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Author: winnie

taiwan in a week

taiwan in a week

Hello! This is the first post of a series to document our Taiwan trip! We spent 8 days in Taipei & Taiwan.

Here is a map of some Taiwan spots with 3 layers:

  1. Places to Visit (recommendations from friends that I did not squeeze into the schedule)
  2. Taipei: places we visited
  3. Attractions from 5 Day Best of Taiwan Tour 

This post will cover:

  • The Best of Taiwan Tour
  • Currency Exchange
  • Getting Around

Best of Taiwan Tour

I highly recommend this tour on TripAdvisor/Viator: 5 Day Best of Taiwan.

I typically do not travel on tours and like to plan our own itinerary. When I was browsing through the highlights of Taiwan, I noticed many were around the country, especially Southern Taiwan. To save myself some hassle of mapping bullet train schedules, figuring out a reputable taxi service, and find good accommodations, I took the lazy route 😀 . Because vacation should be enjoyable and not a big headache.

It’s $582.50 for one (double occupancy, so grab or a friend or pay double the price of $912).

Day 1: Sun Moon Lake (Ri Yue Tan 日月潭)
Day 2: Sun Moon Lake – Kaoshiung (Gao Xiong 高雄)
Day 3: Kaoshiung – Kenting (Ken Ding 垦丁) – Taitung (Tai Dong 台東)
Day 4: Taitung – Hualien (Hua Lian 花蓮)
Day 5: Hualien – Taipei (Tai Bei 台北)

Btw, I notice that a lot of the English names for these places are written in British phonetics (?) vs the Chinese pinyin. If you type what I have above in a Chinese keyboard, you will get the right characters (ex: “kao” will not show the character 高, since it’s “gao”).

Our tour guide was Alan Chou. He definitely made this tour enjoyable and informative. Alan spoke in English of course. He also said a few things in Chinese but since the group mostly didn’t understand, it was English the entire way. The first few things he said was that it won’t be like those crazy bus tours where you go to a million places for a few minutes, check in to hotels super late, and check out super early. He stayed true to his word. Each stop was timed very well to see the highlights and take pictures at a leisurely pace. Each time we took a stop, he was very clear what time we needed to be back using images on his phone projected to the mini TV screens. He also had a good amount of jokes. I’m sure he is tired of them, but it was nice for us 😁. He said the tour group had the most amount of young people he’s seen (6 under 30) and usually the tours are 50+. We got to our hotels around 5 – 6 PM every night and checked out around 9 AM. Ample opportunity to relax after a day of sights and enjoy the hotel amenities. (Definitely request Alan if you can. Also note he covers 90% of tours now; likely from all the raving reviews)

Speaking of hotel amenities, the hotel’s on the trip are 💯. Two hotels had a personal hot spring tub to enjoy in the comfort of your own space. I was pleasantly surprised for a bus tour!

Price Comparison

If you’re doing the math and think you can do better on the $582 price, here’s a quick break down for ya on what this tour costs if you booked it yourself.

I’m quoting prices for the first week of November, which is when we went (starting on Nov 5, 2018) and including tax (the final total on Expedia). Total for the 4 nights is $783 for a shared room, so individual cost is $392, which means you are paying about $191 for the tour bus and the guide ($38.20 a day). Not bad at all. November is when the high season starts to cool off (and temperature too from 100F to 85F).

If you’re thinking you can do better on the price, then you can find the hotels/Airbnbs, the high speed rail times/costs, the transportation costs to/from the scenic spots… All in all, it wasn’t worth the headache for me. I’m not going to write about that either since I avoided doing the leg work 🙂

Fleur de Chine
Cost: $338 on Expedia

[photo – bed]

Our first night AND there was a private hot spring tub!!!! It was so relaxing that we used it twice, just as Alan advised!

Since Taiwan occupied by the Japanese 1895-1945, there is a lot of Japanese culture and influence still embedded today. Check out how cute these hotel outfits are hehe:


You’ll want to wear these all night after going to the Indoor Spa… and then to buffet dinner XD

Grand Hi-Lai
Cost: $126 on Expedia

Since this is on the second largest city, it wasn’t as amazing as the other hotel stays. Think of it like the Marriott/Hilton business hotels. The lobby felt like it was the ground floor of a mall.


We opted out of the buffet dinner and went to a night market nearby (sorry, forgot the name. I thought I wrote it down but it’s way too far). It was not impressive and the streets were not closed off… so it felt strange trying to explore and being mindful of the cars (felt a bit like Hanoi again). We ended up trying to popular bubble tea shop, Go. The hotel has a food court on the bottom, so that can be a good dinner option as well.

Royal Chihpen
Cost: $169 on Expedia

Our second hotel stay with a private in-room hot spring tub! The room we stayed in also had these slidable walls for the bathroom. So cool 🙂


We went to check out the hot springs pool area. There were different scents.


Silks Place
Cost: $150 on Expedia


We went to dinner across the street instead of eating at the hotel. Cheap and local, FTW. We also played a crazy Jenga game here. The rooftop pool is pretty swanky too.

This wins the best breakfast award.

Currency Exchange – Taiwanese Dollar

We went to Taiwan with approx $500 USD for 4 people ($125pp) converted to 15,000 TWD. At the end of the trip, we barely had any cash left and wish we converted more.

Most places in Taipei did not accept credit card (this will likely still be the case). They use debit cards instead, which are cute plastic cards (can be bought at 711) and loaded with cash at the register. Almost all vendors accept this card as payment by tapping on the payment console.

In Taipei, I think we saw 2 banks? We barely noticed them or little booths that convert money like in other cities. I think Taipei is one the cities that I visited that did not have much FX exchange. Plus, we were in the city on the weekend and banks were not open. Upon doing an online search for this paragraph, I read on Guide to Taipei that money exchanges must be by a bank or licensed partner. This is why the little booths do not exist. Do not believe the credit card portion. I can literally tell you cc was less than 5% of total transactions. We were hoping a city like Taipei would welcome credit cards more… but nope.

We tried to convert some FX at a nearby hotel but they wouldn’t let us. On Day 1 of the tour, Alan did say to convert money since no other hotel during the tour would accept it. This is what happened when we didn’t listen to Alan: we didn’t have enough cash to buy ourselves cute Taiwanese pants.

Getting Around Taipei

The awesome thing about going as a group is… you can split the taxi fare! We got around town using taxi the entire time because:
1. It was just so easy to hail a cab
2. They are not shady
3. Taxi cab fare total was less than taking MRT (metro)
4. Uber either didn’t work or was too expensive (or our international roaming data was too slow to handle)
5. We’re on vacation and I didn’t want to route 🙃

stitchfix summer box

stitchfix summer box

Thanks to T-Mobile Tuesday for the $25 credit hookup in July! Best thing EVER. I asked my friends and family for their code so I could finally refresh my wardrobe. I really wanted everything in this box to be something I would like to keep and I got just what I wanted! YAY!!! I am ready to take on the world with 5 additional pieces!
♡\( ̄▽ ̄)/♡

Just a quick blurb on Stitch Fix, in case you’re not familiar:

Stitch Fix is an online styling service that delivers a truly personalized shopping experience, just for you. Fill out your Style Profile and a personal stylist will hand pick pieces to fit your tastes, needs and budget—and mail them directly to your door. Each box contains five items of clothing, shoes and accessories for you to try on at home. Keep what you love, send the rest back in a prepaid USPS envelope. Shipping and returns are free—even for exchanges!

I got my first box last year (Jan 2016) and haven’t ordered another one since. Not because they didn’t send me things I like (I liked them all), but because of the price point. You can read that post here.

Alrightie, so here are my 5 pieces. I was BEYOND excited to open the box (it sat near my door for 3 days):

  1. Colibri Sleeveless Top by Market & Spruce
    Cost: $44
    Size: XS
  2. Dianna Skinny Jean by Prosperity
    Cost: $78
    Size: 0
  3. Jimena Embroided Top
    Cost: $54
    Size: XS
  4. Pineda Split Neck Top by Fun2Fun
    Cost: $44
    Size: XS
  5. Mankai Halter Swing Knit Tank Top
    Cost: $44
    Size: XS

Here’s the style card that I got from Mai to pair to items I may already own. I tried to find the outfit in my closet to photograph the style as close as possible 🙂

Here is my stylist’s note to me. It made me so happy. It’s like she knew me!! I love the comment where she said Extra Petite (fashion blogger) would approve LOL. And they were all breathable materials that won’t make me stinky in the summer <3 (this was my comment after I submitted my order in the what else do you want to share?). I spent about 5 minutes with the box after I opened it before I had to do some errands, but I already knew it was a keeper and I was so excited to take pictures the following week. (Such a loser, haha.)

stitchfix stylist note
it’s like she knows me!

1. Colibri Sleeveless Top by Market & Spruce

When I took this out the box, I was like YES! I love sleeveless tops and things with pockets!! Every time I see something like this at H&M, I always want it. But it’s usually polyester, which means a no-go for me. And they are usually less than $15.

After I tried it on, I realized it was pretty long for a top–I can cover my entire underwear, but it’s no way a dress. The V neck seemed pretty low, but it was actually a really good spot. I also love how it has a pocket on the left side–perfect for my work ID and chapstick.

I paired this with the skinny jeans and some gray shoes as noted in the outfit suggestion card 🙂

colibri sleeveless top, dianna skinny jeans
no filter 😀 I have a sunroof and I’m gonna use it!

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the lantern fest

the lantern fest

Last year, I attended The Lantern Fest at the Philadelphia location. They host the event in various locations across the USA. The gates open at 4 PM, but you really don’t need to get there so early since the lighting can’t start until the sun is down. Although if you’re a large group (6+), getting there by around 7 PM is your best bet to still have enough space for the group and the lighting at night.

The Philadelphia location was pretty spacious. It was open land with little grass. People brought blankets and beach chairs to have a good day’s picnic and fun. There was a stage and people were performing. I don’t really remember what was going on but people were very into it. Some guy also wore a Pikachu onesie and danced on stage. I don’t know how he was surviving the heat. There were other tents for children’s activities, like coloring and face paint. There was a super long line for the balloon animals. So long that the guys making them were just twisting up balloon swords instead of taking requests. (Their insurance was ending at 5 PM, which means they had to stop working). I got myself a sword though 🙂

There was a booth right in front of our spot that was a sponsor: Bai Water. I never had it before and tried their coconut and watermelon flavors. I’m glad they had a water sponsor because sitting out in the heat is NO JOKE. Bring umbrellas! I brought my beach chairs and should’ve packed a blanket (and a picnic basket and more food).

photo of the event space as the sun is setting

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costa rica pura vida

costa rica pura vida

Costa Rica was the perfect getaway from NYC—escaping just as the snow came flurrying to the northeast. To my sadness as I write this (Friday night before my flight), the weather back home is SNOWY the day we fly and will be 20 degrees F by 12 AM 😱

Overall, the trip was pura vida, which is simply the way of life in Costa Rica. Although it translates directly to pure life, it is something that all Costa Ricans embrace whether in happiness, poor health, or everyday occurrences.

This blog post will cover everything from where we went, what we ate, where we stayed at, and even Pokemon Go coverage 🙂

Blue icons are the places we went and yellow are the places I would check out the next time I go.

Activities & Places Visited (province):
1. Britt Coffee Tour (Heredia)
2. Tabacon Resort @ Arenal Volcano area (La Fortuna de San Carlos)
3. Mistico Park – Arenal Hanging Bridges (La Fortuna de San Carlos)
4. Don Olivo Chocolate Tour (La Fortuna de San Carlos)
5. Extremo Superman Zipline @ Monteverde (Santa Elena @ Puntarenas)
6. Manuel Antonio National Park (Puntarenas)
7. Crocodile Bridge (Puntarenas)

Hotels & Accommodations:
1. Hampton Inn (Heredia @ San Jose)
2. Tabacon Hotel (La Fortuna de San Carlos)
3. DoubleTree Resort All Inclusive (Puntarenas)
4. Hotel San Bada (Puntarenas)
5. DoubleTree (Heredia @ San Jose)

Traveling Around

We rented a car from National for 263 USD for the entire week, what a steal!!! Collision damage is required (forgot the price) and we opted out since it’s covered by the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (sign up for one here). This price is like one day in Iceland !!! (see my Iceland post here) or half a week in the USA. A 4×4 car is a must if you are considering making a trip to Monteverde.

Waze the is the best navigation app to use in Costa Rica, as recommended by all the locals. Google Maps, while good for looking up distances and estimated drives, is not as reliable for directions. With Waze, there are no addresses to input. You type up the name of the destination and hit go. The traffic data is not the most accurate, so the ETA was underestimated for the most part of our trip.

The street signs are pretty terrible. Some signs are small white boxes and black text that you cannot see until you make a turn already. Just trust Waze and don’t rely on reading any street signs. The larger signs when there is a fork in the road can be useful; they show county names and KM distance.

costa rica street sign
are you lost yet?

The locals drive here like there are no rules. We drove a total of approx 600 km, mostly winding roads and on the mountains, with at least 90 km of unpaved rocky roads, and even got stuck in a mud pit. The locals tend to cross over the yellow line whenever there is a turn, so drive with caution. The roads are mostly one lane on each side and drivers tend to pass slow cars by driving into the opposite lane. This is necessary to skip trucks and buses.

Cellular Service

We didn’t really look into this since our plan with T-Mobile includes international data roaming and calls for $0.20 a minute. We had cellular service through Movistar (local Costa Rica network) most of the time. During our drive on the mountain, we lost service in certain spots. Looking back, I would get a SIM card for those moments when service is gone. Driving through a mountain is no easy feat and it’s always reassuring to know you can call for help.

Money & Economics

The week’s rate was 1 USD to approx 550 CRC (see current rates on Google). The USD is really strong right now. A lot of tourist areas take USD, but the CRC is usually the best rate if you have a credit card without any foreign transaction fees (compared to the USD price listed). It doesn’t hurt to do some quick math on a calculator to figure out the best price.

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