Taiwan! I have to admit I was curious about coming here, the only thing I knew about Taiwan was that when I was growing up everything seemed to be ‘Made in Taiwan’. It was really easy to work the metro from Taipei’s domestic airport (Songshan) to my stop; Liuzhangli. And hello humidity!!! It’s been a couple of months since I’ve encountered that and to make it worse, I started walking in the direction of the hostel and noticed a weird loud siren, a bit like an air raid siren. Then I noticed the streets were dead except for a couple of police standing in the middle of the road making sure everyone stopped, me included. I figured it was to allow some ‘important person’ fly down the road with a police escort like I had seen in another country. But no, I stood around swelting on some street corner not knowing what was going on when some guy came up beside me. We got chatting and Alex was a Taiwanese American and informed me that once a year they carry out a full city evacuation procedure in the event of some disaster. Random! And of course, for this once a year occurrence I timed it perfectly. Eventually 20 minutes later I was allowed to carry on to my hostel; JV’s Hostel.
Rice, the hostel’s worker is brilliant, she’s a crazy, friendly lady and makes the hostel more fun and I instantly got chatting to her and couple of the guys staying there; Leo and Jordan. Jordan and I tagged along with Leo to go visit some temples, prior to leaving the hostel as I was waiting for the guys, I heard some people arrive at the hostel and I looked up to find that I knew one of them!! Crazy small world, it was a guy I had met and hung out with for a couple of nights in Bangkok back in January with Lise, Andrew and Ole. Both of us were shocked to run into each other and to be staying in the same hostel! Anyway, Leo, Jordan and I went to Confucius Temple which was a large vibrant temple and lovely to see how illuminated it was as dusk drew. We had a quick nosy around another temple down the road from the Confucius Temple where we found some Taiwanese women practicing a traditional dance, so we sat and watched them try to learn and get their timings right. Across the road from Confucius was a stage where a traditional performance started up depicting various Taiwanese stories (by the looks of it anyway) so we grabbed a plastic stool and watched the colourful and musical performance for a while before jumping on the metro back to the hostel. For my first night in Taipei there was a good few of us from the hostel (including Sagar, Leo, Jordan and about 3 others) and Alex (the guy I met during the raid) that headed out for the evening. The hostel is located right in the middle of an amazing night market; Tonghua. This place is great for street food and I could have tried everything I saw, but opted for blow torched juicy steak and 5 delicious steamed buns with chilli sauce. After we had a few beers in a bar, we all headed back down the market for a bit more food and this time sampled some pig’s blood sticky rice and actually it was ok.
For my first full day in Taipei, I tagged along with Leo to do a bit of sightseeing. We grabbed a bus to take us out to the Yehliu National Park, on the coast, famed for its rock formations, which have been given names based on the shape it appears to have taken. The most famous one here is the Queen’s Head, I couldn’t believe the number of people queuing to have a picture taken with it, then I saw Leo had gone and joined the queue as well! But it was a nice part of the world to walk around and a place to see where Mother Nature has an impact on the shoreline. It also attracts a lot of bird spotters where it’s definitely a competition on who has the biggest lens.
From here, we jumped on another bus to Keelung, a large port city, where we needed to change bus in order for us to get to our next location; Juifen. This is a lovely little town built into the side of a hill overlooking the sea, and consists of a couple of pedestrian streets full of little shops and eateries to explore. I’m fast learning that Taiwan is amazing for the food! Walking along the narrow streets we stopped to try ice cream peanut brittle wrap and brittle meat strips before we randomly ran into Rice and a couple of her friends, whilst they went to a tea house, the evening was setting in so we walked around the coast to be able to look back on the glowing Juifen cliffside town, which looked very pretty. On the way to the bus stop, we picked up, what we thought was a dessert in the form of a steamed bun with a strawberry jelly which in fact turned out to be a steamed bun filled with meat and a red jelly which we washed down with asparagus juice (yes really!! And scarier it was actually drinkable!). We ran into Rice and Co at the bus stop and headed back to Taipei; however Leo and I jumped off at another night market and indulged in a bit more food. On the way back to the hostel, I couldn’t resist getting some more food at the stalls out our night market, too good to ignore! Randomly, Leo pointed out a girl who was staring at me and then she came running up to me with passed me her mobile phone. Hmmm, strange! Her boyfriend was on the phone and she had asked him to ask me whether (because I’m blonde and it would be a novelty for her) I would be interested in having my hair dyed by her as she’s a hairdresser. I’ll pass thanks.
The next three days in Taipei consisted of going to Starbucks in the Taipei 101 tower on the 35th floor for breakfast (you have to book to do this!) but it was for the novelty factor and was a nice view down over the city. Alex met me and another girl (Sa) to show us around some areas of Taipei for traditional food in the Dongmen district and to experience the hot springs at Beitou. Where Sa and I kept getting told off for using the springs incorrectly, so we left and went for a walk along the coast, before getting food down our night market street, obviously. I mean the steak and steamed buns are to die for. That evening I ended up being persuaded to go to a bar for a few drinks with Jordan and a new guy at the hostel, Walter. The bar (1001 Nights) was cool and a hip hop dance off competition provided great entertainment. Considering I was going for a couple of beers, I managed to roll in at 6am. Needless to say that day was unproductive and spent monging around the hostel until the evening when I met Kevin who was in Taipei for the weekend. We naturally headed down to the night market to eat way too much food before meeting up with a friend from home, Paddy and his girlfriend. Such a coincidence that we were in Taipei over the same dates but really good to catch up.
The last day in Taipei before I headed to Hualien, was spent tagging along with Kevin to do a bit more sightseeing which included seeing the changing of the guard ceremony at Chiang KS Memorial, grabbing a mango ice crush which is apparently what the Dongmen district is famous for but sadly the rain moved in so we grabbed a bubble tea, since Taiwan is the home of these bad boys and went and chilled watching movies at the hostel. I had to move hostels so I went and checked in at Amici 101 and wow this is the Hilton of hostels. It has a grand marble entrance and then the rooms and massive and so much room. Each bed has its own TV and wardrobe, shame was only here for one night! I went back to JV’s Hostel as a few of us were heading out for beers. Ironically, I was heading out with a bunch of Americans who went by the names of Kevin, Kevin, Evan and Devan (I kid you not) and Walter’s real name was Kevin. Least Gretha and I were original. After a few beers at the hostel we headed out to Revolver bar and then a club but wasn’t as late as the other night. Long train journey in the morning for me.