If Taipei is not on your list of places to see, you may want to consider!
Actually, it wasn’t my plan to go to Taiwan until next year, but it was my trip to Sydney where I wasn’t allowed to fly back into Manila without a ticket out, that made me fly to this magical world. It proves to be a very lucky random choice.
Assuming nothing more than a concrete city, I kept my overall excitement limited and packed my bags for the short journey ahead. I got to NAIA International Airport just 1:15h before departure. Quickly, I learned that the time I had allocated for the checkin wasn’t enough. A printed out boarding ticket won’t get you far. Thus, I got in line and waited 40 minutes to reach the check-in counter. Once everything was ready to go, I jogged to the gate and caught my flight in the final stage of the boarding process. Taiwan, I am coming!
I landed in Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport late at night. Thinking it might be difficult to reach the city, I was surprised how flawless everything worked. Maybe Manila has already tweaked my understanding of organization? A seamless transit, a short walk, and 50 minutes later I reached the walls of my Hostel and went straight to bed.
Early in the morning I got up for work, heading straight to Taipei 101. Once known as the world’s tallest building, there is no better place to glimpse over the entire city. On one side you will notice the green hills of the Nangang District, while on the other side, Taipei applies the dreamlike scenery of Inception. As I finished work and night fell over the city, it was time to go back to the hostel in Ximen district for some Taiwanese cuisine.
I found myself reading a food journal in the lobby as I met a group of multiple travelers (Hong Kong, Dutch & American). After exchanging some stories, we decided to venture out for dinner. Anything Taiwanese was the plan, to bad kimchi is actually Korean. We sat down in a local restaurant and ordered a dish called hot pot. Essentially, it’s a soup dish including broth, ham, cabbage, raw egg, various sausages & kimchi for my choice. As the dish was constantly heated over a small burner, it didn’t cool down. I think it has never taken me so long to finish a dish, yet it was an enjoyable experience. Mostly, we just slam food down our throat without appreciating the work of art much.
Food was followed by a few cold brewskies back in the Hostel. Others joined our table and together we soon went out to a local bar district for some more. Eventually, conversations were overtaken as the smell of barbecued food in the air became evident. I guess the hot pot soup wasn’t enough for dinner? As Sherlock Holmes best trainees would, we followed the smell and ended up in a small street food corner: Flamed prok, egg pancake, sausage on a stick, or just corn? So many choices…
I woke up at 9:30 am for breakfast at the hostel. Ever since moving to Manila, trips to foreign countries turned luxurious AirBnB’s into hostel’s, cappuccino into filter coffee, and a fruit platter into peanut butter toast. Still, I love the experience. First item on the list was the magnificent Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Don’t ask me for history notes, but Chiang Kai-shek was one hell of a confident human being. You literally cannot miss the shear size of this architectural piece. We and 200 other tourists arrived for the change of guards; a very known spectacle I had never witnessed anywhere. In all honesty though, I wouldn’t have missed much if I never witnessed it either. The guards will speak their commands, throw their guns around, and march very slowly to the exit. Turn your iPhone on slow-motion and you will get similar movements of yourself.
We headed back to the metro station and took the green line all the way to Fujin Street – the hipster district. As much as we tried, we couldn’t see any bearded hipsters, but we did see minimalism in its best form of design for many boutique stores. I found some amazing sweaters, but who wears those in Manila anyway? The district is beautiful as trees garnish the side of the street and little fashion shops can be found along the street. Further down the road, we grabbed some lunch (ink squid & truffle fried) and a delicious coffee. While resting like cool hipsters, we were planning what else we could do. Turns out, we went to Taipei Zoo to see a Panda – Mission Accomplished.
In the evening we finally headed for original Taiwanese dinner near the hostel. Never did fried rice, beef & garlic cabbage taste as good as in the little street corner restaurant close by. Beer is only served in 600ml bottles, dogs walk in and out to eat leftovers from the floor, and the waitress ensures your drinking is up to speed in order to sell you more. All in all, it added to the unique experience.
Now, as I am sitting at the airport, staring out of the window, I wonder why no one has ever spoken about Taipei. It’s such a simple entry ticket to the Asian world and I guess the best kept secret at the same time.