Taiwan / China / Hong Kong

Taiwan / China / Hong Kong

Taiwan was a complete accident. Originally, I was planning on going to Australia for a motion design conference buuut things changed and so I found myself sort of just picking a country on a whim and settled upon Taiwan. I had Taiwanese friends growing up and they gushed about what an amazing country Taiwan was but I really had no expectations going there. However, Taiwan. Was. Amazing.

First of all, it’s a fun and beautiful place to visit. It rains a lot so everything is lush and green. Second, it was occupied by both the Chinese and Japanese so it has an unique blend of both cultures as well as western influences. Third of all, Taiwanese people are SO FRIENDLY. Everyone I know who has visited Taiwan gushes over how friendly the people are there and it’s not an exaggeration. People were so nice and friendly to me and took an active interest in my life. Once, I was crossing a street when a random woman struck up a conversation with me and she was asking all about my life. What was I doing in Taiwan? Visiting. Could I speak Mandarin? 我会说中文一点. Where was I from? California. Unlike Japan and China where you feel sort of alien-like as a foreigner, I felt completely welcome in Taiwan. Plus everything was so cheap. I could get boba for around a $1. That’s insane.

I spent the majority of my time in Taiwan in its capital city of Taipei. Staying in Taipei was great as there was so much to do. I stayed in both Ximen and Datong. Ximen is like the Shinjuku of Taiwan- it’s where the most amount of things are going on and is heavily crowded. Datong is a quieter area, though it is near a few night markets.

Night markets are what Taiwan is famous for and for good reason- they have a ton of night markets and all have their own specialties and different vibes. Shilin Night Market- Taiwan’s most famous night market- is absolutely packed and insane. In comparison the Dalong Night Market is much smaller and way more chill. As I went to these night markets, I was struck with the realization that this was something every Taiwanese person- regardless of age or gender or whatever- participated in. You’d see teenagers hanging out, families together, old people playing games and so on at these markets. Night markets were a fun way of walking around and trying different kinds of street food!

One of my favorite things about Taipei was its arts scene. Taipei has an awesome local art scene and is home of several art villages that are free for the public to visit. My favorite to visit was Treasure Hill as it was in a more secluded part of the city, near the river, and up in the mountains. The buildings are practically stacked up on top of each other and you can be in nature while checking out the art work! I also checked out Songshan Art Park which used to be a tobacco factory and Huashan 1914 Creative Park which has a lot of variety of artwork and cafes.

One of the favorite things I got to see was Beitou Hot Springs. Apparently hot springs were something the Japanese introduced when they occupied Taiwan and the native Taiwanese residents initially thought it was witchcraft. There’s a museum that you can check out the old baths which I thought was pretty interesting. I also saw Thermal Valley and was absolutely drenched with sweat from the hot springs. To cool myself off, I had some mango shaved ice while I had the view of the nearby mountains. It was a gorgeous sight. Nearby Beitou was an arts fair where locals were selling hand made goods. It was a really cute area! Plus the subway you take to go to Beitou looks like it belongs in a museum.  


Taichung is a city in central Taiwan and it took about an hour by bullet train to get there from Taipei. It’s most well-known for the Rainbow Village!

Basically, an old war veteran, Huang Yong-fu, came to Taiwan after fighting in the Chinese Civil War. He settled in a military village in Taichung. Over time, the properties in this village were abandoned and the government wanted to tear them down. Desperate to save his village, he painted the walls and grounds of the buildings. These paintings are bright, whimsical, cartoonish and fun. It was a huge success and you can visit the village and take pictures with him. He’s affectionately nicknamed the “Rainbow grandpa.” He was there when I went to the Rainbow Village but I didn’t get the honor of talking to him. I did, however, get the honor to talk to some random old guy who was there. He spoke English pretty well and gave me lots of advice about Taiwan’s bus routes.

Besides Rainbow Village, I walked around Painted Animation Lane which are murals of animated characters on the walls. Taichung is home of where boba was invented. The shop is called Chun Shui Tang but it was an hour’s wait when I got there so I didn’t get the chance to drink their delectable bubble tea. I also walked to a Cultural Heritage Park and checked out the famous Miyahara Ice Cream which was PACKED.

Taichung is an industrial city so things were spread out and their public transportation isn’t that great so it was a little difficult to get around. I ended up taking taxis as their bus system was really slow and one of my taxi drivers was really friendly and kept offering me suggestions for things to do in Taichung. (He also asked if I had a boyfriend so I was like um... yes sure and then he asked why my boyfriend wasn’t with me. DUDE. Why ask me these questions).

Overall, I am definitely glad I got to go to Taichung and check out Rainbow Village!

PS: I bought a hat when I was in Rainbow Village and wore it in Hong Kong when a random Hong Kongian recognized it and got really excited.
Taichung //


Afterwards, it was time to go to Jiufen! Jiufen was probably the place I was most excited to visit before I went to Taiwan. It’s a small town all the way up in the mountains. Its main street is mountainous path that snakes around the mountain and is filled with markets selling different things. Above the markets are red lanterns. Jiufen is also famous for its tea houses, particularly the A-Mei Tea House which looks like a building straight out of Spirited Away.

During the day, Jiufen is packed with tourists but at night when everything is closed, there’s a magical sense of mystery as you wander around the red-tinted alleys.

Most people just take a daytrip to visit Jiufen plus the surrounding areas because there isn’t all that much to do in the area. I wanted to take my time so I stayed there for two nights, getting to Jiufen in the afternoon. On the same day, I went to Jinguashi which is a nearby abandoned gold mining town that’s a 15 minute bus ride from Jiufen. There’s an interesting gold mining museum in Jinguashi, plus it’s good for hiking.

The next day, I underwent the Pingxi Line. The Pingxi line is basically a special train that connects small towns. Towns such as the Houtong Cat Village and Pingxi were along this line.

The train comes once per hour and you can travel to different micro towns. It’s a cute line but ironically, I would’ve enjoyed it more had I gone during peak tourism season. Since it was November, the attractions were a bit sparse.

The first stop was Houtong Cat Village is a cute area where cats basically are the rulers. You can walk around and see cats everywhere, as well as visit cat themed shops. It was cute but it was raining on that day so a lot of the cats took shelter underneath the buildings’ awnings.

The second stop was Sandiaoling which is known for its waterfall hike but I was the only one who got off the train and was the only one in the area which was quite spooky. There also were no signs and no clear markings of where the trail began. Creeped out, I made my way back to the train station where I passed by a group of determined looking Chinese tourists who were decked out in hiking gear. I’m sure if I followed them I would’ve found the hiking trail but I didn’t want to miss the train.

My next stop was Shifen which was considerably more crowded and also had a waterfall trail which was nice. It’s also famous for launching sky lanterns. You buy a lantern, write a message on it and let it go where it launches in the sky. Pingxi is famous for its sky lantern festival but there were way more tourists doing it in Shifen than in Pingxi when I went. Anyways, there are more stops along the Pingxi line but the other stops didn’t look like there was much to do. It was also a bit annoying how the train only came once an hour so if you missed it then you were stuck at the town until the next one came.    

Overall, I really liked visiting Jiufen + the surrounding areas but if you visit, you can easily see everything in a day.


Once again, I took the bullet train and this time it was to Kaohsiung! It’s all the way in south Taiwan so it took about three hours from Taipei. Kaohsiung was fun because it had a completely different vibe from Taipei. Taipei was colder and rainy while Kaohsiung was warmer and more tropical. I rented a bicycle and rode around Lotus Pond which is where I saw the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas as well as the nearby temples. It was incredibly fun! It looked like something straight out of Avatar the Last Airbender.

Kaohsiung also has a great art scene so I checked out the Pier-2 Art Center where they had a bunch of indie art shops that you could check out.

Of course I also ate the famous mango shaved ice and beef noodles while I was there 👌

Kaohsiung was incredibly fun so I wish I had more than a day to check it out! After Taiwan, it was time to go to China!

Hainan, China

China was a trip that started with a lie. Let me backtrack.

My friend, Lanca, was working for the Hainan Island International Film Festival. Hainan is an island in south China that if you look on the map, is right next to Vietnam. Lanca texted me and was like, ‘yo Laura you should come to the film festival’ and I was like ‘heck yeah.’ She was like, ‘I can hook you up with a free hotel and everything.’

Little did I know that meant pretending I had submitted a film in the festival. I was now the proud and sole representative of a Mexican short film Are We Ever (this is a real film that exists). Thanks to Lanca’s ingenuity, I was able to stay at the fancy hotel the festival was being held in Sanya for free and had all my expenses- such as food and transportation- taken care of. Literally a dream come true. Thanks Lanca!

I took the plane from Taipei to Sanya where I had the good fortune to be on the same flight as Isabelle Huppert. Yes, the Isabelle Huppert. And we made eye contact. It was great. Isabelle Huppert was in Sanya because she was the jury president of the film festival I was attending!

A few volunteers from the film festival met me at the airport and gave me a ride to the hotel. I was nervous they would ask me about the film I was representing but luckily it never came up. The hotel was super fancy and spacious. It even had a mall attached to it, plus multiple swimming pools and water slides you could go on.

Anyways, the film festival started so I took full advantage of it and saw as many films as I could. I was mostly selecting the films I wanted to see randomly. Funnily, I had picked a film to see but one of the staff members at the festival suggested I see a Thai film instead since they were having a cast Q&A afterwards. I agreed not knowing anything about the film. Ha. THIS RANDOM THAI FILM WAS SO GAY. It felt like serendepity that out of all films in this festival that I accidentally saw a gay Thai movie. I told Lanca about it afterwards and I asked her how it passed Chinese censors since LGBT movies are usually not allowed there. She told me the programmer who selected it thought it was a cute movie about friendship.



Truly amazing.

Also I stuck around for the Q&A but I did not speak Thai nor was my Chinese advanced enough to even understand the interpretation lmao.

After chilling on an island watching films for a few days, it was time to move on and go to my last destination: Hong Kong!

Hong Kong

I was incredibly nervous to visit Hong Kong as I had been following the news about the Hong Kong protests closely and had heard about the protester being shot by the police. However, I was reassured by multiple friends (and even people within Hong Kong) that since I was a foreigner, I would be fine (lol). As anti-climatic as it was, everyone was right and I indeed ran into zero trouble while in Hong Kong. Sometimes being a foreigner has its perks! I actually went there during the perfect time as it was right after the pro-democracy party had won big in the elections so it was relatively peaceful.

Hong Kong was a very unique city as people there speak Cantonese and use traditional characters. Even though I speak Mandarin and can read simplified characters a little, Cantonese is totally different so I can’t understand it at all. However, most of the people I encountered knew English on varying levels so I was able to communicate easily.

You could definitely tell that the protests had an impact on the city. I’d seen videos of people in Hong Kong at tourist destinations- such as the Ladies Market (long stalls of markets that sell knock off clothing) and HK Disneyland- and they were packed but when I went, they were not crowded. The Ladies Market got busier on the weekends but Disneyland had zero wait times for the rides I went on which was crazy. I’ve never experienced that at a theme park before.

On my first day in Hong Kong, I went to Lantau island and visited the Big Buddha! To get there, I took an air gondala ride which takes you over the water and mountains. It was incredibly beautiful. After seeing the Big Buddha, I took the bus and went to Tai O, a nearby fishing village. Tai O was incredibly unique as it had an area of the town where the houses were all on stilts! I had never seen something like that before.

The people in Tai O were incredibly nice. I saw a woman and her mother selling some Mochi on the street so I stopped there and they gave me a bunch of free mochi in addition to the one I had purchased. I also went to this cafe on the stilt houses where the woman who runs it, June, was incredibly friendly and talkative! It turns out she usually lives in England but comes back to Hong Kong every so often to run the cafe so she can generate money for her disabled father as well as donating to other disabled foundations! I thought that was super awesome of her.

Other highlights of Hong Kong included walking along the Avenue of Stars at sunset, walking around Soho and Causeway (which is where the protests usually occur), seeing a drag show at Petticoat Lane, checking out the Choi Hung Estate with a local Hong Kong friend I made, the Hong Kong Heritage Museum where they had a really cool Bruce Lee exhibit and of course, Hong Kong Disneyland!

PS: my Hong Kong friend claimed to “be a fan of movies” but had never heard of Chungking Express. Excuse me? When I asked him what movies he liked, he thought about it and said, “Netflix!”