What It’s Like to Go on a Tour in Taipei

September 12 2020, 8:32pm

In an earlier post, I mentioned about how I took a bus from Taipei Main Station to Yehliu Geopark. If you’re interested in learning more about what it’s like to be take a tour in Taiwan, stay tuned,

First off, a little background:

One of my best friends was coming in for the the long weekend. Because he only had some experience with Taiwan, it was the perfect opportunity to show him some of the top sights. Pretty much any destination in and around Taipei was on the board.

We narrowed down the sights to destinations like Shilin Night Market (士林夜市 / shi lin ye shi), Taipei 101 (台北 101 / tai bei yi ling yi), Jiufen (九份 / jiu fen), and Shifen (十分 / shi fen). The locations in Taipei, we could easily get to via the MRT. For the ones like Jiufen and Shifen, outside of the city limits, we needed another way of getting there, however.

Local buses and taxi cabs can get you to these destinations in Pingxi District, but we didn’t want to wait for our next mode of transit to arrive. Short of renting a car, we needed another solution.

This was where the thought of going on a tour.

There are a bunch of tour operators catering to willing tourists, in a variety of languages including Japanese, Korean, and English. After looking up a ton of reviews, we eventually settled on going KKday’s Tour that would take us from Taipei Main Station to Yehliu, Yehliu to Shifen, Shifen to Jiufen, and back to Taipei Main Station. We tossed in Yehliu since none of us had ever been to this famed geopark.

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To catch our bus, we woke up before the sun came up to get ready and make it to Taipei Main Station. Our call time was 8:45 AM. Because we knew the station was huge, we arrived even earlier to make sure that we could find KKday and our tour guide.

Arriving at Taipei Main Station, via the MRT, was probably the most hectic part of the day. As the time counted down, we went up and down stairwells to try and find the meet-up location. After around 15 minutes of searching and running, we found a bunch of tourists in lines getting organized. We checked in, given stickers to wear (to designate us as a part of the tour group), and were eventually organized into our respective busses.

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Upon settling into our seats, we were given a water bottle and a basic safety spiel by our tour guide Lin. After all 30 or so of us got into the bus, we were off to our first destination: Yehliu Geopark.

Check out my post about Yehliu Geopark (野柳地質公園 / ye liu di zhi gong yuan), if you’re interested in all the things you can see there.

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One of the most surprising things about Yehliu for me was the sheer number of different types of rock formations in such a small area. I also thought it was fun how so many rocks were creatively named.

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Of course, the main attraction is The Queen’s Head (女王頭 / nu wang tou).

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There is a queue for you to get in if you’re interested in snagging a photo. You can take a photo from the side, but if you do, you may be in someone else’s photo and they may get mad about it.

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I really loved this rock below in addition to Ice Cream Rock. I thought it was cool how this rock framed the water behind it so neatly.

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We had about an hour here before we had to get back to the bus.

This was probably the second most stressful thing about the trip: getting back to the bus in time. You were always watching your clock to make sure that you weren’t the last ones back on the bus.

1 hour isn’t enough to do and see everything at Yehliu, but I thought that the time was short and sweet for me. If you’re into rock formations and checking out natural sights, you may want to take this into consideration as the hour is on the cusp of feeling rushed.

Back in the bus, we headed to our next stop, Shilin. Lin passed around a sheet listing different colored paper lanterns that we could launch into the sky.

Previously, we had launched lanterns on the railroad tracks in Shilin, but we decided to do it again to give my friend the experience.

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Here is a view of the lanterns from the shop, for sale.

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Lin also took orders for a local specialty, stuffed chicken wing (雞翅包飯 / ji chi bao fan). To save time she took payment on the bus and called in our order.

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Once we got to the lantern writing store, our choice of lantern was all ready for us to write on. This was a huge time saver as it allowed us some extra time to explore the shops in the area a little more.

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Pro tip: have an idea of what you want to write on your lantern. It will save you a lot of time and stress.

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After finishing and launching our lantern into the sky, we received our stuffed chicken wing.

If you get the chance to try this out, I highly recommend it. It’s such a tasty snack!

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After scarfing down our chicken and checking out a few of the stores, our tour group met back up in front of this store. Because there wasn’t really a name to be found, we identified it by these little charms for sale in the front of the store.

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Because we were making good time, we hopped back on the bus to drive a short distance to the entrance to Shifen Falls (十分瀑布 / shi fen pu bu).

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The stalls leading up to the falls, were alive with activity. People selling all different types of fruit and fruit dishes made the air smell super fragrant. With the amount of time we had though, we could pretty much only walk to the falls, take a few photos, and come back to the bus.

Back on the bus, we made our way to Jiufen. By this time, it was early afternoon. We decided that we would eat a late lunch here.

Transport regulations are always changing, but there are special considerations for Jiufen since the area is highly trafficked (and yet the roads are small). We arrived on a week day, but weekend regulations have busses park much farther away. Luckily for us, our bus was able to park in the lot at the foot of Jiufen (at the very bottom of a long stairwell).

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One of the first places we saw was a match soft serve place, so of course we had to give it a try. They made a taiyaki first and filled the mouth with match ice cream.

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This was devoured pretty quickly as it was a little hot and we were hungry. After about five minutes, we were ready to take on Jiufen.

We walked up this narrow stairway that leads to the center of Jiufen Old Street (九份老街 / jiu fen lao jie). This set of stairs leads you to the famous Amei Teahouse.

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Jiufen is always evolving. I feel like every time I visit this City of Sadness, I always find something new. I thought this art on a boba shop was cute, for instance.

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After getting to the main intersection, we walked north to the top of the old street.

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The top of Jiufen Old Street is a great place to start your Jiufen experience and perfect for capturing stunning views of the hills and sea below.

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Because of our affiliation with the tour group, we were able to take photos of Amei Teahouse from a rival tea house.

What do you think? Does this look like something from Spirited Away?

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After doing a quick run through of things to eat in Jiufen, we decided to try out one of Lin’s recommendations.

We enjoyed a noodle dish, some fish balls, and shaved ice with taro balls before checking out the other end of the old street.

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Along the way, we were also able to try a few snacks including this one made from peanuts.

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A majority of the touring time was reserved, not surprisingly, for Jiufen; but with eating, shopping, and walking around, this time goes by quickly. Lin let us know that sometimes people choose to skip the bus ride back and take a taxi home, but we decided to stick to our schedule so that we could make it back to Taipei for happy hour. The bus was about half empty as we headed back. I wasn’t surprised to see people want to stay.

Most of us slept on the bus ride back, so it felt quicker than it actually was (about an hour and a half with rush hour traffic). When we arrived back at Taipei Main Station, we said our goodbyes.

Though the tour continuously felt a little rushed, for someone who had both seen the sites before and for my friend who just wanted to experience new things (with his friends), this was perfect for us. For anyone wishing to explore more, this might not be the best option out there. I think of it as more of sampling a fine wine versus taking home the whole bottle.

What also made the experience that much more enjoyable was our tour guide, Lin. She was one of the English-speaking tour guides and a funny one at that. She’s super knowledgable, funny, caring, and made sure that everyone was accounted for. I would recommend seeking her group out, if this is even an option.

Lastly, if you choose to go on a tour out of Taipei Main Station, reserve extra time for you to make your way to the appropriate queue. The station is huge and can easily become overwhelming for even those who have been through it multiple times. There are so many different levels and sublevels, it’s hard to sometimes tell exactly how to get to where you want to go.

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