We are back in Taipei after the trip my in-laws planned to show us more of the country. Beforehand, it was billed to me by my husband as a one-hour ride south on a high speed train, renting a car so we could cruise the rest of the way down the coast, then relaxing at the beach for four days. It didn’t quite turn out like that, as we are both learning that traveling with a baby and your parents does not equal relaxing, but it was definitely an adventure.
Our destination was Kenting, a national park at the southern tip of Taiwan known for beautiful beaches. We left the house at nine a.m., so I was imagining we’d be frolicking in the surf by the afternoon. The journey proved to be much trickier than described (this is when my husband claims “lost in translation”). After a short subway ride to the train station, a scenic trip on the clean and comfortable high-speed rail to Kaohsiung, we hopped into the rental car and managed to get lost for hours due to the agency being out of GPS units and the lack of a good map or clearly marked roads. It was a blessing that I had a baby to tend to in the back who has discovered his voice and knows how to use it, because otherwise I would have been terrified that my husband and father-in-law were both looking at the map most of the trip instead of the road.
As we were driving along the coast, it felt just like the trip from Tijuana to Ensenada in Baja California – beautiful views, but shabbier construction, more treacherous roads and stray dogs as you go. So I was surprised when, seven hours after leaving the house, we finally rolled up to a sprawling, brightly colored hotel complex called the Chateau Beach Resort. His parents had booked us rooms at the Club Med of Taiwan. It’s the kind of touristy place my husband and I have avoided in the past, opting for smaller, unique boutique hotels, but I can see now why people flock to these all-inclusive resorts. They are incredibly family-friendly. I guess this is our new world of traveling with a child to consider.
Road-weary and as cranky as my poor nap-deprived baby, I perked up a little when they showed us to our room and they had provided a Pack-n-Play and baby bathtub. And even more when I saw our window overlooked an incredible network of pools, some designated for small children, and a giant, gorgeous beach. Hallelujah. We settled in, then toured the grounds which included an arcade, craft room, archery area, volleyball courts, bike rentals, a cafe, shops, and a couple restaurants. Something for everyone. We ate at the buffet dinner, where a highchair and a baby bowl and spoon materialized before we had time to even ask for it.
After bathing and putting an oh-so-sleepy Little Man in his cozy crib, we set up the camera and gave the video monitor to my husband’s parents who had a room next door so they could come get him if he started crying, and we were off to explore – a nice perk to traveling with in-laws. Otherwise, we would be stuck in our room trying to be quiet after 8 p.m. This way, we got to check out Kenting town at night, which is a lot like Cabo or any other tourist-driven beach town, with souvenir shops, discos and bars pumping loud club music. Only, this is Taiwan, so there are also food stalls lining the streets. Even though we’d just eaten, we managed to sample goodies like fried milk, fresh coconut, and of course, my husband had a variety of meats on a stick.
It felt like we were on a date. Only, when we came back, there was my father-in-law about to go into our room because somebody was up. Our little buddy woke up every couple of hours, and was wide awake by six a.m. That’s when you start wondering, “Why did we think it was a good idea to travel with a kid? Wait, why did we have a kid in the first place? Can we send him back?”
And then you see his little face the first time he goes in a swimming pool and he clings to you because he’s unsure and then a few minutes later is wriggling like a fish and splashing with his hands and beaming at you. And a little later he is giggling because his Grandpa is burying him in the sand. And then he’s taking giant steps toward the waves while the love of your life holds his pudgy hands, and you think, “This. This is what I came here for.” And I wanted to stay forever.
But it turns out we were leaving the next morning. The folks had planned a night in Kaohsiung, so we left that lovely place after only one great afternoon at the beach, and got back in the dreaded car. This time, we didn’t get so lost, and made a worthwhile stop at an amazing aquarium, the Taiwan National Museum of Marine Biology. A whale shark! A beluga whale! Glass tunnels under a huge amount of water and a stunning array of fish, stingrays and sharks! This was definitely on par with the Monterey Bay Aquarium I’m used to going to, and a highlight of our trip.
The highlight of Kaohsiung was definitely the food. I’ve been on the search for the best shaved ice (“tsua bing”, a dessert specialty) in Taiwan and found it here at PoPo’s (“Grandma’s”) in the Yancheng district next to our hotel, the Kingship. I will describe this perfect dessert in loving detail in the food post, but let’s just call it creamy dreamy mango goodness for now. The Liouhe Night Market was also a delight, where my little carnivorous baby got his first taste of pig knuckles and I got “di gua”, deep-fried cubes of sweet potato rolled in melted syrupy sugar that hardens like a crunchy candy coating, still soft and sweet inside. Delish.
The Kingship was decidedly un-family friendly. No special baby stuff. Not even enough room on the floor to set up the pop-up tent we brought for him, which meant he was sleeping with us. Or not sleeping, since the hotel had absolutely no sound-proofing and you could hear everything from the wedding banquet five floors below us, to the painfully loud tour group of obnoxious old people staying on our floor (they came in around nine p.m. and left around seven a.m. like a troop of hollering baboons, both times a couple crones even knocked on our door in search of their friend and ran away when my husband answered) to the woefully wailing baby a few doors down whose parents must have left him alone to cry it out while they partied at the banquet downstairs.
The next morning, everyone was tired and cranky again. We traveled home during prime nap-time, so Little Man did not get good sleep again. By the time we got back to Taipei, the beach was already a distant memory and I was ready to go home. Like home home. To my own space and my baby’s routine. But we still have a bit to go, and after some sleep I feel up to making the most of it again. Though I wonder when the words “relaxing” and “vacation” will ever go together again.
(Those of you anxious to see pictures will have to wait until I get back home since I can’t download them directly from my camera to the iPad. Bummer.)