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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)