Why Taiwan? People who heard about our trip would often ask us. Why indeed? For most Filipinos, whenever Taiwan is mentioned, they often associate it to Pinoys working abroad. In fact, as we were lining up at the immigration counter, I observed that majority were OFW’s. Also, Taiwan requires a visa so it is not frequented much by tourists since they would rather go elsewhere without the hassle of applying for visas. The good news is, Taiwan will soon allow Filipinos to enter Taiwanese territory visa-free starting (hopefully) this September 2017. That’s 2 months from now and that’s great news for the wanderlusts out there 🙂
As of this writing, visa is required for Filipinos, but just in case you possess at least one of the following documents issued by Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, any of the Schengen countries, United Kingdom, or the United States, then all you need to do is just fill out the ROC Travel Authorization Certificate online. The link is https://niaspeedy.immigration.gov.tw/nia_southeast/.
By the way, it is OK if your visa to any of these countries is no longer valid or expired. Yes, I repeat EXPIRED 🙂 As long as your expired visa is not more than 10 years prior to the date of arrival in Taiwan, you are allowed to enter the country just by filling out the ROC Travel Authorization Certificate at their website, fill out the necessary information, submit online and in less than 5 minutes you will have the results. An approved travel certificate is valid for 90 days with multiple entries within that 90 day period.
For those Filipinos without visas to the countries mentioned above, you will have to submit the required documents to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO). Please check out the requirements at their website http://www.roc-taiwan.org/ph. TECO is located at 41F, Tower 1, RCBC Plaza, Makati City. Visa fees are non-refundable Php 2,400.00 (Single Entry) and Php 4,800.00 (Multiple Entry) payable upon application.
TYPES OF TRAINS IN TAIPEI
There are three types of trains operating in Taipei that travelers must know before going to Taiwan. Trains here are very efficient, affordable and reliable mode of transportation.
1) Taipei Metro – it operates within Taipei.
2) HSR or High Speed Rail – it brings you to places outside Taipei.
3) TRA or Taipei Railway Administration – it brings commuters outside Taipei but not as fast as the HSR.
An EasyCard is a touch and go card that you can use in Taiwan. It is similar to the MRT card here in Manila except that the EasyCard can also be used not only in trains but also when riding a bus, renting a bike, riding a gondola, purchasing in a store and making a transaction in government agencies. In MRT, it gives you an automatic 20% discount. It is highly recommended to use this card to save you the hassle of buying tickets and computing for fares. To make the transaction, just pass or hover the card over the sensor area. When the value has been used up, there is no need to purchase a new card as you can reload anytime. For more information, you can go to their website at http://www.easycard.com.tw.
Upon arrival in Taiwan airport, we also exchanged our money to Taiwan currency. Of course you also have the option to withdraw money from their ATM’s (with foreign transaction fees) or go to their banks (opens at 9 am to 3:30 pm). The rates in Taiwan airport were pretty good (even better than hotels and money changers outside as I observed) and so good thing we exchanged it here.
Airport Money Exchanger
OUR ITINERARY : DAY 1 – FROM TAIPEI GOING TO JIUFEN
Our itinerary includes going to Jiufen, a mountain area located north of Taiwan. Jiufen is highly recommended by travelers, so we decided to go to this place. We arrived in Taiwan midnight so we booked an affordable hotel near Taipei Main Station to get some rest so we would have enough energy the following day. We were advised not to bring our luggage to Jiufen (due to the hassle of carrying it uphill) so we just packed what was necessary for an overnight stay. As for our luggage, we left it at the hotel free of charge. Just make sure the hotel has free luggage storage. In case this option is not available, the train stations have lockers that you can use for a certain fee.
There are two ways by which you can reach Jiufen from Taipei, either by train or by bus. We took the train as it was much faster, cheaper and convenient. From Taipei Main Station, we purchased our ticket and boarded the railway train to Ruifang Station.
The picture you see above (that looked like a bus) was actually our train to Ruifang Station. Take note, trains are prompt. Make sure to be at the correct platform few minutes before the train arrives as they leave exactly at the appointed time. The ticket will show the platform number, seat assignment, destination and time of departure.
Ruifang Train RailwayStation
Finally, we arrived at Ruifang Station. We still need to take a short bus ride in order to reach Jiufen but since it’s still early for check in (check-in is 3 pm) we decided to take the local tour. A few meters away from Ruifang station is a taxi stand where you can book your tour to its surrounding attractions. Tour packages are indicated in the large board so no need to worry about being ripped off as the prices are clearly indicated in the signage.
The tour packages are standardized and you just have to tell the taxi driver which tour you want depending on what you want to see in Jiufen and Shifen. For those tourists on day tour, they normally get Packages C, D or E that includes going back to Taipei. As for us, we availed of the Package Tour A since we would be staying overnight and still have plenty of time to explore Shifen and Jiufen on our own.
JIUFEN/SHIFEN TOUR PACKAGES
Package Tour A (TWD $1,200) – Ruifang Train Station/Nanya Rock Formations/YinYang Sea/Remains of The Thirteen Levels/Golden Waterfall/Jiufen Old Street
Package Tour B (TWD $1,800) – Ruifang Train Station/Shifen Waterfall/Shifen Old Street/Jiufen Old Street
Package Tour C (TWD $2,500) – Ruifang Train Station/Jiufen Old Street/Yeliu/Back to Taipei
Package Tour D (TWD $2,800) – Ruifang Train Station/Jiufen Old Street/Shifen Waterfall/Shifen Old Street/Back to Taipei
Package Tour E (TWD $3,600) – Ruifang Train Station/Nanya Rock Formations/YinYang Sea/Remains of the Thirteen Levels/Golden Waterfall/Jiufen Old Street/Shifen Waterfall/Shifen Old Street/Back to Taipei.
VIEW FROM OUR CAB
The price of our Package Tour A which costs TWD $1200 for a maximum of 4 hours was per tour and not per person. Since there were three of us traveling, we shelled out TWD $400 per head for the entire duration of the trip.
The first stop is the Nanya Rock Formation. The driver/tour guide accompanied us to the cliff where we can have a close look of the sea, the rocks, the mountains and last but not the least a spot where we can take beautiful pictures.
There were several clusters of rock formations but the one that stood out for me was the picture above. We were told that these amazing rock formation was as a result of thousand of years of weathering and erosion.
Anna beside the cone-shaped rock
Taipei’s weather during the month of December has an average low and and high temperature ranging from 10 to 18 degrees Celsius with occasional damp showers. If not for the beautiful scenery here at Nanya, we would have gone back to our hired cab. Our jackets were not warm enough to stop us from shivering with the cold wind blasting our face.
Shivering Rachell 🙂
Our second stop is the Yin Yang Sea. The sea is a mixture of two different colors – yellow and blue. Our driver drove us up to a a mountain top, which is the observation deck, so we can have a better view of the sea.
Yin Yang Sea
I’ve read that that the Yin Yang Sea’s mixture of colors are best viewed when the sea is peaceful and calm. Unfortunately, the strong waves prevented us from seeing its distinctive colors so we just delighted ourselves from taking pictures.
Anna, Joy and Rachell (left to right)
The lush green mountains, the beautiful landscape and the glorious sea were a sight to behold!
Our next stop was the Remains of the Thirteen Levels (also known as the Shuinandong Shelter). This shelter was built during the Japanese occupation for refining gold and copper ores.
Remains of the Thirteen Levels
There’s nothing much to see here at the Thirteen levels so we proceeded to the next stop which is the Golden Waterfall. We passed by the golden-brown rocks on the way to the waterfalls.
There were lots of tourists at the Golden Waterfall when we arrived and it was quite sometime when we finally had the chance to take pictures with the waterfall as the backdrop. The waterfall has a fence to prevent tourists from touching the water (which is said to be dangerous for humans to touch due to the high level of toxicity.)
The Mountain beside the Golden Waterfall
The last stop was Jiufen Old Street wherein we would be staying for the night. It was past 4pm when the tour was finished and cab/tour driver dropped us of to Jiufen.
We didn’t explore Jiufen Old Street on our first day since we would be staying overnight anyway so we have plenty of time to do it the next day. Based from the reviews I read from fellow travelers before coming to Jiufen, there was this one particular hotel that caught my attention. I love mountain views so I told my friends we would be staying at ShanHai Guan Guesthouse.
Wrong Stairs to Hotel
I was not able to print out directions to the hotel so we ended up climbing the wrong stairs (hehehe). The direction was not to climb any stairs yet while on Jiufen alleyway and we need to climb the stairs only after locating the hotel.
Climbing the wrong stairs has its rewards too! We were rewarded with a beautiful intricately designed structure and later we found out was a shrine.
Finally, we were able to locate the hotel, thanks to the local who knew about the place. It was around five in the afternoon when we checked in. True enough, there were stairs going to the hotel. Rooms are located at the 3rd and 4th floor so it was quite tiring going up. Good thing we followed the hotel’s suggestion to just bring what was necessary for an overnight stay.
Stairs to the Hotel
The second floor is the check-in counter. We checked in and paid the balance. We got the keys as well as the breakfast tickets. We were required to pay the balance upon checking in because during check-out, the instruction was to just insert the room key into the mailbox at the front desk.
Rachel at the Check-In Counter
We were advised before booking the room that that they do not have any pick-up service, no elevator, no one to carry our own luggage or there might be insects, frogs or squirrels on the way to the room (due to the hotel’s location at the mountain). Still these did not deter us from making the reservation.
Fourth Floor Stairs
The room we booked was a family room with sea view. Room cost is NT 2,400 good for 4 people. It was expensive for just three people but my two friends have no other option but to give in to my birthday wish hahaha 🙂
Family Room with Sea View
Upon entering the room we all squealed in delight. The room was an epitome of comfort and elegance. It was very cozy and the views were astonishing!
Me with a Foggy View of the Sea and Mountain
I love mountains. I love having such great views from the hotel window. This room didn’t fail me. My expectations were met.
Clear View of the Sea and Mountain w/o the Fog
We decided to rest first since we still have the Shifen sky lantern later this evening. Our first day itinerary isn’t over yet but we felt like we have been on vacation for several days already! The tour was definitely a must as you get glimpses of the countryside. There were still lots of places to explore. It was just the beginning. We were glad we decided to stay overnight.