Ten days in Taiwan was perfect! The weather during May was amazing, warm but not too sunny each day. It rained only once, on the last day, and we every day was packed with places and things and people. Here is what ten days in Taiwan looks like on paper:
I arrived at 10pm Taiwan time after being awake for fifty hours. I was a little squirrely and only wanted to go to bed. On the way to the hotel though a group of random high school girls ran up and had a picture taken with me! I was going crazy though so I might have dreamed this up.
Day 2 – Friend arriving, Taipei 101 (台北101), Ximending Night Market (西門町)
After sleeping in, this turned into a short day, just the afternoon. First up is the tallest building in the city (and second tallest in the world) the Taipei 101 . This really was an amazing building, I loved the view from the top. Besides seeing the city with a lot of recognizable monuments you can see an amazing amount of the jungle always trying to grow its way back into the city. (Humorously at $15 US this was one of the most expensive things we did on the entire trip). Walking around the Taipei “ee-ling-ee” was awesome to, that part of downtown was obviously new, shops of the expensive sort were everywhere, and the streets were wide and full of crazy drivers. Standing on an intersection and cringing at hundreds of scooters sliding past each other within inches of each other is an experience. On the way back to the hotel we toured Ximending, one of the larger crazy night market areas. I easily walked through the crowds and shops for hours only eating street food and watching the people.
Day 3 – Taipei – Chiang Kaisheck Memorial (蔣中正紀念館), National Palace Museum (故宫博物院), Modern Toilet Restaurant, Shilin Night Market (士林夜市)
The Chiang Kaisheck Memorial was really epic. The basic layout is a large courtyard, with a cluster of thee structures on one end and then one large simple building on the other with a statue of Chiang. It doesn’t really sound that great, but its the size of the place that makes it really great. The courtyard is probably a quarter of a mile long and totally empty except for a single Taiwan flag in the center. It’s hard to describe why, but I really enjoyed this monument, it was interesting to be standing in that large of a courtyard. Next we went up north to the National Palace Museum, where the largest collection of Chinese relics anywhere in the world is stored. My review: In short, underwhelming. There were a lot of old looking bowls and plates of metal, and jewelry of jade, and even a few weapons, but that’s it. I’m revealing how classless I am, but I can only look at about five old things before they begin to blend together. Getting hungry and we went to one of the strangest and most humorously themed restaurants I’ve ever seen Modern Toilet. As you’d guess the whole place is decorated like a bathroom – there are shower heads on the walls, you sit on toilets, and the table is a glass top over wash basins. The really hysterical part of the theme though is the serving dishes. Drinks come in urinal shaped glasses, the main soup dish was in the bowl of a miniature toilet, and dessert even came on a squat toilet shaped plate thing. To round out the night we went to the most famous of the many nigh markets in Taipei Shilin Night Market. The night markets have a basic recipe in Food + Shopping + Street Performers, but each has its own take. Shilin seemed to focus a lot on the food, which was awesome. It also had more than a few beggars which was sad.
Day 4 – Beitou (北投), Yanmingshan Park (陽明山公園)
Beitou is a district in northern Taipei centered around hot springs tourism. There is a lot of geothermal activity in the area which has made it a popular resort area for hundreds of years. I walked around, saw the springs (very pretty), felt the heat (very hot), smelled the smells (very smelly). The water in the creeks and waterfalls was the most amazing pure milky white color, I’ve never seen or heard of anything like it. After we had our fill of Beitou we took a bus up into the mountains a ways to Yangmingshan Park. This was the first experience with the jungle surrounding Taipei and it stung. Or I should say the caterpillars stung. Walking through the really pretty, serene mountain trails with green surrounding you on every side you couldn’t help but notice how many fuzzy caterpillars there were hanging out along the path. The caterpillars had some kind of silk and would make themselves a line to hang off of like a spider (the first foreboding sign!). I didn’t think much of it until I felt a sharp stinging on my arm. I figured it was a thorn or something and went to brush it off and saw this caterpillar. Long story short my arm swelled up and I learned to fear the caterpillars! This couldn’t prevent me from enjoying Yangmingshan though, there is a place with a series of waterfalls heading up into the hills that you can follow for at least a mile, each waterfall larger and more beautiful than the one before, each set of stairs steeper and more exciting.
Day 5 – Sandiaoling (三貂嶺), Fulong Beach (福隆海水浴場)
This day started with a series of adventures trying to figure out the trains around Taipei. It really wasn’t that hard, but it’s more difficult than the MRT. Fortunatley the people in Taiwan are some of the nicest anywhere and several people helped up figure it out. Our destination was Sandiaoling, a tiny stop that was barely even had a building for buying tickets at, and no other buildings in sight. Walking along the tracks eventually leads to a small village and a path into the hills. The hike was pretty, there weren’t a lot of other people (and those that were there were fun and great to talk to), and at the end of the path was an amazing waterfall. It seemingly came out of nowhere, falling fifty or sixty feet over from an overhang (which means I got to walk up and behind the waterfall). This is one of my favorite things in Taiwan, it’s a really amazing place that seemingly not a lot of people know about. Getting back on the train we heading out to Fulong Beach, the most popular beach in Taiwan. It had what you’d expect from a beach – sand, waves, salt – but it also happened to have a sand sculpture exhibition being shown. I’m not a huge beach person, but I admit this one is nice and I enjoyed myself.
Day 6 – Travelling to Hualien (花蓮) , Downtown Hualien
Travelling to Hualien turned in to its own adventure as we bought the wrong tickets and briefly got fairly well lost, but it was mostly a relaxing ride along the coast. My research about Hualien said it was mostly a tourist basecamp for getting to Taroko Gorge, but I ended up loving Hualien itself too. The city has a huge downtown/night market area with food and tons of shops. We stayed at the Sleeping Boot Hostel and the girl working there, Hedi, was so nice and helpful. I just about couldn’t stand to leave when it was time to go.
Day 7 – Taroko National Park (太魯閣國家公園)
Taroko National Park is advertised as this amazing gorge with beautiful sights at every bend. And it was! The gorge has eight or nine bus stops and the three we got to were each better than the last. One moment which sticks in my head is a time we were taking the bus between stops and came around a bend. The water in the river is vividly green. The marble walls were practically sheer from that pretty water until a thousand feet up they were lost into the thick clouds. That image, the water and the wall and the clouds, is more picturesque in my mind than any of my pictures managed to capture.
Day 8 – Back to Taipei, Core Pacific City (京華城)
The next day I sadly said good bye to Hedi and went back to the big city for a couple days. By this point we had started to run out of steam so we decided to just head to a mall and look for souvenirs. What a great decision! The Core Pacific City mall was big and modern. It had tasty food, cheap knickknacks, expensive souvenirs, and random stuff to do. I even set the record at the punching game in the arcade! U-S-A U-S-A-…
Day 9 – Xindian (新店)
Down on the far south side of Taipei is Xindian. It’s a nice, modern area which I think must have just recently pushed the jungle back. We found a trail through the jungle to a hill overlooking the city to the north and the hills to the south. On the way back we stopped at a nice restaurant and had something to drink. I’m sure it was Milk tea because I drank ridiculous amounts of that while I was there. That night we ate at a restaurant near the hotel and got to talking with some guys in a table next to ours. They turned out to be awesome, like everyone else in Taiwan, and even bought us beers until we couldn’t stand it anymore. So nice in Taiwan :)
Day 10 – Leaving
Not much to say, we left pretty early. It’s always interesting to see how the normally busy city streets are practically empty early in the morning.
On top of all these things there was of course a huge number of random shops and tiny restaurants. I ate more street food than restaurant food and I think was better off for it. I loved meeting random people in restaurants or on the street. I wasn’t able to speak much Chinese with anyone over there, a combination of my bad pronunciation and the speed of their talking was too much for me. On the other hand most people I met spoke at least a little English, and many spoke almost flawlessly. I’m still going learning though and will be better next time.