Spending a week in Taipei with my mother and sister was a wonderful way to start our vacation. We knew the kids would need some time to adjust to the 12 hour time difference (as would we!) so having some familiar faces and extra hands was a huge help to us. Jesse also very much appreciated having Iris around to go for morning coffee runs together and for having someone else who always asked for hot sauce with their meal. And I think we were all appreciative to have my mother around to help translate everything for us, as regretfully, neither Iris nor I ever managed to learn Mandarin properly. It was also just so much fun to spend time with my family for an extended time, since usually our lives are so busy and chaotic that we only get to see each other for a few hours at a time back home.
We were staying in the Xinyi District of Taipei at two Airbnb apartments that were only a few blocks away from a subway station, several bus lines and a traditional day market (where you can buy fresh produce, meats and all sorts of other foods) that transformed into a bustling street food-filled night market each evening. The location was ideal for us, with a little playground around the corner for Daniel and all sorts of food vendors nearby.
Since the kids were always tired in the morning that first week, we fell into a nice routine where one of us would grab breakfast and coffee at a nearby food vendor and bring it over to our apartment so we could all eat it together at our own pace while we got the kids ready for the day. We did manage to eat out a few mornings, which was always fun for us but sometimes a little chaotic for the kids. Breakfasts consisted of many, many carbs; thin “pancakes” with eggs and ham, shaobing (sort of a Chinese baked flatbread with sesame seeds on top) filled with youtiao (deep fried fritters) and/or egg or pork floss, white bread sandwiches with egg, lettuce, ham and a variety of sauces, giant leek stuffed pie/pancakes, luo buo gao (turnip cakes), steamed pork or veggie buns, fan tuan (sticky rice rolls), salty soy milk soup and warm sweet soy milk to boot. On our last morning with my mother and Iris, we ventured out to a more famous breakfast joint and had a stellar meal which I certainly won’t soon forget. The highlight for me was definitely the shaobing filled with youtiao….it was perfect.
Over our week together, we managed to explore a few parts of the city, though admittedly we couldn’t cover too much ground as we had to juggle the kids’ nap schedules along with Daniel’s attention span, how far he would be willing to walk and the jet lag. Before leaving Toronto, we actually seriously considered bringing Daniel’s balance bike with us as he loves riding it and we can cover so much ground when he is on it…but it just didn’t quite fit in our luggage. In any event, this trip for us is just about slowly exploring new places, spending time together as a family, and living life somewhere new. We aren’t too fussed if we miss out on some (or all!) of the local attractions so long as we get to experience some good local food, go for some nice walks together and experience a bit of local life!
We’d heard great things about the Taipei Zoo, so we made sure to pay a visit while we were there. I was excited to find that you could rent strollers for $50 TWD (about $2-3CDN) for the day, which meant I could get some relief from carrying Jacob while we explored the zoo together. Eventually we even rented another stroller for Daniel who got a little tuckered out from the heat. We haven’t taken Daniel to the zoo in Toronto yet, so I think he was pretty excited to see all the different animals. We saw pandas, elephants, giraffes, hyenas, gorillas, rhinoceroses, gazelles and so many more animals. He asked at one point if we would see dinosaurs which made for a difficult conversation/explanation that I don’t think he really understood. From the zoo we were also able to get onto the Maokong Gondola which was a beautiful way to see the city and surrounding areas. The ride is quite long (~45 min round trip) which really lets you enjoy the scenery, but was perhaps a little too long for the kids who were getting restless. By the time we got to the top, Daniel was pretty tired (cranky) so we didn’t spend any time exploring and just headed back down. On top of that, our camera battery died during our ride so we don’t have any good pics of the view. Ah well, I’m still glad we got to go!
My mother arranged to have her driver friend bring us on a day trip to Jiufen one day. This is a small, historical town set up in a mountain. We had a scenic drive up the winding roads closer to the top, and then we were dropped off right at the beginning of the Old Street which was jammed with tourists and vendors but also the gateway to get some beautiful views of the surrounding area. Though busy we managed to still sit down and grab some lunch (fishballs and tofu fish cakes), try some coffee, snails (which they told us were from Quebec!), an ice cream burrito, sausage on a stick, sweet bean ice dessert and even a nice cold beer. I think part of the whole experience of visiting there is walking through this crazy busy tourist-filled street on your way to see the views, which was a lot of fun. When we did finally get closer to the end of the street, it was a beautiful vista to take in. Definitely worth the trip.
Funnily enough one of the reasons I wanted to go on this trip to Jiufen was because I’d read that you could release these beautiful paper lanterns into the sky with your hopes and wishes written on them. Of course somehow I got this totally wrong and it’s actually in a different town that you do this. Thankfully our driver was happy to bring us to Pingxi so we could experience that as well. By the time we arrived, Jacob had fallen asleep in the car so Jesse stayed with him while Daniel, Iris, my mother and I went to find some lanterns for us to write our wishes on. They were so much bigger in person than I thought and it look a long time for Daniel and I to cover all four sides of our blue lantern with special messages and wishes for our family and of course drawings of his favourite vehicles. Incidentally, Jacob was a little bit sick at the time (the driver kindly drove us to his doctor at the end of the day trip to get Jacob checked over and it turns out he had pink eye!), so we made sure to write our well wishes to Jacob on our lantern. Daniel also wanted to help Iris with hers so more vehicles were added to her red one. Then finally when we were done the shop owner brought us up to a road beside the train tracks and lit up our lanterns so we could release them into the sky. It was a really lovely and somewhat emotional experience and I initially felt sad that Jesse missed out, but soon after he texted us to let us know Jacob had woken so we decided to do one more lantern so he and Jacob could also take part. I really really loved the whole experience…from choosing your lantern, to thinking of what wishes to write and for who, to watching it get lit up and flipped over, and finally to letting it go and watching it float up higher and higher into the sky. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for the rest of the day. I think Daniel really enjoyed it too.
For the rest of our week in Taipei, we spent our days exploring our little pocket of the city…wandering the markets, checking out local parks with the kids, taking the metro and buses and of course, seeking out some yummy food.
We really enjoyed a lot of great meals together as a family. Some highlights include:
- Dumpling lunch at Dongmen Dumplings followed by fancy ice cream at 8% Ice and some time at the park
- Hand cut noodles at Ban Mu Garden close to Daan Station, followed by shaved ice at Ice Monster
- Food court meals at Taipei 101 which had a nice huge selection of local foods and was really quite tasty! Not like the food courts back home, that’s for sure!
- Our final epic breakfast with Iris and Mom at Yong He Soy Milk King which completely blew my mind
- Tonghua Night Market eats just down the street from our apartment
- Raohe Night Market with just Iris, Jesse and I while mom babysat the kids…trying as many foods as we could and then dealing with crazy rainfall half way through!
Daniel really grew to love having Iris and my mother around each day, so much so that he continuously asked why they had to leave any time they headed back to their apartment. So it was especially hard when we had to tell him that they would be flying to Singapore the day before we left Taipei. He was really sad and asked “why” about a million times. It was great to see how attached he has become to family lately.
We spent our last day in Taipei walking around and exploring and eventually made our way to Da’an park which had a pretty epic playground for Daniel and Jacob (to a certain extent) to enjoy. Daniel has started insisting on bringing a toy vehicle with him whenever we go out and likes to launch the toy down the slide before he goes down himself. This day he had the red fire truck that the head flight attendant gave him on our Eva airlines flight. Funnily there was another little girl who had a pink bus with her at the park too and they sort of hit it off and went down the side-by-side slides together. It was quite adorable.
One last meal delicious meal at the food court under Taipei 101 before heading to Tainan the next morning! We really had a fantastic time in Taipei and are already looking forward to coming back at the tail end of our trip, though it certainly won’t be the same without Iris and my mother with us.
Actual Travel Dates: April 6 – 13, 2017