"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." - Lao Tzu. One of the most common questions we got at the wedding was "Where's your first stop?" Not a lot of people we talked to have been to Taiwan or had a strong opinion to traveling there. When we decided on doing this trip, we knew we'd be going to Asia and we came across an article touting Taiwan. When we found that flights were cheaper to Taipei than Tokyo, we booked our first flight and took our first step.
The flight from LAX to Taipei was a 14 hour marathon. I've taken a couple of 14 hr flights before to Australia and Thailand (via Japan) but they're never easy. Our flight left at 4 PM and would be arriving at 9:30 PM local time. My first thought was to stay up for the entire flight and for the first 8 or 9 hours I thought that would work but the wine and the hours up packing the night before got the better of me. I ended up sleeping for a couple of hours even though I normally have a hard time sleeping on a plane. There are a number of articles and suggestions for surviving long flights but the best things for me are my noise cancelling headphones, comfortable clothes, and good movies. Luckily our flight wasn't full and we had the whole row to ourselves which made our flight more bearable.
Taipei's international airport is about 45 minutes from the city center. It was late so we decided take a cab which was about $45, we could have traveled more cheaply via bus and metro but with our bags and everything a cab was the right move. Our Airbnb place was small but nice. It had the essential AC, a small kitchenette, and was a quick 5 min walk to the Jingmei Metro Station.
We traveled to China in February of 2015 and Taipei reminds me a lot of Beijing. Like Beijing, Taipei has some fantastic Chinese architecture/temples, amazing food, and everyone speaks Mandarin.
Our first full day in Taipei, I felt pretty jet-lagged and it didn't help that Diem was wide awake at 4AM and decided to wake me up. I actually got moving around 6AM, went for an hour run, then we went walking around the area next to our apartment. There is a market just down the street that has some fresh fruit, food stands, and other little shops. We grabbed some food then took the Metro to Chiang Kai-Shek (CKS) Memorial Hall, named after the former President of the Republic of China. This is a beautiful square in Taipei which is very reminiscent of Tienanmen Square but with less people. The CKS monument is surrounded on the north and south by the National Theater and National Concert Hall of Taiwan. There are amazing views from the top of the monument and I actually preferred the colors and buildings of CKS to Tienanmen Square.
I think we were too jacked up on coffee and the excitement of being in Taipei because we decided to walk from CKS to Tower 101, the fourth tallest building in the world. The walk ended up being about 4 miles in the heat and was pretty miserable. We decided to eat a late breakfast at Din Tai Fung dumpling restaurant.
This was the same chain that we had in Shanghai but the one in Shanghai was better. We walked by the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen memorial which was pretty underwhelming and then took the metro back. The metro in Taipei is around $20-45 NTD per ride, really clean, and has English translations of the stops. I think we were still pretty jet-lagged because we went back to take a quick nap and then we planned to go to one of the famous night markets of Taipei but we ended up sleeping until 10:30PM and then decided to stay in bed.
The next day we decided to go to Beitou hot springs north of Taipei. The town was kind of a bust, nothing too spectacular and the smell of the hot springs didn’t help. I wanted to actually go in one of the hot springs but we couldn’t find the public one. We went back to the city to eat lunch at Ay Chung Flour-Rice noodle, which is a famous shop in Taipei. Not really my bag but Diem loved it. We also stopped by Longshan Temple which was nice but nothing special. We grabbed some food at the market by us and then the rain started coming so we got hot pot at a restaurant in the basement of our building. I've been loving shaved ice at Iceskimo in San Diego and I was pumped about Taiwan because they are supposed to have amazing shaved ice. We walked to get shaved ice from a place down the street. Unfortunately, there were no pictures or an English menus and I ordered a shaved ice with red beans by mistake instead of the mango one I wanted. Definitely not as good Iceskimo.
On our third full day we originally planned to go Wulai hot springs but the rain threw those plans out the window. Also, after visiting hot springs yesterday, we weren't really in the mood for some more. We looked up things to do in Taipei on a rainy day and one of the top results was going to the Jianguo Flower Market if the rainy day is on the weekend. Luckily it was Sunday, so we headed there. The market is located under a highway overpass and extends underneath. The market has rows and rows of plants, trees, and flowers. Occasionally, there are other little knickknacks (ornaments, aquariums, and vases).
There were definitely some beautiful flowers and some cool plants but we probably wouldn’t have gone there if it weren’t raining. After the market, we grabbed some food and headed back to the apartment to rest. After a quick nap we headed out to the Shihlin Night Market which is one of the more famous night markets in Taipei. This was a huge market and the booths and shops ranged from full on stores to little carts. The highlight is definitely the food though, the Shihlin Market dwarfs the market by our place, the variety of food was huge and the quantity was unlimited. You can eat like a king at these markets for under $5. The downside was that there were a number of stinky tofu carts whose smell is no joke. The stink seemingly follows you around for a couple of minutes. The first couple of seconds of tasting the stinky tofu isn't bad but the aftertaste is gross. Thankfully the taste not as bad as the smell. My new favorite street food is this wrap of cabbage, bean sprouts, tofu, pork, and peanuts that is wrapped in a rice flour tortilla. Diem was a little more adventurous and tried the stinky tofu (I had a bite), curry marinated fish balls, pork and cabbage dumplings. I got a chocolate shaved ice from a stand we found and this one had an actual flavored ice (vanilla I think) which was then covered with a Hersey’s syrup. This shaved ice was pretty good but also didn’t live up to my expectations. It was getting closer though to the shaved ice I was expecting. It started raining harder so we left and went back to the apartment and went to bed early.
Day 5 we decided on visiting an old mining town Jioufen which had a famous old street which was essentially another street market with lots of little shops and food. The highlight for me was this dessert that was a take on my favorite street food wrap but that had ice cream instead of meat and tofu. It was especially delicious since it was a hot day and we had been walking around for a while. The town itself is in the mountainside about an hour and 15 minutes outside of Taipei. The view was pretty nice with the mountains coming right up from the ocean but the weather was so hot so we didn't stay that long. We took a bus from the city for about $3 and the bus was really nice with comfortable seats, spacious seating and A/C. We got back around 1:30 pm and wanted to go to another night market close to where the bus stop was but apparently the night markets don’t start up until about 3 or 4pm. We didn’t want to wait around for a while. We headed back to the apartment and then decided just to get food at the market close to us.
The next day I woke up around 5am and decided to go for a run around the apartment. I saw some steps for a hike going up a hill next to our apartment and I decided to up it. The steps led to a temple up the mountainside it took only about 15 minutes jogging up with a couple of walking stops to rest to get to the top. There was a temple there but it was closed until 8am so I took a couple of pics of the Tower 101 in the distance and headed back down. We packed up and headed to the train station to take a train to Hualien where we’d be spending the next couple of days.
So far, there are certain things about Taipei and Taiwan that I like better than Beijing and mainland China and vice versa. To me, the highlights of Beijing (e.g., Forbidden Kingdom, Great Wall, Peking Duck) are better than the highlights of Taipei (e.g., CKS Memorial Hall, Night Markets, Taipei 101). However, if I was going to live in one of those cities, I'd definitely pick Taipei. It's such a cleaner, friendlier, and really just a more livable place than Beijing, and mainland China in general. Our first stop was a big success and I can't wait to see what the rest of Taiwan has to offer.
See the full gallery at Taipei, Taiwan.