Oh Taiwan you sweet mysterious country. The first time I ever even considered Taiwan as a destination was when I arrived in Korea and people were spending their long weekends there. The first thing I heard about it was that it was very similar to Korea so we put a visit on the back burner since we were seeking something a little different for our holidays but the more that people went there and the more they spoke to us about this magical country the more we wanted to go. Since we were in China for the summer we added it onto our trip and were ready to spend 4 days there.
We arrived into Taipei to brilliant sunshine. It was impossible not to be in a fantastic mood when we walked around the city mainly because the Taiwanese people were incredibly kind. They were smiling, courteous, friendly and patient. People make special queues to get on the subway, they create lines to join escalators and there are signs asking you to text instead of making a phone call if you can while on the underground (but if you do text, please turn the button noises off) …I mean who are these people. It was amazing.
This feeling may have been heightened since we had just come from China but either way it definitely made a difference to our stay. I won’t go into every detail of our trip but I will tell you a little about our favourite elements of the city.
Taiwanese night markets are everywhere. It’s actually confusing trying to choose which one to go to. There are some great blogs that have reviewed a few such as:
We were lucky enough to have one near us so we tried that. It was called Nanya Night Market 南雅夜市 and it is a 10 minute walk from Fuzhong MRT Station. Head out of Exit 1.
Although the reviews weren’t fantastic, we loved it. I think there is so much variation in Taipei that people can afford to be choosie. We drank stupidly cheap fruit juice (Hello limes! I’ve missed you while I’ve been in these Korean lands), ate noodles till we popped and Lee showed me his shooting skills on one of the many games arcades.
The other night market we visited was Shihlin market which is the most famous market in Taipei. It was stupidly busy but that just added to the market feel. We had cheese sticks, spring rolls and the most poignant item to note…cheesy potatoes. A potato covered in sweetcorn, bacon, chicken, other salad and LOTS of cheese. I was in my happy place. Lee and I battled over whack-a-mole (to which Lee won) and he won me a lovely little green Stitch toy, which unfortunately couldn’t fit in our suitcase so it lives on , on a bed somewhere in a Taipei hotel.
The Taiwanese history is fascinating. The people here have been through so much and they are fighting to stay cordial and hold on to their history and traditions. When China decided to start their communist rule many people left China. In my opinion, the people that left China were free thinkers and artists that didn’t want to be put into a box. This means that Taiwan is full of art on every corner and the people have embraced religion. Taiwanese temples are some of the most intricate, detailed buildings you’ll find. It made me want to become an instant Buddhist. Not just that but their memorials are incredible. The CKS memorial honouring the man that made this country possible blew us away, mainly because I’d never heard about it or seen a photo of it. And why is that? Why is it that this incredible city is unknown? It seems that many countries rightly fear China and want good relations with them so it seems everyone is jumping through hoops to keep China happy. I had never even see the Taiwanese flag before I arrived due to the fact that even in the Olympics this country isn’t allowed to officially compete. They have to carry the Olympic flag. This quiet unassuming country with its kind people touched our hearts and we became kind of Taiwanese fan boys/girls. I now own almost everything with a Taiwanese flag on it. Come to this country now before everyone figures out how great it is.
The night markets were our main source of food while we were here but there was a special meal we had that made my belly happy. The restaurant Din Tai Fung is a Michelin star dumpling restaurant in the base of Taipei 101. If you are lucky and turn up at the right time you will only have to wait about 15mins. I’d advice a weekday in-between lunch and dinner. We arrived at 3:30 and we were sat down before we’d seen the menu. When we left an hour later there was a 40 min queue. We ordered way too much but it’s a holiday after all. We learnt the proper way to eat a dumpling which in case you were wondering is put it on your spoon, poke the dumpling and let the broth pour out and then eat your dumpling and suck up the broth. A huge meal cost only about 15 pound which is ludicrous for a Michelin star restaurant. This was just one such instance of great food. There are also countless theme restaurants such as a hospital restaurant, ninja restaurant and a barbie cafe. We headed to Modern Toilet which is exactly what it sounds like, a toilet themed restaurant. The idea was so absurd that it was worth the trip. The food wasn’t anything to write home about but it made us giggle and if you are in Taipei for a few days its worth popping in. There was also countless noodles as well as delicious breakfast restaurants. Just basically eat everything and then eat some more.
A quick train ride away and you will end up on the outskirts of Taipei where you can ride the Maokong Gondola (貓空纜車).
The Maokong Gondola travels between Taipei Zoo and Maokong station. Here you can take a cable car up to the top of the mountain and see the tiny traditional villages that are still there or maybe try some traditional tea. My advice for the cable car would be to buy a ticket for the glass bottom cars since they are the exact same price and don’t require queuing. You just arrive at the time you were allocated. You can even use your subway pass to pay for it since it’s counted as a stop.I would advice not to head on the cable car if the weather isn’t great. When we were on the cable car the weather turned and a thunder storm attacked. I had one of those lovely film moments where I turned to a terrified Lee and said ‘At least there isn’t Thunder’ only for the air to shake all around us. Opphs.This was the only portion of our holiday that had rain so we were very lucky but still I wish it hadn’t been when we were hundreds of meters off the ground in a metal box. When we made it to the top we wandered the hills and stared out at the misty city below us. We didn’t get to try any tea since everyone had run inside to hide from the rain and it was very busy. So after a lovely walk we headed down by taxi.
Now we didn’t get to see much of the nightlife but what we did see was a few choice bars that were really unique. I was determined to head to Ounce, a speak easy cocktail bar in central Taipei, ever since I heard about it from friends. As I may have mentioned before, I’m a sucker for jazz, swing and all things vintage so the idea of an actual speakeasy got me very excited indeed. Unfortunately by the time we finally tracked it down we were very late and had to wait a while for a table. We waited about half hour.
So why is this place worth the wait? Well, to find this bar you will need to first enter the ‘Relax’ coffee shop. Once inside you will have to track down the working button for that evening. This will be hidden on the wall. Once you have put your names down, drank a coffee (or beer) in the café a secret back door will open to reveal a candle lit bar hidden away. Once inside the bar staff will tend to your every need and make specialists cocktails to your exact tastes. A word of warning – this bar is expensive. These cocktails are London prices. But they are delicious (and very alcoholic) Would I advice people to head here? I would if they are cocktail people. I love nothing more than a good cocktail so I appreciated it but if you just want some beers with friends this isn’t the place. My biggest disappointment with the place was that I thought it would be a 1930’s speakeasy. I was expecting jazz music and themed décor but it is more of a hidden bar than a place to Charleston the night away.
There is so much we loved about this city that it’s hard to list just a few things but it is definitely somewhere everyone should experience. Lee and I got really excited to see the place featured in the film ‘Lucy’ recently and it got us all excited all over again, hense adding it to our Asia tour next year. We will see you soon Taiwan.
GO and GO NOW!
Have you been to Taipei? Did you love it as much as us? What should we do next time we go? How do you find teaching in Taiwan? We look forward to hearing from you.