After my really long trip to Delhi (it was only 2 weeks, but felt way longer), I was super ready to start my personal travel. I had to be in China the week of July 4th, and since my work trip was planned two weeks prior to that, it didn’t make sense for me to go back to the states for a week before heading over to China again. So I decided to spend the week hopping around Asia, visiting some places that I was ok visiting without M 🙂
My friend and I were supposed to visit Taiwan together, but she had a work trip so it ended up only being me..but I had a very good friend E from college who currently lives in Taipei and is from the island, so I was shown around like a local. THANK YOU E for letting me stay in your apartment and giving me amazing recs to eat! You’re the MVP.
Taipei was amazing. Perhaps it was the jolt between going from India, where the traffic and litter left a bit to be desired. People always compare India with China, as they’re “developing” countries with a highly skilled labor force, but it’s interesting seeing the difference in how urban populations respond to that development. While I can’t compare Taipei to Delhi (at least, I don’t feel quite qualified to do so, given the precarious political situation between China and Taiwan – so I certainly wouldn’t consider Taipei a “Chinese city”), I can comment on the fact that Taipei’s public transportation system (the MRT) was incredibly efficient and cheap, and the city extremely clean (no litter to be seen – and I did see people using all the public trash cans like they’re supposed to).
I loved how friendly everyone was. I was able to get by with Mandarin (Taiwanese is somewhat similar), so getting around was a breeze even though I don’t know how to read Chinese. Most incredibly, people actually understood that I was American. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but in China they consider me “Chinese”, even though I vehemently argue that I’m American (Chinese-American). In Taiwan, people would automatically speak to me in English after I badly tried to respond back in Chinese, and when people asked where I was from, they just nodded when I said America. It’s like the first time that a place was so familiar with the concept of Asian-American-ness.
Anyway. After a redeye from Delhi to Taipei, I arrived in the city and took public transportation to my friend’s apartment. The first stop after a quick shower was Din Tai Fung. I went to the location right under the Taipei 101 tower (another point to E for living in such a convenient location). We ordered the famous dumplings (xiao long bao) and various other dishes. I then walked over to Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, where I witnessed the changing of the guard that happens every hour on the hour.
We had a reservation at RAW, one of Taiwan’s premiere restaurants and one of the top 50 restaurants in the world, around 6 PM that night, which lasted well into the night since it was around 14 courses. Every course was extremely inventive (and beautiful), and incorporated local flavors or ingredients.
amazing courses at RAW
The next day I set out for Longshan Temple, after some breakfast at Yong He Soy Milk King. I loved how there were more “hole in the wall” places all around Taipei, even though it’s an extremely developed city and has lots of great fancy restaurants as well.
My next stop was the National Palace, which I took a cab for (around $12 USD for a 40 minute ride…not bad!). The museum is amazing and is one of the most visited in Asia, probably because it has all the cool Chinese artifacts that didn’t get destroyed in the Chinese Civil War. It was incredibly vast, and I spent a good 2 hours here (warning, because it’s old Chinese artifacts, a lot of the materials are…pots and ceramics and old books. Still cool, but might not be everyone’s cup of tea).
In the late afternoon, I hiked up Elephant Mountain – it was more like a steep set of stairs that leads to an amazing view of Taipei from above. It only took around 30 minutes to hike up (or maybe slightly longer, given the humidity and 100 degree summer temperatures). Since I was alone, I didn’t have the patience to pose on one of the Elephant rocks for the “perfect picture” of me and the skyline, but you’ll have to take my word for it that this place was great! And amazing that E’s apartment was only a few minutes from here.
I wandered around the city for a bit before heading to Shilin Night Market with my friend E. There are so many night markets around Taipei; while many of them are touristy, I still thought they were awesome. So many things to eat and little shops to explore! E guided me towards the best items to eat in the market: fried chicken cutlet, oyster vermicelli soup, papaya milk, stinky tofu, sweet potato balls, etc. We then visited another shop and had some of the most delicious minced pork rice I’ve ever had. I even tried pig’s blood and intestine soup!
We went out to some cool local bars and nightclubs that night after the night market. Thankfully I had tons of food to eat at the night market, otherwise the night would’ve been too much 🙂
My flight was on the evening of the third day, and at that point I’d felt that I’d explored quite a lot of Taipei, but didn’t have enough time to go to one of the neighboring cute towns. So I took the morning to head up to Beitou Hot Springs to have a lovely day in the Thermal Valley. In the afternoon before my flight I headed over to Raohe Night Market (even though it was early afternoon and the shops were just starting to set up). I had the most amazing pork pepper bun here. Sidenote, while I was waiting in line for the pepper buns, it started to pour, and I didn’t have an umbrella. The food stand is extremely popular and there were tons of people in line, but the owner of the stand motioned to me to wait under the awning, then come to the front of the line to pick my buns so that I didn’t have to wait in the rain. And everyone that I cut in line didn’t seem to grumble either. Taiwanese people are so nice.
I absolutely loved Taiwan – it might be one of my favorite places in Asia, with the perfect combination of affordability, amazing food, and natural sites.