Over Labor Day weekend, I chose to kick off the first installment of Globe Trotter Elite by taking the first of many weekend trips to destinations most people wouldn’t normally think about going. Why go to Vegas for the weekend when you could travel halfway around the world and experience a weekend in Taiwan?
Destination – Taipei, Taiwan. I’m not the first one to write about quick trips around the world, but in regards to quick trips, most people think about staying at the trendy W hotel in the heart of Downtown Taipei near Taipei 101 and eating sha long baos at the famous Din Tai Fung Restaurant, but I’m here to show people that even in the short time abroad, you can go beyond the norm in a weekend in Taiwan.
Being based out of San Francisco and being a United Hub, there are an abundance of Transpacific flights. In my case, I flew United UA 871, which takes off at 1:55 PM PST and gets in Taipei at 6:30 PM the next day.
United recently swapped out their Boeing 777-200 planes for brand new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners for this route, in most likely a cost cutting measure. In exchange for 20% less seating capacity, passengers get a newer, quieter plane with LED lighting and photo chromatic windows. One big benefit of flying in the newer 787 is the carbon fiber composite body, which allows the cabin to be set at a higher pressure to mimic an altitude of 6000 feet instead of 7-8000 feet. This makes the air more dense and oxygen rich, which allows you to be more refreshed once you get off the plane:
[Travel Quick Tip] – I recommend loading up a map on your phone and marking the hotel where you are staying at with the name in the local language, as many times taxi drivers don’t speak English and don’t know the locations by the western name. Google offers offline maps in many places around the world and also apps such as City Mapper offer that functionality as well.
Upon landing, I took a quick 25 minute taxi ride to the Marriott Taipei, which is located in the Zhongshan district located about a 15 minute train ride from Downtown. Newly built in 2016, the four star hotel is 18 floor hotel with modern rooms, friendly staff, and top-notch breakfast buffet. As a Marriott Platinum Member, I was offered Executive Floor check-in, complimentary upgrade to a Jr. Suite, and personal greeting from the hotel General Manager. I would say the best part of the hotel is the breakfast buffet. Marriott does a great job around the world offering authentic local cuisines in their buffet selection for their international hotels. I say skip the imported Washington Red apples, Fruit Loops/ Coco Puffs, and try some of the local cuisine.
[Travel Quick Tip] – You should always try the local foods. Pork Floss (seasoned dried pork), Yalkut (probiotic digestives) are very popular local dishes that you should try.
After unpacking, first order of business for a weekend in Taiwan was to visit a night market. Taipei is famous for their sprawling night markets, where vendors sell a wide variety of wares from clothes, electronics, and accessories. I went to the Shilin night market, as this one offered a underground cafeteria section where you have a proper sit down meal. I chose to eat:
On the second day, after a 6:00am wakeup call and early breakfast, we started our journey to the city of Yilan, which is about 1.5 hr bus ride from Taipei Main Stations. Taipei’s bus system is one of the best I have ever seen, with multiple buses per hour to almost all destinations around Taiwan. The roundtrip ticket cost just about $3 USD and the buses were clean, comfortable, and offered free Wi-fi. Upon getting dropped off in Yilan, we took a $10 taxi ride to the Kavalan Whiskey factory, which is owned by the King Car Group. Kavalan was the old name of the Yilan, named after the indigenous community that inhabited the area in the early 19th century.
Taiwan whiskey scene is on the rise. With Japanese whiskey such as Yamazaki and Hibiki taking off, Taiwanese whiskey is positioning itself for the next wave of growth. They say what makes the whiskey great in Yilan is the water, which is taking from the springs of the Taipingshan mountains directly behind the distillery. We took a self-guided tour through the multiple buildings of the distillery and also participated in our own whiskey making session, where we were able to create our own single malt blend. We even created our own labels and boxes for our bottle.
After being fully liquored up, it was time to taste the local foods around town. The most famous dish in the city is a dish called Cherry Duck, a dish that required reservations days in advanced and cost north of $100 +USD, which after talking to some city locals, we learned that it was all a marketing scam from the city. So instead, a local tour guide took us to a proper Duck and Goose establishment for some authentic local cuisine. With some pointing and nodding, we were able to get some tasty duck noodle soups. They say the water is also the reason why the Duck is so good in Yilan. Ducks need water, and the drink from the same source used to produce world class whiskey.
After a quick $1.5 bus ride back and one afternoon evening left, it was time to do something else that Asian countries just do better, which are hair salons. For $15-$20USD, you can a high quality salon experience from trendy barbers that would cost you $75-100 in the US. The best part of the process is the hair wash, in also includes a full head and shoulder massage. We went to the Xiemen district and walked into the first salon that we could see (there were so many!).
Looking fresh and clean, we finally went into to central Taipei for some a quick history lesson at the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial hall, stopped by the Songshan Culture and Creative Park cultural park to pick up some local taiwanese crafts, and then finally, went to Ding tai Fung @ Taipei 101.
The next morning at 6am, my weekend in Taiwan came to an end and it was time to take United UA 832 back to the San Francisco, and head straight into the to report back to work at 9M.
Until next time…
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