During our stay in Taiwan Liam and I were based in Kaohsiung where Anja, my best friend from university, is currently living. Since she was working during the weekdays while we were over, we decided that we should take a few days and go check out the capital city of Taipei. This island nation has an impressive rail network and we were able to take the high speed rail from Kaohsiung to Taipei in two hours! Mind you, we only took it the one way. The 4-6 hour journey regular train is far more friendly on the wallet.
We didn’t manage to get a picture of the trains in action but here’s what Taiwan’s HSR looks like
Having only our day packs to carry instead of our usual haul meant we could explore Taipei as soon as we stepped off the platform instead of rushing to drop off our bags. Liam, being the British tea enthusiast that he is, found an incredible traditional Tea Room in the heart of Taipei. We were welcomed in to this peaceful and antique filled space by a lovely woman with a sweetly calm voice who talked us through the whole tea experience. She recommended two fabulous Taiwanese teas we were able to try: a floral oolong and a honey black tea. She showed us how to pour the tea pot over the leaves, into a smelling cup, and then into the small warmed teacup to drink. It was such an aromatic and calming experience. We spent a few hours just chatting and enjoying the simple pleasures found there.
Unforgettable experience at this warm traditional tea house
Feeling warm and happy after saying goodbye to the kind woman who helped us out at the tea house, we set off for a little viewpoint hike to see the famous Taipei 101 building lit up at night. The hike up to the viewpoint was only about fifteen minutes up a set of stairs scaling the hillside, although we were doing it in the dark while it was drizzling (maybe not the wisest choice!) But we took extra precautions walking up the slippery slopes and were rewarded with a magnificent view. I can’t imagine a better place to see a city this big than from a quiet hillside surrounded by the sound of gentle rain falling on the trees around us.
I think the stormy skies made for an even more stunning view
Our little night hike left us feeling extra excited for our next stop, the Linjiang night market. This is just one of many famous night markets in a country that is known for its street food, it did not disappoint with its wide selection of aromatic and novel looking options! We had water chestnuts, which if you haven’t seen them before, Google it. They look like little Maleficents! Followed by an amazing Gua Bao, a traditional Taiwanese pork Bao sandwich with chili and Chinese cabbage (yum) and grilled belly pork with onions and greens on the side. We were both in food heaven. Having had such a good start at the market we decided to take a risk and try the super controversial stinky tofu. This is tofu that has been fermented and then deep fried. Trust me it lives up to its name, you can smell it a block before you see it. The tofu is slathered with a chili sauce and a kind of Chinese sauerkraut and, turns out, we thought it was actually delicious! I’d say if you’re a fan of stronger tasting foods like blue cheese or kimchi, chances are you might enjoy this. Even if not, give it a go anyway. It could surprise you or at the very least give you a fun food story to tell.
Grilled belly pork and greens, so flavorful and so very cheap
Being a capital city it’s important to have green spaces nearby to escape the towering buildings, one of the most notable parks in the city is the 228 park. It’s a memorial park with a small museum that preserves the history of the events of the February 28th incident. Between 5,000 to 28,000 Taiwanese people passed away or disappeared during an anti government movement in 1947. The park has a small museum which contains an english audio tour highlighting the events that occurred during this uprising and the Chinese suppression of the movement. It’s well worth a visit to learn a bit more about the history of this country that to this day still has a tense relationship with China.
The memorial sculpture in the middle of the park is beautifully done
While researching Taiwan we found their famous whisky, from Kavalan Distillery, won the title of world’s best in 2017! Which is amazing considering Taiwan isn’t traditionally a country that comes to mind when thinking about whisky. Our plan was to visit their distillery in Yilan County, however it was quite inaccessible by public transit. Instead, we decided to visit one of their tasting rooms in Taipei instead. A warm little space lined with their various whiskeys along the walls. The sales woman was incredibly kind and knowledgeable, she allowed us to sample several of their lovely blends before we decided to settle on a bottle of their original award winning blend. She gave us 20% off and a free beer from their parent company. Needless to say she definitely did her job of making us more likely to buy Kavalan when we see it in the future!
If only we had a bigger suitcase (and wallet) to take all these home with us
There’s a place in Taipei filled with old style traditional shops selling Chinese goods from cakes and herbs to pottery and ceramics. Dihua Street is well worth a visit! We bought some small gifts and a pineapple cake for ourselves before we stumbled upon a cute free museum called “207”. Three stories in an old building were dedicated to telling the story of the history of Taiwan’s frozen treats. Ice creams, shaved ice, frozen drinks. A colorful and bright museum covering a delicious topic! In a country as hot and humid as tropical Taiwan it’s amazing to have a place to learn more about delicious ways to stay cool. The museum also had a photo gallery of old Taiwanese houses that have been restored to be places of community innovation and gathering. Coffee shops, art studios, dance halls, etc. It was a great way to see preservation work done with a focus on strengthening community ties.
A replica of an old style Taiwanese ice cream bike in the 207 museum
For our last day in Taipei we decided to take a tour that visited a few cities an hour outside of Taipei, but first we got to stop off and visit one of the prettiest places we saw in Taiwan, Shifen Waterfall. We crossed a beautiful small suspension bridge with the view of fog rolling through the hills ahead and the sound of water rushing. A short winding path through some food stalls and souvenir shops and then there it was. Waterfalls are truly something else, being able to see that volume of water constantly falling and flowing leaves me in total awe. One of the most impressive waterfalls I have ever seen.
Such breathtaking beauty
After leaving the falls we went to the town of Sihifen to see the famous paper lanterns light up the sky. On the main street of this small hillside town visitors can purchase a large paper lantern from one of several shops offering them. People write their messages of love and hope on them and then light them while standing on a set of old railroad tracks. We didn’t get one as they are not the most environmental thing to do, so instead we spent our money on a delicious rice stuffed grilled chicken pieces and a grilled Taiwanese sausage. We ate and watched the various colours promising fortune, luck, love, and more float into nothing more than tiny lights in the sky.
It was great to see groups get together and send their wishes off into the sky together
Jiufen old Street was the final stop of our bus tour. This beautiful steep hillside street has cafes and shops illuminated by strings of hanging red lanterns. It’s such a beautiful site to behold! It’s claimed to be the place that inspired the setting for the animated movie Spirited Away, and while the director claims it wasn’t it doesn’t stop this place from selling buckets of Spirited Away merchandise on every corner. What this place should be known for is it’s seriously amazing selection of street food. It was maybe the best selection we’ve had, and after months of eating mainly street food that’s saying something. We had ten small dishes from different vendors scattered within these narrow rainy streets. We had stinky tofu, Bao buns, Chinese jerky, pork rice, pinapple cakes and more! After a few hours we all got back on the bus and our super sweet tour leader told us a few more fun facts about the area and then dropped us off back in central Taipei an hour later. We’d definitely recommend this tour for anyone visiting the area.
The very busy but beautiful streets of Jiufen
Before catching our train back down to Kaohsiung there was one last thing we wanted to check out. The changing of the guards at the Chaing Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. The procession draws a crowd every hour it’s preformed, something a highly synchronized military shift change always seems to do so. The buildings were stunning and the focus it takes to do the job of a guard is unquestionably impressive. A very elegant and orderly final stop in this exciting capital city.
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Taiwanese military or Michael Jackson Thriller tribute band? You decide!