Even though I live in San Francisco, a city where there is always stuff going on, I still love weekend trips out of the city. I mean, as cool as San Francisco is, how many times can you take the Alcatraz tour before you want to stab your eye with a pencil? Frankly, it probably doesn’t help that most people my age, base both their personal and professional lives within the city limit. San Francisco is a cool city, but its also a small city. That’s why, to me, weekend trips are integral.
Most weekend trip destinations out of SF probably includes one of these four.
- Traveling to Los Angeles
- Flying to Las Vegas
- Napa Valley for some wine tasting
- If I was really trying to be a rebel, then head off to New York City.
While Vegas was especially cool when I was 22, LA traffic sucks and I’ve probably been to just about every winery in Napa, frankly speaking, domestic travel just doesn’t have the same panache as traveling abroad. Traveling abroad just seems cooler. Food magically tastes better abroad, the local girls/guys seems hotter and your Instagram pictures have more filters on them. Every nook, cranny and alleyway, there is always something to see, eat and breath. You want to take it all in. While this all sounds super cool, the problem is that every single one of us has a limited number of vacation days.
So here’s a radical idea. What if you could combine your love of international travel with the concept of a weekend trip? I’m not talking about going to Mexico(cause lord knows we aren’t legally allowed back in Tijuana) but what about a weekend trip to Asia? Crazy huh?
well shit, that’s exactly what we did… to Taipei.
TIME AND COSTS
If you do the math, all you really need is a half day off on Friday. Here’s how we made it work. Take a flight out of SFO on Friday afternoon at 1:30pm. Land in Taipei at 6:30pm, Saturday night. Leave Taipei Monday morning at 11:00am and land back into SFO at 7:30am. AND you’ll still make it back in time for you 9am conference call at work.
The round trip ticket to Taiwan came out to $920(includes tax) and depending on how cheap you want to go with hotels, you can find one that’s within your budget. For comparison’s sake, here is a comparable weekend trip to New York City.
Plane ticket from SFO to JFK: $400 – $550
Two nights accommodations: $400
So your final price tag is running you in the neighborhood of $1100 to $1250. Whereas for my trek, it actually came out closer to $1300 which included a high end hotel and all the cheap Taiwanese food I could eat without yakking. Even though you are dropping an extra $200 dollars for this trip, imagine your Monday morning conversations at work.
Coworker: So, what’d you do this weekend?
You: Oh, not much. Just had some Chinese food.
Coworker: Oh cool, where at.
You: Taipei. [drops mic]
So what can you possibly do in 36 hours in Taipei? Plenty.
This post is not meant to be a comprehensive step-by-step guide, rather, use it as motivation to show you that ambitious weekend trips are indeed, possible. I’m not saying you are going to do every touristy thing in Taipei within that timespan, but you’ll have an ample opportunity to make the trip worthwhile. Especially if your goal(like mine) is to gorge yourself silly. Ultimately, these weekend trips are possible and it really comes down to how badly you really want it and if you are willing to make your travel dreams happen.
For the purpose of this post, the 36 hour timeline starts once the airplane touches down in Taiwan and ends once I depart for the airport. Therefore, I highly suggest you account for the 12 and a half hour transit time it takes to get from San Francisco to Taipei-Taoyuan Airport. Otherwise, the time gap between two locations will also account for transit time(taxi and/or MRT).
FRIDAY AFTERNOON (PACIFIC STANDARD TIME)
1:55pm – Depart San Francisco Airport
United Airlines has a flight that departs from SFO at 12:10/1:55 pm and gets into TPE at 5/6:00 PM.
6:00pm – Arrival at Taiwan-Taoyuan International Airport
The Taiwan-Taoyuan Airport is actually located on the outskirts of Taipei in Taoyuan Township. By taxi, its about a 35 – 50 minute ride into the city, depending on where you are staying.
7:30pm – Checking into the hotel.
Probably the “it” hotel at the moment in Taipei and filled to the brim with celebrities shuffling in and out of WooBar. W Taipei is pretty rad, if not for the small attention to details, but the fact that there is Wi-fi and the entire staff can speak damn good English. If those aren’t reasons enough, then I don’t know what is.
The W Hotel
+886 2 7703 8888
8:15pm – Dinner Time – Beef Noodle Soup
Thanks to my new friends Sandy and Ariel for pointing us to this local gem. The interior of 18 Cafe looks like a posh French bistro with a menu that reflects a Taiwanese slant on Western cuisine. But the money maker here is their beef noodle soup. While we aren’t eating the noodle soup on a makeshift table on the side of the street, it is still pretty good. The best I can describe it is that this version of beef noodle soup has taken on the changing palettes of the local Taiwanese with elements of both sweet and savory tastes intermingling together in the same bowl. Recommended.
10:45pm – Pregaming, because we are awesome.
Stopped off real quick at Barcode, one of the nicest bars/lounges in all of Taipei. Great decor, good looking crowd and reasonable prices(compared to SF). Not a bad way to kick off a 36 hour vacation in Taipei. Keep in mind though, the drink of choice in Taiwan is whiskey.
Probably one of my favorite clubs in Taipei is Room 18. Probably because I haven’t been completely sober at either Myst or Sparks, the winner(by default) is Room 18. Table service comes with a $10,000 NT minimum. But what is super cool is that you can order any combination of alcohol, mixers or food to make up that tab. Plus, $10,000 NT comes out to about $310 USD and there is no tax or tip.
9:30am – Its breakfast time with a traditional Taiwanese breakfast.
One of the oldest and most well known breakfast joints in all of Taipei, World Soymilk King has been around since my parents were in college. With that much history, this place has to be legit… and it is. While its specialty is soymilk, it also serves a bevy of classic Taiwan breakfast items. Best of all, World Soymilk King is one of the only places in Taipei that serves all these goodies 24 hours a day. So come sober, come drunk, it doesn’t matter because regardless of your current state of mind, you’ll leave in a state of bliss.
11:15am – Its time to eat soup dumplings at the world famous Ding Tai Fung.
You can’t come to Taipei and not stop off at one of the numerous branches of Din Tai Fung. Read a review of our previous visit to the Xinyi branch Din Tai Fung.
11:45am – Just kidding, the line is too long so we need stuff to do while we wait.
With Din Tai Fung(especially the Xinyi branch) being super popular and super crowded, you’ll probably have some time to explore the local Xinyi area. Right around the corner is a famous shopping street, Yong Kang Street (永康街), which has a couple of small eateries, snack stalls and convenience stores that can tie you over for a bit. Personally, I like to stop by Sun Merry(聖瑪莉) and take in the awesome and intoxicating smells of a Taiwanese bakery. Grab yourself a sweet roll or two and be on your way.
If you have not been to a bookstore in Taiwan, you are straight, missing out. “Bookstore” is such loose term for these places, since they sell just about everything under the sun. You’ll find all sorts of cutesy Asian nicknacks, stuffed bears wearing a t-shirt with your name on it and tons of other stuff that looks cool in the store, but you realize you have no place to put it after buying it. If anything, these bookstores make for an awesome place to browse and enjoy the air conditioning. Although Kingstone isn’t as bit or as well known as the 24 hour behemoth, Eslite Bookstore in Da’An, it’s still pretty cool. Best of all, its right next door to Din Tai Fung!
In Taiwan. convenience stores are not just stores, they are a friggin way of life. Don’t knock that statement till you have actually been to Taiwan, you will know what I mean. With all that waiting around, what better time than to drop into a Family Mart(or 7-Eleven) and grab yourself a cooling ice cream bar. At the top is an egg custard flan flavored ice cream bar, with the egg custard at the bottom and the flan at the top. And damn, was it good. The rest, well, pretty unique potato chips.
1:30pm – The Meal after Lunch
When it comes to local joints, Kinfen Braised Pork Rice is as local as it gets. Even with the influx of tourists, this place has been able to maintain its no-frills, hole in the wall, sitting on plastic stools kind of vibe. When I think of old Taiwan, I think of Kinfen Braised Pork Rice. Not to mention, their braised pork rice is utterly fantastic. The pork belly is so tender and the piece of pork fat is so gluttonous, you have to take it all down. Even though we were pretty stuffed at this point from Din Tai Fung, we magically made room for perhaps, the best minced pork rice we have ever had.
2:30pm – A Quick Culture Break(from Eating)
In the midst of all this eating, we still found time to take in some of the cultural sights around Taipei. While that wasn’t our original focus, it was a much needed respite from the previous 4/5 meals we’ve already eaten throughout the day. Anyhow, Longshan Temple is reasonably close to Kinfen Braised Pork Rice and it is a fantastic spot to let you see how the locals go about their “bizness.” Entrance is free, so feel free to see how the Taiwanese pay respects to the Taoist/Buddhist deities.
3:45pm – Time for some famous pineapple cakes
If there is one thing that is synonymous with Taiwan and a must do/eat it is pineapple cakes. While there are tons of choices for pineapple cakes all around Taiwan, I actually really like the organic version from SunnyHills. A pack of 10 is going to run you about $15. What is really cool about this spot is that once you enter the “cafe,” they have you sit down and serve you a cup of tea and a piece of pineapple cake. Pretty generous and damn good marketing to boot.
6:30pm – Scrounging around at the largest night market in Taipei.
The biggest night market(and perhaps the most famous) is the Shilin night market located in northwest Taipei and is served by the red MTR line. I won’t go into too much details here as there are plenty of resources on the web such as here and here. But I will say, the penis shaped waffles were pretty hilarious. They won’t charge you for posing with them so it might be time for a new Facebook profile picture. I dare ya.
Admittedly, at this point of the trip we were getting pretty sick of Taiwanese food. After 7 meals and a bunch of 7-Eleven runs, I really didn’t want to see another soup dumpling, oyster omelette or a piece of stinky tofu. So what did we do? Chicken McNuggets, a slice of pizza and a cup of Taiwan beer(cause why not). Yo, trust me when I say, if you are going to attempt a similar trip, try to break up your meals with something other than Asian food. Maybe try the pasta or the pizza. Actually no, scratch that. I just remembered that regardless of what you eat, everything in Taiwan tastes like Chinese food. The pizza in the above photo was no exception.
4:50am – Who needs sleep? We can go hiking!
Personal story here. Last time the Foodamentals staff tried to scale this mountain but failed miserably due to the taxi driver not knowing where the hell elephant mountain(xiangshan) actually was. So we spent a good hour scaling… tiger mountain which had a good view of… elephant mountain. Anyways, I’m happy to report that this time, we have successfully scaled the famed Taipei elephant mountain, halfway. Not only did we wake up at the butt crack of dawn to catch a 5:39am sunrise, but the climb can be absolutely grueling, especially in a half drunken, half sleepy state all while “hiking” in 90 degree heat with 100% humidity. It doesn’t help your self confidence when the grandpas and grandmas wearing full on jumpsuits are passing you by on the trail. Having said all that, I can’t recommend this trek enough. You’ll get fantastic views of Taipei 101 and some awesome photos to throw up on your Instagram.
象山登山步道 Xiangshan Hiking Trail
信義路五段150巷, Taipei, 110, Taiwan
8:00am – The last breakfast before heading home.
As with the night before, we weren’t quite ready to jump back into more Taiwanese food. However, my favorite donut franchise, Mister Donuts, has a wide selection of awesome Asian donuts. Compared to most US donuts, these Asian donuts are much less sweet, therefore, you won’t really have to worry about your blood sugar level.
Mister Donut & 7-Eleven
110, Taiwan, 台北市信義區忠孝東路五段6號
8:30am – Off to the Airport
Jump into a taxi and head back to Taoyuan. This ride will be about an hour long with the bulk of that time sitting in Taipei traffic trying to make it onto the freeway.
11:30am – Depart Taiwan-Taoyuan Airport
Just like that, your trip is done and you are on your way home.
MONDAY MORNING (PACIFIC STANDARD TIME)
7:30am – Arrive San Francisco International Airport
And… you are back! Just in time to make your 9am conference call.
Look, we get that this weekend trip thing is not for everyone. However, back to my original question of “how bad do you want it?” If you want to travel, but you don’t have enough time, weekend trips are a fantastic alternative to long, drawn-out vacations. The beauty of all of this is that you can take as many as you want without ever touching your valuable PTO(paid time off)! Big thanks to Jonathan Hsia and my new friends Sandy Chen and Ariel Chang who made this Taipei weekend so memorable. Also, a HUGE thank you to Roberta Wang for being not only such an awesome travel partner, but the inspiration/mastermind for this crazy idea. (below)
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Photo credit goes to Roberta Wang for taking some stellar pics.