I booked a short trip to Taipei as a surprise Christmas present for Matt, whilst he was visiting me in Hong Kong. He hadn’t heard of Taipei before I told him about the trip and I’d been more focused on organizing things without him finding out, than actually working out what we were going to do once we got there. So, when we arrived at our Socket Hostel and our host Danny sat us down to run through our itineraries it was so unbelievably helpful. Here’s a picture of part of the map he annotated for us to illustrate:
He asked us what type of things we were interested in and suggested things to see and do based on that, as well as how to get everywhere, the times things were open, where to eat and drink on the cheap and which local dishes we should try. It added so much to our trip and he really made us feel looked after, giving us his number in case we got lost, or something, at any point. (So in short if you are ever in Taiwan, I highly recommend where we stayed!)
I really liked Taipei, it seemed to have a really fun vibe. The shopping streets were jam packed with colourful signs and we had some pretty crazy food. On our first evening there we happened to stumble across a free pop concert which was taking place in the city centre.
I loved the city’s attitude; Taipei 101 was dethroned as the worlds tallest building couple of years ago but it still claims to be mankind’s greatest engineering achievement (written in giant neon letters on the outside).
On our first morning in Taipei, we took a glass bottomed cable car up to the Maokong Tea plantations. Which,unlike the one in Hong Kong, was really cheap to travel in. The weather was a bit drizzly but it was still pleasant to wonder around. There actually isn’t that much up there, except a number of tea houses, but as Matt is obsessed with tea that was fine by us. We also rather amusingly witnessed an old man stealing a parrot which was just wondering around the street.
After lunch we then headed shopping and tried some really unusual food, including doughnut burgers!
Then it was on to the Beitou hot springs. We arrived just in time to see Hell Valley (presumably named as such due to all the vapour steaming off the boiling water) before they closed the area for the evening. After that we took a dip in the Millenium Hot Springs, which is an outdoor set of public baths, fed by the thermal river water.
The hot springs were a welcome rest as the itinerary Danny had put together for us kept us busy busy, and for dinner we were off to Shilin night market. Here we sampled more weird and wonderful street food, bought gifts of tea and almond brittle, and watched as little kids played games; shooting balloons or catching shrimp and fish.
The evening ended with a ten o’clock visit to Ice Monster, a restaurant chain specializing in Taiwanese shaved ice. I love shaved ice. You can eat so much of it as it just melts in your mouth like really fine, fluffy snow. What they do to make it, is shave bits off chuncks of flavoured ice, which can then be served with jelly, syrups, fruit, sorbet and all sorts of other toppings. We tried a jasmine tea and lime one, which was amazing, as well as a peanut butter and milk flavoured one. If you are ever in Taiwan you must give this a try. I was very happy when I found them selling it on Cheng Chau island in HK (though without the exciting toppings).
On our last day it was pouring with rain, so we visited the fine art museum and then spent some more time shopping and eating, as well as getting absolutely lost in this underground maze of a mall. Then in the afternoon it was back to the airport for a few more days in Hong Kong. I can honestly say that I don’t feel like I have ever seen so much of a city in such a short time. We both really enjoyed it. I’d love to go back to Taiwan to see more of the country.
And lastly a few more quirky things we saw:
Doggy clothes were on sale everywhere and there was a sign on the metro saying that dogs must be kept sealed in handbags.
Hello kitty water bottles; hello kitty is just everywhere! There are even hello kitty check in desks at the airport.