Monday, October 28, 2019

Asian Hopper 2019 ✈ Taroko National Park

Our 2019 home trip gave us the opportunity to hop through (and visit) 5 Asian cities within 2 weeks. Our itinerary consists of a mix of countries that I've already visited in the past but it was nice to revisit these places with hubby and MIL, and most importantly spend time with families!

Aug 31: Seoul
Aug 31 - Sept 7: Taipei
Sept 7 - Sept 8: Hong Kong 
Sept 8 - Sept 15: Penang
Sept 16: Tokyo 

When I was planning for our itinerary in Taiwan, I looked for somewhere further for a 'driveable' day trip (because our 'free' hotel in Taipei was for 7 nights). Kaohsiung was too far to drive and I considered Taichung and Sun Moon Lake, but there weren't much to see that sparked my interest. I stumbled upon an instagram post at Taroko Gorge and thought it was pretty so we decided to do a one-day road trip along the beautiful east coast of Taiwan to Taroko National Park. 

Sept 5 (Thurs): Taroko National Park (Qingshui Cliff, Swallow Grotto Trail, Baiyang Trail, Changchun Shrine)

Thanks to jetlag, we were falling asleep and waking up too early for the first few days in Taiwan. So I decided to take advantage of this jetlag-ness and started driving at 5am in the morning. It was also easier to drive around Taipei city before the morning rush hour. 

After a quick breakfast stop at 7-11, we left the city and started our drive along highway no. 5 through Yilan county towards Hualien county. The first half of the drive was pretty easy, mostly highway and drove through a number of tunnels

The second half of the drive took us along the scenic Suhua Highway 9, with winding and narrow cliffside roads overlooking the Pacific Ocean. There were a number of constructions that slowed down traffic but since we were early, it wasn't bad at all. I read that this is a dangerous drive but I didn't feel so. However, we noticed a lot of huge trucks driving this route so it's definitely good to go slower.

A quick photo and washroom stop at Qingshui Cliff viewpoint after driving for 3 hours. This was an easy stop as there was a small parking area right by the viewpoint. 

Finally made it to Taroko National Park at 8.30am. We were welcomed by the majestic lush mountains and blue skies!!

Early bird gets a car-less street. Driving is definitely the best way to explore this National Park. There was no entrance fee and all we did was drive along and stopped as we liked (safety first of course). 

It was hard to capture the scale of the mountains, photos don't do this place justice.

First photo stop was the Swallow Grotto Yanzikou Trail. The tunnels looked super cool. We were able to park in the tunnel and hopped out for a quick photo because we were the only ones there. You can see the river gushing through the narrow gorge from the tunnel.

Selfie does not work here. There's no way to capture the entire scenery.

We were happily enjoying the road to ourselves until we came to this bridge and got 'stuck in traffic' for 30 minutes as they were doing some maintenance work. But looking on the bright side, it gave us plenty of time to take photos of the gorge. I used vertical panorama to capture the left photo. 

Finally, made it to the furthest point we planned to drive in the park...Baiyang Trail at 10.30am. This trail is a popular one because it's easy and flat, and took us approximately 2 hour (4.8km) return, including photo stops. The trail starts with an eerie walk through a dark 100m long tunnel.

Followed by a cliffside walk along a flat path, passing through several tunnels.

Towards the end of the trail, a suspension bridge connects the trail to an observation deck with a view of two waterfalls and overlooking the river basin.

At the side of the observation deck, we walked through another dark tunnel that took us to the most interesting sight of this trail, in my opinion.

The Cave of Water Curtain. You are guaranteed to get soaked walking through this tunnel so we 'geared up' by taking off our shoes (should have brought flip flops and towel) and covering ourselves up in rain jacket. There is a narrow path on one side of the tunnel and you'll see water pouring through the cracks into the tunnel. It was dark in the tunnel and difficult to get photo of us in the cave itself. But I brilliantly had the idea of using my 2nd phone's flashlight to shine on us while taking a photo...haha!! We didn't want to get too soaked so we didn't walk all the way to the other end. 

After a fun water curtain experience, we headed back to the car and drove to our final stop for the day...the Changchun Shrine. At this point, we were done walking/hiking so we decided to skip the walk to the shrine.

Goodbye Taroko National Park! Stopped at the coolest 7-11 ever and a rest area with angry 'chilies' on our drive back.

Made it back to Taipei around 4.30pm. It was a successful 12-hour day driving to and from Taroko National Park, with beautiful weather throughout our visit. It was raining on our drive back. Made it back to the hotel in time for another day of free dinner at the lounge!

For those who are interested to visit Taroko National Park, I'd definitely recommend renting a car and do a road trip there. If you have time and is flexible with your accommodation, spending a night in Hualien would be a good option. The total cost for our 2-days rental car with IWS was $133 for 3 person ($75 rental car + $33 gas + $5 tolls + $20 International Driver's Permit)...not bad at all!

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Asian Hopper 2019 ✈ Northeast Coast Taiwan

Our 2019 home trip gave us the opportunity to hop through (and visit) 5 Asian cities within 2 weeks. Our itinerary consists of a mix of countries that I've already visited in the past but it was nice to revisit these places with hubby and MIL, and most importantly spend time with families!

Aug 31: Seoul
Aug 31 - Sept 7: Taipei
Sept 7 - Sept 8: Hong Kong 
Sept 8 - Sept 15: Penang
Sept 16: Tokyo 

As compared to my previous visits to Taiwan, this trip was relatively longer and we had more time to venture outside of Taipei city. Therefore, we spent a day traveling to the Northeast Coast of Taiwan and another day driving south to Taroko Gorge National Park. 

I found a pretty good 2-day rental car deal on IWS, a local rental car company with very good reviews, for a total price of TWD2,300 ($75). Since there were 3 of us traveling together, it was much cheaper to drive to places further away from the city, especially Taroko Gorge which was a 3.5-hr drive (170km) from Taipei. I did have to apply for an International Driver's Permit to drive in Taiwan, which was easily done at the local AAA office for $20.

While the rental car was cheap, I made sure to check the on-site parking rate at the hotel as well because on-site parking fee published on the hotel's website was TWD2,400 daily, even more expensive than the total rental car cost. Fortunately, the hotel confirmed that parking is complimentary for hotel guests. =)

Sept 4 (Wed): Taiwan Northeast Coast (Tamsui Fisherman's Wharf, Yangmingshan National Park, Yehliu Geopark, Shihfen Old Town, Jiufen Old Town)

Starting another day with complimentary buffet breakfast at the hotel. P.S. I love guavas!

We took a bus from the hotel and got rained on as we walked to the rental car office. It was forecasted to rain all week during our visit but we were lucky that it only rained on the day we were traveling around in a car. It took about 30 minutes to get all the paperwork sorted out and departed at 10am after a quick inspection of the car (easy because the car was very new). I was happy to get a fuel-efficient Toyota. =)

First stop, drove about an hour north of Taipei to Tamsui Fisherman's Wharf. Took some photos with the famous landmark - Lover's Bridge.

 We spotted few fishing boats coming in with a boat full of catches.

It was cool that we were the only ones there! The boardwalk was where bro and I got eliminated from the Amazing Race China Rush in 2012. =P

After spending about half an hour at the Fisherman's Wharf, we continued our journey eastbound via Yangmingshan National Park. As we were driving to the mountains, the roads were narrow and windy. But overall, it was a fairly uneventful drive apart from spotting a monkey sitting in the middle of the road.

Our original plan was to do some sightseeing at a few visitor spots around Yangmingshan but it was extremely foggy up in the mountains so we decided to skip all the planned stops and continued driving to the next destination. 

After driving for 2 hours through windy foggy mountains, we made it to Yehliu Geopark at 1.30pm, a geological site formed by rocks eroded by the sea. The entrance fee was $2.55 per person but we paid only $0.55 each, thanks to Klook credits.

 I was definitely happy to see blue skies but I knew we had to make this a quick stop as the storm was rolling in! It indeed started pouring as we were leaving...phew!

The famous 'rock' here is the Queen's head (bottom right photo) but we were lazy to stand in line so we took photos with some other rocks, and snapped a quick selfie on the other side of the Queen's head. =P

Next stop, Shihfen Waterfall. From the parking lot, it takes approximately 10 minutes to walk to the waterfalls, passing through 2 suspension bridges.

There are a number of viewing spots to see the waterfall. Unfortunately, there was too much backlight at 3pm to get a good photo with us in it.

We then walked another 30 minutes to Shihfen Old Town, which is famous for its sky-lanterns and a train track that runs through the town. We were very lucky to get there just in time as a train was passing by.

Drove another 1 hour to our final stop for the day...Jiufen Old Town. After sitting on our butts in the car for an entire day, we weren't quite ready for the amount of stairs we had to climb around this mountain town, filled with maze of narrow lanes and alleyways.

This town is a popular tourist destination because of the resemblance to the town in the anime Spirited Away, especially this Ah Mei Tea House. We noticed that this was a popular stop for many Japanese tourists. 

Tried the A-Jou Peanut Ice Cream Roll and Taiwanese Sausage.

Our original plan was to wait till sunset and for all the lanterns in the town to light up...

...but the amount of people flocking in was a total turn off. Sorry I do not like crowds.

We decided to call it a day and started driving back to Taipei city at 6pm. 

Made it back to the hotel in time for the free dinner at the lounge before passing out.

That's a wrap for our day driving through the Northeast Coast of Taiwan. Coincidentally, our route for the day took us through many places I visited during the Amazing Race China Rush 7 year ago. It was nice to revisit these places with hubby and MIL this time around.