is a must try. The Doriyaki ice cream is cheap and so great (like where have you been all my life, I want to have you every damn day great). Jiufen is a maze (I’ve warned you) and we were completely lost at one point but with the help of a handy dandy cat holding a sign on where places are, we managed to get back to where we dropped off at the very beginning. We were supposed to go visit the Jiufen Gold Mine but the rain and wind picked up again and it was difficult to get through anywhere else. Rain or shine, this place is worth the visit.
Taipei City Mall, Datong
This was actually pretty close to where we are staying and we have our first lunch there almost every afternoon (we need to eat every two hours – you would too). The mall is directly connected to Taipei Main Station and you can almost buy everything here on a budget (unless you’re posh and like luxury items – you may not find this place to your liking). If you guys are anime fans or likes to play video games, this is the place to be. It is littered with things we couldn’t find back here in Hong Kong so here was another place that was very dangerous for our budget. Musicians play in a stage near the train station exit so it’s one of the first things you will see when you enter the mall. Another shop you will find close by are the blind masseuses (they are pro and awesome) and there’s another shop, just a few shops down, offering ‘knife massages’. We did not try this because we didn’t want to get stressed out. I read that it’s actually very popular in Asia to help people stay….sharp. If you’re in the area, it’s worth taking a look at.