So, I am sure most of you would have seen on Facebook that I casually popped over to Taiwan last week. ‘What is your life?’, and ‘Do you even work?’ may be questions that popped into your head. And indeed, they are very legitimate questions. But yes, this is my life and I was given 2 days off in lieu of the school’s Bunkasai that took place over the weekend. Putting that together with a nicely timed public holiday, I was able to hop on over to Taiwan, a mere 3 and hour hour plane ride away.
I know I have traveled alone before (heck, I moved to Japan alone!) but this was the first trip where I was not meeting a tour group or people I knew or knew the language. It was up to me to plan how to get from A to B and an itinerary for each day. I was little apprehensive as my sense of direction is absolutely pitiful so getting lost was going to be happening a lot!
My flight was at 9.30am on Monday morning, but departing from the ‘in the middle of nowhere’ Narita airport. This meant I had to be up at 5.00am to catch one of the first trains to Tokyo station, then the hour long shuttle bus onward to the airport. The process was pretty painless and I made it to Taipei by 12.30pm. One of the best things I did the whole trip was invest in a 3 day sim for about $300 TWD (about 1000Yen) so I was always connected to Google maps!
Left: Needed that coffee before taking off.
Right: Made it to Taipei! On the bus into the city.
By the time I made it to my hostel, it was about 3pm. I checked in and decided to head out to explore the city. After a quick chat with the reception workers at the hostel, I had a plan of attack for the afternoon and the next day. I had to take into consideration that the duration of my stay would consist of increasingly worsening weather. Rain, rain and more rain! But there was no way that would be stopping me!
So I got out there! The Taipei metro system was surprisingly easy to navigate. I suppose having conquered the Tokyo trains (Hahah….that is certainly a joke, in no way can I master the beast that is the Tokyo train system) in comparison it was quite user friendly. Everything is clearly marked in English and well as the announcements, like the Tokyo trains, but there are only 4 train lines aptly named 1, 2, 3, 4.
My first stop was the Longshan temple. It was a public holiday that day (the receptionist at the hostel described it as “our country’s birthday”) so there were many people taking part in a prayer ceremony amongst groups of Japanese highschoolers on a school trip.
Then I wandered around the streets of the temple and came across a night market (or at least the start of the night market as it was only around 4.30pm)
There was certainly an array of interesting foods for sale, of which I am sure there was stinky tofu – a very popular dish in Taiwan, but I was not game enough to try it. So I bought a grass jelly drink instead!
Then I headed off to another temple – Hsing Tian Kong Temple, which interestingly had banned the use of incense. So it had a completely different feel to the Longshan temple.
The founder of this temple believed in five major areas of charitable work “with the aims of enlightening people’s hearts, enhancing spirituality and creating a harmonious society.” These include: religion, education, culture, charity and medical care. Sounds pretty awesome to me.
It was around dinner time so I got out my trusty app’Happy Cow’ and found a vegan restaurant in the area. There are many restaurants labelled as vegetarian in Taiwan, stemming from a largely Buddhist population, but I was keen to check out some of the vegan food that was on offer. After walking in the pouring rain for a while, and getting lost a little, I found this tiny restaurant and ordered a set meal. The man at the restaurant, who I can only presume was the owner, was kind enough to explain the menu in English to me. It was the healthiest meal I had had in days!
In order to maximise what little time I had in Taipei, after dinner I headed to the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, a monument erected in honour of one of the former leaders of Taiwan. The most famous thing about this place is the hourly changing of the guards, but I did not get a chance to see that as it close to 7pm. But it was beautifully lit up at night, and because of the rain there weren’t many other people around. It was really nice and peaceful walking around the grounds, splashing in the puddles.
By this time I was pretty exhausted from the long day of travel and walking around in the rain so I headed back to Ximending, where my hostel was. This is apparently the ‘Shibuya‘ of Taipei – a place where all the youth hang out and is a hub for fashion. So I wandered around the shops for a bit before calling it a night.
Day 2 coming soon!