Taiwan – A Few Days in Taipei
We finalized our trip to Taiwan about a week before we went which didn’t leave a ton of time for planning an itinerary. Usually Shani takes care of that, she loves trip planning! This time, however, she just didn’t have time to really look into things as she is working long hours and has a rough commute. So this trip was up to me; fortunately I’ve been an apprentice for a long time and was able to put together a plan for our short trip.
We were starting in Taipei, then down to Hualien and then over to Sun Moon Lake and then back to Taipei for a bit. We wanted to go further south but we just didn’t have the time. In Taipei we ended up staying in the Wanhua District. It’s the oldest district in Taipei and our hotel was quite close to the famous Lungshan Temple that was originally built in 1738. The streets around our hotel closed off around 3 in the afternoon so that the vendors could start setting up the night market that takes place there every evening.
As our time was limited we immediately went over to Lungshan Temple to try and get some snaps before the sun went down. It is really a beautiful temple with surrounding gardens and fountains. Many of the faithful were in that day lighting incense, praying and trying to divine their fortunes.
After the temple, the night market was starting to get into full swing. Our original plan was to try and find a food tour similar to the one we did in Vietnam so that we could sort out what was safe for Shani to eat. For various reasons that didn’t work out and we were left to fend for ourselves. Fortunately for us, Taiwan has a lot of pork on the street food scene and we quickly found some very delicious options. Also worth noting, they are crazy for sweet potatoes in Taiwan and every convenience store has them on offer. Shani ate a lot of sweet potatoes on this trip!
The next day we were off to Hualien and Taroko National Park and gorge and then across the mountains to Sun Moon lake. We’ll cover that part of the trip in a subsequent post, but both destinations were stunning!
Our trip back up to Taipei was aboard a high speed rail train (they have both regular and high speed in Taiwan) that was cruising along at almost 300 km per hour so that was pretty cool. We arrived at the Taipei Main Station which is conveniently connected to the metro system and we were back to our hotel with plenty of time left for exploring. The metro in Taipei is extensive, fast and cheap.
Our first stop was the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. This is a pretty iconic structure in Taipei and the whole grounds also house the National Theater and National concert hall.
We were slightly late to see the changing of the guards but we did get to witness the flag ceremony conducted by the guards as the national anthem played. And luckily for us a 3 year old girl in the crowd belted out the lyrics. It was incredibly cute!
The next stop was Taipei 101. The building was the world’s tallest building in 2004 and remained such until it was eclipsed by the Burj Khalifa in 2009. As we see the Burj on a pretty regular basis (Shani sees it almost every day!) Taipei 101 didn’t seem all that tall to us and then we Googled and discovered that the Burj is over a thousand feet taller than Taipei 101! Still, it’s an impressive structure that is also built to withstand typhoons and earthquakes and is a Platinum certified LEED structure making it the tallest green building in the world.
After Taipei 101 we were headed back to our night market for some dinner and drinks. The Taipei 101 neighborhood was really nice and is a more business focused area and the financial heart of the city. It was a good contrast to the older neighborhood we were staying in and gave us a different perspective on the city.
The clock was ticking on our stay in Taiwan but there were two more major things for us to see. The first was the National Palace Museum. To quote Wikipedia – “It has a permanent collection of nearly 700,000 pieces of ancient Chinese imperial artifacts and artworks, making it one of the largest of its type in the world. The collection encompasses over 10,000 years of Chinese history from the Neolithic age to the late Qing Dynasty. Most of the collection are high quality pieces collected by China’s emperors.”
Museums aren’t necessarily always on the top of our list when visiting someplace new but given the extensive nature of this collection we put in a valiant effort and saw quite a lot. The Ming porcelains were beautiful and the jade collection was quite impressive as well.
The final adventure was a trip to the Beitou District which has the distinction of having one of the largest concentrations of hot springs and spas in the world. As Taiwan is known for its hot springs we really wanted to check them out and it was an easy train ride from the museum stop to the Beitou stop. There is actually a special train you transfer to that takes you to Xinbeitou and you want to ride in the first two cars as they have custom interiors that harken back to the historical trains that used this route.
Just a short walk from the station is the beginning of a park and that leads you along the river flowing in the little valley. There are some spa resorts and a small museum and library and eventually Thermal Valley which is the source of some of the hot springs.
I was in favor of finding a private spa room for an hour but any that were on offer eluded us as our Mandarin skills are non-existent and nothing was in English. However, there is one large public hot springs that was set to open at 4:30, and so we got in line with all of the locals. One thing to note – boardshorts are not acceptable bathing attire. There are, of course, appropriate trunks for sale and I now proudly own a lovely pair of black booty shorts. (At least it wasn’t a speedo!)
I was a little bit sceptical about the whole endeavor but I have to say it was a really cool experience. There are three hot pools each getting warmer and two cold pools and we alternated back and forth, following the cues from the locals. The hottest pool was just over 45 C which is 113 F and that one was a bit too much for us. We lasted about 4 minutes!
After the train and metro trip back to our neighborhood we grabbed some street food from the night market, a sweet potato and wine from the convenience store and called it a night.
And that was the end of our time in Taipei. All in all it was a really great trip and we thoroughly enjoyed the lush landscape and understand why the Portuguese named it Ilha Formosa, which means “beautiful island”. If you’d like to know more about our time in Taipei or our trip to Taiwan just drop us a line or leave a comment and we’ll get back to you. If you’d like the exact itinerary or more info on the places we stayed or tours and drivers we used just let us know.