Thankfully typhoon Lingling didn’t prevent us from leaving Seoul, and we arrived in Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei unscathed. That’s not to say we didn’t see some minor damage to buildings whilst in Seoul. This happened while we were in the cat cafe, and it was just next door. There was a lot of commotion, and people were rushing to the windows for a look, but the cats didn’t seem too bothered!
Once we had cleared the airport in Taipei, we took the metro to the city centre. It’s about 5 miles and it cost less than £1.50 for both of us. Once we got our heads above ground again we were hit immediately by the similarities between here and Japan.
Seda: We visited Japan back in 2016 and loved it. Taiwan was a place that was always on our itinerary because it seems that this is where enjoying a bit of Japan and a bit of China is perfectly possible and affordable. What we didn’t remember is that we can neither read nor understand either of these languages! Hence it wasn’t easy to even find our first hotel. It also didn’t help that they displayed their name in Chinese only! A prime example of this can be seen below. Any guesses what’s being sold here or for how much?
Andy: After much searching, asking and cursing we eventually found the hotel. We got settled and went for a walk around our new area – Ximen District of Taipei. What we found was about 8 blocks of pedestrianised shopping streets known as The Ximen Walker.
What an awesome area we found ourselves in. There’s everything you need, or would want to do including shopping, cinemas, restaurants, street food and in the evening there are street performers.
We saw this amazingly talented man making these spray paint pictures. He worked incredibly fast to keep people’s attention and so that they could see the picture appear in front of their eyes in minutes. We also saw this amazing guy playing guitar and singing. We stood and watched for about an hour, and even though we didn’t understand a word he was singing, it was wonderful.
Seda: Ximen Walker is a very enjoyable area to be in. No matter what time of the day we walk out, it’s always lively. Especially at night though, the lights come on and the performers come out of their shells and we just park ourselves on a pavement somewhere watching their unique shows. Since we have totally immersed ourselves in Taiwanese culture, we almost always have a bubble tea in our hands. I don’t know if this madness has reached the UK yet but it must be on it’s way. I’m pretty sure we have sampled the majority of Taiwanese bubble tea shops and definitely have identified the winner!
Sweet and wonderful and totally addictive. Would you believe that there are personal stainless steel or plastic straw sets on sale here complete with their cleaner brush! Not to forget the personalised cup carriers…absolute madness!
Andy: Our first taste of Taiwanese food was lunch on that first days walk. Seda had a plain noodle soup after losing all hope of describing beef, when even moo-ing didn’t work. I had a bowl of stewed pork rice which seemed to be cooking everywhere and smelled amazing. They both tasted pretty good too!
On our first full day we walked to Taipei Botanical Gardens. The first thing that hit us was the heat compared to our previous week spent in Seoul where we had such bad weather. It was boiling hot already and only around 9am. Even whilst waiting a few seconds for pedestrian crossings to turn green, locals will stand way back from the kerb in the tiniest piece of shade. Can’t blame them really!
After a lovely walk around the Botanical Gardens marvelling at the various plants and ponds, its beautifully maintained pathways and a rather noisy squirrel which sounded more like a dog barking, we then found a nice shady spot to sit a while.
Whilst cooling off and rehydrating we spotted some commotion by one of the nearby ponds. A group of Chinese tourists all armed to the teeth with cameras the size as themselves had spotted something and were taking aim in unison. We were keen to see what all the fuss was about in case it was some rare and endangered species, but alas no, it was a frog!
Seda: Our new routine is to visit the various museums during the hottest part of the day. There are lots of them here, and they all seem to be rather specialised – Drinking Water Museum, Cake & Pastry Museum and Fish Ball Museum are some examples! On the way to the National Taiwan Museum we spotted a really spectacular shaped building which turned out to be the Craft Research and Development Institute of Taipei. We went in to find out what it was all about and ended up spending about an hour walking around. Inside there were some fantastic sculptures from various artists, examples of 3D printing and even some classrooms on the upper floors with courses on shoe making and calligraphy going on. I’m sure their attention wasn’t affected by us two weirdos curiously looking through the window as they concentrated on the intricate art work they were working on.
We continued on our way to The Taiwan National Museum but when we arrived there was a sign saying it was closed for the next 3 years for renovation! After checking the map we decided to try the nearby National History Museum but it was also closed. We certainly wasn’t having much luck in our quest to get wiser on Taiwanese history that day!
Andy: We had very little Taiwanese Dollars left as we only started out with a small amount changed from left over Korean Won. So, cue the simple task of withdrawing some cash – something we’ve done countless times with no problems in 7 countries now. Not this time though! Between the system issues and our card settings, our lunch was becoming a distant dream. After losing about 15 kilos each by walking around 10 miles trying different ATMs, we finally resorted to an alternative method. Oh how sweet that meal tested in the end!
***If any of you budding backpackers would like to know more about cards/payment methods designed for travelling, feel free to contact us and we’ll happily share our vast array of knowledge on the subject!***
After a little rest we went to see Lungshan Temple. Seda recently seems to find all temples have a cosy relaxing feel that she apparently finds familiar, and also when she cuts my hair, it seems to be getting shorter and more monk-like too! I’m starting to suspect that she might have been a Buddhist in a previous life! Well I think I might have been a tea picker or bubble maker in my previous life as I find drinking bubble tea oddly familiar and enjoyable!
Right next door to the temple was Huaxi night market. We both really enjoy walking around local markets, and have sought them out all throughout our travels. In fact, it’s usually one of the first things we look for. We love seeing and of course smelling the wide range of different foods available, and how it’s prepared. Here we enjoyed 4 small bowls of local food. There was a fried fish thick soup, shrimp spring rolls, fried fish and stewed pork rice. All yummers!
We also tried something called Dorayaki which are a local filled pancake shell. You can have them with various fillings either sweet or savoury. We had Taiwanese red bean in one, and cream filled in the other. They were rather nice and of course getting into the festive spirit, we purchased some lovely moon cakes.
Some other market “goodies”…
Seda: In terms of accommodation, we had arranged to stay with a local guy via Couchsurfing which we were really looking forward to, but he messed us around at the last minute. So, just before the weekend and more importantly on the eve of a Taiwanese bank holiday weekend, when everywhere was full, we had to pay outrageous amounts for another shoe-box hostel bed. Thanks to that, we are now in our 3rd location for only a 10 day stay in Taipei. Sleeping is the last thing you should consider here, we have room mates packing their suitcases containing a million plastic bags and a zillion zips at 6am. If that fails to shatter our sleep, there is always the guy drilling upstairs. Location is good though. So, once we’d checked in, we took the metro out of town to Taipei 101/World Trade Centre.
Andy: Between 2004 and 2010 Taipei 101/World Trade Centre was the worlds tallest building until the completion of Burj Khalifa in Dubai. There were loads of shops on the first 4 floors but as we looked around, we were feeling everything was a little our of our backpacker price range as all we could see was Cartier, Chanel, Prada et al.
Taipei has so much to see and do, we desperately need a bubble tea break before we tell you more about it…