Sunday, January 30, 2011

Our Taiwan Vacation - The Plan

We started planning our vacation to Taiwan about a year before the actual departure date. We really didn’t need to start so early, but once we decided to go the excitement got the best of us. Researching locations, reading restaurant reviews, and viewing photos online from scenic spots was too much fun to put off until later. It was a difficult balancing act between seeking out great food and picking the best locations for photography. Originally my wife focused more on food while I did a lot of research on where & when to go for the best photos. As the year went on, my wife took an interest in photography and her priorities shifted slightly, but food was still a very important part of our plan.
We knew we wanted to leave around Christmas and come back in early January. My company typically shuts down for a week during the holidays, or at least operates with a fraction of the regular staff. The advantage of planning around this time is that the week between the holidays does not count against my normal vacation time. We had hoped that this would outweigh the disadvantage of being in Taiwan during winter (i.e. bad weather). With that plan in mind, we waited for the important 331-day mark from our return date to begin searching for flights. That’s the earliest date Delta will allow you to book a flight. And why did we decide Delta? Over the years I had built up a huge stash of Skymiles, some from business travel but the majority from using our Delta Amex card for everything we can. We even switched our banking over to Suntrust to take advantage of their Skymiles debit card and the bonus miles for signing up. They also gave us a couple of Skyclub one-day passes which would be very useful for our flight out. Getting back to the schedule, I waited until we were 331 days from January 10th (our best guess for a return date) to start checking for available award tickets on Delta has low, medium, and high award levels and it can be tricky sometimes to find anything in the low level. Sometimes low level award tickets open up right before the travel dates, but we did not have that kind of flexibility of making plans at the last minute. When I began my searching I was disappointed to see only a few medium and mostly high award tickets available, but around the holidays that’s to be expected. The only dates I could find that fit in with my work schedule was a 12/23 departure and a 01/09 return. At a medium award level we were looking at 120,000 Skymiles per ticket plus about $63 in tax. Not a bad deal for a ticket that usually costs well over $1,000.
With our dates set we could now start planning a formal trip schedule. At first we, of course, tried to fit everything and anything into our trip. We went through many revisions, adding things, removing things, moving things around. Sometimes we put the planning aside for a few weeks to take a break. At some point we realized that we just did not have enough time to fit in everything we wanted to do. So I began searching the Delta award calendar for a new return flight. It didn’t take long for some medium level awards to pop up in that second week of January. These award calendar changes may last weeks or they may only last a day or two so I jumped on a new return date of 01/13. Of course we paid a fee for that change but still overall much, much cheaper than buying a full fare ticket. But we could not get the same route on the return flight and ended up with Taiwan -> Narita -> Detroit -> Atlanta with an old 747 for the Narita to Detroit leg.
Now that we had a few more days in our trip we could spread out our schedule a bit and fit in a few more things to see & eat. We continued revising our schedule over the next few months. We came to our senses eventually and cut out several things from our schedule. It became too busy and not really like a vacation at all. With a little over a month to go we finally had something we were happy with and began making all the hotel & rental car reservations. Now the excitement was really building! We had to shuffle a couple of days around in our schedule due to hotel availability around New Year’s Day, but managed to make it work.

This is the final schedule we came up with:
12/23: Leave Atlanta 11AM, connect through Tokyo

12/24: Arrive in Taiwan at 9:40PM, pick up rental car.
Stay at Chinatrust Hotel in Jhongli.

12/25: Drive to Taichung, relax and eat with family.
Maybe get some Taichung night view photos from 台中望高寮夜景.
Stay at “In One City Inn” near FengJia night market (in-laws’ house is full for a few days).

12/26: Big lunch with family and other relatives. (mother-in-law’s 60th birthday).
Shopping for our road trip at Costco & Watsons.
Stay at “In One City Inn” near FengJia night market.

12/27: My wife needs to renew Taiwan ID, driver’s license & visit bank.
MiaoDong street market in FengYuan.
Visit ShengShin train station & old bridge ruins (龍騰斷橋) in SanYi.
Stay at “In One City Inn” near FengJia night market.

12/28: Drive up to Taipei.
Visit Dihua Street and fabric market.
Beef noodles at 林東芳牛肉麵 and 穆記小吃牛肉麵館.
Visit Bellavita Mall and Taipei 101.
Hike up to Elephant Mountain for sunset photos of Taipei.
DinTaiFung & other stuff around Yongkang Street for dinner.
Some night photography at CKS Memorial.
Stay at Hotel 73 in Taipei.

12/29: Get to 金華街燒餅油條 very early for clay oven rolls.
Drive to Houtong to see the cats, the town, and old train tunnels.
Lunch in Ruifang then drive over to Jiufen. Stay in Jiufen until after sunset.
Miaokou night market in Keelung.
Stay at Blue Ocean Hotel in Keelung.

12/30: HePing Island photos at sunrise.
Drive to Shifen Waterfall.
Stop for lunch near Keelung then take Hwy 2 around north coast to Danshui.
Sunset photos at Fisherman’s Wharf (Lover’s Bridge) and some 小吃 in Danshui for dinner.
Stay at Fullon Hot Springs Hotel in Danshui.

12/31: Spend the morning around Beitou and visit library. Hike up 軍艦岩 if we feel like it.
Drive down to Taipei in the afternoon. Park near 彩虹河濱公園.
Visit Raohe night market.
Get photos of Taipei 101 fireworks from the riverside park.
No hotel, drive to Yehliu area and get ready for sunrise photos (maybe catch a nap in the car).

1/1: Sunrise at Yehliu area (probably 龜吼)
Walk around Yehliu park for photos in the morning.
Take Hwy 2 east and stop at Nanya Rock, Bitou Cape, and keep going towards Yilan.
Dinner at Luodong night market.
Stay at Hotel in Luodong (羅東西樺商務客棧).

1/2: 五峰旗瀑布 waterfalls & 林美石磐 trail in the morning.
Lunch & dinner in the Yilan/Jiaoxi area. Also night market (宜蘭東門夜市).
Stay at hot spring B&B in Jiaoxi (奇立丹 品田雙人房).

1/3: Sunrise photos at Beiguan Ocean Park.
Drive to Hualien in the morning.
Relax at 七星潭 in the afternoon.
Dinner at 賀川日本料理, night market (自強夜市).
Stay at Hotel Bayview in Hualien.

1/4: Sunrise photos at 嶺頂日出.
Night market (自強夜市).
Stay at Hotel Bayview in Hualien.

1/5: Get plenty of food to last the day, drive into Taroko Gorge.
Visit the usual places in Taroko Gorge and continue to HeHuanShan.
Go to HeHuan main peak for sunset photos if we make it in time.
Stay at the Songxue Lodge on Mt. Hehuan east peak.

1/6: Hike up HeHuan east peak very early to get sunrise photos.
Drive down to Qingjing for photos & lunch.
Go to HeHuan main peak for sunset photos if we missed the previous day.
Stay at Sunnydale B&B (日光青境 雲頂南) in Qingjing.

1/7: Sunrise photos in Qingjing, then drive south to Puli.
Visit Chung Tai Chan Monastery in Puli and then lunch in the area.
Dinner in Taichung at 風尚臭豆腐, and other 小吃.
Stay with wife’s parents.

1/8: Spend some time with family.
Visit temple (大甲鎮瀾宮) and then the coast for sunset (高美濕地).
Stay with wife’s parents.

1/9: Take HSR down to Kaohsiung.
Spend the entire day there and head back to Taichung late.
Stay with wife’s parents.

1/10: Out with family to Changhua, Lugang, & west coast oyster farms.
Stay with wife’s parents.

1/11: More family time.
Lunch at the awesome DongShih Beef Restaurant (東勢李炒手).
Stay with wife’s parents.

1/12: Leave Taichung and drive up to Jhongli.
Dinner at the night market (中原夜市).
Stay at Chinatrust Hotel in Jhongli.

1/13: Return rental car and fly home in the morning

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Getting back to blogging

After a long absence I have decided to try to update my blog more often. My wife took up the photography hobby last year and we are getting out of the house much more, which is a good thing! So much I want to share, so I'll try my hardest to keep this thing updated. Also, we recently returned from a 3-week vacation in Taiwan. I have a lot to share about that trip and many, many photos yet to be processed. Stay tuned...