One of the last things I did before leaving Asia, was visit Taipei, Taiwan. I was often sick or injured, and did not have the chance to go earlier, (I’d actually had just had thumb surgery about a month before I went, I was determined to visit Taipei!) I went in the early spring of 2017, and stayed for about one week. I must say, if I ever teach abroad again, I would very much like to go to Taiwan! What I liked the most about Taipei, was that even though it is the capital of Taiwan, and the largest city on the island, it definitely did not feel like an overwhelming city. There were plenty of city parks, which I appreciated since at that time I lived in a concrete jungle in Busan.
Taipei was only about a two and a half airplane ride from Busan, and I was easily able to take a bus from the airport to the city, (there’s an airport subway line now, so that makes it even easier!) The bus ride was about an hour, and I took the subway from there to where I was staying. I recommend downloading a subway app on your phone, which can make things easier, although there are English signs too. There are passes that you can buy so that you don’t need to buy a separate ticket every time you take the subway, which is nice since I was doing a lot of running around the city.
As an American citizen, I did not need a visa, just my passport. I booked a room in an apartment that was shared with the owner on airbnb for less than $300, which was centrally located in the city. The currency I had at the time was Korean won, which had a great conversion rate, so for the first time in my life, money was not a problem! Prices in Taipei are relatively cheaper compared to Korea, or the USA, and since I enjoy food, I spent most of my money eating. Night markets are really popular, and I spent many evenings strolling them eating street food, and enjoying the food courts. I also ate at McDonald’s a few times. Oddly enough, in the States I don’t touch the stuff, but I’m intrigued at what McDonald’s is like in other countries, so I like to check it out. There are some variations, but pretty much the same stuff.
There’s a distinct smell that you will notice will walking around the markets. Stinky tofu, (literal name) is a fermented tofu, and a staple in Taiwanese cuisine. Unfortunately, I could not bring myself to try it as I could not get past the smell. I did eat lots of noodles, fried chicken, and my ultimate favorite: bubble tea! Bubble tea originates in Taiwan, and after having it there, nothing else compares!
I spent the week with no real plans other than to see the sights, and enjoy myself. Some of the more notable places I visited were Taipei 101, is one of the tallest buildings in the world, and has an elevator that goes from the 5th-89th floor in 37 seconds! The top observatory was closed at the time that I went due to high winds, but I was still able to experience a wonderful view. Inside of the building, lies the world’s largest, and heaviest damper ball. It basically keeps the building from swaying too much. There’s a whole engineering process behind it, you can watch the video below where I read the plaque describing how this works.
Chiang Kai Shek memorial hall, is a national monument dedicated to a man by the same name. Chiang Kai Shek was a politician, revolutionary, and military leader, who served as president of both the Repulic of China, and later Taiwan until his death in 1975. The floor level contains a library and museum that documents his life, and the upper level has a huge statue of Chiang Kai Shek.
Liberty Square shares the same plot of land as the Chiang Kai Shek memorial hall. This area was built in the 1970’s, and to this day serves as a mass meeting place for the Taiwanese people. In fact, on the day that I visited, there was a demonstration of pro-China supporters, and those who want an independent Taiwan. Concerts, festivals, etc., are enjoyed yearly here. Surrounding Liberty Square, and the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, are ponds and parks. Even though it rained on the day that I went, I still enjoyed taking a stroll around.
Longshan Temple was built in 1738 by Chinese settlers from mainland China. The temple is open to the public, and many offer incense here. I visited at the beginning of Chinese New Year, so there were various structures up welcoming in the year of the rooster, (2017). Many places around Taipei at that time had structures up to welcome in the New Year.
Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall is another national monument dedicated to the “Republic of China’s National Father”. He was the first provisional first president of China, the first leader of the Nationalist party in China, and played an important role in overthrowing the Qing dynasty. At the time I was there, there was an exhibit on the second floor on the second floor on what life was like for native Taiwanese people during Japanese imperil rule. The first floor houses a huge statue of Sun Yat-sen, where you can watch the changing of the guard every hour.
Shilin night market is the largest, and most famous night market in Taiwan. The food court alone is enough to draw attention, with over 500 stalls, and many options to chose from. You can do some souvenir buying, shopping, or just enjoy the hustle and bustle of it all. There’s a famous cheese baked potato food stall, which is easy to recognize due to the long line. I decided not to wait in the line, and ate beef noodles at the food court. There’s plenty to do, see, and eat at Shinlin night market!
These are just a few of the places I visited, and they were great, however, there are two of the best experiences I had in Taipei, that I’d like to tell you about. The first was when I took the red subway line all the way to the end to an area called Tamsui. This area of town had a night market that lined side streets, restaurants, shopping, and my favorite, a wonderful waterfront where I watched the sunset. I actually enjoyed Tamsui so much that I visited it twice!
The second experience that was a favorite, was a short subway ride from Tamsui to Beitou springs. I had to walk through a little town, in order to get to the hot springs. Along the way, I came across a museum dedicated to the native people of Taiwan. There was also a place that served as a public bath house for Japanese men during Japanese colonial times. It’s opened to the public, although not in use as a bath house any longer. There was also a house that opened to the public that Japanese occupiers once lived in. There is an area where you can pay to get into a section of the hot springs. You’ll need a bathing suit, and cap for your hair, which can be purchased. I opted not to, and walked on until I got to the hot springs. I have never seen hot springs before, and was fascinated to see them firsthand.
I hope to be able to go to Taiwan again, and see more than just Taipei. This was only a snippet of what I did while I was there. I also enjoyed walking around Da’an park, seeing the presidential building, and taking a cable car ride. Taiwan felt really laid back for me in comparison to what I was used to in Korea, (not to mention the weather was much warmer!) I really had a great time there! Most of the things I’ve mentioned here were free, (Taipei 101 was not), and easily accessible from subway stations.