Taiwan was not on my personal bucket list; in fact, choosing Taiwan as a long weekend getaway was almost like being a child again, playing with a globe, spinning it around with your eyes closed, and putting your finger on a random country saying, “I want to go there!” Well, it wasn’t quite that random, but I only decided to go about 4 days before I actually got on the plane and I didn’t even know it was an island until then. Did you? Anyways, so the logical reasons for choosing Taiwan as a quick getaway were because it was a 2 hour flight away from Seoul, Americans don’t need a visa to travel there, and the flights were cheap. Also, October and November are the peak months to go. Sidenote: September is the rainy season. We found out the hard way that the rainy season trickles into October.
My two girlfriends and I arrived at Taoyuan Intl’ Airport late Friday night and got a cab to the hostel. We’re pretty sure that the “cab” we took to the hostel was just a random guy trying to make a buck since he wasn’t driving an official yellow taxi with a meter, but he got us to our destination at the correct price and a policeman led us to him and watched us get into the cab. Not too sure about that whole situation, since we only took legit taxis from then on. I later learned that hitchhiking is totally acceptable and legal, so who knows. We got out of the taxi into the pouring rain and made our somewhat confusing but eventually successful hunt for our hostel. We were already able to pick out the distinct smell of Taiwanese food the permeates the streets. The smell may not have been that welcoming but the people seemed to be very welcoming and helpful.
The rain was definitely a bummer and it basically ruined all of our plans to venture out of the city. So we stayed in Taipei city for four days in the middle of a typhoon, but we made the best out of it. The first day we met another hostel member from Alaska who had been living in China and spoke Chinese! Yay! We had no problems getting around speaking English, but it was still nice to have a translator around. Our first day was pretty jam packed. We got up early and headed to the famous Taipei 101 building, formerly the tallest building in the world before they built the one in Dubai. So now it’s the second tallest building in the world and still pretty cool. The weather made the view pretty lame but it was still fun to ride the “fastest elevator in the world.”
Then we made our way to Chiang-Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. This hall is made in memory of the former president of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-Shek. Under his leadership, Taiwan was liberated from China. The enormity and beauty of this structure shows how greatly he is respected and honored by the Taiwanese.
After the memorial hall we went to the Lungshan Temple, which is dedicated to the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. This temple is a staple of Taiwan and its religious beliefs. Saturday must be a big day of worship because there were hundreds of people chanting and worshiping the deities. Of all the Buddhist temples I have visited, I never experienced a ceremony like this one. It was really interesting to see it in action.
Packing as much into our day as possible, since we still assumed we would be able to get out of the city at this point, we went to the National Palace Museum, which is a famous art museum. This museum holds many ancient Chinese artifacts. Taiwan is known for its jade stone. The claim to fame of this art museum is a jade rock carved into the shape of a cabbage. It is really beautiful, but to me it is just a jade rock carving that looks like cabbage. Each part of the design holds deep meaning. I was unable to take pictures in the museum so you can google it for yourself.
We were pretty beat that night but decided to head to the famous Shilin night market. This night market is one of the biggest in Taiwan and has many of the traditional foods and other goods. As far as the food goes, well, let’s just say it isn’t my favorite. My expectations were too high after reading blogs that raved about the food. Honestly, it’s hard for me to really pinpoint what their traditional food is. They are famous for their oyster omelettes, which I was happy to try, and enjoyed, but it wasn’t something I would eat everyday.
I also tried a “peanut crepe” which is a crunchy mix of peanuts and something else… wrapped in a crepe. The crepe itself was good but the combination was weird.
The only foods that I really enjoyed was the fresh fruit, bubble tea, and the fresh baked goods from the bakeries.
I hate to admit it, but we ate McDonalds a couple times within the 4 days we stayed there, which is more than I would eat it in the US. Different strokes for different folks, but the food was not for me.
The next three days were spent wandering around the city and exploring night markets. One of the biggest highlights was experiencing the hot springs. Again, it was a typhoon, so we didn’t get to experience the natural outdoor hot springs. The cool part is that all the hotels have private hot spring rooms in them that you can rent for a couple hours and they are pretty cheap. So the three of us ran for cover from the heavy winds into one of these hotels and got our own private hot spring room. We had some amazing girl time relaxing in the hot water together.
Although we didn’t get to escape from the city to experience the beautiful beaches or the famous Tarako Gorge, I think we made the most of Taipei City and I can check it off my list.