Itinerary (11th to 23rd January 2017)
2 nights Taroko Gorge (Taiwan)
3 nights Taipei
7 nights Hong Kong, including day trip to Macau
Outbound flight to Taipei was on Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong. I'd been worried that the 1 hr 40 minute interval might be tight if the longhaul flight from London was delayed, but in fact we landed 10 minutes early and had enough time to enjoy the lounge in HK before the onward flight to Taipei. The flight landed mid-morning o the 11th (we left UK on the 10th).
In Taipei, we had booked train tickets to go down to Hualien early afternoon - I'd gone for a touch later so that we could accommodate missing the HK to Taipei flight and getting the next one.
We were very kindly met at the airport by a friend of mine's mum who, along with her sister, very kindly directed us to the right bus and then train to get us to the main station ready for our trip to Hualien. We could, of course, have done this alone but after a long tiring journey, it was lovely to be greeted by friendly faces and not have to concentrate too hard on the transport.
Train trip to Hualien took just over two hours and was uneventful. As per the advance agreement with our hotel, we actually got off at the previous stop, Xincheng, which is closer to the hotel. We were met by the hotel's shuttle bus driver who was waiting for us at the exit gate of the station and transferred through the National Park to Silks Place.
Silks Place is one of very few hotels within the Taroko Gorge, as it was built before the area was turned into a National Park. No new hotels (or restaurants) can be built in the park now.
We had booked a honeymoon room on the Retreat floor via booking.com and had then corresponded with the hotel to organise the transfer shuttle as well as a private guide and car to tour the gorge. The room type is one of the smaller doubles on the Retreat floor, which gives access to a lounge area and afternoon tea / wine. Dinner bed and breakfast was included in the room rate, the hotel has two restaurants, one western buffet and the other a traditional Chinese.
The room is attractive, designed on a now-quite-common modern Asian-Western combined aesthetic using plenty of wood surfaces. But in face, it wasn't very practical at all. The king size mattress was directly on a raised platform to one side of the room. That means that you are essentially getting in and out of a very very low bed. The step down from the platform to room level had a helpful light recessed beneath the step, but unfortunately, the wiring in the room did not allow for it to be left on without the room's main overhead lights also being switched on. Likewise, it was not possible to leave any bathroom lights on without those main room lights also being on. For some, this may not be a problem, but for us, we prefer to have some visibility during the night when in an unfamiliar room, especially one with steps. It was frustrating that design seemed to have won over comfort and practicality. That said, the room was attractive and the hotel overall very pleasant. Staff were very helpful throughout. On the roof is a gorgeous pool with stunning views of the cliffs, and three hot tubs on that same open decking. Gorgeous!
Silks Palace Restaurants: We booked the buffet for the first evening and the Chinese for the second. The range of food in the buffet was actually good, and decent enough, though somehow much of what was out wasn't properly hot despite the use of covered heated serving dishes. We went here again for breakfast the next morning and that was much stronger, with a really wide range of both Western and Chinese food, plus an egg station that made very good omelettes to demand - we decided to stick to the buffet for breakfast on our second morning too - the other option was a fairly limited set menu option within the Retreat lounge. The next night we went to the Chinese restaurant. We discovered we had no choice in the menu, only a set menu was offered (with a second one with very minor variations should you eat there a second night). An a la carte menu did exist, so I assume some customers are not on the inclusive-dinner rate and order that way. The menu included around 8 dishes, all of which I thought were very good.
We paid NT$6500 for a private car with driver guide who spoke English, from 9-5. This gave us most flexibility the next day. The hotel offers two half day tours and you can book both to do more variety in a day but as the morning one has to return to the hotel at lunch time, it's not possible to get as far from the hotel as with an all day guide. In addition, my research suggested that the tours are in Chinese only, with tight, crowded minibuses and very rushed from site to site. We were delighted with the tour we had, our guide Lyndon was excellent, and shared plenty of information during the day. He also adapted the tour on the fly to my physical limitations - after the 2 km walk along the Lushui Trail. This trail would not kill most fit hikers / walkers but for me it was a struggle, though one that was worth it. In many parts the trail is narrow and rough, with lots of ups and downs and quite uneven. In some places it's rather narrow, with scary drop, so scary for those of us with vertigo. But just beautiful. Our guide dropped us at start and met us at the end, so we only had to go one way. We also visited various other sites and short walks including the Changchun Shrine, the Taroko Archway along with a lovely tea shop selling tea grown in the Taiwanese mountains - I adore Taiwanese mountain oolong so this was specially for me - the Quingshui Cliff view, Swallow Grotto, Cimu Bridge, and some other sights I've forgotten just now.
On our second morning, we took the shuttle bus back to Hualien (the train we'd booked didn't stop in Xincheng) and were able to take an earlier train back to Taipei for no extra charge.
In Taipei we stayed at Hotel Proverbs in Daan district, just a few minutes from Zhongxiao Fuxing metro station. Our room was just gorgeous here, a classic double and twin that was actually more like a Junior Suite. The room was enormous. We had a king bed to the back of the main room, the front half had a sofa, small table and chair, a nice open wardrobe for storage and a little mini bar tucked into a corner. Soft drinks, beers and snacks were all included btw. The bathroom ran the full length of the room again and had a Japanese-style robot toilet, a large sink, a shower enclosure with monsoon shower and handheld, and then an absolutely huge standalone tub and shower at the end. Gorgeous! The hotel was very stylish. We booked room only, and didn't do breakfast there as it looked vastly over priced and dull. We much prefer to go out and find something from a local bakery or coffee shop than to pay more for in-hotel breakfasts, unless we are somewhere rural like Silks Place!
We took it easy that first afternoon in Taipei as my feet were killing me from the previous full-on day of walking in Taroko. We did explore the local area and I got a heavenly double massage - 40 minute foot and lower legs followed by 60 minute body that helped fix my shoulders and back. Bliss. The hotel recommended the place and made a booking for me, and it was a decent place.
On the Saturday our friend's mum came to meet us and took us on a personal tour to Longshan Temple (showing us all the little areas and different corners which people visited for different types of prayers, she also showed me how to ask a question and to check my fortune for the answer). After that she gave us a tour of the nearby day market (basically a food market (in the main, with a few odd clothing stalls within), and I loved walking amid all the fresh produce, specialist produce, pickles, meats, all kinds of stuff. Fascinating. She also took us to Huaxi Night Market for some traditional streetfoods including the best Gua Bao I have ever tasted. We have some vendors of Taiwanese bao in London now but dear god, this one was amazing! I have photos of the places in my instagram feed, link at end.
Later, on our own, we also had a nice browse of a big department store's food hall (for traditional pineapple cakes amongst other goodies) and we visited Ningxia Night Market to try more of the streetfood. Stinky tofu is the smelliest food thing I've ever encountered, it's hard not to gag, but I still ordered some deed fried and as I'd been told, it tasted far less than it smelled. Quite nice on the taste front!
On the Sunday, our main excursion was to Maokong via the cable cars or gondolas as they are called. What I hadn't realised was how the cable car transfer is truly an attraction and activity in its own right. I had been super keen to do it because I'd read about the crystal (clear glass) floor cabins, but I had no idea it was a half an hour journey each way and that the cable car rises quite so high above the tree canopies below, and rises up, over and down over a few peaks on the way. Amazing and ridiculously cheap experience. You need to wait longer for the crystal cabins as only one in every 5 or 6 cabins have these glass floors, and they are in demand. On the way back we went for the regular floor to save time in the queue. In Maokong, we picked one of the many tea house restaurants at random and had a surprisingly excellent meal. A touch tourist-pricy but the food was great so I didn't mind it.
We failed to visit any of the museums (I know I know!) and the memorials but I'm a firm believer in seeing what you're in the mood to see and enjoying it well rather than racing around all the "must sees" and not enjoying the trip.
On the Monday morning we headed off to Hong Kong, a very easy and short flight.
We decided to use the Vigor bus transfer from the airport as it's direct from airport to our hotel, the YMCA's Hotel Salisbury in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It was more than the express and then a shuttle but far less faff.
At the Hotel Salisbury we'd splurged on a corner Harbour View Suite and I'm so glad we did, it was still less than a straight king room at the other hotels on my shortlist. The living room had a curved window out over the Star Ferry port across to HK Island. The bedroom had a straight window out over the HK Cultural Centre, and that same harbour view. Two slightly different angles on it. Just an incredible view, it didn't get old in that entire 7 night stay!
The main things we did during our stay:
A half day food tour mainly focused on Tai Po Market, both the inside market and the outdoor market streets, with Ashley at HK Food Crawlers. A touch pricy but not as much as some of the tour companies and the benefit of being run by someone who grew up in the area rather than an expat, as many of the competition seem to be. Loved the Tai Po Market and would not have been able to enjoy the food court at the top so well without a guide to order.
Walked around flower market, bird market, ladies market, fa yuen street market and the goldfish market. Was too early to eat at Temple Street Night Market though and we didn't make it back there of an evening.
Took a ferry to Lamma Island but didn't do the walk over to the other side, so ate a very overpriced but at least decent lunch at one of the harbour restaurants on the Yung Shue Wan side. Mostly enjoyed it for the pretty ferry ride and the sweet little harbour street there.
Of course, went up the peak, though didn't go right to the park. Still enjoyed the views down over haze-muted Hong Kong. It was hazy virtually all the time we were there. I think it was clear the one day we were in Macau but not sure.
Had some little walks and some restaurant meals in Central, riding the mid-level escalators. And roast goose at Kam's in Wan Chai with Internetwiz and her husband, we organised meeting for dinner in advance.
Lost one day to a pervasive migraine on my part.
One day was dedicated to Macau. It was organised for me by the Macau Tourist Board, and we took an 8.30 am ferry across and the 9.30 pm ferry back so it was a long day. Our lovely guide took us to most of the key areas, showed us the historical sites and architecture, took us up the Macau Tower and generally filled us in on Macau historically and today. We also had lunch at a Macanese restaurant - the food being a glorious fusion of not only Portuguese and Chinese but also other Portuguese colonial destinations such as Africa and other East Asian countries. In the evening we went to Antonio's, a lovely traditional Portuguese restaurant with utterly flamboyant and charming chef who personally did Crepes Suzettes for us at the table, with huge theatricality. I'll be writing a full blog post on the day for my blog and will share link when that's up. I really liked Macau and was glad there's so much more to it than the glitzy New Vegas area, mostly built on reclaimed land - apparently Macau is literally twice as large now as it was a few decades ago!
I'm sure I've missed a whole lot of stuff out, so do please ask questions if you would like and I'll do my best to respond.
For selected photos from the trip, see
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Kavey Eats Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau 2017
Itinerary (11th to 23rd January 2017)