Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, is a sprawling city surrounded my mountains. We explored the capital in two halves, returning to at the end of the trip to see what we’d missed. It was an unusual experience to leave a place only half explored, but fun to return and know my way around.
The heart piece of the city is Taipei 101, the city’s skyscraper, that claimed the tallest building in the world award until ‘04 standing at over 500m. It is an amazing building, one of my favourite skyscrapers, with it’s layers taking inspiration from traditional temples and turning it into a towering monolith. It also sits in a city that isn’t comprised of towers, so soars above the surrounding landscape, it’s true height only really appreciated when you hike up for a few hours to get a view over the city and find you’re still lower than the pinnacle.
Taiwan shares similarities with Hong Kong, in that it’s surrounded by green rolling hills, a short metro ride to the ocean and a place that really gets going when the sun sets. Many of the shops and stalls are closed the majority of the day, waiting for the crowds to come out to visit the copious number of night markets.
I love cities that have metro’s and Taipei’s no exception. It makes it so easy to get around and see everything, with days planned around the easiest metro route. I’d like to think we did a pretty good job at checking out the majority of what Taipei has to offer.
The hike up ‘Elephant Mountain’ to see the views over Taipei then out across the hills away from the city was one of my highlights. The climb up was steep and felt tropical with the dense forest causing a stickiness in the air and the large spiders perched on their webs along the side of the path had Julia running with her head down in fear. The summit gave decent views over the city, but they weren’t quite perfect. It took a further twenty minutes of exploring through the graveyard upon the top to finally get the viewpoint I’d been searching for with the whole city spread out below you and the coast in the distance.
We checked out the coast at the touristy hotspot of Tamsui that afternoon, just about catching the sunset before wandering the with crowds through the stalls of arcades and smells of the street market. I got a tasty (and very messy) wrap from a street seller, a mixture of curry spices with meat and veg overflowing from the ends.
The food in Taiwan is a melting pot of Asian styles blended and spliced to give you Taiwanese style. There is a lot of Chinese influences (Taiwan being a Chinese territory) with noodle broths and dumplings ever present, but also a lot of Japanese influences with sushi and Japanese curries dotted around the place (Japanese ruled here until around 50 years ago I think). Other styles often pop up with Korean BBQ popular and a bit of Thai and Vietnamese food. Taiwan likes to advertise itself as the heart of Asia and the food definitely had that feel with there not being a style of food I’d call Taiwanese more a combination of other styles.
Central Taipei has its fair share of temples. We visited the biggest the Longshan temple during Chinese New Year, so it was too crowded, yet even without the crowds I don’t think I would have been a big fan. It’s become too touristy, a fact I find in most main temples in capital cities. The Confucius temple was much more style, with a calmness looming around the halls and courtyards. Taipei does have a very impressive central memorial hall section. With both the national theatre and and national orchestra buildings sitting mirroring each other below the main memorial hall, a huge statue of Taiwan’s founder sat looking out across the old West gate to the city. We arrived to watch the changing of the guard, and struggled not to giggle too loudly through their boy-band-esque routine change comprising heel clicks, gun swirls and synchronised movements before they finally swapped over.
Wandering the city also took us to a couple of the art districts that had been designed to boost creativity professions in the city and probably create tourist hot-spots to over-charge in the shops. At least that was the feel in the first one, it was basically a hipster shopping district with very expensive mugs and beer mats, some cool stuff, but prices similar to London. The second art district was the opposite, with the woman in the information counter interested how we’d found out about the space. It was an artists’ residence with shows put on periodically. Unfortunately there wasn’t a show on for a few weeks so not a lot happening, but cool to know that some of the spaces were actually used as opposed to being shops.
We saw off Taipei with a visit to the local hot springs. In Japan going to the onsen was a favourite pastime so it’s been fun to return to some and I hope Korea also has them. This was a mixed sex open air one, so swimmers on, but a range of pools from a chilly 40 degrees to a steaming 46 degrees that I just couldn’t relax in it was so hot. There was a nice mixture of locals and travellers filling the pools, and with the price tag of 80 pence I can see how it’s such a popular spot.
From Taipei we jumped on a train down to start seeing the East Coast, starting in Hualien.