Travel Agent FAM trip to Taiwan
I had a lot of wonderment and excitement over my Taiwan trip. I had a lot of W questions such as Where exactly is Taiwan? What is it like? What should I expect? Where should I go when visiting? Who will I see? When is the best time to visit Taiwan? All these questions and more when I signed up for what is called a Travel Agent FAM (familiarization) trip. These kinds of trips for travel industry professionals are to acquaint the visitor with a variety of experiences to gain first hand experiential knowledge to share with others who may also be interested in traveling to Taiwan. It was to be a 6-day tour that was jam-packed with daily activity and some of the best hotels Taiwan has to offer. I had never been to Asia, so this was going to be my first time getting a taste of Taiwan.
One of the first things to know is how long your flight will be depending on where you are departing from. I happened to be departing from Dallas, Texas the first week of March 2018. I learned that my flight would be about 13 hours travelling from San Francisco, California to Taoyuan International Airport in Taiwan. I chose to use a connection flight from Dallas to San Francisco then take EVA Airways directly to Taipei. EVA Airways has direct non-stop flights from these North American cities; Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver. If you were to fly EVA Airways from Europe to Taiwan the flight is about 12-13 hours from Amsterdam, London, Paris, Vienna. I also chose to upgrade my economy seat to economy premium because it gives you more seat and leg room, the seat reclines, and you get a variety of meals/drinks/snacks as well as an amenity kit, and Wi-Fi. It was worth the extra few hundred dollars for such a long flight for me.
Upon arriving in Taoyuan International Airport I was transferred to my hotel, The Howard Plaza in the nice Da’an district of central Taipei. There are about 23 million people in the country of Taiwan with 2.7 million in the capital of Taipei. There are also 17 million scooters in Taipei so be prepared to see throngs of scooters everywhere you go. There is also public transportation, the MRT metro is fantastic! Clean, inexpensive and easy to understand to get around.
I suggest you add 1-2 of days before the start of a Taiwan country tour to acquaint yourself with the city as well as to adjust to the time zone change and/or jet lag. The weather was mild at first since Taiwan is in a temperate zone, however, at night it did get a bit chilly at about 50F/10C and so required a light sweater. I was expecting Taipei to be humid, but it was only during the day while walking around that I felt slight humidity. That’s because Taipei is in the North of the country while in the Southern regions it can get quite humid and hot.
DAY 1: (Sunday, March 11, 2018) Taipei to Sun Moon Lake
Our first stop was in Taichung City to see the Wufeng Lin Family Mansion and Garden built around 1858 where one of Taiwan’s richest families of olden days ruled. In 1999, a powerful earthquake destroyed much of the grounds but has since been mostly restored.
After that we stopped for lunch in the Nantun district in Taichung to eat a traditional Hakka Chinese feast. This was the start to many Chinese feasts in the coming days. Where the 10 of us would sit at a large round table with a lazy-susan table spinner where dish after dish would be brought for us to eat. It was incredible how much food was brought out! I was too busy easy trying this new food to take photos, but I did manage to snap one shot of the pork shoulders. I swallowed it down with award-winning Taiwan Beer.
Our next stop was to be Sun Moon Lake which I can’t rave enough about! Words like beautiful! Stunning! Gorgeous! Come to mind upon first seeing the lake. But it was even better waking up the next morning in the Fleur de Chine Hotel and seeing the sun rise over the low mountains which created a heavenly gradation of light rolling gently over the hills to the vast expanse of the blue-green water of the Sun Moon Lake.
It is a nature lover’s paradise in terms of the scenery as well as the activity. Of course, it’s also a majestic place to just come and relax and gaze upon the natural beauty. We took a 45-minute ferry over to Wen-Wu Temple and the towering Tse-En Pagoda which is quite a vigorous climb to the top of 9-stories high. That evening we were treated to a sumptuous buffet in the restaurant. On the top floor is a spectacular outdoor area called the Sky Lounge which we didn’t get to lounge around in unfortunately, but it’s the kind of place for intimate settings, or perhaps even a get-together event for close friends and family. Very nice I would rate it 5-stars.
DAY 2: (Monday, March 12, 2018) Sun Moon Lake to Kaohsiung
The next day we boarded our bus to head for the second largest city in Taiwan, which is Kaohsiung City in the south, population is about 2.8 million just a little bit larger than Taipei. There is even an international airport there that mostly services Asian countries nearby. The air quality is a bit heavy in Kaohsiung and this is when I started to wear an air mask. You don’t visibly see the smog, but you feel it in your chest or your breathing. Now I see why there were more people walking around wearing air masks in Kaohsiung than in Taipei.
On the way, we stopped at the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Monastery in the Dashu district. Our guide was a tall, bald Buddhist Monk who was from Austria originally. He gave us a 1-hour tour of the grounds narrating with a lot of laughing and humour along the way. Then we ate a fantastic lunch, this time with lots of vegetarian dishes. We said our good-byes and thank-you’s as we sped along towards Kaohsiung with the next pitstop being the Spring & Autumn Pavilion in the Zuoying District of Kaohsiung.
Our guide, Connor, was eager to take us to see an amazing sunset in Sizihwan which is the city adjacent to the Taiwan Strait. Freighter ships were coming out of the Kaohsiung Harbour. The sunset was fantastic!
DAY 3: (Tuesday, March 13, 2018) Kaohsiung to Taitung City
After a big breakfast buffet we had to board the bus to head further south to Kenting National Park. On the way we made a pitstop at a roadside fruit stand to drink some fresh coconut juice straight out of the coconut. Made a quick 7-11 stop in Fanshang Township at Pingtung to view the Pacific Ocean.
Upon arriving in the Hengchun Peninsula, which is the southern most tip of Taiwan, we got a fabulous view of the Pacific Ocean where it meets the Bashi channel. In these waters, there is only 200 nautical miles between Taiwan and the Phillipines. We strolled up the grounds, in the beautiful sunshine, to visit the Eluanbi Lighthouse. There were lots of open-air tourist stands for shopping the local wares. Only one enclosed shop actually took credit cards, but the rest only would take NT$ and alas, there was no nearby ATM. We were on a crunched schedule anyway and had to go. Our lunch stop was at the La Maison B&B which also has a restaurant. This place has a lovely little beachside cottage feel to it and is owned by a French and Taiwanese couple. The famous movie director, Ang Lee, who is Taiwanese, also made a stop here and you can see his signed photo autograph on the wall.
Our goal next was to get to Taitung City by dinner time and have some time afterward to visit the outdoor night market for some shopping. We hustled along the East Coast Scenic View stopping in Longpan Park for some spectacular windswept views of the Pacific Ocean. That night we stayed at the Sheraton Hotel, Taitung City in Hualein County.
DAY 4: (Wednesday, March 14, 2018) Taitung/Hualein/Tienxiang (Silks Place Taroko)
We entered into the Taroko National Park and stopped to take photos. There were many tourists there doing the same as us, marveling at the beauty and taking photos.
We then took the high-winding, sometimes narrow, road to our 5-star hotel, The Silks Place Taroko hotel, the only in the Tienxiang recreational area of Taroko where we had dinner and a show of indigenous musical talent.
DAY 5: (Thursday, March 15, 2018) TIENXIANG / TAROKO GORGE / TAIPEI
This morning we got up early enough after a wonderful breakfast to make our way back down the mountain to stop and see the Taroko Gorge as well as hike to the Swallow Grotto view the Eternal Spring Shrine and hike along the ShakaDang Trail.
This area was conquered by the Japanese in the 1930’s. A big reason was to mine the beautiful Hualein Green Marble Upon leaving the park we spotted another landmark, the Indian Chief in the Gorge.
Once back down on the highway along the eastern seaboard, we headed to the Su-ao Port Harbor in Southern Yilan County to have an incredible, freshly caught seafood buffet lunch.No, we didn’t eat the Mambo fish eyes but I heard it’s a delicacy amongst the locals.
Sated, we finally were headed back to Taipei to end our stay at the Howard Plaza Hotel. That evening we had our last buffet dinner feast together as a group. While we were all exhausted from the heavy pace of the tour, we were happy to have experienced this much in such a short amount of time.
DAY 6: (Friday, March 16, 2018) Taipei City Tour then departure to airport
Oh, but our touring was not quite done, this being the official last day of our trip. We boarded The Bumblebee bus to take in a quick Taipei City Tour and visit the National Palace Museum and Martyrs’ Shrine for change ceremony of Honor Guards.
We had a most fabulous lunch at the Din Tai Fung Restaurant to enjoy the Xiao Long Bao and other dumplings. YUMMY!! Highly recommend! Plus it’s fun to watch a team of dumpling makers create these wonderful little treasures of goodness right in the center of the restaurant.
Onto the elevator to the Taipei 101 Observatory for an encompassing panoramic 360 degree view of Taipei.
Our touring had finally come to an end and we were exhausted but happy no more bus! haha! (The shocks needed fixing or something) We took an extra 2-days to recover back at the Howard Plaza Hotel before heading back to San Francisco.