Around the World in 32 Days: Stop Two: Taiwan
In my mind, Taiwan has always been overshadowed by it’s giant mainland neighbor, China, not to mention Japan. I knew it loosely as that place where the parliament regularly got in to huge brawls on the chamber floor. Also, that time a legislator ate a proposed bill. Not having a lot of context or opinion about a place can sometimes be great -you’re never really let down, and often pleasantly surprised. That was the case with Taiwan.
Taiwan’s affection for all things Japanese is apparent from the moment you step onto the high-speed train that brings you into the city. Everything is clean, modern, quiet, and adorable. The trains here play little jingles when it arrives at a station, just like in Tokyo. The metro has its own souvenir and collectable store, filled with cute swag. As far as emulating other cultures goes, you really can’t pick a better one than the Japanese.
The metro in Taipei is world class, one of the best and most affordable I’ve been on. We used it to explore the city almost exclusively (we did take an Uber, which worked well, aside from our driver getting pulled over and ticketed from a motorcycle cop). We spent a leisurely couple of days touring the city, stopping at the Taipei 101 tower, Chang Kei Shek memorial palace, various temples and markets. Teresa got her fortune read by birds. Well, the birds picked the Tarot cards that the fortune-teller then interpreted. She was warned to stay away from beef and pork products, which proved entirely accurate as she came down with a stomach bug the last day. The culprit? Beef ramen. Or so we think.
We stepped out of the city to visit the Yehlui Geopark, a fun nature park with some very unique features, one being a eroded rock that has greatly resembles the bust of Queen Nefertiti…if you squint a little. There are a few short hikes around the park with plenty of places to grab a snack or lunch, and it’s only a 45 minute car ride from the city. There are a couple of bus routes but they take a little longer, so we hired a car for half the day.
The itinerary called for a day trip to Taroko Gorge, but weather and a stomach bug conspired together, forcing it off the table for this trip. Taiwan has been so pleasant, so affordable, that I would easily come back for another attempt at hiking Taroko. Taiwan is what China could be, if it were not…well, China. It’s exponetially more well-mannered (people line up in a civilized manner to board the trains), cleaner, and just nicer to be in. Perhaps I’m biased – leaving Beijing was such a relief, that maybe I’ll see any place after that with rose-colored glasses, but I don’t think so. I wouldn’t hesitate to come back. Next time though, no beef ramen.
P.S. Yes, we tried to go to Peng’s for the original General Tso’s chicken, but had no luck. One location had closed down permanently and the other is a banquet/wedding hall venue with limited hours that just didn’t fit out schedule. Next time, General, I’m coming for you.
P.P.S. Tripadvisor is banned in Taiwan. Don’t plan on doing any review digging after you land. Oh, but Yelp works, so brush up on your Chinese/Taiwanese before you go.
How I got there: Beijing to Taipei $56.67USD
Where we stayed: http://www.ambiencehotel.com.tw/en/Roomy, spacious, and in a good location, about ten minute walk from various Metro Stops. Taking the UBus from the airport to the high speed rail station was a 15 min bus ride that cost about 60 U.S cents. From there to the Taipei main station was about 6 bucks. We took a taxi to the hotel that ran 3 bucks. All the taxis use meters and were very reliable.
What we did:
Taipei 101 Tower – Like most other towers it has an observation deck, indoor and outdoor, though if it’s foggy I would skip the ride to the top and just enjoy it’s presence from the bottom. It’s attached to a huge high-end mall.
Longshan Temple – As temples go, this one is pretty interesting. Lively, filled with locals and energy, it’s nice to send a few minutes walking around. Also, don’t try and eat the grapes set out – they are offerings to the temple, not delicious snacks.
Baoan Temple – Nice well kept temple, was deserted when we got there, and is identical (almost) to the Longshan temple. Skip it and head to Longshan for a much better experience.
Bird Fortune Teller – Located in the underground shopping mall in the Longshan Temple Metro stop. Follow the signs for fortune telling, pick one, haggle the price down, then watch a pair of cute birds choose your fortune. They only seemed to pick close to their cage though, so hope that the deck is stacked with the good fortunes close to them.
Yehliu Geopark – Great walkable park, get there early to get the best photos with Nefertiti.
Ximending – A cross between Shibuya and Harajuku in Japan, fun shopping, eating and people watching.
Chiang Kei-shek Memorial Hall, National Theater and Concert Hall -according to my kind of snooty guide book, the architecture is polarizing, but I thought it was great. Not to be missed!
Elephant Hike – steep, but not long, hike to a viewing point of that postcard perfect shot of Taipei.