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Category: Wanderlust

taiwan in a week tour

taiwan in a week tour

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: 屏東 Ping Dong County | Kaoshiung > Kenting (Ken Ding 垦丁) – Taitung (Tai Dong 台東)
Day 4: Taitung > Hualien (Hua Lian 花蓮)
Day 5: Taroko Gorge > 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).

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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).

lantern-fest-pennsylvania-2016-before-dark
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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Iceland Trip 🏔🌋

Iceland Trip 🏔🌋

What better way to spend a 1:20 flight delay than to start this post! 😊

Vacationing in Iceland was definitely worth it! The views are spectacular and it really is a country full of geological wonders. We booked our flight + hotel package through Expedia.com and stayed at the Icelandlair Hotel Reykjavik Natura.

It is a pricey place to go (one of the top 5 expensive places in the world) so be prepared to spend money. We spent an average of 650 kr ($5.66) for a 8 oz latte; 2,100 kr ($18.27) for lunch; 4,900 kr for dinner ($42.63); and 1,750 kr ($15.23) for a 6 minute taxi cab ride.

A lot of my friends rented with SAD Cars, so we did as well. On the first day, we swapped a car due to the EPS service light (electric power steering) after driving 20 towards Blue Lagoon. The second night, after booking a tour and getting back to our hotel, we drove the exchanged car 10-15 minutes and it started to smoke up. There was still water fluid in the car so that was pretty crazy. We did not swap for a third car. Thank goodness for enterprise.

Here are the places we visited:

Reykjavik

Inside the Volcano

How cool is this!! The excursion is 42,000 kr (~$365) and 5-6 hours, book it here. The mini tourbus picked us up from the hotel and to the booking center. In 50 minutes, we reached the other camp site to gear up. They provide these long yellow rain jackets which were a must!!

iceland-inside-the-volcano-yellow-coat
the hottest Icelandic fashion

The walk to the base camp is about 45 minutes, so dress warm. So warm–like your snowboarding gear. We wish we brought ours. Even the goggles, because that can be helpful against hail (or even to trek closer to the waterfalls mentioned below for beautiful photos).

Once we arrived at the base camp, we were greeted by warm tea and coffee. After a brief safety message, the Group 1 geared up with helmets. The tour experience is only for 6 people at a time since the window washing transporter can only fit 6-7 people max. Patiently waiting for our turn, while supping tea, we mounted the GoPro to the helmet. Yay for the 2 helmets with the mount!!

Once it was our turn, it started to rain harder. But no worries, the experience was highly anticipated. We took off our helpful yellow rain coats and braced the cold. We went down the window washing transporter, which had wheels on one side to buffer against the uneven volcano opening (it actually got warmer as we were further from the opening). There was even a portion of the volcano wall that had metal reinforcement to ease the machine down. Safely stopped at the volcano bottom, we had about 20-30 minutes to explore the space.

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