Postcards from Taipei

Taipei, Taiwan

If you want the quick version of this trip check out my Youtube video:
Taiwan: Four Countries, Three Weeks

It was time to visit the biggie, the capital Taipei. Because we’d had such a great time in Taiwan’s smaller cities; Tainan and Kaohsiung, I was a little worried about going back to the intensity of a big city. If you want to find out what we got up to before hitting Taipei, here is a link to Postcards from Kaohsiung and Tainan. Soon after arriving, I realised I didn’t need to be nervous. Taipei was still pretty relaxed which I think is due to the friendlier atmosphere in comparison to other capital cities. It was the best part of the trip taking the gold for our 3 week vacation.

Day 1:
1. Long Shan Temple
Another day, another temple. This is the most famous one in Taipei and because of that, I thought it would be too touristy. Actually, it was really nice in the evening. We then went through the ‘Tourist Night Market’ nearby. Don’t bother with this, we didn’t get a good vibe and it sold a lot of tat.

2. Ximen Area
First we stumbled onto The Red House Theatre, which as the name suggests, is a red brick building. It houses performances but also hosts a kitschy, design market on weekends. Then we made our way over to the main square. I loved Ximen. This area is buzzing and always busy. Even on a Sunday night, this place was packed. It’s kind of like Shibuya combined with Harajuku, so of course it was right up my alley. Clearly a Japanese influence in this area but again still friendly and down to earth, making it distinctly Taiwanese.

Day 2
1. Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
Along with Long Shan temple, this place is a landmark of Taipei. I did not expect the size of this place to be as big as it was. It’s a huge square with a memorial erected for the leader Chiang Kai-shek. The blue roofed building is the most iconic in this area and it’s a must-see attraction.

2. Taipei Confucius Temple
We went to the Datong district and this temple was really tranquil. Whilst we were there, a guy was just writing out calligraphy for free. Skip the 4D movie though, it’s utter pants. I was laughing so much at how bizarre it was, watching a kids animated cartoon on Buddhism whilst being prodded in the back by strong streams of air. I’ve been to 4D things before, but this was much more rigorous with the effects. It made the experience oddly funny to me. It just didn’t work and doesn’t need it because the simplicity of the place does it enough justice.

3. Shilin Night Market
On our way back to the hotel we stopped in Ximen for some shaved ice. Much to Dave’s delight. He loves bingsu; a Korean dessert which is similar. After freshening up it was time to tuck into the largest night market in Taipei. The clothes area of Shilin is great. But surprisingly, we preferred the markets in Tainan and Kaohsiung. Why? Shilin food market is mainly a basement food court. There’s some stalls but I found it a little too overwhelming. We found a lot of the restaurants downstairs which were just selling the exact same dishes. It was all sit-down from what we could find. So, in terms of food, we felt a little let down. I guess the expectation of it being the biggest and the ‘best’ probably was too high. It was still fun though.

The weirdest part was ‘urban shrimping.’ You get given a rod and try to catch live prawns. If you’re successful you cook and eat them yourself. Dave caught one between us so we spared its life. I think my inability to catch anything confirms being a fisherman is not my inner calling. This one we was a little less legit and fairground-ish than other urban pools but all in all, a fun, spur of the moment and utterly bizarre experience.

Day 3
1. Maokong Gondola
This is the most relaxed I’ve felt all holiday. Little did we know the cable cars have maintenance on Mondays, so we turned up thinking we couldn’t go. Instead we took a bus up through the hills and i think it was a blessing in disguise. Barely any people were there. Rested in the hillsides are lots of little tea shops. You can also get a great view of Taipei 101 surrounded by greenery. It was so peaceful, just sat back with my pot of Earl Grey overlooking the scenery.

2. Yongkang Beef Noodles
Near Dongmen station there is this a well known noodle place called Yongkang Beef Noodles. It’s just off a cute little quirky shopping street and the food was good. We tried beef noodles and spicy dumplings, finishing it off with mango sorbet and shaved ice. Naturally.

3. Return to Ximen
We’d seen many a night market by this point so returned to Ximen because the area is so great. We shopped. Again just tons of cute cartoony shops with every character imaginable, nail bars, tattoo parlours and of course street food. That night we tried seaweed mayo chicken. It was good but nothing on Korean chicken. 😉

Day 4
At this point we hit a dilemma. It was the last day before we checked out. Dave wanted to try gorge walking but it was 3 hours out of the city. Then there was the option of Juifen, which is meant to be beautiful but we’d had our fair share of tea. So, we looked for something new. We decided instead to take a short visit out to a Taiwanese aboriginal village called Wulai.
1. Wulai 
Steeped in it’s aboriginal history, Wulai is set within the mountains and known for its waterfalls and hot springs. We visited on a weekday and it felt as though nobody had touched it. The Old Street cooks up some interesting eats including wild boar sausage, millet wine and steamed rice in bamboo. We decided to take a dip in the outdoor hot springs admiring the view. It was one of the best experiences we had.

2. Wufenpu 
After our trip, we came back to Taipei for some last minute shopping at Wufenpu, the wholesale fashion market. This place is a maze and cheap as chips. I’m always hearing Dave say that men’s clothes are so much more expensive than women’s in Korea. However, this place had great deals for both me and him.

3. Raohe Night Market
Of course, we couldn’t leave our last night in Taiwan without visiting a night market. We preferred Raohe to Shilin. It’s older, local and manageable but still with a great buzz. I had what can only be described as the Taiwanese, Greggs cornish pasty. Needless to say, I went back for another.

Day 5: 
We had one of those weird days where you check out, but can’t fully relax because we had a flight at a weird time. So, we did do some exploring.
1. Taipei 101
The tower is Taiwan’s modern landmark. Instead of paying a fortune to go up to the top, we went to Starbucks on the 35th floor. I won’t say too much as I did a post all about Taipei 101. Basically, it’s more exclusive because you have to reserve in advance which means less people which means more views. Highly recommended.

2. National Taiwan Museum
Not to be confused with the National Palace Museum. We met up with our friend who is also an English teacher in Korea. It was okay, not much there but they had a section on black and white photography which I enjoyed. After, we went to Bopiliao Old Street which is really not worth your time.

3. Cinema Street
We still had time to kill time but knew we had to go back to the hotel and collect bags. Nearby to our hotel was cinema street. Lined with pockets of street art and cinemas, it’s a pretty funky area.

And that is the last installment of ‘postcards’ for now. Keep your eyes peeled for the next itinerary as over Chuseok, the Korean national holiday, Dave and I took a short trip to Fukuoka and Hiroshima. 안녕 (Bye)


27. Taiwan

Last Stop: Taiwan

Taiwan, you were so wonderful and without doubt the best part of our summer vacation.

I think my colour photos from this trip give a better feel for Taiwan. Black and white was perfect for capturing Shanghai but Taiwan was more vibrant. The temples in particular were so colourful and packed with detail. When you live in Korea or elsewhere in Asia, it’s very easy to become a bit ‘templed out.’ So, I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by anything. Taiwan however surprised me. Here in Korea, temples are more like sites. In Taiwan, I loved that they seemed to be part of the city. You could be in the middle of Taipei and just stumble onto one. Within minutes you could move from the craziness of the city to a moment of peace and quiet.



Postcards from Kaohsiung & Tainan

Third Stop: Kaohsiung & Tainan, Taiwan

Great food, great people, great places. Taiwan has an air of friendliness which was very noticeable after visiting Shanghai and HK. Whilst it flares up it’s heritage from China and Japan it seems proud of its influences. It doesn’t play victim or feel burdened by it. Instead bitterness is left at the door, and the people have taken it, making it their own. It just makes this country all the more endearing.

After seeing god knows how many temples, I’ve become harder to impress, but Taiwan had some of the most ornate buildings I’d seen. The night markets are also what stand out on this trip. With the buzz of a funfair and quick tasty eats, Taiwan takes the gold for summer vacation. We made three stops in Taiwan; Kaohsiung, Tainan and Taipei. This week I will be focusing on the first two cities.

Day 1: Kaohsiung
It was quite a relief to leave HK, if you want to read more on what we did, check out Postcards from Hong Kong. Kaohsiung was our first stop and is the second largest city in the country but it was really chilled out. The relaxed vibe was apparent as soon as we left the airport and its exactly what we needed after visiting Shanghai and HK.
1. The Lotus Pond
It was pouring down but we didn’t let that stop us from exploring. First we went to the lotus pond. Around the lake are a number of little temples. There’s a huge dragon and tiger you can walk into. Opposite that, was perhaps my favourite temple of the trip. My photos did not do it justice. The torrential rain at first seemed a pain but in the end, it really added to the atmosphere. We had the place to ourselves.

2. Ruifeng Night Market
Our first night market and the most well-known amongst locals in Kaohsiung. The first time you visit a night market its a little over bearing. Stalls after stalls of food you recognise, food you don’t, there’s an overwhelming amount of choice. Not to mention, lots of people. The prospect of ordering is kind of daunting but once you’ve tried a few things it becomes part of the fun. It is incredibly cheap to eat here so you can try a range of things. This night we tried fried lemon chicken, brown sugar bubble tea, oyster omlette (famous in TW) and a cream cheese bun. We also dabbed our hand at a few games but alas, we won no fluffy toy.

Day 2
1. Fo Guang Shan
I’ve seen a lot of big Buddha’s, believe me. It seems every monastery claims to have ‘the biggest Buddha’ but here is a place you do not want to miss. This one is framed by eight pagodas. It’s an incredible entrance. Ultra modern but the history of how the place came to be where it is, is really interesting. Fo Guang Shan is dominated by female monks and houses one of three teeth from Buddha in the world. We thought it was cool because unbeknownst of that, we’d visited Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka earlier this year. We need to head to India now so we can tick off all three teeth. The place feels like a Buddhist amusement park so I don’t know how it isn’t better known.

2. Luihe Night Market
Before heading to the night market, we felt like trying a Taiwanese restaurant. We noticed a lot of Japanese inspired food during our time here and that night we had the greatest sashimi. Then, it was time for more food at a smaller night market. Because we’d eaten our fair bit of fresh fish all I can really remember is trying the papaya milk, which is so well known here. It tasted cheesey to me. Our time in Kaohsiung was short but sweet.

Day 3: Tainan
We took a train over to Tainan. Whilst Kaohsiung has its status as the second largest city, it feels less dense. Tainan is more concentrated and because of that felt more like a city than KS did. We relaxed, nipped out for some Taiwan-Japanese fusion food then went to another night market.
1. Flower Night Market
The most well known night market in Tainan and perhaps my favourite of them all. This is set in a huge square. This place had a really great atmosphere with more option for clothes too.

 Day 4
1. National Museum of Taiwan Literature
We really only went in here to use the air con because my gosh, it was hot. You couldn’t stay out in it too long. Literature Museum was meh, but we weren’t really expecting much to be honest.

2. Confucian Temple & surrounding area
The temple itself has a small charge and its… nice. Nothing special. The Elementary school next to it is actually more impressive and in a great area. After our temple stop we embarked on a quirky café hop. First to Narrow Alley Cafe which is hidden within the tiniest gap in the wall. Dave was fitting in between the walls for jokes, only to spot a hidden door which led to the cafe. After refreshments, we wandered for something more filling, stumbling upon a place called Pop Pie. Naturally, I didn’t want to get my hopes up at the word ‘pie.’ Pie in Asia rarely means the pie I know. Whilst it wasn’t pie, this café serves up amazing quiche. ACTUAL QUICHE. It’s amazing how excited about home food you get when you live abroad. I never thought I’d be getting excited about quiche and a salad. The set included pumpkin soup and we finished off our indulgent afternoon with a lemon cappuccino. Worth checking this lovely place out.

3. Hayashi Department Store
We were looking to fill time and noticed this department store. From the wooden architecture and the name, it was obviously Japanese. Hayashi, for a department store, is small, manageable and has high quality souvenirs. You know, in Korea I find it hard to get something ‘Korean’ without it looking tacky. The goods are still completely about Tainan but the building is historically influenced by Japan.

4. Dadong Night Market
The runner up to the Flower Night Market. We noticed that the exact same stalls from the night before move to this market, so its great if you feel you missed out on something. This was the best night of dining because we saved our stomachs for a completely market-food filled evening. We tried spring rolls, pork bun (AMAZING), fish balls, beef noodles, cheese wrapped in bacon and more.

Next Tuesday on ‘Postcards’ I will be posting our itinerary for Taiwan’s capital, Taipei.

In the meantime, we’re off to Fukuoka tomorrow for the Chuseok holiday! Yay