10 things to eat, see, and do in Taiwan

Taiwan is not really known as a tourist destination. many travelers skip over our little island in search of the impressive skylines of Tokyo, Hong Kong, or Shanghai - and the seemingly endless beaches of Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. but I'm here to tell you, they are missing out.

Taiwan has amazing food, incredible scenery, and friendly people. the MRT subway system in Taipei is the cleanest and best organized I've ever ridden. an American passport qualifies you for [free] visa on arrival, and you can get around the island easily without knowing a word of Mandarin. and if you still need convincing: Taiwan has ONE really awesome skyscraper [which was, for a bit, the tallest in the world] and the south has your gorgeous beaches. oh... and there's a high speed rail system that can get you from one to the other in only 2 hours.

so we've established that Taiwan is a place you should visit. but what to do while you're here? don't worry, I have a list! a few of the items I came up with are specific, but most of them can be found anywhere in Taiwan. I haven't done and seen all of these items yet, but over the next month I plan to while my friend and then brother are visiting.

+ eat dumplings +

obviously. my favorite are xiao long bao - soup dumplings. a broth paste is packed into the dumpling along with the meat, and melts when the dumpling is steamed. in my opinion, Din Tai Fung does them best. but you can find dumplings of all kinds everywhere in night markets and stalls along the streets. beef noodle is another Taiwanese specialty that should not be missed.

+ ride a scooter +

Husband likes to say that the best way to see Taiwan is from the back of a scooter. is it a little terrifying at first? yes. but wait until you see the traffic. being able to zip around the lines of waiting cars will make you glad to scoot. be sure to wear a helmet [duh] and follow posted traffic signs. the cops WILL pull you over and not knowing Chinese won't get you out of a ticket.

+ hike Taroko Gorge +

Taiwan has mega-cities and a huge high tech industry, but also gorgeous mountains, unique rock formations, and endless rice paddies.  hiking is available in all levels of difficulty, from trails that are paved and have stairs to the famous Alishan Mountain. BUT if I had to recommend one place to visit, it would be Taroko Gorge. the national park encompasses an enormous marble canyon that stretches nearly half the width of the island. along the trails in the park you can find various waterfalls along with shrines, temples, pagodas, and monasteries. you can easily find a trail or trails to fit your need - from a ten minute stroll to a 4 day mountain trek.

+ caffeinate at a cat cafe +

cat cafes can be found in a few Asian countries, but Taipei claims to have had the first. you can visit for an hour or two, play with kittens while you drink your coffee, or study with a cat on your lap [or your laptop, if they are anything like my cat back home.] while this is clearly an activity for animal lovers, there is no shortage of options for feline-free beverages. tea and juice shops line the streets, offering both hot and cold blended beverages for your enjoyment.

+ climb Taipei 101 +

yes, it's just a really tall building. but when you go to New York you see the Empire State Building, when you come to Taipei you see Taipei 101. even on a misty day the views are spectacular. inside, you can view the enormous damper ball which makes this building possible. it absorbs the shocks and sways of the building through earthquakes and typhoon winds [both common here.] if going to the top for incredible views of the city and surrounding mountains isn't your thing, the first few floors hold a high-end shopping mall.

+ stroll through a night market + 

night markets are an assault on the senses. squid on a stick, cheap tshirts, fried rice, dumplings, plastic toys and trinkets, fresh blended fruit smoothies... it's like a flea market with extra awesome. most cities have them, though Shilin district in Taipei boasts the most famous and one of the largest on the island. if you are a seafood lover then the smaller but tasty Keelung market might be more your style.

ride the high speed rail +

if you've been to Japan, this may not impress you. but as someone who spent years on Amtrack and New Jersey Transit... the Taiwan High Speed Rail is lightning fast and spotlessly clean. you'll also notice how well organized their system is. assigned seating, designated waiting areas for each car, and electronic ticketing. if you want to save a little cash you can take the regular rail, but I recommend at least one ride on the HSR for the experience.

+ tour the National Palace Museum + 

this museum houses one of the largest [and arguably, the best] collection of Chinese art in all the world. depending who you ask, the ROC either rescued or stole these treasures from mainland China when fleeing the communist regime. the collection is so vast that only 1% can be displayed at one time, and it takes twelve years to rotate through all of it.

+ visit a temple + 

Longshan Temple in Taipei is well-known, but you won't be able to walk far in Taiwan without spotting a dragon-covered roof [which is one of my favorite things about living here.] Some temples are Buddhist, some are Taoist or devoted to folk deities, and most are a vibrant blend of beliefs. the Confucius temples are easier to spot since they are plainer in appearance, but no less beautiful.

+ soak in a hot spring + 

hot springs are everywhere in Taiwan, though somehow I have not yet made my way into one. Beitou and Wulai are two areas that offer many options and come highly recommended. high-end resorts will have the waters piped to private indoor tubs, while others opt for free springs "in the wild" that adjoin rivers and streams. some people also like to rub the mud on themselves for an extra exfoliating experience. either way, it sounds like a lovely way to relax after all the hiking and sightseeing.

have you ever been to Taiwan? is there something you would add to this list? have I convinced you to come visit? :)


happy friday + a giveaway

this week has flown by. I've been guest lecturing in Husband's class, teaching his ninth graders how to set up their own blogs. we had them set up about me pages, taught them how to do labels and links, and let them go wild with customizing their own templates and designs. it's been a lot of fun, but I'm glad it's friday!

in just a little over a month, I'm heading back to the states. this seems so unreal to me. the truth is I'm anxious to be back in the land of tacos and bacon and gluten-free beer, have my kittens to snuggle with, and to escape the humidity. but I'm doing my best to soak up life in Taiwan while I have it. the next few weeks will be crazy with travels and adventures, so I don't think it will be too difficult.

[as always, you'll be able to follow along on twitter and instagram]

this weekend I still have some cleaning to do before my friend arrives, and I've been working on another washi tape wall art project to share. but before I get back to that I want to take a moment to introduce you to my featured sponsor for the month, and share an amazing giveaway!

Kirsten is the sweet Australian behind the blog Kirsten Learns, where she chronicles her adventures in learning...just about everything! I loved her post on getting to know your camera in manual mode [ so helpful for beginners] and this adorable DIY candle in a teacup. I can't wait to see what she decides to tackle next!

Hello there! I'm Kirsten and I live in Australia with my husband and two cats. I started my blog to document myself learning the things I have always wanted to learn, and just becoming a less average and more awesome person in general. I've also started to make YouTube videos which has been both a frightening and enjoyable experience!

what is your favorite trip you've ever taken? I've only recently returned from a 2 month trip to the USA & Canada, which was by far the best holiday I've ever been on. This might have something to do with the fact that I got married while I was over there! You can totally read about that on my blog oooooohh yeah shameless plug.

what are your travel plans or goals for this year? I WISH I WAS TRAVELLING. But nope. My only goals are to grow my blog, finish uni (I'm studying to be a teacher) and to learn a whole bunch of new things.

where would your dream travels take you? I want to go back to America SO BADLY! Otherwise I have always wanted to visit Iceland. Apparently they are really obsessed with elves there? Or Japan because they are opening the Wizarding World of Harry Potter there this year. Just TAKE ME EVERYWHERE PLEASE.

describe yourself in 3 words: I like cake.

read more about Kirsten on her blog: Kirsten Learns

check out a few of her favorite posts:

or follow along with:

AND of course I have to let you all know I'm participating in an amazing giveaway this week with some very lovely ladies. we are giving away $230 in prizes to Etsy and Amazon! you can enter using the gadget below [and if you're already following me, you have entries!] big thanks to Melyssa for hosting!

Group Giveaway with $230 in prizes to Amazon and Etsy!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

hope you all have a lovely weekend, and good luck! xo


Bali // Taman Ayun Royal Temple

Taman Ayun Royal Temple was the first temple we visited in Bali on our day of touring the island. this was one of our "surprise" stops on our tour. we knew nothing about it before we arrived, and it was not a place we had requested to visit. but it certainly wasn't a terrible place to spend an hour in the morning sun...

the entire compound is surrounded by a moat. inside that are gardens, with the main area of the temple guarded by a wall and another moat. on the grounds there are several smaller buildings and shrines, and one tower that is open to the public [of course we had to climb it!]

atop the tower we found large wooden bells, a bit of shade, and a view of the main temple area. the wooden bells look like solid logs, but are actually hollow [though not open on the bottom like a metal bell.]

like most other temples in Bali, tourists are not allowed to enter. but you can still get a great view of the grass-roofed pagodas and intricate stone carvings from outside the wall.

Taman Ayun isn't on a lake [or in the sea] but it is part of a series of temples dedicated to the water systems of the island and keeping the evil spirits away from Bali. it may not be as famous, but all the blue sky and orange stone [and low crowds] made it one of my favorite sights.

linking up with Bonnie, Tina, and Melanie for Travel Tuesday.


roll with it

in less than a week, my friend Kelsey is arriving for a ten day visit! I am SO excited to have her, but it means that somehow April has escaped me and I'm about to enter a six-week-long touring + travel extravaganza.

we'll be hopping all over the island while she's here, and then a week after she leaves I'll be heading to Tokyo Disney for a belated birthday trip. [my birthday is actually next week, the 30th. I'm turning 29 and it doesn't even seem real at this point.] a few days after our return from Tokyo, my brother arrives for Taiwan tour part two. and after a few weeks of that, he and I will be flying back to Michigan together. Husband will head back to the states when school ends later in June. [and then it's weddings and babies and flying all over the country.]

I'd love to tell you the book is finished and I have posts written and scheduled for the next month or two. but no. I'd love to tell you that my house is spotless and I'm 100% ready to start receiving visitors. that I have packing plans for Tokyo and America all ready to be thrown into suitcases. but no, and no again.

in fact, I don't even have groceries or a plan for dinner.

add to all this madness that we just spent the weekend in Taipei instead of cleaning and planning, and this week I am helping teach Husband's ninth graders how to create and set up their own blogs and, well... I've got myself whipped into a frenzy.

I like to be prepared and to have control over things, and right now I very much do not. I've run out of time to accomplish everything and now I have to play triage with my tasks. but before I go off the deep end, I'm going to just stop for a minute and breathe.

I've decided to follow a new plan, something Husband like to tell his students: roll with it.

the world will not end if I have to order take-out. if I haven't swept under my bed by the time my friend arrives. if I miss a blog post or don't check twitter for 2 days. things go wrong, life happens, internet connections suck and laundry takes at least one full day to dry here. I'll do what I can. because at this point, there's not much else I can do.

so maybe this is reminder to myself, or maybe a reminder to you as well:
you are human, it's ok. just keep going. roll with it.


how to get the most from your sponsorships

today I want to talk about sponsorships - about purchasing them and how to get the most out of your experience. it seems like there are a lot of posts debating the virtues of offering sponsorship and how to be awesome at that, but I think putting some thought into where and how you advertise yourself bears consideration. I started buying ad space on other blogs about six months ago, and my readership has more than tripled in that time. I don't think this is entirely due to sponsorships, but I believe they have played a large part in my growth, and I've learned a lot from the experience. here's how I've tried to approach it - hopefully these tips can work for you [and your blog] too!

+ be choosy about who to sponsor +

finding the right fit for a blog to sponsor isn't always easy. when you purchase a sponsorship, your face and name are going to become associated with that blog's brand. some people look for blogs to sponsor based on pageviews and followers. while those should be factors, I think it's more important to consider the content and audience of who you are sponsoring. do you write about similar topics? does your content something have something relevant to offer their readers? are their readers engaged and active on their site? is this a blog that you actually read and enjoy? if you answer "no" to any of those questions, you might want to reconsider purchasing a spot.

to me, putting my face on someone's sidebar isn't just about getting more views for myself. it's my way of saying I support this person and what they are doing. so I like to sponsor blogs that I like to read, and people who I want to support. another great source for finding blogs to sponsor is to look at your own followers - if they already love to read your blog, they're more likely to promote your content authentically.

+ pick the right spot for your blog +

most blogs offer a variety of spaces that come with different options and features. make sure that you read through the terms carefully before choosing which one you want. does it include a solo feature or a group interview? are social media shout-outs guaranteed or given organically? typically it's worth the few extra bucks to spring for a spot that includes some kind of feature. this will give readers a chance to get to know you beyond seeing your face on the sidebar.

also consider the amount of time and level of involvement you want to take in the process. are you willing to do an interview or write a guest post? do you have the extra cash to put in for a giveaway? sponsoring a blog can involve answering questions for a feature, finding and sending photos and links... or sometimes just submitting a banner. if you don't have the time to commit to that, you may opt for less exposure [but less work on your part] and simply buy an ad without the extras.

+ create an attractive ad +

once you've decided who to sponsor and which space you'd like... it's time to create a banner. there are some blogs that will design an ad for you for an additional fee, or if you had a designer work on your site they may have given you a pretty button already. if not, get creative and make one yourself. there are plenty of free sites that allow you to edit and add text to photos [pixlr and picmonkey for starters.] some people choose their site logo, others like to have their face on it - really you can do whatever you like. feel free to use fun fonts and eye-catching colors as long as your blog name can be read clearly.

and for the love of cheese, size your ad properly! if you are buying through passionfruit, the ad description should include the dimensions of the spot. don't be lazy and submit a rectangular ad for a square spot [or vice versa.] your ad will be stretched or squashed and that doesn't exactly make a great first impression.

+ be easy to follow +

when someone new arrives on your blog, what do they see? can they find your "about me" page and links to your social media easily? if you want viewers to become readers, you need to make it easy for them to connect with you. [some of this I covered when I wrote about why I love to read your blog.]

I understand and respect that some bloggers like to keep certain aspects of their life private. if you choose not to have public twitter/instagram accounts then by all means, that is your right. but you should have links to whichever accounts you publicly use, so that new fans can add you easily. this also means you should have an rss feed of your site and a bloglovin account for readers to subscribe to new posts.

+ post quality content +

I don't know who said it first, but they said it right: content is king. I think a lot of new bloggers start buying sponsorships because they want to grow [and that's great!] but you have to have something for all these new viewers to look at. and for people who want to re-invigorate their stagnant blog with new readers [also great!] you should start writing again before you start trying to draw people back in. if I come across a blog that hasn't been updated in months, I'm not likely to start following in hopes they might post again some day. when you decide to advertise your blog, it should already be worth advertising. you need to be posting quality content, and posting it consistently. this will make you more promotable, and also help catch the interest of new viewers who will come across your page.

most of all - your aim with sponsorship should be to gain new readers, not just new followers. participating in giveaways can be a great way to boost your numbers. but you have to back it up with content if you want to keep those new followers coming back.


to me, getting the most out of your sponsorships isn't just about who you sponsor, you actually need to put some work into it too! I know that the topic of purchasing and/or offering sponsorships is highly debated in the blogging community, and I want to know what you think. do you agree or disagree with my points? what are things that you consider before buying an ad space - or do you buy sponsorships at all?


Maokong gondola + tea plantations

Maokong is known for three things: tea plantations, great views of Taipei, and the gondola you ride to get there. our views of Taipei were obscured by haze and tinted gondola glass, but it was still lovely to get out of the city and wander through the hills in the fresh air.

the gondolas and the station have been taken over by Hello Kitty. who doesn't love Hello Kitty?

Saturday was warm and the lines were long, but worth the trip I think. we were crammed into a gondola with four strangers, and up we went through the mountains...

I'm hoping the next time I go to Maokong it will be clear. if you look closely you can spot Taipei 101 through the haze. that large building on the near hill is some kind of temple/monestary which you can also get off at the second gondola stop and explore.

we got off at the top station and took a right. there were signs for a temple, so we wound our way around a road to find it. there were plenty of tea houses offering drinks and snacks along the way, though I think some of the more famous ones are to the left of the station. each sign we found pointing to the temple seemed to lead in a different direction and the distances were misleading, and eventually we started down a "trail" [otherwise known as a brick-paved path] such as the one above.

after an hour of wandering around [not entiely unpleasant, because the air was fresh and the trails were nearly empty] we found a temple. I'm not sure if it was the temple we were searching for, but I found a stairway in the hillside that let us climb up to be eye-level with the roof dragons.

worth it.

+ how to get there +

take the wenhu [brown] line on the MRT all the way to the Taipei Zoo station. leave via exit 2 and walk to the large glass building covered in Hello Kitty gondola cartoons. you board the gondola on the 4th floor. use your EasyCard or pay 50NT for a ticket all the way to the top. [tickets for glass bottom gondola costs more.]

the cup of coffee that fueled the writing of this blog post was sponsored by Polly. she drinks her coffee  with lots of milk + sugar, and blogs about travel and expat life over at A Girl and her Travels.

linking up with Bonnie, Tina, and Melanie for Travel Tuesday.


Ubud // Taco Casa

I'm having one of those days. where being an expat is hard and I'm missing the convenience and familiar things of America. [side note: I'm sitting in Starbucks wearing probably the most "American" outfit I could have: cutoff jean shorts with TOMs and a baseball tee.] lately I've really been missing food. and by food I mean easy gluten-free things like Buddy's pizza and New Planet pale ale and grocery stores like Wegman's and Whole Foods that believe in labeling allergens [in English.] traveling and living abroad with food allergies... sucks. living in Asia with a shellfish allergy and gluten sensitivity is really difficult. especially when I can't read or speak the language. I am so ready to head back to the states for summer and eat all of the things.

part of our summer will include traveling to California and Texas, during which I plan to eat my weight in Mexican food. I can't eat flour tortillas but corn tortillas in the form of nachos, enchiladas, and tacos? yeah, I'm all over that. [if you live near/have traveled to San Diego or Austin, please send me your taco recommendations!]

and I suppose my taco craving is why today I want to share with you the amazing Mexican place in Ubud where we ate literally every single day when we were in Bali: Taco Casa.

when I say we ate there every day, I am not exaggerating. we ate ten meals at Taco Casa during our stay in Ubud, and considering we had to hike through the monkey forest to get there, I think that's pretty impressive.

and when you have to hike past those terrifying monkeys? well, darn it, you deserve some margaritas!

in Taiwan, there are a few "Mexican" places that try but fall pretty short. if we want to eat Mexican we cook it at home [thanks to Costco carrying tortilla chips] but it's not really authentic. in Bali they have the climate to grow all the right spices and peppers, and they use them. not to mention, somehow they have cojita cheese.

their menu includes all the standards: taco, nachos, enchiladas, quesadillas, fajitas, and an incredible 8-layer burrito. the staff is friendly and the kitchen runs like a well-oiled machine. everything is made fresh and from scratch: tortillas, beans, hot sauce. have you ever had enchilada sauce from scratch? you want to, trust me.

and if you're not into margaritas I will drink yours for you you can order one of their amazing juices [this one was ginger + carrot + beet] or a ginger lemon soda, or a mint + lime + ginger ice crush. tequila optional.

and if you needed another reason to go? yeah, this sign.

now if you'll excuse me, I'll be spending my afternoon daydreaming about tacos. [and seriously, send me your taco recommendations.]

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