Travel to Taipei and Taiwan - A Country Far Different from China
Day 1 - Arrival in Taiwan
We left at 6.15 in the morning from terminal 2 of Kota Kinabalu airport in Malaysia. We arrive punctual and tired at 9.15 am at the Taoyuan International Airport located about 35 km west of Taipei. We quickly located the terminal and found the tourist office where we could get maps and information of the island and its main points of interest. It is essential considering that we had nothing prepared.
We changed some Malaysian ringgits that were left over. We saw that the best way to go to the center was with the bus, which left every 20 minutes during the whole day. It takes almost an hour to reach the main train station. Taiwan's first impressions brought us closer to Japan than to the countries from which we came. Or in other words, everything was clean, neat, and organized. People were very friendly (well, this is a point in common) and even in the bathrooms of the airport, there were Japanese style toilets with a splash and everything.
We already had the hostel booked previously and to get there we took a local train to Keelung. We got off at the next station, Songshan, leaving through the east gate. Following the indications we reach, a place that had wifi, laundry, kitchen and common room, and shared bathroom. They did not provide breakfast and towels were available on rent (we already had).
Everything was clean and the staff was totally helpful and willing to clear all doubts. We rest and finally take our first steps through the largest city on the island. We eat at a pizzeria and headed to the Houshanpi metro station crossing the interesting Wufenpu clothing market.
The subway is undoubtedly the best way to get around the city and this was the closest stop. The ticket is a round card and although the machine that sends it seems crazy at the end is easy. The names come in English under the Chinese and prices are clear.
We advanced only two stations to City Hall and we walked to the monument-memorial of Sun Yat-Sen. He was none other than the founder of the Kuomintang or Chinese Nationalist Party, whose seated statue presides over the interior of the building that is located in a pleasant square.
The weather and the atmosphere in the place were great. There were groups of young people dancing or people walking and meditating. In addition, the views of the famous Taipei 101 building (one of the highest in the world) were magnificent.
We were able to attend the subsequent parade by a group of soldiers who did everything with amazing rectitude, almost without blinking and slow motion. The anthem was also accompanied by silence and respect from all who were there. Then we went to the building that allowed us to access the observatory on the 89th floor.
With the entrance, they gave us an audio guide. So we rode the fastest elevator in the world as they told us. We visit the three floors without any hurry and enjoy the sea of buildings that we had before despite the haze that appeared. Once down it was already dark. We took the last pictures and we returned to the subway going from City Hall to Houshanpi. From there we get back to the accommodation and have dinner in the kitchen with what we had bought.
Day 2 - Xingtian, Longshan
The next day, I had thought it would be a good day to finally get to know Taipei. The capital, with a past of different colonizers, is reflected in its monuments. It was raining, something that we have to get used to quickly here.
We started the day with the intention of visiting a temple, choosing the Xingtian Temple after consulting the hostel. They told us that it had a metro stop and everything and it was the best to visit. We ignored them and at the end of breakfast, we marched to the Houshanpi metro stop going to the Xingtian Temple.
The atmosphere of this Confucian temple was frantic. It was full of people making offerings and prayers and saturated with incense, which I liked on the other hand. The best thing in these cases is to stop and observe and enjoy it, even more so as not knowing how these rituals work. Our next stop was the train station (Taipei Main Station) which has a metro stop too. So we took it at Zhongshan Elementary School and with a transfer at Minquan Road we arrived in the blink of an eye.
We took the opportunity to eat in the busy restaurant area on the 2nd floor and order noodles with soup and rice. I was already in the highlight of the day, at the monument-memorial to Chiang Kai-Shek, which we reached on foot crossing the peace park. Finally arriving at the esplanade we could already see in the background the huge building that pays homage to the figure of Chiang Kai-Shek.
We left on our right the beautiful National Theater and on the left the Auditorium, both constructions of an unmistakable Chinese style. We approached the Shek memorial. Every hour there is a change of guard. Once again we were lucky and there was just the change of guard. Some soldiers executed the maneuver with total solemnity and very slowly. Apparently, it is their step for this type of acts. Without blinking at all, they looked like wax sculptures.
We just went through the memorial with as much attention as possible. As we had time and desire we went to visit the Buddhist-Taoist temple of Longshan, in the old part of the city next to Danshui river. We took the subway at the memorial stop until Ximen and in one more stop, we were in Longshan. Again the temple was full and the smell of incense flooded everything. Although being Buddhist and Taoist figures were very different from the Confucian. In fact, also the offerings worked in different ways.
In the night we decided to do a food tour (a gastronomic excursion) with a local agency. With them, we toured two night markets and then made a bar route. Undoubtedly, the nightlife and gastronomy are some of the main attractions of the city and doing it with people who explain everything we are eating and seeing is priceless. It was the best decision we made.
With our guide, a young Taiwanese we learned a lot. We went first to the Nanman market. Before eating we discovered the fruits, vegetables and other products that we had been watching for several days. In the upper part of this market, we tried the best noodles that we have ever eaten. In the street, in a mythical place that serves, mainly, rice with veal, we ate for a few yuan an exquisite dish in a genuine place like few others.
We went to a pub then to try a craft beer. We still had a second night street market. With a taxi, we moved to the next point, Ningxia Road. A narrow passage between two rows of posts makes up this local market where you can find everything. We went for a classic that we had not yet tried, the stinky tofu.
A dish that when fried, as its name says, stinks. But that on the palate tastes good. Maybe a particular aftertaste. We visit one of the coolest bars in town. This place, with a retro decoration, was decorated as if it were a beach bar. It was our toast for a trip that went to the movies.
We stayed there until we got bored and walked to the commercial area of Ximen. Knowing that we had squeezed as much as possible this day in Taipei we followed the steps of the previous day to sleep in the hostel.
Day 3 - Kaohsiung
We got underway early to get to the station and take the train to Kaohsiung, this time in an ordinary one. We get off at the Xinzuoying stop of the bullet train, that is to the north of the center of the city but next to the zone of the lake of the lotuses that we wanted to visit. Still from this stop to the lake was about 2 km with luggage and everything could be long. So we decided to take a local train to the next stop (Zuoying).
Once there was luck and in a tourist office, they agreed to store our luggage. We told them we would visit the lake and continue to the city center by train (they had no obligation to do so and we did not pay anything). This lake is artificial and it stands out for the temples and pavilions that are in the neighborhoods as well as the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas. It is a site that seems to come out of a story.
Unfortunately, we could not access the pagoda towers because they were under repair. We go to other temples like Chi Ming, from where there was a magnificent view of the park and the lake and the pagodas of Autumn and Spring with the dragon that precedes them.
We collected our luggage and arrived at the Kaohsiung Main Station in another commuter train. We eat there in one of the numerous restaurants before going to the subway to get to the accommodation area.
From the central station, we took the red line to Formosa Boulevard, which is the only one where the two lines intersect. We observe the map and exit immediately. We arrived at the hostel that we booked the previous day, with shared bathroom, wifi, lockers, kitchen and common room (towels were not provided). It was all very clean and the person in charge of the site updated us about recommended places to visit.
In the afternoon we went to the subway to the stop of the Sanduo Shopping District and strolled looking for the 85 Sky Tower. This is the tallest building in the city and it has a viewpoint on the 74th floor that was definitely worth it.
Our arrival coincided with the sunset. We witnessed a beautiful picture where the sun combined with the mountains and clouds. There is the port of the city and the sea in the background on one side and on the other a second sea of cement and concrete that began to light up. It was a beautiful panoramic view in short.
Once down we went on foot to the pleasant walk to River of Love that crosses the city and had various establishments of all kinds. We dined at one of them and we continue walking along the river until we get tired and go to the subway. We get back to the hostel to rest and give signs of life to our families through the internet.
Day 4 - Hualien
We all have a soul mate, half of a life with whom we share tastes, passions, the birthday, the brand and the model of the car. Those people exist. Many times they go unnoticed. On other occasions, we find them among the sea of people that make up the world.
In the car, we take the trip that would take us to Hualien. We were able to see, while we had natural light, the landscapes of the south and southeast of the island.
Although Hualien does not have many things of great interest it is possible to see whales and dolphins. We discarded it because we already lived this experience in South Africa and it would hardly be better. It is a good base for proximity to explore the Taroko National Park, a natural icon of the country.
We took bicycles that we left at our bed and breakfast and went to look for those who were awake. We did not find a beach we liked to take a bath but at the less, we enjoyed the good day. We returned at noon, ate something quick and rested a bit before getting down.
We were hungry. In the night market, at other times lively, there were the last stragglers picking up in one of the stalls. When we explained to him, with the help of technology and translators, they did not hesitate to reassemble the kitchen to prepare some noodles topped with a steak that tasted great. We already knew, from the first day, that the Taiwanese were going to make the trip much easier for us.
Day 5 - Taroko National Park
The next morning, one of the moments of the trip arrived, to visit the Taroko National Park. In our car, we left behind the 30 kilometers that separate the entrance to Hualien Park. We stocked up on good maps in the information center at the entrance and move towards nature in its purest form.
Through a narrow road, surrounded by green and through scenic tunnels, we reach Swallow Grotto, the gorge which gives its name to the park. We reached the Tianxiang area at noon, which was perfect because it is the largest service area of the park. We were able to eat rice and soup. We then go up to a nearby pagoda with a good view of the area, including the Baiyang waterfall, which, despite not being very striking, is another icon of the park.
The truth is that we did not go because the day was cloudy and began to pour as if there was no tomorrow. It is why we decided to return to try to pass the area of landslides as soon as possible since the rain would soften the hillside of the mountain and the road could be cut off.
But, despite the beauty was overwhelming, until the afternoon we did not have our big time of the day. Well, it was the great moment of the trip. In an exit marked in the guide, the 166, it was supposed that there should be a hot spring. The road seemed ruined. We investigated and saw that behind a closed gate you could reach a river between two huge rocks.
Once down, we discovered that next to the river that ran with ice water, there were small pools with boiling water. It was the miracle of nature. A free and tremendously beautiful spa where time stopped. The day was not over yet. Our GPS in Chinese take us to Yuchi, one of the base villages to see Sun Moon Lake. Ahead we had a few kilometers but many hours by a mountain road that, sometimes, by the fog, disappeared. Up to 3,000 meters, we can not see above the clouds.
The night he picked us up again for dinner. The Taiwanese have the habit of having lunch and dinner very early. The Spanish had not yet adapted our watch to local customs. In Yuchi, on the shores of the Lake of the sun and the moon, they gave us dinner again despite the hours.
Day 6 - Taichung
We had little time to sleep. Before 6 in the morning, the sun came out again. It was the reason for our visit to this place. It was very touristy but magical as the new day begins. From the room of our humble hotel, we could see the sunrise. The place was not enough to admire as much mixture of colors as nature offered us. Therefore, we decided to go down to see it at the foot of the Sun Moon Lake.
Before the hordes of tourists arrived to tour the lake by boat, we decided to leave. Several hours of roads were waiting for us back to Taipei. We had decided to pass by Taichung. Here we did want to stop was in a small village called Beipu.
This village is the capital of the Hakka culture, an ancient Taiwanese ethnic group. From the beginning, even without maps and without knowing what we were going to do, we succeeded. An 86-year-old man welcomed us in Beipu with music. He taught us to play the erhu, a musical instrument.
In the afternoon, for lunchtime, without knowing it, how best the plans come out, we found an outstanding place to eat. On the main street, on the corner and on the left sidewalk, the first of the tea house that crossed our path, caught our attention.
There we ate a delicious full menu in which stood out, by far, cold chicken, a local specialty. To close, in addition to some laughs with the owners, we tried the famous Hakka tea. This drink, which is very appreciated here, is made by hand mixing herbs and water in a mortar and poured rice and other ingredients. Now, after leaving the rental car in Taipei, we went to the subway to get to our home in the capital.
Our hotel belongs to the local chain and had an unbeatable location just two minutes from the exit of Taipei Main Station. With an unbeatable price, spacious and very clean rooms, and free fruit, drinks, and water at any time at the reception, we could not be happier with our choice.
At night, almost timeless, we had a local host at the best Taiwanese restaurant in all of Taipei. With our host, we were able to enjoy the five senses of a table full of local dishes, with history and a lot of flavors. Nothing was missing. There was soup, noodles, grilled fish with miso sauce, chicken in sweet and sour sauce, wild vegetables, grilled prawns, clams in sauce, potato porridge and, of course, local Taiwan beer.
Day 7 - Taipei 101
On the last day, we see for the last time to the image of a city, of a country, Taipei 101. They were the last images of a city, of a country, that in a short time captivated us. Taiwan may not have great monuments, nor places that normally appear in the guides, but the truth is that this country wins my heart without knowing exactly how. The melancholy that assails the traveler sometimes hits us all at once.