Taiwan & Palau

February 2024

  1. Taipei
  2. Palau

Day 1: Taipei

We’re super happy to be in Taipei, just in time to catch some of the final days of the Lunar New Year celebrations. We quickly felt at home here: the city is easy to navigate by bus and subway, the food is amazing, and everyone is very friendly. We went all over town today. Here are just a few of the highlights:

We started by visiting Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, which was built to honor the military leader and long-time president of Taiwan. We approached the impressive building through the surrounding park’s beautiful gardens. By the time we climbed the steps and got inside, a crowd had formed in front of the giant statue. Just before the hour, everyone pulled out their phones to capture the changing of the guard. It’s quite a performance — the soldiers march in perfect slow-motion synchrony, spin their rifles, and toss and catch them. The crowd was respectfully silent during the whole spectacle, even the little children. The changing of the guard ends with two new soldiers standing on either side of the statue hall, holding the perfect pose for the next hour.

Our next stop was Bangka Lungshan Temple, a beautiful example of Chinese temple architecture. The temple and its courtyards were decorated to celebrate the lunar new year, with plenty of dragon figures to commemorate the year of the dragon. We were familiar with many of the prayer rituals we saw, but were intrigued to see people repeatedly dropping a pair of half-moon shaped wood blocks on the ground. We learned that these jiaobei (moon blocks) are used to ask a question of the gods, with different orientations of the blocks indicating different answers.

Our food highlight for the day was Din Tai Fung, a dim sum chain that is well-known for their xiaolongbao (pork soup dumplings). We first got hooked on their food when living in Beijing in 2007, especially their snow crab dumplings. We were ecstatic when they opened two locations in the Seattle area a few years later. Eating at Din Tai Fung in Taipei felt a bit like a pilgrimage, as this was their original location. We ordered a mix of old favorites and a few dishes that we hadn’t seen elsewhere. Our verdict? The Taipei location is the best! We were particularly impressed by their salted egg yolk “lava” buns and their green squash and shrimp dumplings, neither of which are available in their Seattle restaurants.

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

The changing of the guard.

Bangka Lungshan Temple.

We met this adorable couple at Bangka Lungshan Temple, and they showed us how they make predictions using moon blocks.

Celebrating the year of the dragon.

Day 2: Taipei

We started the day with a traditional Taiwanese breakfast at a hole-in-the-wall spot that’s popular with locals: Yong He Soy Milk King. There was a line to order, but it moved quickly, and it was fun to watch the cooks at work in the tiny open-air kitchen. We were the only foreigners there and no English was spoken, but thankfully they had an English menu and we knew exactly what we wanted to order. We had a couple of shaobing (flaky oven-roasted flatbread) filled with egg and a Chinese donut, and their sweet soy milk. Everything was delicious!

We spent most of the day exploring the hiking paths southeast of Taipei. They depart the city on steep staircases, and quickly escape the urban jungle to replace it with actual jungle. We hiked through dense forest, with occasional openings that revealed beautiful views of the city, including the famous Taipei 101 skyscraper. When we originally planned our trip, many web sites warned that the trails would be crowded, but we saw relatively few people — mostly Taiwanese senior citizens, who climbed the stairs much faster than we did!

After hiking, we headed to Addiction Aquatic, a modern development of seafood-oriented businesses: a fish market, a sushi bar, a hot pot place, and several other restaurants. This was a great recommendation from our Taiwanese friends Sylvia and Stephanie. We ate at the Tando barbecue restaurant, where we picked out fresh seafood and the chef grilled it to perfection for us.

Over the last couple of days, we sampled sweets from several bakeries and we’re very impressed. We had a variety of Taiwanese and French pastries, and we even found fairly authentic Portuguese pastéis de nata (custard tarts)!

The lush tropical jungle of this hike made it hard to believe we were still within Taipei’s city limits!

Delicious grilled seafood at Addiction Aquatic.

Going, going, gone!

Day 3: Arrival in Palau

Today we flew from Taiwan to Palau. This little-known nation of Pacific islands has a long history of Micronesian culture, interrupted by a colonial period (ruled by Spain, Germany, Japan, and then the US), before gaining independence in 1994. We were drawn to Palau because of its strong stance on environmental issues. The government seems intent on attracting eco-conscious travelers, and we’re happy to oblige. As we entered the country, the passport control officer stamped in our passports a pledge to future generations that we were glad to sign:

Children of Palau,
I take this pledge
as your guest,
to preserve and protect
your beautiful and unique
island home.

I vow to tread lightly,
act kindly and
explore mindfully.

I shall not take
what is not given.

I shall not harm
what does not harm me.

The only footprints
I shall leave are those
that will wash away.

We look forward to exploring the natural environment through kayaking and snorkeling over the next several days!

  1. Nikko Bay
  2. Risong Bay
  3. Natural Arch
  4. Long Lake
  5. Milky Way
  6. Jellyfish Lake
  7. Giant Clam City & Shark City
  8. Soft Coral Arch

Days 4 and 5: Kayaking and snorkeling in Palau

We are blown away by the beauty of Palau — both above and below the surface of the water! The land consists of hundreds of super-cute mushroom-shaped islands covered in dense tropical jungle, all within a protective outer reef. The water is incredibly transparent, glowing a bright aquamarine color in the shallow areas, serving as home to a huge variety of marine life. The country has done an amazing job of preserving its biodiversity and appeal — the southern islands are uninhabited and protected, and 80% of the waters are off-limits for fishing.

We spent our first couple of days in Palau with a few like-minded travelers kayaking and snorkeling around the islands and their sheltered coves. We kayaked through mangroves, watching baby sharks swim below us and tropical birds and fruit bats soar above us. We touched jellyfish that have evolved to be stingless for lack of any natural predators. We swam over the remnants of World War II wrecks of planes and boats. We snorkeled over brightly colored corals and a wide range of reef fish. Each time our boat dropped us in a new snorkeling or kayaking spot, we marveled at being in such a pristine wilderness with nobody else for miles around!

Our guide, Cobi, leading the way.

Days 6 through 8: Private charter

We’ve been loving paddling and snorkeling in Palau so much that we decided to charter a private boat for three more days. We were lucky to have Finn as our guide and R.D. as our captain for all three days — they’re both knowledgeable and passionate about what they do, and they ensured we had a magical time.

Here are some highlights from the past few days:

  • Blacktip reef sharks: We got to snorkel with more of these sharks than we could count. Though they are not aggressive, the adults are 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 m) long, which is big enough to command our respect. To be honest, they’d look scarier if they didn’t have cute little golden trevally fish riding the wake in front of them all the time, hoping for scraps.

  • Einstein’s Coral Garden: This snorkeling area gets its name from the size and quantity of brain corals growing here. They do indeed look like brains, and they come in all colors.

  • Giant Clam City: We swam over clams with shells nearly 3 feet (1 m) wide. Giant clams can live more than 100 years.

  • Long Lake: Starting from the sea, we kayaked into a narrow channel that snaked between dense mangroves into the interior of the island. After endless sharp turns, the trees suddenly gave way to a view of the clear blue lake, where we had a refreshing swim.

  • Yap stone money: The largest currency in the world is the stone money of Yap — huge wheel-shaped discs that were quarried out of calcite on Palau and carried by canoe or bamboo raft across 400 km of open ocean to Yap. Imperfect or broken discs were left behind on Palau, and we got to see a large one.

  • Milky Way: The water in this spot has a milky aquamarine color because of all the fine sediments trapped in the sheltered cove. It accumulates on the bottom as a silky gray mud that’s perfect for a spa day. As Finn said, “Rub this mud all over your skin and you’ll come away 10 years younger.”

  • The Fishbowl: This area had the most amazing variety of juvenile fish in the shallow reef and big fish at the drop-off along its outer rim. We snorkeled here for hours!

Our guide, Finn.

Finn didn’t have a name for this place, so we called it “Perfect Beach.”

Kayaking through mangroves to reach Long Lake.

Days 9 and 10: Belau National Museum and Palau Aquarium

After spending several days on aquatic activities, we decided to devote some time to relaxation and a bit of culture. We had amazing massages in our hotel’s spa, and we visited Palau’s national museum and the local aquarium. The museum gave us a better understanding of Palau’s history, culture, and art. In particular, we got to see a nicely reconstructed bai (men’s meeting house) with intricate wood carvings and painted decorations depicting traditional stories. The aquarium taught us more about the local ecosystem, and featured exhibits of several uncommon species. It was especially cool to see a live nautilus.

A traditional bai at the Belau National Museum.

Days 11 through 13: Taipei

We’re back in Taipei! The last few days of our trip allowed us to explore more Taipei neighborhoods and sample more delicious food. We of course had to try the traditional beef noodle soup — thanks to our Taiwanese friends, Sylvia and Stephanie, for pointing us to Yong-Kang Beef Noodle Restaurant, where the beef was incredibly tender and the soup was tasty.

Sylvia also suggested a visit to the Beitou district, which we’re so glad we did. This part of town was developed during the Japanese era into a desirable spa and resort destination centered on the hot springs. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the area and relaxing in a soaking bath at the Grand View Resort Beitou.

We found a completely different vibe the next day when we headed to the Ximending district. This area is hip and trendy, and somewhat reminiscent of Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighborhood, with its neon signs and vibrant atmosphere. As we wandered through the streets, we found lots of LGBTQ+ friendly bars, a street entirely dedicated to tattoo parlors, lots of cute street art, and amazing food everywhere. We’ve recently gotten hooked on Taiwanese wheel pies in Seattle (dough in the shape of a flying-saucer with delicious fillings inside), and we were so happy to try some in Taipei. Other food highlights included crispy-bottom pork soup dumplings, Taiwanese pineapple cake, and cuttlefish dumplings.

A visit to Taipei isn’t complete without experiencing one of the many night markets. We spent an evening strolling through one of the largest, Shilin night market. Though you can find almost anything for sale in the maze of booths and shops, we focused on the food (of course). Some of our top picks: oyster omelets, bite-sized pork dumplings, deep-fried milk, and grilled trumpet mushrooms (with a line around the block).

Exploring the food of Taipei was one of our favorite experiences of this trip. We could definitely see spending more time here — a lot more — just to try out more of the amazing foods!

Ximending district.

Shilin night market.

Grilled trumpet mushrooms.

Oyster omelets.