2 weeks free and easy in Taiwan (12 days 11 nights)

Travelling free and easy is really the way to get in and experience the country first-hand. This is the itinerary to our 12 days free and easy trip in Taipei and Hualien.

Three years ago, Married Girl and I decided to take an overdue post-marriage trip to Taiwan. If you have read my previous post on My reflections travelling as a couple, you’ll realise that we will try to mix some adventures into our city travels, just so that both our travel needs are met. If you are looking for a bit of excitement amidst what the thriving Taipei city can offer, this post might be just for you!

Itinerary in brief: Our trip covers the following areas in a loop, across a 12-days period.

SG – Taipei (台北) – Hualien (花莲) –  JiuFen (九份) – Taipei (台北) – SG

The train runs along the white route in this picture.

What to expect: This is a free and easy itinerary so you will be expected to travel by public transport! But don’t worry, this route is easy as the train passes through all the cities listed. We also took some day-trips to Shifen and Keelung while we were at Jiufen.

Things to see: The highlights of the trip was the breathtaking Taroko Gorge, a bike trip through the amazing east coast highway (Provincial Highway 11), weaving through the Old Streets of Jiu Fen, hike the less travelled San Diao Ling nature trailas well as visit famous city spots in Taipei such as XimenDing. You can check out my other post on Things to do in Taipei and Hualien for more information about the places we covered.

Day 1: Singapore – Taoyuan Airport, Taiwan
Place of stay: Dongmen, Taipei
Hotel we bumped in: Dongmen Hotel (東門旅店)
Total number of nights: 2
Destination covered: Yong Kang Street

To allow adequate time to orientate yourself and to book train tickets out of Taipei, I will recommend that you spend the day after your arrival in Taipei.

Take a bus from Taoyuan Airport to Taipei Main Station, where you can connect to the city metro (MRT). You can take Kuo Kuang bus (1819) from the airport. The journey will take approximately 1 hour. Alternatively, we heard that the airport rail has also opened and you can now take a train directly to Taipei Main Station.

Buses are convenient and a comfortable way to get around in Taiwan.

You will alight at Taipei Bus Station (note, there is also the Taipei City Hall Bus Station, which is not the same as Taipei Bus Station). Head up to Taipei Main Station (for trains and MRT). After orientating ourselves, we took the MRT and headed straight to Dongmen, where we stayed for 2 nights.

Dongmen is centralized and located on the red line of the MRT. It is three stops away from Taipei Main Station. After checking in, we visited Yong Kang Street for dinner. Known to be the food hub of Taiwanese cuisines, and home to the famous Din Tai Fung restaurant, Yong Kang is worth a visit. You can consider spending a late afternoon here, and cover the area within 1 to 2 hours. Also visit the Shida night market, which is just a 10 minutes walk from Yong Kang street. We still managed to grab some snacks at Yong Kang Street despite the time.



In the morning, just below our hotel is a morning market that you can visit.



Day 2: Tour around Taipei
Destination covered: Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall / Taipei 101 / Tamsui

We took a walk from Dongmen to Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. Strolling will take you around 15 minutes. You should be able to cover the memorial hall in 1 to 1.5 hours. If you have not bought the train tickets to Hualien, you can now head to Taipei Main Station to get them.

The entrance to the memorial hall.

After settling our transport, we wasted no time and headed straight to World Trade Centre Station, with a hope to visit the famous Taipei 101 observatory tower. The place is like the central district of Taipei, cluttered with skyscrapers and shopping malls. We skipped the observation tower as it was crowded, but of course, not without snapping some photos from the bottom of the building.

Taking a quick selfie from the majestic tower.

The last stop for the day was Tamsui. Take the MRT all the way to the opposite end of the red line. Stroll along the riverbank or visit the old wharf, revealing what was once part of Taipei bustling trading post. There are many food stalls and street hawkers selling famous Taiwanese snacks and deserts. Sit around and people watch while you snack away at the delicacies. If you have time, you might want to spend half a day to really cover the entire Tamsui. Alternatively, a 2 – 3 hours should suffice if you only want to explore the riverbanks and nearby streets.

The busy streets of Tamsui, especially crowded as this is a favourite spot for locals too.

Watch the street artists perform away as you people-watch by the riverbank

Day 3: Taipei to Hualien
Place of stay: Hualien
Hotel we bumped in: LangHuaYiDuoDuo MingSu (浪花一朵朵民宿)
Total number of nights: 3
Destination covered: Hualien city

There are two routes to Hualien, either by the Tze-Chiang Express train, or by a combo ticket that offers a local, bus-transit-train, package. For the combo ticket, you will take a bus to Luodong (a city 1.5 hours from Taipei) before boarding the local train to Hualien. No advanced or online bookings are available for the combo tickets, but the tickets will never sell out. You can buy the tickets via the Capital Bus booth at the Taipei Bus Station. The journey time is about 2 to 3 hours for both, but the cost is double for the express train. We went with the express train to minimise the trouble of transferring our backpacks, but you can try the combo tickets if you want to.

The grey route is taken by the Tze-Chiang Express, while the blue route reflects the bus-train combo package.

After reaching Hualien, we took a cab to our “Mingsu”. The Mingsu was relatively far away from the city centre, located along the famous Provincial Highway 11. If you don’t like to stay in hotels, you can consider looking for Mingsu, speciality lodgings similar to the English Bed & Breakfast concept. Staying at the Mingsu along the highway will offer you a nice ocean-front view, but it can be a hassle getting to town. Public buses arrive hourly, hence, you will need to time your travel if you don’t have your own transport. Alternatively, you can book an accommodation in the city itself, which is probably a lot more convenient.

We still had the night for that day, but we decided to relax by the Mingsu, enjoying the view that opens out to the ocean. You can try to catch a bus to town and visit the Tungtamen night market if you have time. We ate at a food stall right beside the Mingsu, which is also the home to a young couple with the dream of setting up their own beach-side restaurant one day.

Tickets for the express train with an indication of the cost.

The view from our balcony: the sun setting across the Pacific Ocean

A homely meal at the house of the couple residing beside the Mingsu.

Day 4: Taroko Gorge
Destination covered: Taroko Gorge, Qixingtan

We rented a scooter for the next 3 days to get to Taroko Gorge, and because we wanted to travel down the scenic Provincial Highway 11. We took a bus back to town early in the morning to hunt for the bike rental shops. There are a whole stretch of bike rentals near the bus station (click on the link for the map). You will need a valid driving license and your passport to rent the vehicle. Rental of a 125cc scooter for a day will cost you around 400NT.

The winding road up Taroko Gorge can be quite steep at some parts.

Alternatively, Taroko Gorge can be reached by bus from Hualien. The journey to the entrance of the national park is about an hour’s drive. Board the bus station at the bright orange building beside the train station. Unlike city buses that runs every 10 minutes, buses usually leaves every half hourly or hourly. Be sure to check with the station master and grab a copy of the schedule on the day of your arrival, so that you can better plan your trip for the next few days.

The nearest station to Taroko Gorge is Xincheng train station, where you can also grab a bus into the national park. If you are not keen to rent a vehicle, an alternative option is to stay a night at Xincheng or within Taroko itself before coming to Hualien. This way, you can spend 2 days in Taroko Gorge to explore all the different treks. Accommodations are easily available on sites such as Expedia or Booking.com.


Riding up Taroko Gorge

Visit Qi Xing Tan (七星坛) on the way back, which is along the way from Hualien to Taroko Gorge. Unfortunately, it was raining heavily the day we were there, and we couldn’t really do much. Nevertheless, I can imaging the place to be quite charming, if the weather was sunny. Recommended activities including cycling and relaxing by the beach.

The rain definitely did not stop the tourists from coming by.

Overall, we spent only 1 day in Taroko, but I will recommend 2 days if you have the time, and include Qixingtan on the second day.

Day 5: East-Coast Highway, aka Provincial Highway 11
Destination covered: Provincial highway 11 / San Xian Tai

We spent this day riding down the Provincial Highway 11. The highway connects Hualien to Taitung, another major city nearer to the south of Taiwan. Enjoy the smooth ride, empty roads, scenic views and warm breeze. This is a must-do if you are in Hualien, whether you go on a bicycle, scooter or a car. There are many pitstops along the way where you can take photos or a break. We travel all the way to San Xian Tai (三仙台), which was nearer to Taitung, before heading back. Just to note, we came across a few traffic police and speed cameras along the highway, so you might want to keep to the speed limit to avoid a speeding ticket.

The bridge that you will pass by as you ride out of Hualien towards Provincial Highway 11.

The highway is well travelled by locals and tourists travelling from Taitung to Hualien. Many places to stop for photos along the highway.

Reaching San Xian Tai view point, before we turned around and headed back to Hualien.

Day 6: Hualien City Centre
Destination covered: Hualien City Centre

On this day, we headed back to town to return the bike and visit Hualien city centre. There are many food outlets in the city, but aside from that, there isn’t really much to do. You will probably only need half a day to cover the main central area. Visit the Tungtamen Night Market if you have time, which we missed while we were there.

Streets of Hualien is less crowded than Taipei. Low-rise building and shophouses line the street.



Day 7: Hualien to Jiufen 
Place of stay: Jiufen, Ruifang
Place we bumped in: Long Men Ke Zhan Jiufen (九份民宿龍門客棧)
Total number of nights: 3
Destination covered: Keelung Trail (基隆步道)

It might be a good idea to pre-book your tickets out of Hualien upon your arrival, as tickets are sometimes sold out. Due to this practice, we managed to secure the train tickets from Hualien to Ruifang at the timing that we wanted.

Ruifang Station is where you should alight to get to Jiufen. Once you alight at Ruifang Station, take a bus to Jiufen Old Street (Bus 788). Personally,  I will recommend staying over at Jiufen for a couple of days while you explore the surrounding areas such as San Diao Ling and Shifen.

Jiufen Old Street is on a hill. The view from our hotel overlooking the sea.

While waiting for the hotel room to be ready, we came across Keelung Trail. From the entrance of Jiufen, walk further up the road to find the start of the trail. The hill provides a breath-taking view of Jiufen and the Pacific Ocean. The hike will take you approximately 1 to 2 hours, but is a relatively easy hike. Other trail includes Teapot Mountain trail, which you will need to take a bus to get there

Walk up the main road until you see the sign to Keelung Trail.

The walk is beautiful, with Lalang decorating the steps all the way up to the peak.

From the peak, be rewarded with a breath-taking view of the open sea.

Day 8: Jiufen & Keelung
Destination covered: Jiufen Old Street / Miaokou Night Market

We spent the next day exploring the old streets of Jiufen. Walk up and down the winding alley and stairways, through rows and rows of shops selling souvenirs and food. This is where you can buy home the famous Jiufen Ginger tea with assorted flavours, or try the renown Lai Ah Po Yam and Sweet Potato Balls desert (images below). Expect a crowd, especially on the weekend, as tourists flock over for day-trips from Keelung and Taipei city. We skipped the Gold Mine Museum, but you can probably head there if you have the time. You can take a bus further up the hills to the museum, or to the Teapot Mountain trail.



Jiufen Old Street
Shops lined up against the narrow alleys. Especially crowded in the day.

Near mid-afternoon, board bus 788 again directly to Keelung city to visit the famous Miaokou Night Market. The journey will take you approximately 1.5 to 2 hours. Remember to check the timing of the last bus back to Jiufen. Miaokou night market is famous for their seafood, and is a walk away from where you alight. Keep your stomach empty and stroll along the night market to fulfill your seafood craving. After that, take the same bus back and be mesmerized by the night view of Jiufen, as shops and houses are littered with lights. Take a relaxing stroll back to your hotel and rest for the night.

The night market with its assortment of stuff. The market opens at 5pm.

Choose from the many stalls to fulfill your seafood craving.

Day 9: Sandiaoling
Destination covered: Sandiaoling Waterfalls / Houtong Cat Village

From Jiufen, you can easily get to Sandiaoling or Shifen using the Pingxi train line. Tickets can be bought at Ruifang train station. Trains arrive hourly, so be sure to plan your return.

Sandiaoling is known for its tranquil trails and waterfalls, especially popular amongst the locals. Get off the train and follow the train tracks to the Sandiaoling village. Once there, signs should guide you to the start of the trail. Reaching the 3 waterfalls and back should take you no more than 3 hours.

Follow the tracks to the village. Grab some light snacks and drinks if you do not have any.

We initially planned to visit the waterfalls before heading straight to Shifen. However, we met some friendly and enthusiastic locals who urged us to continue on from the third waterfall. From the Sandiaoling trail, you can actually continue on the Pingxi trail all the way to Houtong Cat Village. Houtong Cat Village is located one station before Sandiaoling. The trek will take you approximately 4 – 5 hours, and you can basked in the peace that nature provides. We skipped Shifen as we reached Houtong pretty late. Worth a hike if you are a trekking enthusiast, or prefers to be off the beaten tracks. If not, you should have ample time to cover the waterfalls and head to Shifen for other activities.

Continue from the last waterfall to the Pingxi Trail

Sandiaoling Waterfalls
There are waterfalls along the Pingxi trail as well.

Day 10: Jiufen to Taipei Ximending
Place of stay: Taipei
Hotel we bumped in: Rainbow Hotel
Total number of nights: 2
Destination covered: Ximending

From Jiufen back to Taipei, you can take a bus (1062) directly from Jiufen Old Street to the SongShan Station, a station on the Green MRT line. The bus journey takes approximately 2 hours to get to SongShan. From there, connect via the MRT to Ximending, where we stayed for the remaining days of our trip. Same route applies if you are heading from Taipei to Jiufen.

We arrived in early afternoon and decided to walk around the area just to orientate ourselves.

Day 11: Ximending
Destination covered: Ximending

If you noticed, you will not have spent much time on shopping thus far. So spend the last day at Ximending free and easy, shopping for clothes, stationeries and food.  Ximending is a good place to shop. Known as the youth centre, you can get all kind of funky, intricate products or trendy, fashionable apparels. A must-try, however, is the Ah Zong Mian Xian (oyster noodles), opened since 1975. If shopping is not for you, you can also choose to visit anywhere else that you want to see in Taipei.

Eat and shop before you head back home. We definitely took our time to explore Ximending.

Ah Zong Oyster Mian Xian-Ximending-Taipei
Ah Zong Oyster Mian Xian, since 1975, is a must try. Located in central Ximending.

Day 12: (End of trip) Taoyuan Airport, Taiwan – Singapore

For the last day, make your way back to the airport. We took a cab as we have too much things to carry.  Also because we wanted a relaxing end to the trip.

Some comments about the itinerary

So that concludes our 12 days free and easy itinerary to Taipei and Hualien. We didn’t pack our schedule tight, as we prefer to take our time to explore each destination. You can definitely tweak the itinerary to maximize the places to visit.

Also, this itinerary consists of a variety of activities, from city shopping to trekking to bike trip, and may not be suitable for everyone. Taiwan is relatively easy to travel, and there are tons of resources online that you can follow up from my blog.

If you like this itinerary but will like to make some amendments, keep a look out for the copy of my itinerary that I am thinking of uploading in the blog. On and off, and whenever possible, I will share the Excel Spreadsheet (primitive, yes, but functional) that I use to plan my itinerary.

Lastly, if you liked what you have read thus far, drop your email and be updated about the Married Traveller’s travel stories, travel tips and travel reflections!

Things to do in Taipei and Hualien

If you are thinking of travelling to Taiwan, read this blog to find out about what you can do free and easy when you are in Taipei and Hualien!

Taiwan is definitely a place that you have to visit once in your life. Suitable for backpacking or just a short getaway, Taiwan caters activities for all kind of travellers, whether you are a city tourist or an adrenaline junkie.

A few years back, Married Women and I decided to visit Taiwan as one of our post-marriage travels (we decided not to have a honeymoon trip, as we prefer to continuously experience the joy of travel!), mixing a bit of adventure with city travelling.

If you are thinking of travelling to Taipei, Hualien or Jiufen, this post will briefly introduce things you can do in each of these destination. I will also briefly cover some tips on transportation, on how you can get in and out of the area. Read on to find out more, and if you like the places that you are reading, check out my other post at the end, where I will provide greater details on how to cover this in a 11 days free and easy trip!

1. Taipei (台北) 

Taipei is the capital of Taiwan. It is a great place to be, friendly locals, products so cute and intricate that you will feel like splurging all your money on them, regardless of whether you need them or not. However, uniquely Taiwan is the exuberant variety of delicacies that you can find. From the famous friend chicken, scallion pancakes to oyster noodles (mee sua), street food and night market is usually within a walk away wherever you are.

Like most cities, it is well connected and you can get around by metro. Below is a quick run though of the places that you can visit while in Taipei, all accessible by metro.

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall (Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall Station, Red/Green Line Intersection)

A dedication to the founder and former president of Taiwan, you can visit the memorial hall to find out about the history of the Kuomingtang, their involvement in WWII or observe the change of guards parade, if you are lucky.

Paintings depicting significant events in KMT’s history and during WWII

Taipei 101 (World Trade Centre Station, Red Line)

Spanning 101 stories, at a height of 508 metres, many tourists will usually drop off at the Word Trade Centre Station to visit the Taipei 101 observation tower. You will need to buy a ticket up, but you’ll be rewarded with a 360º viewpoint of Taipei city. Around the place are fancy shopping malls that you can visit.

Taipei 101 from afar.

Tamsui (Tamsui Station, Red Line)

Right at the other end of the red line from the World Trade Centre station is Tamsui. Consisting of a riverbank, it used to be an important trading post. Today, the old streets are lined with food stalls, selling local delights such as the “smelly” tofu (beancurd), barbecued squids glazed with sweet sauce or baked milk curds. This is also a good place to people watch as you walk along the bustling riverbank, crowded with locals, tourists and street hawkers. Visit the old wharf if you have time. Convenient place to visit if you are staying in Beitou, else it might be a little out of the way to get here.

Tamsui Taipei Taiwan
Take a relaxing walk along the riverbank.

Streets of Tamsui Taipei Taiwan
Street murals on walls along Tamsui street.

Stop by the street hawkers and grab some snacks as you relax by the riverbank.

Yong Kang Street (Dongmen Station, Red Line)

Personally, I find Dongmen a good place to stay for a day or two. It is quite centralized and price range of accommodations are relatively cheaper than popular places like Ximending. If you are around the area, drop by Yong Kang Street for a walk. It is known as the Taiwan food hub, and home to the famous Ding Tai Fung restaurant. Visit Yong Kang from late afternoon onwards, and take a 10 minutes walk to Shida Night Market. There is also a morning market around Dongmen Hotel that you can visit.

Visit Yong Kang from late afternoon onwards for dinner.

Ximending (Ximen Station, Blue/Green Line Intersection)

If you are in Taipei, then you must definitely visit Ximending, the youth shopping district. The place is a reflection of youth vibrancy, with activities lasting late into the nights. You will see both students and office workers gathered around the streets, eating, drinking or hanging out with their friends. We managed to see a youth dance competition going on in the parade late into the night. Again, this place has really good street food that you must try, such as Ah Zong Mian Xian (Oyster Noodles) or the Prince Cheese Potatoes, just to name a few. For people who like shopping, this is also the place to be as you will find lots of fashionable apparels.

The streets are crowded even when it is late at night.

2. Around Taipei (台北) 

Jiufen (Ruifang Train Station)

Jiufen-TaiwanJust slightly north of Taipei is the famous Jiufen, known for winding alley of shops and steps (known as the Old Streets). Originally a home to miners until the mines were closed in 1971, the place can still give emit instant nostalgia of an old miners’ town, as you walked through the maze of lanes and alley, and past shophouses that resembles traditional Japanese inns. The Old Street is located on a hill overlooking the sea, and is usually very crowded as tourists flock over from nearby Kee Lung or Taipei city for day-trips. You can’t miss the Old Street once you are at Jiufen. The place is also famous for the Jiufen assorted-flavour ginger tea, as well as the authentic and traditional Lai Ah Po sweet potato and yam ball desert. Activities in Jiufen becomes more latent in the evening, providing a relaxing and repose atmosphere.

Jiufen Old Streets-Taiwan
Packed streets in day. The place is also popular with Japanese tourists due to its history.

Jiufen Desert-Taiwan
Seeing this means you have found the famous Lai Ah Po home made sweet potato and yam ball desert.

There is a beautiful hill near Jiufen Old street, known as Keelung Hill (基隆山道). The trail takes you to a spot overseeing the ocean and the whole of Jiufen. At a height of 685m, the hill has pathed steps all the way to the top and takes approximately one hour to climb. It is definitely an easy but tiring trek, especially if you don’t exercise regularly. You can take beautiful panoramic photos of Jiufen at the peak. There are also other treks around Jiufen, such as the Teapot Mountain Hiking trail that we missed. You can visit the Old Gold Mine Museum if you want.

Keelung hill-Jiufen-Taiwan
The final steps to the peak of the mountains, with lalang lining the sides of the trail.

Keelung Hill-Taipei-Jiufen
Enjoy picturesque view of the ocean from the peak.

Keelung Hill-Jiufen-Taiwan
View of Jiufen from the peak. You can trace the winding path and locate where the Old Street is.

Sandiaoling Waterfalls 三貂嶺瀑布 (Pingxi Train line)

Sandiaoling is popular amongst the locals for its waterfalls and nature trails. From Ruifang train station, you can easily get a ticket to Sandiaoling or Shifen via the Pingxi line. We were initially planning to visit Sandiaoling followed by Shifen. However, we changed our plans as we met some friendly locals who urged us to continue trekking through to see the beauty of the park.

From Sandiaoling train station, walk along the train treks until you come to the Sandiaoling village. From there, there will be signs guiding you to the waterfall trail. The pride of Sandiaoling is its three waterfall, the Hegu, MoTian and Pipa Cave waterfall.

Walk along the train treks until you reach the Sandiaoling village. Grab food or drinks here before you proceed.

The hike is simple and fun, with some variations from the dirt tracks along the way
When you reach the last waterfall, you can ascend to the Pipa cave and continue on from there. Follow the trail that takes you to Houtong Cat village, which is one stop before Sandiaoling train station. The trek took us approximately 4 – 5 hours as we took our time to absorb in all of nature’s wonder.

Motian waterfall, on the left is the largest waterfall amongst the three. The Pipa Cave waterfall on the right signals the end of the Sandiaoling waterfall trail. Continue to Pingxi trail from there.

Sandiaoling waterfall

Sandiaoling Waterfall-Pipa Cave Waterfall

It was a beautiful and peaceful trail, with lesser people as we went deeper into the forest.  The trail will lead you to the opposite of the Lion’s mouth mountain, giving you an indication of how the mountain acquired its name.

Signs-Sandiaoling trail
Follow the signs to Houtong Station

Can you see how the Lion’s Mouth Mountain got it’s name?

We reached Huotong late in the afternoon, but the trek was definitely worth it, even though we missed Shifen. Nearby Houtong Cat Village, you will come across some abandoned miners’ quarters and coal mining plant.

Houtong cat village-Taiwan
Miner’s lodge at Houtong. I wonder if the mesh is installed after it’s abandonment, or if olden houses was build this way.

Houtong Cat Village-Coal mine
Old coal processing facility. It looks quite interesting to a city person like me who have never seen one before.

Keelung Night Market (Keelung Station)

From Jiufen, you can also schedule an afternoon to visit Keelung and its Miaokou night market, which opens at 5pm. Miaokou night market is known for its seafood, including lobster, crabs, prawns, you name it. The bus from Jiufen Old Street, 788 goes straight to Keelung station. From there, you want easily walk to the night market. However, take note of the time the last bus departs from Keelung station if you need to get back to Jiufen.

Keelung-Miaokou night market
The streets are packed with seafood.

3. Hualien (花莲)

Hualien is about 3 hours by train from Taipei city. Compared to places like Ximending, Hualien will appeal to you if you are looking for a quiescent place to be. Even though it is the largest eastern city in Taiwan, you’ll not find any skyscrapers or highways with heavy traffic. Instead, you are greeted by streets and streets of shophouses and low-rise buildings, with  mouth-watering eateries at every corner. We reached Hualien around early noon and only spent a day in the city. Visit the Tungtamen night market on one of your nights here.



Taroko Gorge

Hualien-Xingcheng-Taroko Gorge
A natural formation and a wonder of nature. This is what most people comes Hualien or Xincheng for.

Taroko Gorge is a well-known heritage destination if you are in Hualien. We rented a scooter, which is very helpful if you want to do a day-trip to Taroko Gorge. The ride takes approximately 45 minutes to reach the entrance of Taroko, travelling at a speed of about 60km/h.

You can stop at various parts of the national park to explore the treks. There are multiple treks along the national park, such as the Shakadang trail (砂卡礑步道) or the Yanzikou trail ( 燕子口), which is a closed of segment of the old road circling round the gorge. You can also visit the Changchun shrine (長春祠), a dedication to the workers who died building the highway, or the Lushui Geology Exhibition Hall, where there is also a short Lushui trail nearby.

Yanzikou-Taroko gorge-Hualien
Yanzikou trail, you will need safety helmet to protect against falling debris, as you walk along to old road.

We headed straight to the Tianxiang Youth centre as we wanted to embark on the famous Baiyang Trail, known for its Water Curtain Cave. Unfortunately, it was closed due to the heavy rainfall. It was also too late by that time for us to head back to Zhuliu Old Road, where you can experience the breath-taking narrow mountain passage used during the Japanese occupation. I will recommend 2 days if you intend to really cover the sites in Taroko.

Tianxiang recreational are-Tarok
Tianxiang recreational area is also where the Baiyang Trail is.

Taroko gorge-Hualien
Looking at the meandering river and wondering how long these boulders must have been laying there.

There are many hidden spots and treks all along the national park. Explore slowly if you have time.

Qixingtan Beach 七星坛

Along the way to Taroko from Hualien, if you are driving or riding a scooter, you can stop by the famous Qixingtan beach. Formed in the shape of a crescent, the beach is where the mountains meet the open sea. You can rent a bicycle and do some cycling if the weather permits, or seat by the beach enjoying the breeze from the pacific ocean. There are street hawkers along the beach, and you can definitely find the famous DaChangBaoXiaoChang (大肠包小肠 , or big sausage wrap small sausage), made of Taiwanese sausages wrapped in glutinous rice. We stopped by the beach and grab some hot food, as it was pouring cats and dogs on our way back, but also because we wanted to   see what Qixingtan was all about.

The beach on a normal sunny day, stretching miles and miles.



Travelling through Provincial Highway 11

Whether you rent a scooter, ride a bicycle or drive a car, enjoy the idyllic coastal road and feel the warm breeze against your cheeks as your travel through the Provincial Highway 11, just south of Hualien. We travelled down from Hualien all the way down to San Xian Tai (三仙台), a look out point which was nearer to Taitung. It took us a full day ride through and fro, covering about 200 km in total. Keep to the speed limit as there are traffic police and cameras situated all along the coastal road.

Hualien-East coast hightway 11
Ride through the empty roads along Provincial Highway 11.

Hualien-Provincial Highway 11-East coast highway
Ride though mountains and catch a glimpse of plantations from the high ground.

Hualien-Provincial Highway 11-East coast highway
The mountains meet the open sea again the road stretching for miles.

Sanxiantai-Hualien-Provincial Highway 11-East coast highway
The final stop, a view of Sanxiantai before we headed back to towards Hualien again.

Provincial Highway 11-Hualien
Stopping by the riverbank near to Hualien to enjoy the sunset before ending the road-trip.

4. Our afterthoughts for the trip?

So this sums up the places that we covered over a 11 days trip in Taiwan. With proper planning, you can definitely visit more places than we had, as we prefer to take our trip slow. That said, you should definitely try to cover Shifen if you can, as well as stay a night or two at Beitou in Taipei to enjoy the famous hot baths, which we couldn’t due to time.

Taiwan is definitely an easy place to travel free and easy, if you want to. It is well connected and there are tons of resources online to help you plan. Though language can be a barrier in the rural areas if you can’t speak Mandarin, don’t worry as people there are really helpful and will try to assist you as best as they can. Also, with Google translate, anything is possible now.

If you like what you have read, and want to try planning your own free and easy trip, check out our 11 days free and easy to Taipei and Hualien for more information on detailed itinerary and tips on how to get around by public transport. You can also download a copy of my itinerary there if that is something that interests you!

6 things I’ve learnt travelling as a couple

Travelling together as a couple is a journey of learning, and being able to appreciate each other is the key.

Since we’ve been married, the Married Woman and I have travelled to multiple destinations covering a wide range of activities. From multi-days outdoor adventures, city shopping sprees to romantic beach getaways, it has not always been an easy feat trying to adjust to each other preferences and needs.

This is because of some fundamental differences in our travel expectations. At least, during the initial years of our marriage.

For him, he prefers outdoor adventures, finds more fun travelling in larger groups, and tends to go budget on accommodation.

For her, she prefers urban travelling, sees travel as a couple’s quality time, and don’t mind spending on accommodation for comfort.

Despite these differences, over the years, we have managed to understand and been influenced by each other, making every travel experience something that we cherish now, be it by ourselves or with when travelling with our friends.

Looking back, below are some important things that I have learnt over the years from travelling as a couple. Hopefully it will be of some use if you are trying to balance your own travelling needs with that of your spouse.

1. Communicate and talk about your travel expectations

Remember, the aim is to understand each other’s preferences and not to persuade your partner into abiding by your travel style and plans.

A couple keeping engagement going through constant communication
Communication is key. Keep the conversation going between both of you.

I remember the days when we will talk about our travel aspirations over meals or coffee. We will share about places each of us have always wanted to go, things we want to do and see. Though the conversations never always ended in agreement, it was an important part of helping us understand each other’s expectations, and rethink how our travel plans can fit both our needs.

Do you know what are your partner’s travel aspirations, comforts, discomforts and preferences? Have you ever told your partner about your travel desires? If not, such conversations might be useful to have, as long as you both keep an open mind when listening to each other.

2. Develop a travel plan collaboratively with your partner

Talk to your partner and think of ways that you can accommodate each other’s travel needs. It doesn’t have to be far, or costly, if you know what matters to your partner.

A couple conquering the challenging Rinjani trek
Engaging in each other’s interests, Married Woman going through the Rinjani trek with me

Couple enjoying and relaxing at the beach of Gili Meno
But making sure that we also spend some time relaxing and enjoying quality time in Gili Meno.

A travel plan should factor the needs of both partners. There are many ways that we have structured our travel to meet both our needs. Some practices include having two trips in a year, with each trip focusing on one partner’s needs. For us, we will usually have a city and an adventure travel each year. Remember, you don’t need to squeeze and meet all the needs within a trip. If travelling with friends, we might also extend our trip such that we can have some quality time together, be it at renown beaches or stopover in cities on our transit back.

3. Helping each other open up to new experiences progressively

Be sensitive to the needs of your partner and help him or her adjust to the new experiences.

Taking a hike up Keelung hill in Taiwan
Squeezing in a half-day trek around Taipei for both of us.

That said, there are things that you can do to help ease your partner into the new experiences. Instead of jumping straight into a rugged 1-month backpacking trip, or schedule a 14 days camping trek with your partner who is totally new to such experiences, try to be progressive in your plans.

Throw in activities that you know your partner enjoys as well, or perks that can motivate both of you to look forward to the trip. Instead of a 5 days city tour, schedule a half-day hike in a nearby park, or end off the trekking trip with a beautiful beach getaway. At the end of the day, it is important to keep an open mind to new experiences and challenges as you embrace the activities that your partner enjoys.

4. Allow space to grow and experience, but assurance and appreciation is key.

Always show appreciation for your partner’s effort in trying out new experiences with you, before, during and after the trip.

You don’t need to feel like you have to be overly responsible or overly protective because your partner is going out of his or her comfort to join you in your activities. The last thing you want is to feel guilty for making your partner to do something against his or her will. Always remember that this should be a joint decision.

Allow your partner space to grow, experience and learn to see the fun and beauty of the activities. Sure, there might be some grudges or frustration at times, we’ve both experience that before, but that is all normal. Instead of confronting these emotions, be patient and be there to provide assurance.

5. The process is more important than the outcomes

A couple's quest to conquer the Rinjani Summit
On the way to Rinjani Summit, we were the slowest but it didn’t matter. It was more about the journey together than about reaching the summit.

We all have goals we want to achieve during our trip, be it places we want to see, food we want to try or mountains we want to conquer. So often, these goals determine if our trip has been a satisfactory one. I have travelled and seen many people who felt frustrated when they can’t find that favorite local stall, anger when their travel plans are disrupted by companions, or disappointment when they fail to ascend to the summit of the mountain.

These experiences have taught me that it is often the flexibility and process of travelling that really makes travel such a memorable experience. You can be searching for the well-known street food, but came across a local bazaar instead, missed the summit but spent your first night watching the stars together in a tent or met someone kind who stood out in your travel. These are processes that are equally, or if not, more important than the outcomes.

6. It is alright to take separated trips without one another, sometimes

At the end of the day, there are just some activities that your partner might not want to take part in, and prefers that you do it alone.

That is alright. Go ahead with your plans as long as you have talked to your partner about it. Do not feel like you should give up on your own dreams if it is something that is really important to you. After all, being in a relationship is to support each other’s in the pursuit of their aspirations and to bring out the best in one another. Though your partner might not join you, at least he or  she does not stop you from pursuing what matters to you. Go back to step 4, be grateful and show your appreciation to your partner, before, during and after the trip.

A couple's dedication to each other on the beach
Be grateful and appreciative of your partner always

Six tips to prepare for a trekking holiday

Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking. Prepare yourself before your next trekking holiday.

Mesmerizing lake along Tavan Bogd trek, Mogolia
Tavan Bogd, Mongolia

“Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking; You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no longer fits.”
Cindy Ross

Every trek is a journey, and you never know what you might discover about yourself. It is for this reason that I will always include a trek, whenever possible, into my travels.  Whether you are hiking through the ranges of the Atlai mountains in Mongolia or on the quest to conquer the summit of Rinjani in Indonesia, treks are always a good way to disconnect from your life and reconnect with nature.

If you have not done a trek before, you should definitely give it a shot. While being away from the comfort of your home may seem daunting, some preparation will ease you into the process.

Below are 6 of my personal tips that I have accumulated over the years that may help you prepare yourself for an exciting trekking holiday.

1. Friendship is about doing crazy things together, gather like-minded friends as your companions

Preparing to trek to Olgiy peak, Tavan Bogd mountain
My trekking buddy and I embarking on the Tavan Bogd, Olgiy peak in Atlai Region, Mongolia.

That’s right, having others to share the excitement always help increase the motivation. Trekking is always more fun having people who can motivate you in your pre-training exercises, or give you the extra nudge when the trek gets tough. For me, it is also always fun when we relive the fond memories from the trekking experience, even after many years. I have seen some groups as large as 7 to 8 people, but I prefer to keep it to a maximum of 4 companions per group. 4 people in a group usually allow for easier planning and transport arrangements. Cost tends to be more effective as well.

I don’t think that you necessary need to find someone with trekking experiences to join the team, as going through a new experience together is sometimes more rewarding. I am generally open to traveling with most of my friends, but finding people who shares your traveling style, whom you can trust and don’t mind being confronted by uncertainties together can be a good way to start.

2. Research about the destination and trek

Knowing your destination and the trek will help you in your preparation. Things that I usually research on includes:

    • The destination. Check about how to get in, how to get out, and things you can do after the trek. Maximize your trip and try not to miss the flight home.
    • The route. The duration of the trek, whether a guide is necessary and if it is a camping or tea-house trek. Most importantly, find out about the weather and period to avoid, if there is.
    • Details about the trek. Read up about the difficulty of the trek and mentally prepare yourself and the group. Check if there are any equipment or fitness requirement.
    • Trek packages available. This is especially helpful as local operators can help in the liaison and coordination of the necessities, leaving you to focus on the experience. I will usually compare prices and itineraries offered by various local operators. Remember to check the inclusion and exclusion of each offering. It is also a good opportunity to ask questions about the trek if information is not readily available online. This will help you assess the knowledge and service quality of the operators.

3. Know your group’s fitness and health conditions

Regardless the difficulty of your trek, it is always good to know your companions’ fitness and their medical history. I have once made the mistake of bringing a group of friends up Mount Ophir in Malaysia without asking about their health conditions, only to find out that one of our travel companion has heart-related problem. Luckily for me, she was a sporty and spontaneous person, and through sheer perseverance, as well as the group’s unrelenting encouragement and patience, we managed to complete the trek safely. Be responsible, and know the fitness and health conditions of your friends. While I don’t believe in stopping people from challenging themselves, at least it will inform the pace for the trek, and help us keep a better lookout for each other.

4. Make time to train together as a team

Whether you are an avid exercise enthusiast, or the desk-bound person who only hits the gym once a year, making time to train together as a team is essential. For the saying goes, a team is as strong as it’s weakest link, training together allow you to understand the fitness level and help each other better prepare for the trek. Develop camaraderie by motivating and supporting each other during training. This is especially important as tiredness and fatigue can sometimes bring the worse out of us. Having the bond will help mitigate such challenges, and allow us to nudge each other on as the going gets tough.

Take the initiative and develop the training plan. Don’t just do walks. Do more legs and core exercises, such as step-up, squats, up-hill running, climbing stairs, flutter kicks etc. Some treks may require you to also train your arm strength. In my experience, spending time over meals after each workout is a good source of motivation for the team to appear for the trainings and build the camaraderie spirit.

5. Bring the essential gear, but keep it light

Deciding what to bring for your first trek can be a very perplexing experience. While you want to be sure that you have everything you need for all possible situations, you do not want to overload yourself with unnecessary weights during the trek. Below are a list of items I consider essential for my trips.

      • Beanie and a pair of gloves. Gloves comes in handy when you need your hands to help your ascend. Good if your gloves are waterproof.
      • Waterproof rain jacket and over-trousers.
      • One thermal wear and a cold jacket. For jacket, I usually use down or fleece. Cold jacket is usually required for most treks as it gets colder the higher you go.
      • Water (if not provided) and energy snacks.
      • Comfortable and waterproof trekking boots or shoes.
      • Extra daily wear and dry socks depending on the duration of your trek.
      • Medications and first aid kit. I usually consolidate them with two persons as you don’t need everyone having a comprehensive kit.
      • Altitude sickness pills are recommended for treks above 3800m. Consult your doctor for advice.
      • Trekking poles are optional. I prefer to keep my hands free, but trekking poles can be useful during your descend.
      • Sandals are optional. Good for river-crossing or when you air your boots at night after you have set up camp.

6. Have fun together but be safe

As you take-in your newfound experiences, never forget about safety. Whether it is descending from steep slopes and rocky surfaces, or snapping a photo near the edge of the cliff at the summit, always listen to the advices of the guide and make sure that you do not put your companions’ or your own lives at risk. Go slow or get down on your butt if you need to. A severe fall due to recklessness can ruin the entire experience for everyone in the group. Have fun but stay safe together. Follow the directions home.

Sign post in mountain


No time to read? Check out my infographic below!

Tips to prepare for a trekking holiday


What to expect at Mount Ophir (Gunung Ledang)

Mentally prepare yourself for this grueling experience.

A grueling experience, but you can do it with proper mental preparation. If you are considering to do a hike up to Mount Ophir, this post will help you prepare yourself for what to expect. At 1267m, Mount Ophir is the tallest peak in Johor, and is ranked the 6th hardest trek to conquer in Malaysia. The entire hike to the summit and back will take you around 9 to 11 hours. While the trek will test your grit, endurance and perseverance, it will also offer you the peace and tranquility of nature and reward you with a sense of achievement. Read on to prepare yourself for the trek, or check my other post for tips to prepare yourself for any trekking vacations!

1. Be greeted by the stairways to heaven

The very start of the Ophir hike is a flight of stairs. I was told that there was approximately 700 steps by a local guide, even though online information have indicated  it to be around 400 steps. While the stairs are not too steep and relatively manageable, it took my group approximately 1 to 2 hours to overcome it. To me, it feels like the objective of the stairs was to wear us out, like the long marches ahead of the ultimate battle.

The starting steps of Mount Ophir

Steps leading to the start of Mount Ophir

2. Go on all fours and bow down to the might of nature

Behold the mighty mountain. Throughout the climb, there will be points where you are expected to go on all fours, scrambling up the slopes on your hands and knees. There will be ladders that you will need to ascend, ropes to scale, rocks to burrow, or steep steps to climb. At this point, you will wish that you had a pair of light gloves with you.

Using hands and legs to help you with your ascend in Ophir

Using all hands and legs to burrow through rocks

3. Complete the Killer For Climbers challenge

Perhaps the most gruesome part of the climb is when you start the KFC route. Climbers named it after Kentucky Friend Chicken, except in this case, it meant Killer For Climbers. The route starts shortly after a stream where you will have your lunch and break. Hike upwards slowly, with each step that you take approximately the height of your knee (between 50cm and 1m). This will last you for a couple of hours before you reach the top where the land tapers off to a gentle slope again.

Climbing rocks and over fallen trees

Going on ropes is common on the Mount Ophir trek

4. Challenge your fear of heights

Scaling the big boulder using ropes was probably the highlight, but also the ultimate challenge for the hike. This will take place during the KFC route. You will need to scale up a big boulder, approximately five metres in height, using only ropes. If you can, stop mid-way, and turn your head around to enjoy the picturesque view. But don’t look down as it will remind you about what might happen if you fall off the ropes. Use the ropes on the extreme right if you don’t feel confident. If you have intense fear for heights, there are ladders to the side of the boulder to help you clear this part of the trek. Take comfort in the fact that you are probably not too far from the peak when you reach this point.

Scaling the steep boulder is the main highlight of the trip

Scaling the boulder is the fun but difficult part

5. Enter the tranquil garden after a grueling climb

All of a sudden, you have reached the 700 metres mark. The steep slopes tapered off to a gentler, milder, trek. And the rainforest is nowhere in sight. Instead, the air is much cooler, with greenery all around you. Beautiful ferns, pitcher plants and shrubs streteched for miles ahead. Walk through tunnels formed by branches of low lying trees, with colorful flowers attracting the chirps of birds. Suddenly, you are in wonderland.



6. Up some rocks to the summit

After all that you have went through at KFC, the remaining hike to the summit should feel like a breeze. At the summit, depending on God’s will, you will either good view of the surrounding landscape, or like us, we just saw clouds everywhere.

Peak of the Ophir Mountain

7. Descending seems easy but it is not

Coming down is usually the toughest part of any hike. It is also where injuries may happen. At this point, you are worn out, legs are aching and your body screaming to go home. Your knees and ankles will probably be wobbling in pain. Go slow. Take care of your knees. You will need to descend down a series of slopes. Even though there are some ropes to help buffer your descend, you might need to grab on to branches or get down on your butt to get off the mountain. Take care of your knees and look forward to seeing the stairways where you started off in the morning (Though I didn’t find a need to, you can consider a hiking stick to help you manage the descend).

Hike is tough but you can be prepared for it

Overall, the Ophir hike is quite tough for beginners and should not be underestimated.  Tough as it may be, with some training and preparation, you can still overcome it and find a rewarding experience for yourself. You can read more about some tips to prepare for a trekking trip here. Or if you are already convinced to proceed with the challenge, find out more about how to plan for a trip to Mount Ophir. 

How to plan a trip to Mount Ophir (Gunung Ledang)

It is really not that difficult. You just need all the information here.

How do you get to Mount Ophir? Mount Ophir, also known as Gunung Ledang, is rumored to be ranked 6th most challenging trek in Malaysia. This post will provide you with all everything you need to know to plan a trip to Mount Ophir successfully!

 1. Reserve a trip with Gunung Ledang National Park

Booking has to be made before you are allowed to climb Gunung Ledang. You can make reservation with the National park either by email or phone. The park rangers are friendly and replies email on time. Previously, my point of contact was Mr Azam, the ranger in-charged of Gunung Ledang National Park. His email is still muhaz65402@yahoo.com.  In my latest correspondence with them, they have an official blog that you can get information on all the price plans. The booking procedures can be found in the official blog as well.

Previously, a booking deposit of 100 Ringgit has to be made to the Gunung Ledang national park’s Maybank account to confirm your booking. Not sure if this is still required as it is not listed in the blog. Basic charges of the climb includes entrance permit, trekking permit, guide fees and rubbish deposit.  The guide fee is a must as it is compulsory to have a guide to bring you up the mountain. Anyway, it is always good to go up with a guide as he may bring you to new and interesting places outside of the trek itself!

2. Where to stay

You can either stay in the nearby town of Tangkak, or go straight to the resort that is located at the foot of Gunung Ledang (Mount Ophir). Personally, I would not recommend staying at the resort as it is located far away from all amenities. On the contrary, Tangkak is a better option as it provides travellers with a wide range of food choices. Also, a ride by taxi to Mount Ophir is only 20 minutes and can be pre-booked a day in advance. Getting out is also easier as buses to other part of Malaysia is within walking distance!

3. Find a hotel

5 years ago, I would have recommended Ophir Hotel in Tangkak . Other accommodations are available today, and can be booked through booking.com. Ophir hotel is a budget hotel with decent bedrooms and clean, private bathrooms. Not for a luxurious stay if you are looking for one. The staff are friendly and the cost per night is relatively affordable. They now have a facebook page that you can contact them for reservation. Pricing and room details are there as well. Emails may take a longer reply. Booking through phone may be a better option. You can contact them via ophirhotel@gmail.com, call them at (+60 6-9791661) or WhatsApp them at (+60 011-108 11661). Previously, a deposit of 50% of the total room charges will have to be made to confirm your reservation, which can be quite cumbersome.

4. How to get to Tangkak and Ophir

From Singapore to Johor Bahru to Tangkak

From Singapore, take a bus from Admiralty MRT station to Larkhin terminal, Johor Bahru. where you can get buses to Tangkak. There is only one express bus that goes directly to Tangkak, and the coach service is known as CityExpress bus service. You can see the booth by walking along the interchange (from where you get off when you take SBS 170) until u reach the other end of the bus interchange. Each ticket cost around RM17.50. Once you arrive at Tangkak, you can walk to any of the hotels, including Ophir Hotel. Just ask the locals and you should be able to find it. Remember to book your return bus tickets the moment you arrive. Otherwise the buses for your trip home may be fully booked.

Kuala Lumpur to Tangkak

I have never tried entering from Kuala Lumpur, but here is a website that have helpful bus information that you can explore. My assumption is that the drop-off will be the same as the Johor-Tangkak route.

Tangkak To Mount Ophir/Gunung Ledang (Important!)

You can take a cab down from Tangkak to Gunung Ledang. Taxi can be arranged either at the interchange or through the hotel. The cost ranges between RM20 to RM30. Good if you have a team of 4. Inform the cab driver to drop you off at Gate B, which is where the ranger’s lodge is. Otherwise, you can walk from Gate A (which is where the resort is) to Gate B. Careful of cheats who will try to drive you to gate B for a fee (by convincing you that the distance between Gate A and B is far). They may end up dropping you somewhere further and extort some money before they drive you back.

There is also a bus service (North-west Bus 10) that can take you to somewhere near Gate B, where you can walk in after alighting. The walk is about 2 km to the ranger’s lodge, through a plantation. However, I have never taken the bus and cannot guarantee where it may alight you. The bus number stated here was from a local that I met. Anyway, it cost way lesser if you take a bus, between RM3 to RM5. Do check with the locals at the interchange for what buses to take and where you can take the bus from. And of course, remember to check with the driver where to alight!

5. Recommended duration

Plan for a 3 days trip even though 1 day is possible. You can enter Johor Bahru on Friday, and get to Tangkak on the same day. Relax and enjoy the scenery of the shanty town and the friendly locals. Get a good meal and a good night rest before waking up early to head down to Gunung Ledang for the climb. After the climb, you can return to Tangkak and rest for the night. Remember to have a good and hearty meal to let your muscles recuperate! You can slowly make your way home on Sunday and finish the exciting trip for the weekend.

Now, hopefully with all these information, you are ready to embark on your adventure up Gunung Ledang, Mount Ophir! For what to expect for Mount Ophir, read my other blog on What to expect at Mount Ophir (Gunung Ledang).

Note: Information updated as of Jan 2018