Day 22: The Ultimate Taiwan Food Post

I now present to you a sampling of the food we enjoyed in Taiwan. This isn’t even everything – it’s only what we thought to take pictures of. I decided not to include the food we didn’t really like – which was mostly outrageous stuff we tried just to be a bit crazy – like pig intestine soup and BBQ chicken butts on a stick 😂

Ah yes, let’s start with an easy one for everyone to like – it’s a pineapple cake! The outside is buttery and firm and the inside is a very soft filling with real pineapple! When you visit, they sit you down for a free sample with a cup of tea. Sunny Hills

This one might be the most famous – stinky tofu! If you can manage the smell, it tastes pretty good. But then again, I’m a huge fan of most things tofu so I’m probably biased toward liking it. If you visit Taiwan, this is a must try!

Pig blood cake – the name is deceiving as this isn’t actually cake. It’s sticky rice made with pig blood and covered in peanut dust. If you put out of your mind that you’re actually eating blood, it’s really good!

This was my all-around favorite snack of the trip. Okay, maybe my 2nd favorite, but still SUPER AMAZING. It’s a savory pancake with green onions, sort of similar to a roti. Then they add fillings like egg, cheese, ham, basil, or any combination them and serve it like a taco. This cart was walking distance from our apartment and ALWAYS had a line – find it by locating the restaurant it stands in front of: Google Maps

This was another top pick for me – sweet potato balls. Not much to say about these but they are super light – almost hollow inside. You can find them at most night markets. A good one to try if you are not super adventurous. Almost as much of a guaranteed win as the pineapple cake!

This was my other all-around favorite snack of the trip. We found it through a blog post on food in Hualien and they called it the Bei Gang Spring Roll – not sure if that is the name of the food or the name of the stand. The wrapper is a steamed savory crepe and you pick your protein and sauce. I got pork, Jason got the black pepper pork, and we both got the original sauce. They add several additional items inside as well. The third night we were in Hualien I had to go back and have it again! You can find it at the Zi Quiang night market and they now have English on their signboard!

Step one – crack egg in hot oil, step two – cover with thin piece of dough, step three – flip and cook until crispy!

The best part is the egg is still runny!

These dumplings are both pan fried and steamed at the same time. I still prefer the xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung, but these are definitely worth a try if you’re in Tapei. Plus, the restaurant is literally around the corner from DTF so if you can’t stand the wait, you can always tap out and visit Kao Chi! (Tripadvisor link because their website is only in Chinese!) 

Radish cake – I wasn’t a super fan of this one, but Jason was. It’s like hash browns but radishes instead of potatoes.

Mini xiao long bao from Din Tai Fung – they only have these on weekend mornings until they run out. Officially the restaurant doesn’t open until 9:00 am, but a friend tipped us off that they’ll start seating people at 8:30. Not as good as the original size (at least to me) but definitely worth a try! (Din Tai Fung)

(If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, they have a location in Valley Fair Mall. It’s the only location that takes reservations and they are usually booked up 2-3 weeks out – more info.)

This is the famous Hot Star Fried Chicken from the Shi Lin night market. They became so popular that they have two stands here – both with constant lines. The boneless fried chicken is about the size of both hands with fingers spread. This was tasty, but I prefer my fried chicken in “popcorn” form. Hot Star Fried Chicken

These two pictures were from an area of Tainan that has very little English, so Jason and used our time-tested theory of going to the place with the longest line. It was a pretty good meal, although we didn’t finish it all. In this picture: braised pork over rice, fish ball soup, and the fried patties are shrimp cakes – we didn’t order them initially, but the woman kept pointing to the picture encouragingly, so we gave in. (Tripadvisor)

These are also from the same restaurant as the last pictures – noodles with pork and shrimp rolls. The shrimp rolls were kind of like shrimp tempura and they were my favorite of the bunch 🙂

These next few pictures are from the DaDong night market in Tainan – one of the best night markets of our trip. I’m not exactly sure what I’m eating here but it’s fried, it’s pork, and it had the longest line in the market. It was good 🙂

This was an unexpected big winner for me, and our Airbnb hostess told us we needed to try it in Tainan. It’s called beef soup, and it’s very different than the more-famous beef NOODLE soup in Taipei. It’s kind of similar to Vietnamese pho in that they put raw beef in a bowl of steaming hot soup, but they added ginger, which was a total improvement in my opinion. Also – no noodles.

My Taiwanese friend told me I had to track this one down – it’s a giant pork belly bun. It also has a fried egg, some sort of slaw, plus pickles, and a mystery sauce. Big winner!!!

This was one of those “well how could THAT be bad” things that we passed and had to try. It’s a pancake (just like my dad makes at home) filled with strawberry jelly. They had maybe 8-10 other filling options, including creme, chocolate, red bean, matcha, sesame, and peanut.

These two pictures are from a cocktail bar Jason found called Fourplay. When were first seated, I was dumbstruck by the lines of cocaine on the table next to us. Turns out it was actually sugar and you suck them up with a straw into your mouth. Is it super campy? Yes – but worth it to try it once. These 7 drinks make up what they call the drugset and there is an digital counter of how many they’ve served – when we ordered, it ticked up to 4,586. (Tripadvisor)


And finally, this… thing. It’s a soft serve ice cream covered in cotton candy with a white chocolate lightening bolt and a cone cane. We people carrying them as we neared the stand and couldn’t resist giving it a try. Honestly I enjoyed the cotton candy very much, but I’m not super big on soft serve ice cream so I took a few bites and tossed it. But it looks super cool!

Thanks for reading. This was most of the cool stuff we ate in Taiwan. If you love to try new foods and are ready to push yourself gently out of your travel comfort zone, Taiwan is an amazing destination!

Day 20: The Tale of the Broken Tooth

At around age 12, Jason fell off his bike and chipped his two front teeth. He went to the dentist and had them filled and that was the end of it. Until 2016.

We have a great dentist in Campbell, California and her name is Dr. Ho. If you need a dentist, look no further – just don’t expect to get a same-day (or even same-week) appointment. So when one of the fillings fell out of Jason’s front tooth a mere two days before we were to leave for the British Virgin Islands in April, it was an issue. With Jason concerned he’d need a root canal if he left the inside of his tooth exposed for over a week, he called about a dozen San Francisco Bay Area dentists before finding one that could take him that afternoon. The timing of it was inopportune to say the least, but thankfully, it was an easy procedure and all was well.

Fast forward to last Wednesday: Jason and I were sitting in our room in Hualien, a relatively remote area of Taiwan. The town only recently got a highway built to it so travelers could reduce the drive from Taipei from seven hours to three hours. We were based there to see the nearby Toroko National Park and had planned to continue our circumnavigation of the island the following day with a long train ride to Tainan. It was about 10:00 pm; Jason was sitting on the bed, and I was sitting on the couch when I heard “uh oh.” I looked up – the filling in his other front tooth had fallen out.

At that point we tried to figure out our best plan for Jason getting seen that next day. We have good travel health insurance and while I was pretty sure we weren’t going to reach our deductible with one filling, they have a great online resource for finding well-educated, English speaking doctors almost anywhere in the world. Unfortunately however, they only had one dentist listed in Taiwan, Dr. Jackson Liu, and he was in Taipei, a three-hour train journey in the wrong direction. This was important though, so even though it was late at night, I sent them an email requesting an appointment for the following day. We also did a bit of research online and found a couple other good English-speaking dentists, both in Taipei, that we had planned to call in the morning if we didn’t hear back from Dr. Liu. At that point, we realized that we would no longer be going directly to Tainan, and instead would be returning (temporarily) to Taipei in the morning.

All of this had taken about two hours to hash out. We were prepared with our list of dentists to start calling when we woke up, but luckily, there was no need! Dr. Liu’s office, called DentistQ, had emailed us back around 6:30 am and confirmed an appointment for 1:00 pm. We packed up quickly and took a cab to the train station. We purchased tickets from the window for the next train to Taipei, leaving at about 9:00 am.

With only about 20 minutes to spare, we arrived at DentistQ following a bus ride from the train station in Taipei. Had we missed that 9:00 am train in Hualien, we would have been late. The receptionist spoke limited English, but we filled out a form that was (mostly) translated. At around 1:15 pm, Jason was taken back for about an hour, while I watched a TV show on my laptop in the lobby.

Jason returned with his tooth looking as good as new! He said that the whole visit went smoothly and that the doctor’s English was very good. At his suggestion, I took a peek into the office, which looked more modern than our dentist’s at home. A few minutes later, they handed us an invoice for $5400 NTD, or $175 USD. They only took cash, but we were prepared, so we paid and left.

I spoke to GeoBlue, our travel medical insurer, and we’ll be sending them the invoice to apply our payment toward the deductible. I can’t give a real review of them just yet, but they were quick to pick up the phone and offer lots of help, even though it was the middle of the night for them in the US.

And there you have it, our first real medical issue while abroad. While initially there was some anxiety about who to see and how to get an appointment, it resolved relatively painlessly – in all regards 🙂

Day 15 – Long-term Travel and Healthcare: Why it’s so hard to find answers online

If I hadn’t told my dad I was writing this post Wednesday night, I would be wondering if I had dreamed up the coincidence. Healthcare while traveling is a complicated topic that few bloggers write about, so I thought it would be a good resource for others if I went ahead and shared the decisions we made – and then Jason’s tooth broke a few hours later. So, let me tell you first how we prepared for something like this – and then in order to avoid making this post a novel, I’ll write about Jason’s dental work in another post 🙂

If you’ve decided to quit your job and give up your home like we did, you probably have questions about healthcare and health insurance. You probably have asked Google what to do and not found many answers. My husband and I just left the US about two weeks and this was the single most complicated issue we dealt with when preparing for our trip. I started seriously researching it the first week in December and we finalized things on January 13th, so it took about six weeks. Despite not leaving until three weeks later, on February 4th, we still missed the delivery of our US health insurance cards by about a week – that’s how close we were cutting it without even realizing it.

(Please know this isn’t advice and you should do your own research before you make any final decisions. This is simply what we learned and the choices we made based on our individual circumstances. Also, I don’t receive any benefit for you choosing the companies mentioned in this post.)

I’m going to go ahead and make the assumption that you’ve already decided you want access to healthcare and health insurance for your trip. Not carrying health insurance is irresponsible because even the healthiest people could be the victim of a hit-and-run scooter or need to have their appendix removed. Stuff like this can be complicated and expensive if you don’t have the resources when you need them. In some areas of the world you won’t even receive treatment until you can prove that you can pay for it.

Jason and I carry two policies. Our US policy would cover us when we decide to return home or if we experienced a medical situation so serious that we’d want to be treated at home, like cancer or an injury with a long recovery time. Our travel medical policy covers us for stuff that happens while traveling, like a broken ankle, infected cut, or illness like Dengue Fever.

If you will be out of the US for more than 330 days in a year, you can purchase a single policy. However, because those plans are not ACA (Obamacare) compliant, we’d also be paying a significant fine since we are planning to be in the US more than 35 days this year. I’ll write a bit more on this further down just in case this applies to you.

Our US policy – Sutter Health Plus Bronze – pricing based on age & zip code, we pay $340 for each of us per month.

During the early planning of this trip, we assumed we’d go on the ACA Covered California website, indicate that we were not making any income this year, and be allowed to purchase a policy with a reasonable subsidy. Turns out this is absolutely not the case. If you tell Covered California you are not making any money, they will put you on Medi-Cal, which is the free health insurance for low-income Californians and not appropriate for Jason and I. We are happy to pay for our insurance and also wanted to keep our doctors. I tried having them adjust our income up to about $25,000 a year to bump us out of Medi-Cal, but they require proof of income, like an offer letter or last year’s W-2, so that wouldn’t work for us. Eventually we came to realize that we weren’t going to be getting any subsidy and started looking outside of Covered California for more options. The cheapest plan on the exchange was about $250 pp/pm, but it was a Kaiser plan that would require us give up our doctors and the cheapest with our doctors in network was a Blue Shield plan for $415 pp/pm.

Our doctors are at Palo Alto Medical Foundation, part of the huge Sutter Health system, and with a little bit of research, we found that Sutter has their own HMO, Sutter Health Plus. This was going to be the least expensive option to keep our doctors and similar to the Covered California plans, they offer four plans: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. We went the Bronze plan for $340 pp/pm. While the Silver would have been our choice if we were staying local, we are not expecting to use this insurance plan very much and wanted to spend as little as possible.

Send me an email if you’d like our broker’s contact information or you can read more about the plans at this link:

Our travel medical policy – GeoBlue Xplorer Select – pricing based on age and maybe zip code, we pay $133 for each of us per month.

Shopping for travel insurance can be confusing. I suggest you start by asking yourself “what am I actually looking for?”

Are you looking to be reimbursed for your trip if you can’t go due to injury or illness? Are you looking for money to help replace luggage if it is lost? Are you looking for rental car coverage? Are you looking for help rebooking cancelled flights?

When you’re taking a shorter trip, one where time is a limiting factor, you probably want these benefits. However, Jason and I don’t and didn’t want to have to pay for them. What we did want was rock solid health insurance that would cover medical issues (both emergencies and non-emergencies) and not try to send us home as soon as possible to then be covered by our US policy. What we realizes we were actually looking for was closer to ex-pat health insurance than the usual travel insurance.

We found GeoBlue both through an insurance broker recommended by our financial advisor (even though she doesn’t sell it) and also suggested by a cruising couple I met on a sailing Facebook group. These are several plans to choose from based both on length of your trip and whether you are keeping US health insurance or not. We have the Xplorer plan – their ex-pat plan for trips longer than 6 months. The Xplorer has 3 options –

(1) Select – this is our plan. It does not cover you in the US AND you must have US health insurance to qualify for it. This plan is for people like us that are planning to be in the US more than 35 days this year.

(2) Essential – this plan will not cover you in the US, but you don’t need US health insurance to qualify. Essentially, this means you are not planning to go to the US for a visit or for treatment of a serious injury or illness.

(3) Premier – this one DOES cover you in the US, but does not meet ACA minimum requirements. This plan would work for people who will be in the US fewer than 35 days a year AND would be willing to pay the ACA fine if you overstayed that limit.

Send me an email if you’d like our broker’s contact information or you can read more about them at this link:


I’m sorry this post got to be so long! Let me try to wrap it up with some questions we’ve been asked and some answers we received –

Q: So you only have travel medical insurance? What about insuring your stuff?

A: We have insurance on our laptops because they are the only really high value item we carry with us. We have a State Farm Personal Articles policy that covers both of them. If it covered cell phones, we’d include them too, but State Farm won’t allow it. Our clothing and other smaller electronics are not insured.

Q: What about cancelled/delayed flights?

A: Since Jason and I have a completely flexible timeline for this trip, we don’t mind waiting an extra day or rerouting to reach out destination.

Q: Does our travel medical cover EVERYTHING?

A: No – it has a 6 month waiting period for pre-existing conditions and it has limited coverage for some extreme sports. Because of this, Jason and I have DAN insurance for scuba diving (and if you dive, you should, too.) Also, if you hurt yourself doing something stupid, most (all?) travel medical plans reserve the right to refuse coverage.

Q: Do I need a travel medical policy if my credit card provides travel insurance?

A: Generally yes, if your trip is longer than a certain number of days. For example, our Chase Sapphire Reserve cards limit trip insurance to trips 60 days or shorter.

Q: Should I skip US health insurance and just pay the ACA fine because it’s cheaper?

A: Probably not, because most travel insurance plans I’ve found (like World Nomads) require you keep US health insurance OR pay for their plan that includes US health insurance (like GeoBlue Xplorer Premier.) If you are thinking about applying for the GeoBlue Xplorer Essential, ask yourself where you’d want to to be treated if you were diagnosed with something very serious, like cancer. Probably near your family, right?

Q: Can I be denied travel insurance due to my medical history?

A: Yes, because they are not held to the same requirements as ACA plans in the US. Jason and I had to fill out an application that included several medical questions, including one that was something like “have you ever been diagnosed or treated for anything not listed in the questions above?” However, I will tell you that I am obese by BMI and have mild asthma and was approved with no premium increase, so they are not looking for small reasons to deny you.

Q: When applying for US health insurance, what address do I give?

A: At first we were told that Sutter Health will not provide us with insurance if we would not be physically present in the state of California. I had to call them directly and speak to a supervisor to explain our situation. The ACA dictates that we had to keep insurance, so if they would not insure us, who would? I was put on hold, and then the supervisor confirmed that we should provide our current address at the time of application (we were still living in our apartment in California) and then could change our address to the mail service later.

Q: This all sounds great, but it’s too expensive for me. What’s the least I can spend and still be pretty well covered?

A: This was a question that was added after I wrote the blog and to be honest, I only have a vague suggestion of where to start. If you live (or are leaving from) Santa Clara County, I am pretty sure Kaiser Bronze HMO will be your cheapest plan. For us at age 32 and 33, it would have cost about $225 a month each. For travel insurance, check out World Nomads. This company is recommended by a lot of backpacking and low-budget traveler blogs I’ve read, but the reviews on actual claims are somewhat mixed. I’ve heard the cost is between $50-75 a month, depending on if you want extreme sports covered. This means the total cost would be around $300 a month for both – not too bad considering the consequences of skipping coverage!

If you have any other questions, let me know and I’ll add them!

I hope this post was helpful. I tried the write the post we were looking for when we started doing this research 🙂

Happy travels!

Day 11 – Sky Lanterns!

When I was asked why we were going to Taiwan first, I usually answered for the food. We had loved what we’d seen of Asia so far, the weather in Taipei would be good (at least for us – we like it cool,) and the food was supposed to be outstanding. But there was another reason – I really wanted to see the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival, which is the 2nd largest launching of sky lanterns in the world and the timing was right.

There was some anxiety in getting there and seeing it – Taiwan has less English signage than we are used to and we knew public transit wouldn’t be as dependable for the festival – there would be just too many people going. Add to this to the fact that it’s outside of Taipei city and we didn’t know what to expect, especially because Google Maps has been less reliable here than we’re used to.

Luckily, there was nothing to worry about. The logistics and preparation put into this by the festival planners was amazing. The staffing was unlike anything we’ve seen before. It was suggested to us that we avoid the train and take special busses from the Taipei Zoo MRT (subway) station and when we stepped off the metro and onto the platform, there were already staff directing us where to go. We then followed signs (in Chinese and English!) that were placed no more than 50 feet apart to a line of people waiting for the bus. There was a shorter line if you were willing to stand for the 45 minute journey, but we had plenty of time, so we waited for a seat. We knew we’d be standing most of the afternoon and evening after the bus ride.

When we arrived to Shilin (the festival is actually in the town next to Pingxi) we walked to the Old Street with the food and souvenir vendors. As we watched several people launching lanterns individually, we ran into our Danish friends from a tour earlier in the week! What are the odds – there were thousands of people there! The four of us walked and snacked for an hour or so and wound up splitting up about a kilometer from the big launch site – they didn’t want to have to wait in a massive bus line on the way home and were happy to have a far away view. Jason and I wanted to get up close and were prepared for the bus line so we said our goodbyes.

Jason and I joined a crowd of people outside of the official launch field – you needed to have a ticket to get in and actually launch at the festival. We watched the first three launches and the entertainment in between, including a dragon dance and a pop band singing in (heavily-accented) English. We had a great time and honestly watching the launches was breathtaking – especially after it got dark.

The line for the bus back was long, but it kept moving. Again, so much work was put into the logistics that it was impressive. There were not standing/sitting lines on the way back, they just packed the busses and you got a seat if you were young or old. Jason and I stood on the way back both on the bus and then the MRT train, but we had expected to. I’ve been trying to find an estimation of the crowd, but can’t seem to – if anyone knows how many people were there, please let me me know.

Anyway, here are some pictures and videos! If you have a chance, I’d totally recommend going!