Taiwan wasn't really what I expected, which is odd as I didn't really know what to expect! It was a bit like China, obviously, but had some Korea and Japan mixed in as well... I guess I thought it would have a bit more of it's own personality, which I didn't really see.
We arrived at Taipei airport a couple of hours later than expected so grabbed a taxi to the centre of town, checked into our hostel, which was like someone's flat, and headed for the street market down the road for dinner.
As we didn't really know much about Taiwan we didn't really know what we wanted to do with our time there. We'd been told about Taipei101 which has the 2nd tallest viewing platform in the world (91st floor) so on our first full day we headed there thinking it might give us some inspiration. Although it was quite a foggy day, the view was pretty impressive, it felt a lot higher than 91 floors!
We were keen to see some natural hot springs and there were quite a few in Taiwan, so after chilling out at the top of the tower for a bit, headed home to get our stuff for the springs... At least that was the plan, but after a 'quick' rest that turned into a 3 hour nap we adapted the plan and headed out for another night market in Shillin, bigger than the one we'd been to the night before. A nice and cheap but greasy meal followed.
On day 2 we headed to Kaohsiung which is in South Taiwan. Kaohsiung is the 2nd biggest city in Taiwan but also on the coast so has a much more relaxed feel about it. When we arrived we dumped our stuff in the hostel and went exploring. We had seen that there was a beach that you reached by getting a ferry fairly near to where our hostel was so went off in search of it, full of anticipation of a lovely day in the sea... One of the things we've learnt travelling is that you can't believe anything that they tell you on tourist websites! We missed not having a lonely planet in Taiwan! When we got to Cijin, although there was indeed a beach, unfortunately the littered black sand and warm dirty sea wasn't what we were expecting! And definitely wasn't what we had seen in the pictures. We hunted around for something to eat and then had a quick paddle in the sea, before admitting defeat and heading back home to the hostel.
Our hostel was brand new and lovely, it was massive and had really good facilities (fast internet connection, free cable TV, free laundry) so we took full advantage and washed all the clothes we had and spent a good few hours on the PC's - (mostly blogging, these things take me an age to write!) and watching films. While waiting for the final washing load to finish we 'popped out' to find something to eat. I'm really pleased we did as what we found down the road was an awesome all you can eat BBQ restaurant where you cook the food yourself in a little BBQ in the middle of the table. They gave you a menu (in English!!!) and you just kept ordering dishes to BBQ until you were fat! Was the best meal we'd had in ages. What did get lost in translation however is that you also got free Haagendaz at the end of your meal, which we didn't know until on the way out of the restaurant we walked passed the freezers and realised there were bowls people were helping themselves to the ice cream. Not to be hard done by, we decided we couldn't miss out and stood by the freezers stuffing our faces with ice cream before leaving... just another reason for everyone in the restaurant to stare at us like we were freaks! :-)
Day 3 and we were up early getting a 2 hour bus to Kenting, a beachy coastal town in a national park right at the south of Taiwan. Apart from a mild panic on my side at one point that we were on the wrong bus getting there was easy and we spent a lovely day chilling on a clean sandy beach and swimming in the cool sea. As it was Saturday the beach was pretty busy and some school kids came along with a massive speaker and cranked up the music (which had me complaining to start with, until I realised I really am getting old and decided to enjoy it instead!) so it was a pretty cool day. When we'd baked in the sun enough we got the bus back to Kaohsiung, this time safe in the knowledge that we were on the right bus!
The next day was our last day in Kaohsiung and after a shaky start (literally - there was an earth quake in central Taiwan that was felt over the entire Island - the bed was shaking in our room and we thought some building works next door had hit the foundations until we tried to go to the 80th floor viewing platform in the building next door and they told us is was shut due to the earthquake!! Lucky we weren't up there when the earthquake hit really, can't imagine that would haver been fun!!) we headed to the 'Love River' in the centre of the town. After a long walk down the river, round the funky art district, and round a couple of different ports- with a few quick mango smoothy en route to cool down in the ridiculous heat - we ended up at Sizihwan bay just in time to park ourselves on the grass, grab a couple of beers from the 7-11 (they LOVE the 7-11 in Taiwan) and watch the sunset.... was a lovely day.
In the morning we were up early and heading back to Taipei for our last couple of days in Taiwan. Our second hostel in Taipei was in the area of Ximen, an awesome area and we were right in the middle of it all. We checked into the hostel and headed for the Zoo (we were pretty templed out at this point and had had enough of culture for a while!). I was expecting another depressing zoo like the one we went to in St Petersburg but this was classed itself as an 'open zoo' and the conditions were mostly pretty good and the animals happy. After a few hours walking around (open zoo means biiiig zoo) we were pretty knackered so headed back to the hostel. We knew if we laid down it would be game over so went straight back out again and wandered round the surrounding streets with all of it bars and restaurants and shops. The area was really vibey, I liked it a lot. We weren't sure what we wanted to do for dinner and had heard of another street market that was famous for its 'snake alley' where they sell snake blood and venom - or just cook up the snake! In reality it sounded a lot better than it actually was so after checking out some of the snake places headed back to our area for an hour of hunting round for a 'Made In Taiwan' t-shirt and then a nice, but expensive, Japanese.
The next morning that was Taiwan done and we were up and off to the airport heading for South Korea! We were only in Taiwan for 6 days but it went by in a flash!!