Life in the Fast Lane


Over the past three years, I've absolutely loved every moment of being an aunt and godmother to my nephew, Mateo. I've seen his many milestones, witnessed many of his firsts, been there for countless trips to Kidzoona and other kid-friendly places, etc.

Et cetera.

And then we found out that we would soon be expecting another baby; that Mateo would be a big brother. I was thrilled when my brother and sister-in-law made the announcement (on Mateo's 3rd birthday last October). As the months went by, we all started to prepare for the arrival of the newest member of the family.

There would be discussions along the way, though. Things like "How do you make room in your heart for a new baby?" or "I can't imagine loving this kid just as much" came up. And my mom, a pro at dividing her love among multiple children, reassured both my brother and sister-in-law, as well as the rest of us, that somehow, our hearts would find ways to make room for this new life; so much so that we'd be able to share the love equally among both Mateo and his future sibling (and any other sibling – or cousin — that God might bless this family with), even if we couldn't imagine just how at the time.

As with any baby on the way, we would also discuss how things with Mateo would go, how different or similar they would be, and how life raising two boys (yes, we found out the second baby was a boy!) would turn out. It goes without saying that we were so excited and ready to welcome the newest member of the family!

And on June 2nd, Manu entered this world and officially became a part of our lives.

And we needn't worry about how Mateo would feel knowing that he was no longer the only kid around. It was love at first sight when Mateo first touched his baby brother's hands and feet.

"Hi, I'm your big brother!" Mateo whispered, in the gentlest of ways. He was awestruck with his future sidekick in the flesh, after months of witnessing his Mama's growing belly. For him to make the connection that this was the baby in Mama's tummy was a sight to behold.

Needless to say, these boys' Mama was a warrior throughout Manu's delivery.

The best smiles ever coming from such a proud big brother and his Dada.

The day after Manu's birth, we got to spend a bit more time with him (and his family) and really notice more details about his features that we had missed earlier.

Like how fair he was, how he had straight, fine hair, and how delicate his features were.

We also noticed that he inherited Anna's long fingers and toes. Mateo, on the other hand, inherited our side of the family's "cute" chubby digits.

And of course, we relished the interaction that Mateo had with his baby brother, since Manu would be rooming in with their parents.

I also got to take a photo of them, now as a foursome, which happened to feature the appearance of Spider-Man's webslinging fingers (Mateo is currently obsessed with The Avengers).

It has been almost a week since Manu was born, and I'm loving that, as their very hands-on aunt, I now get to share my time, attention, energy, and love between both boys — together and separately. I'm loving that I already see differences in their personalities and looks, as well as similarities. And I'm loving the fact that I can see how exciting and enriching life will be with these two boys around.

Have we made room in our hearts for another one? This is probably the easiest question in the world to answer.


I can safely say that if it were possible to grow another heart — instead of simply sharing the same heart and making room in it for another life — each of us grew a second heart the moment we saw Manu. And we can't wait to fill it with experiences, memories, laughter, and a whole lot of love.

Congratulations to my brother Chuck, sister-in-law Anna, and the proudest big brother Mateo! I thank the Lord for each of you, and I'm more than grateful to be a part of these boys' lives.
Pretty much everyone who knows me, and/or follows my social media accounts, knows that not only am a triathlete, I am a triathlon enthusiast. I tend to geek out over certain athletes, about triathlon gear and equipment, and I will talk endlessly about races that excite me. And given that I am coming off from a setback last year, I was so ready to start this new triathlon season with a bang.

Since January rolled around, I really hit the ground running. I've since joined three virtual races (explanation here), a 10K on my birthday, two aquathlons (one of which saw me on the podium for 2nd place), and an Ironman 70.3 relay (I was the swimmer, of course). This means that as of this writing, I've already garnered 8 medals for these various multisport events — and we haven't even reached the halfway mark of this year yet.

(Yes, you could say that I am seriously making up for whatever I wasn't able/allowed to do the other half of last year.)

Needless to say, I was so stoked to start training again; so stoked to be part of a race setting with teammates and friends; and so stoked to actually be racing once more. If I could've joined a race every weekend — time and money permitting — I probably would have. HAHA!

But one of my bestest friends, Laurie, who is an obstacle course racer, informed me months back that she and some of her friends/teammates would be mounting a race sometime in May.

And of course, she invited me to give it a try.

To be honest, I was really hesitant — for many reasons. The primary one being I was terribly intimidated. I would see Laurie and other common friends posting their workouts and races, knowing I couldn't even do half the stuff they did. Not only were they able to perform and achieve things I never thought I could, but as a triathlete who uses very different muscle groups, I wondered where I would even begin. At this point, I certainly couldn't even dead hang from my brother CJ's pull-up bar for 10 seconds without losing my grip.

However, after much hemming and hawing and "You'll like it!"-type of words of encouragement, I eventually signed up for this race almost as soon as the registration form was up. I even got CJ to join the race (since he does weightlifting as his form of exercise).

How did I prepare for it?

I first learned about the upcoming Allianz Conquer Challenge race back in February. At the time, I was back in the pool to do my usual swim workouts, and I was also back on the road to bring back my running speed and endurance. I knew at this point that I had to start incorporating some strength training into my workouts.

I had three months to work on my practically nonexistent upper body strength. In all honesty, around this time, the only upper body strength I had was thanks to swimming. Oh, and swinging my arms while running.

In other words, I had a lot to do.

I started adding strength training to my weekly routines 2x a week. I had to get some gear to use at home, since I didn't have time to hit the gym. I first used 5 lb. dumbbells, a 25 lb. kettlebell that CJ no longer used, and resistance bands that he gave me last Christmas (whodduthunk that they would come in handy?).

I would follow YouTube workouts, and on Sundays, CJ and I would exercise together. He would watch my form, give me a "program" of sorts, and we would do our own workouts side by side.

Eventually, as I got stronger, I started buying heavier dumbbells and other pieces of home gym equipment. I would follow other kinds of workouts, do more complex moves, add more reps to my regular ones, or hold my poses (i.e. planks or dead hangs) for longer.

And when I crossed the finish line of my last multisport race (my aquathlon in April), my weekly workouts changed; I dropped swimming and upped the number of strength/core/conditioning workouts in a week, coupled with running still.

For fun (and also with the intention of a good upper body workout), towards the end of April, CJ and I also hit a rock climbing gym.

How was the race?

When it comes to the multisport events I'm used to — an aquathlon, duathlon, triathlon, or a running event — I pretty much know the drill. I know what time I need to be up, what I need to wear and bring, and I know what time I need to get to the starting line. I can predict more or less what time I will finish, how my body will react to the weather and to certain nutrition elements, and how I will more or less perform. After all, I've been training for and racing in these kinds of things for around 5 years now.

However, with my first obstacle race ever, I was pretty much clueless.

May 13, the day of the Allianz Conquer Challenge, finally rolled around. Wearing the official race shirt (though I cut off the sleeves, since I'm not used to racing in T-shirts; all my trisuits and running tops are sleeveless), compression calf sleeves, grips, and trail shoes, I looked around the race course in the recently opened Vermosa Sports Hub in Daang Hari, Cavite.

Racing siblings!

I was trying not to appear nervous, but I kind of was. Those in the earlier heats had already taken off, and I could see some of the obstacles that they were tackling. In fact, I hadn't set off and some of the elite racers had already crossed the finish line!

It helped, though, to see some familiar faces.

With Karen, one of my close friends from my high school class, who also happens to be a plyometrics junkie.

First time to see Cathy and Micca in years, compared to seeing them almost every Saturday in our church's youth group back in the day.

Finally, it was time for us to make our way to the starting line. I was slightly worried about all the sand and dust around us since I also happen to have asthma. 

With less than 3 minutes to go before gunstart.

And finally, we were off!

Our first obstacle of 12 involved crawling under wires. My technique was off, since my knees would hit the ground. I finished that obstacle with multiple scratches on my knees. Haha!

After that, the rest of the race was pretty much a blur. I don't remember every single obstacle, but these were the skills we had to do (not necessarily in order):
  • Crawl (two different obstacles, meaning my knees were — and still are! — really beat up now)
  • Carry (60 lbs. worth of sandbags)
  • Climb (different hurdles as well as walls of different heights)
  • Go under and over (several walls and even a pool filled with murky water)
  • Balance
The ones that really challenged me were the following:
  • Bucket carry: I didn't realize that 60 lbs. on one's back, while walking about 200-300m, would be such a challenge
  • Balancing: we had to walk across Z-shaped wooden planks, which were not even half of the width of a gymnastics balance beam
  • Climbing: since I have acrophobia, I would panic whenever I was high up and wouldn't know how to turn around to start my descent
Thankfully, I would see CJ do some of the obstacles first, so I would know how to do them myself. CJ did very well throughout the race and I was really proud of him. All his strength work definitely paid off. Now he just has to improve on his cardio, which he hates! Haha!

I am also thankful that out of all 12 obstacles, I only took the penalty twice. (Yes, if you can't complete an obstacle, you are usually penalized; in Spartan races, this usually means 30 burpees, but for this race, it meant a 20-meter lunge walk while carrying a 15 lb. sandbag).

I am also thankful that towards the end of the race, Laurie saw and caught up with me. She and her teammates, since they organized this race, were the marshals. So she would coach me and shout words of encouragement, especially when I would start to panic. She even took some pictures while I was racing.

The absolute last obstacle was the Warped Wall. It was something I'd only ever watched on American Ninja Warrior (which happens to be one of my favorite things to watch). I'd obviously never tried this obstacle in my life, prior to this race. So I had no idea if I could jump high enough to reach the top of the wall, and if I could run fast enough and be explosive enough for it. CJ easily nailed it, so it would be embarrassing if I couldn't and would have to take the penalty for this last obstacle.

Boy, was I glad I made it up. It didn't look pretty (my legs were dangling for a few seconds), but I did get up there!

And I was felt really fulfilled after crossing the finish line and receiving my finisher medal — my first-ever for an obstacle course race!

Congratulations to CJ, who seems to have found a sport he can really pursue!

Kudos to all the organizers of this race, particularly the Conquer Challenge Team, for pulling off such a well-organized homegrown race. I am looking forward to the second installment of this in August, and to the succeeding ones! 

With one of my BFFs since the 5th grade, Laurie.

Nice to see you at the finish line, Ria!

With Jeff Lo of Pinoy Fitness, and Tring and Laurie from the Conquer Challenge/POSF Team. (Clearly, my brain was elsewhere when this shot was taken. Haha!)

It was definitely a memorable race for first-timers like my brother and me. Thank you, Lord, for giving us the strength to train for and join this race; to You be all the glory!

Thank you to our family who woke up early and exposed themselves to the sun's intense rays as we raced. Thanks to Mom who spent the first few hours of Mother's Day cheering for two of her children, to Dad for being really excited for us (he also geeks out over American Ninja Warrior and Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge on TV), and thank you to our sister, Cooks, for being on the race course and taking pictures and videos!

What lessons did I learn?

For potential first-time OCR racers, these tips might come in handy. Or maybe these will serve as reminders to myself in the future, for any other races I might decide to join.

  1. Practice, practice, practice! It's not enough to work on your strength. You actually might have to try some of these obstacles before race day.
  2. Do more fartleks. Intervals will really help a lot.
  3. Incorporate "obstacle"-esque workouts into your run workouts. It's different if you're just sustaining your run pace in a run-only event (which I'm more used to). But to cut up your run to do several intense obstacles can throw you off your game. So in the future, insert some strength/core/conditioning workouts in the middle of your run workout to simulate what you will actually do on race day.
  4. Bring a scarf or face mask-type of accessory. You will never know when you might need to cover half of your face, i.e. while crawling through sand.
  5. It's not a bad idea to bring gloves. But make sure that these gloves can help you, not be a hindrance to you, even if they have mud and dirt all over them.
  6. Have fun! Whether you know which obstacles will be part of the race or not, just go with it. It's pointless to have all of that nervous energy which will only drain you, when you can be channeling it towards running or actually doing the obstacles!
On another note, even if I still have acrophobia, I am proud to say that I was able to #conquermyimpossible and actually finish the race. Yay!

Interested to try an obstacle course race? Sign up for Tough Mudder in July, Conquer Challenge's second installment of this race in August, or Spartan Race Philippines in June or in September!
I've been thinking about it the past few days.

In the book (and movie) Eat, Pray, Love, a good chunk of the story focused on Liz Gilbert's discovery of how she would define herself in one word. Eventually, she declared that "attraversiamo" — Italian for "let's cross over" — would be her word.

As for me, there are times when random words come to mind in certain situations. After all, I am a writer by profession; words are a part of my life almost as much as oxygen is. This being said, I have a habit of naming or wordsmithing experiences, lessons, circumstances, and the like. And I've been trying to come up with my word for the year 2017.

My word for 2016 was loss. There was a lot of it: loss in terms of death; loss in terms of breakdowns of security blankets and what I knew to be true and foundational; loss in terms of confusion and letting go. It was a painful year for the most part, despite some milestones and blessings here and there, but I think that the drama surrounding that year ultimately prepared me for the following year.

Fast forward to the end of 2017. After reflecting on the year that has been (not yet "was"; we still have a week and a half before we bid this year farewell), I think I have come up with my word for the year.

2017's word is surrender. 

Many, many times this year, I found myself relinquishing control of my circumstances, my situation, my thoughts, my feelings, and my expectations to the Lord. He taught me countless times what it really meant to declare "Not my will but Yours be done".

And there were three major points of surrender this year, which I would like to share.

The first is the surrendering of my body. As I said on many occasions, this was one year that saw me go through several health struggles. Tests, check-ups, consultations, weight loss, weight gain, sleepless nights, palpitations, more tests, more check-ups, more consultations, prescriptions, changes of prescription, a messed up cycle... the list goes on. I had never seen several hospitals, clinics, healthcare centers, doctors, and drugstores as much as I have this year. I did some crying (I'm not a cryer, so when I do cry, I've reached the point of no return), I went through a depression of sorts followed by a funk, and then I experienced numbness; I was kind of angry at the world in an I-don't-care-anymore kind of way. It was during this time that tightened my circles of support, making sure that only the people closest to me really knew what I was going through on a daily basis, though I was open about my condition on social media.

However, as the months passed and I learned to keep surrendering myself to the Lord (particularly, the part of my life that was an athlete), I grew in appreciation of the everyday blessings He would give me, and I learned to be more humble and content. By God's grace, after a painful and trying few months (the last four of which, I wasn't even allowed to train, let alone race), I was finally given the green light to ease back into my regular routine. I will usher in 2018 with hope as I surrender my dreams and plans to Him, praying that He will keep me healthy and strong for His glory.

Last week, when my doctor allowed me to start training again.

The second is the surrendering of my career. While I'm still in the same industry and within the same organization, I moved floors, I moved to a different team, and I also "moved" job description, if that makes sense. Since I am not a fan of change, per se, I had to adjust right away to a different set of dynamics and working style. But thankfully, the adjustment has been smooth and I welcome these new challenges in this new environment with a really supportive and open (pun intended) group of individuals.

My first day with my new team last July.

The third is the surrendering of our home. Not many people knew that we had moved residences, but surprise, we did! In the middle of August until early September, my family and I slowly let go of things we no longer needed, said goodbye to almost 19 years' worth of memories made in that house, packed up our stuff, and said hello to another house not too far from where we lived. It has been an interesting ride for each of us in the family, in different ways. Some were more ready than others to let go, but now, months later, we are enjoying this blessing from the Lord and we look forward to the new memories we will create where He has now placed us. Truly, He gives and takes away.

First night in our new home last September!
I still had hypothyroidism here, hence the obvious weight gain.

2017 has been a journey of recognizing that we don't own anything and that we are not entitled to what we have; the Lord owns everything and chooses to bless as He pleases. And I am thankful for both the trying times and the triumphant ones.

It was throughout this year that I felt my faith was taken to a deeper level; that I realized just how supportive and encouraging people can truly be, online and especially offline; that I learned to and chose to be thankful for even the most mundane of things (like waking up to 22ºC weather); that I got to enjoy lots of time spent with my family (in the trips we took together, the times we'd eat and hang out, and even on ordinary days at home); that I became thankful for the many friends who became a part of my journey this year; that I got to experience God's faithfulness, blessings, and miracles in the lives of people dear to me; that I saw and documented the many witty, smart, and funny things that my nephew would say and do as proof of how fast he's growing up; that I got to try new things, like hiking and boxing, and rekindle other passions, like photography.

While I know that 2018 might not be a perfect year, that there may be trials to come (and I pray that they won't be of the heartbreaking sort, to be perfectly honest; haha!), I claim that He will still be faithful and that His grace will be more than enough for me and my loved ones.

May you have a blessed Holiday season with your loved ones, and a grace-filled 2018!
Some of my many frustrations as a Manileña who loves to bike include not having wide enough sidewalks for pedestrians and cyclists; not having enough and truly dedicated lanes for cycling; drivers (of private and public vehicles) being inconsiderate of and simply not caring about what cyclists have to go through — among the following: avoiding potholes, trash, and obstructions on the road, finding whatever space is available, contending with honking vehicles... the list goes on.

Which is why it is truly refreshing for me to visit countries and cities that not only respect cyclists, but encourage cycling. Taipei (and Taiwan as a whole) is one of them.

Photo from here.

A few months ago, my sister announced that there was a seat sale and that we had to book right now. Before I could even process things, she booked plane tickets for herself, our mom, and me to Taipei. "Girls' trip!" she said.

Weeks later, my brother Chuck decided to make a similar booking for himself, his wife/my sister-in-law, and their son/my nephew. It ended up being a most-of-the-family trip after all (our Dad and youngest brother couldn't make it anymore due to work and school, respectively).

As random as this trip was, I knew we had to be smart about several things since: a) none of us had been to Taipei (or anywhere in Taiwan, except for Chuck, who was only there for work and barely got to walk around); b) we wanted to keep to a budget; and, c) we had to factor in the different "needs" of our family (i.e. we had a toddler with us, we didn't want to tire our mom too much, I had a health condition).

First things first, though. We needed to book where we would stay. After much researching and asking around, the best thing to do was to book a place in a strategic/central area that was near several convenience stores (always a wise move) and close to an MRT station. Chuck and I went back and forth, deciding on several options, until one 3-star hotel from Agoda caught my eye based on pictures, seemingly good reviews, and a workable price range.

I ended up choosing the King Plaza Hotel, which is across a Family Mart, a 7-Eleven, and a Starbucks, had lots of shops around it (including a pharmacy), and was a stone's throw away from the Ningxia Night Market. It was also a 10-minute walk away from the Zhongshan MRT Station, and if you wanted to give yourself even more of a workout, probably a 20-minute walk away from the Taipei Main Station.

Unfortunately, I completely forgot to take photos of our rooms and the hotel itself, but if you've been to 3-star hotels in Hong Kong, then this is fairly comparable. The hotel itself is located only on the 3rd floor of No. 163 Nanjing West Road (don't make a mistake by going to the 4th floor, because that floor houses a different hotel), offers free breakfast (a typical simple breakfast buffet), and had acceptable amenities in the room (the rooms were quite small but not too cramped, and each had a queen-sized bed and a single bed).

Next on our list of priorities were our visas. Chuck and his family had US visas, so all they had to do was to get a US Travel Authorization waiver instead of a Taiwan visa. For my mom, sister, and yours truly, I got each of us e-visas.

The funny thing was, weeks after getting our visas, the Taiwan government granted visa-free access to Filipinos beginning November 1st. Our flight from Manila would be on October 31st, late in the evening, arriving in Taipei on November 1st early in the morning. True enough, when we landed, we didn't need to present our visas to the immigration officers. Yes, you could say that it was a waste of time (and money) to prepare our e-visas, but I would rather be safe and have them just in case we still needed to show them.

Anyway, after a late night flight, we finally landed in Taipei at 1:35am on November 1st. We were able to arrange a pick-up service, c/o a Filipino driver who was recommended by my mom's friend, so we were able to bring all our bags and a sleepy toddler to our hotel in peace.

Here are the things that we were able to do in Taipei. Not all of us were complete for each activity or destination (there were times we would split up, then meet for a meal) and we also tried to group the activities according to what were close to one another. Towards the end of this blog, I will list some tips that we learned along the way, that I feel you will likely benefit from.

1) Din Tai Fung

Anyone who is anyone knows that Taiwan is the land of xiao long bao (soup dumplings). And anyone who is anyone knows that when you say xiao long bao, you are referring to Din Tai Fung. We couldn't not begin our trip without a visit to the nearest Din Tai Fung, which was, thankfully, just a 15-minute walk away from our hotel. We had to wait about 20 minutes in line — which wasn't bad by DTF standards — and once we were ushered in, we were brought to a cozy corner table.

As expected, the food was great, which is why we spent quite a bit for this meal. This ended up being our most "expensive" meal of the trip, since 90% of the time, we were eating street food.

2) Taipei Peace Park

A historic park located near the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, it contains memorials to the victims of the February 28 incident in 1947.

3) Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Named after the former President of the Republic of China, this memorial hall is not just a national landmark, but has since become an increasingly popular tourist attraction.

4) Ningxia Night Market

Thankfully, this street (and night market) was a less than 5-minute walk from our hotel. We had dinner here twice, on our first and last nights. We particularly enjoyed the torched beef cubes, their version of an okonomiyaki, their dumpling noodle soup, and their Taiwanese popcorn chicken.

5) Yehliu Geopark

For your outdoorsy fix, make the long trip to this famous geopark, known for various rock formations beside a beach. It took a while before we were able to find the West Bus Station of the Taipei Main Station (we walked around 30 minutes from our hotel, and we had to navigate the entirety of the main station before reaching the West Station).

Eventually, we did find it, and we were able to use our Easy Cards (more on this later) for the bus ride. It took an hour and a half (costing around NTD 95, if I'm not mistaken) to get to the Yehliu Bus Station, then another 10-minute walk to the actual geopark where we paid the entrance fee of NTD 80 each. But the journey was worth it.

6) Taipei 101

While we didn't go to the roofdeck of this famous skyscraper, we were able to have dinner in the foodcourt, walk around for a bit and do some window shopping.

7) Taipei Zoo

Not that I've been to many zoos, but this is easily one of my favorite ones. It's accessible, the grounds are huge, and most importantly, the animals have lots of space and are well taken care of. The zoo is at one end of the Brown Line of the MRT, and the entrance fee is only NTD 60 per person. My three-year-old nephew had a blast. Unfortunately, it would rain every now and then, but there are many places where one can chill (and order food or a drink) while waiting for the rain to pass. Note, though, that the zoo closes by 5pm.

8) Shilin Night Market

From the zoo, we took the train back to the city to hit this famous night market. As with many other night markets (and street markets in general), you could food trip or shop the night away in this place.

9) Elephant Mountain Hiking Trail

An urban trail located within the city, this was really easy to get to by train, and my hiking-crazed sister loved the fact that the Taiwanese had this hiking option. It's an uphill stair climb, and once you reach the top, you can either choose to take on other connected trails, or admire a 360º view of the city. The day we went, it was rainy, cold, and incredibly foggy.

10) Shifen Old Town

Getting here required two changes of train lines and a bus ride (make sure to arrive on time because each bus to Shifen leaves every 20 minutes). We went there on the same day my sister and I hiked Elephant Mountain, and it was still cold and rainy all throughout. We had wanted to light our lanterns and send them flying later in the evening, envisioning really dramatic pictures, but unfortunately, the weather wasn't on our side and we had to rush things so we could get out of there without succumbing to hypothermia.

11) Modern Toilet

Believe it or not, this is a restaurant. Yes, a restaurant wherein you will be sitting on toilets and eating and drinking from toilet- or urinal-shaped bowls or glasses. It's as trippy as can be, and had my nephew cracking up. He didn't even want to eat the poop-shaped chocolate ice cream at first, until we managed to convince him that what was on the bowl wasn't actual poop, but ice cream. Food-wise, the selection was random (from curry dishes to sandwiches), and taste-wise, it was just so-so for me. Really, one would go there primarily for the experience.

12) Ximending

Shopping in Taipei, at least for my sister and me, wasn't as easy as it is for us in Hong Kong or Bangkok. Most of the clothes in the other night markets or side streets weren't to our liking; neither were they cheap. But we found the best deals and styles in Ximending. Sadly, we only discovered and maximized this wonderful shopping haven on our last day. 

Now, for some notes/observations/tips that could be hopefully be useful for you, should you decide to make the two-hour trip from Manila to Taipei:

1) Decide on your money-changer plan ahead of time. We decided not to convert to USD before converting to NTD because of the low exchange rate from peso to USD. However, not all money changer stations in NAIA had enough NTD for us to "buy" using our pesos. We were only able to convert about PHP 2000 each into NTD in the airport, and the rest of our pocket money, we had to exchange when we got there; the only place in Taipei that accepted and exchanged our pesos was the Bank of Taiwan's main branch.

2) The Easy Card will be your best friend. I highly recommend that you get one, which you can reload at any time in any MRT station. It can be used for riding the train/s, the bus, and it can even be your mode of payment in select places like convenience stores. Really handy and it'll spare you from falling in line and having to repeatedly buy single-entry tickets or chips.

3) Prepare for the weather. One day, it would be sunny (Manila-level of sunny); the next day, it would be rainy and cold (colder than Baguio). It's best to layer instead of wearing a long-sleeved shirt as your base (in case the day happens to be a hot one), and always bring an umbrella in case of unforeseen rain.

4) Their shops come alive at night. My sister and I tried to explore Wufenpu (another shopping district) during the daytime, but many of their stores were closed. You might want to try hitting the shopping areas in the late afternoon or early evening. 

5) Double and triple check your accommodation bookings, especially if you will be arriving/checking out late. Most budget flights are red eye ones, which will likely mean that you will be arriving early in the morning and checking out at night. Make sure that your hotel/Airbnb bookings are for the correct dates, and if you plan to check out of your room/s late because of your late flight, that you are willing to pay the extension rate of your hotel. 

6) Get a pocket WiFi. Not just for social media purposes, but for being able to get around the city with much more ease (i.e. Google Maps, downloading Taiwan travel apps). I had two routers on standby (in case we had to split up into two groups); the first, I got locally (EZ Travel WiFi), and the second, from Taiwan (WiFi Taiwan). Both were very affordable, considering our six-day stay. However, I didn't realize 'til our 3rd day that the EZ Travel WiFi package had a data cap (it downgraded to 2G speeds after consuming 4GB worth of data) while the other one had unlimited data. The EZ Travel package was sent to my house and I returned it via LBC the day after I arrived in Manila, while the WiFi Taiwan pack was picked up in the Hi-Life convenience store in the Taoyuan International Airport and brought back there just before flying out.

7) Try as much of their food as you can. Believe me, you won't run out of things to try. Their dumpling noodle soup variants alone are countless. I was actually game to try the (in)famous stinky tofu, but for some reason, didn't get to come across any stall selling that. My sister bought milk tea from every conceivable stall or kiosk that she saw, and my mom became a huge fan of their peanut mochi. Taiwan is also well-known for their pineapple cakes (and their various permutations).

8) You can live off P15K in pocket money. Not counting what you will spend for airfare and accommodations, you will be able to get by with about PhP 15K; this will include all your meals, your transportation, and other expenses. With this amount, I was even able to buy a new pair of Nikes from the Shilin area. It's actually pretty affordable in Taipei; much cheaper than what you would shell out for a trip to Osaka, Singapore, or even Hong Kong.

This trip was definitely a pleasant surprise, considering that it was a spur-of-the-moment booking (darn you, seat sales!). It reminded me of the energy of Hong Kong with the spaciousness of Shanghai's streets and the cleanliness of Singapore. I enjoyed the food (too much!), being able to walk an average of 15,000 steps a day, taking their modes of transport, and exploring what their city had to offer first-timers like me and my family. There's something to do for everyone, regardless of age or interests, and I'm pretty sure I'll be back for more. 

Xièxiè, Táiwān, for the wonderful time that we had!

Missing Dad and CJ, who weren't with us!

P.S. The photos featured here were mostly taken by yours truly using a Canon EOS 550D and an Olympus Pen EP-2. Additional photos were taken by my brother, Chuck, using his Panasonic Lumix GX85.

P.P.S. I forgot to mention that we were able to go to church in Taipei. Thank you to the Bread of Life community for the warm welcome!
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