In Thailand, we are used to driving 2-5 hours from Bangkok to reach a ‘nearby’ tourist destination. Taiwan turned out to be a refreshing change, because with Taipei as our base, we had an abundance of road-trip choices within just 1-2 hours drive from the city. As it was our first trip to Taiwan as a family, I decided to hire a driver/guide to do a 2D1N drive up north revolving around famous old town Jiufen and Shiding Xujia Noodle Factory (which was a major reason why I decided to come to Taiwan in the first place).
After a 40-minute drive from our hotel in Taipei, we arrived at our first pit-stop, Shiding Old Street（石碇老街）. It was a little early, so not all shops were open, but it was easy to see that tea and bean curd (tofu) were the main specialties of the quaint little town, which makes perfect sense as Shiding is famous for its high altitudes, tea plantations and clean water source. Noah fell in love with sweet soy bean curd that day.
It was then a further 10-minute drive to reach Shiding Noodle Factory (石碇许家面线) to start our noodle-making session at 11am. More details of the experience is shared on my personal blog, but in summary, I would just like to say that this was a perfect food-centric family activity (in the mountains no less). I’m seriously considering visting again next time if time permits.
Our day continued at Bagua Tea Plantation （八卦茶园）. We spent a quiet couple of hours enjoying clean air, quality tea, tofu ice cream (highly-recommended) and pancakes over a flawless view of tea terraces and Thousand Island Lake（千岛湖）.
Then it was time for my little girl to fulfill her Rapunzel dreams at Shifen （十分） releasing our very own sky lantern. Actually, it was also something new for us adults. It was interesting, that sky lanterns were released along the railway tracks at Shifen, which we had to clear when trains passed by.
Jiufen (九份) is an over-visited tourist spot, but my plan was to make this visit special by enjoying it both in the day and at night by spending a night at Jiufen itself. Take note though, that after 6pm, shops start to close at Jiufen Old Street （九份旧道） and hordes of visitors start flooding out. We were lucky to catch a piping hot dinner of fish ball noodles on the cold rainy night as most other eateries were closed by the time we arrived.
The must-do at Jiufen at night is actually to visit tea houses, which open till late. We visited the most popular one called Ah Mei （阿妹茶楼）, which gave us an amazing night view over Jiufen, one which we would have enjoyed much more in better weather.
The next morning, we went to Jiufen old street again. This time, we saw the same closing vendors last night leisurely opening their stores. Crowd was sparse in the morning, not a bad thing at all.
Through our guide’s recommendation, our morning was dedicated to finding Jiufen’s signature taro balls at Ah Gan Yi（阿柑姨）. Even though the shopfront looked simple, a walk to their sitting area revealed the owners tirelessly making taro balls from scratch, and a viewing gallery with the most sumptuous day view of Jiufen. This has to be a must-do if you come, one that I only knew on my 3rd visit, thanks to my guide.
The beauty of engaging a driver/guide is that they not only provide transport, but are also experts of Taiwan. We did not plan our road trip in detail, thus were engaged in jovial conversation with our guide throughout the trip to decide where we should go next based on weather conditions and personal preferences.
One such conversation led us to take the coastal route back to Taipei, which made sense as we would have done mountains and oceans within our short road trip, opening our city kids’ eyes to the wonders of nature.
A sharp temperature drop that day meant that we were grappling with temperatures (as low as 10degC) and wind (especially along the coastal route) we were not prepared for. Then again, we were not about to let such uncontrollable factors dampen our holiday mood.
We first went to Yehliu Geopark (野柳地质公园)to explore the landscape of honeycomb and mushroom rocks eroded by the sea. The kids had a blast looking for the various unique geological formations despite the bitter “seabreeze”. Great work has been done to make Yehliu Geopark much more visitor-friendly than my first visit more than 10 years ago.
Our trip back to our hotel in Taipei ended with visits to Shimen Stone Arch （石门洞） and Laomei Green Reef （老梅绿石槽）, both sights to behold, especially Laomei Green Reef, which is a wave-cut volcanic lava rock formation, made green by algae growing on the rock surface. Even though the best months to observe it entirely green are April and May, we were fortunate enough to still see some algae on our visit. Our kind guide even dug a struggling puffer fish out of one of the trenches and released it back into the sea. It was a great geography lesson for the kids indeed.
Being the foodie I am, we made a couple of pitstops along the way to grab some local eats. I would highly recommend getting some signature rice dumplings if you are taking the coastal route. Unlike dumplings we are familiar with, the dumplings here are steamed and not boiled, so the rice texture is firmer, but yummy nonetheless!
If like me, you would also like to hire a driver guide to ease your planning woes in Taipei, here’s how you can contact Jiawei International Travel Agency Co., Ltd. who took great care of us.
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