Taiwan and it cultural quirks: Part V

On our last full day in Taiwan, we went to the National Palace Museum. Having seen the Smithsonian last year, we were ready to be amazed, as it we were aware NPM was known to be one of the largest displays of Chinese imperial artifacts in the world.

From the outside, it was spectacular, with its brilliant grounds and architecture, nestled amongst the picturesque mountains. We made our way through the rabbit warren of rooms, learning about Taiwan’s different dynasty’s as we went. The jewellery that was on display was special, and so vibrant in colour. We learned that jade is Taiwan’s national stone and is meant to bring the wearer good fortune. I was fascinated by the traditional scripture and how the writing is read and written vertically, rather than horizontally, as it is in English. Each character was so delicate I couldn’t imagine how anyone (let alone a young child) would remember each symbol and be able to differentiate them at the speed that we read and write.

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We saw many temples and admired their cultural significance, including the Confuscious Temple, the Longshan Temple and Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. They were busy places but worth visiting. Tourists attempted to fit the front of the temple and a face or two into the screen of their mobile phones, which reminded me of an article I had read on Mount Everest, and the crowds of people at the summit. It felt like the wrong place (at least to me) to be taking selfies. After seeing these, I must admit, the temples in Taipei were some of the most beautiful that I have ever visited.

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I recently read that protests similar to those that are happening now in Hong Kong could possibly break out somewhere like Taiwan. The anti-government protests are against extradition laws held between Hong Kong and China, China being a communist nation. Protestors do not want this law to pass, fearing that it will be the end of civil rights for Hong Kong. I can’t imagine the beautiful streets of Taipei full of protest. It seems such a peaceful, organised city, much different to that of Hong Kong, which we visited on our way home back in April. But who’s to say what is likely to happen anywhere. We can only hope that something will be learned or changed as a result.

This is the last post in my series on Taiwan and I don’t like to leave it on such a serious note, but it is important that people realise that these protests are not so far away, and they involve people just like us fighting for what they believe. How would you feel if you were in a position like this?

Those of you who have read Part I, II, III and IV, I hope you have enjoyed reading what we got up to on our trip. Taiwan is a beautiful place, with so much to do and see and I would love to go back one day soon.

Taiwan and its cultural quirks: Part IV

Yellow taxi

Something we wanted to do on this trip was visit the infamous Taiwanese whiskey distillery, ‘Kavalan’, and we knew it was a bit of a drive from Taipei. If we were there for longer, we would have got the train but given our short trip, our hotel told us that the best way to get there would probably be by taxi (really?). We followed a woman who worked at the hotel to the taxi rank and watched as she spoke to the driver in the local language. He nodded and said something to her, which turned out to be the price – and it was reasonable, so we got in, not expecting to be in a yellow taxi for yet another day trip, but ready to explore.

We had been driving for a while and had gone through a few tunnels that must have been through mountains. It was a beautiful drive – the countryside in Taiwan is just spectacular! We entered another tunnel and I watched the brown walls pass by and waited until I could see light at the end. Soon were outside, at the base of some huge mountains, when the driver, who spoke very little English turned to us, pointed to the top of the mountains and said ‘coffee’. There was no way he knew how much I loved coffee, and I thought it was very nice of him to point this out. We smiled and nodded and thanked him. Not long after, we began making our way up a mountain. The road was narrow, and we had to pull over whenever a car needed to get past. After a winding drive of over 20 minutes, we pulled into a gravel driveway at the top. The driver stopped the car, turned to look at us and said ‘coffee’ and pointed to a building. It wasn’t until then that we realised he thought we wanted to go to this coffee farm! There must have been some confusion between the lady at the hotel and the driver! ‘No, no…whiskey’, was all we said and luckily, he understood. ‘Ahh, whiskey!’ He said and turned the car around. He apologised and pointed down the mountain, which we assumed meant it wasn’t far away.

The grounds of Kavalan

We had driven at least half an hour and were passing through a small town. To be honest, it felt like we were lost. The driver called his friend who was kindly able to provide directions to the distillery, thank goodness! When we got there, he said to take as long as we needed and that he would wait there. We thanked him and got out of the taxi (at last!). The grounds were huge and very well kept. We enjoyed a whiskey tasting, though couldn’t understand the man as he explained what each different whisky was, but it didn’t matter. We were in a foreign country sampling some of the finest whisky and were glad to have finally arrived. We even mixed our own whiskey after sampling three different kinds and deciding how much of each we wanted to add to our test tubes, 6 ml in total. After we had written down our ratios, the instructor mixed us large bottles that we could take home. He sealed the bottles and put them into a box, which we wrote our names on. We were quite surprised by this final touch and very happy. What a good idea!

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After a long and unexpected day being driven around Taiwan in a yellow taxi, we were looking forward to setting out on foot to explore Taipei once more.

Dinh Tai Fung

One thing that we absolutely had to try in Taiwan was Dinh Tai Fung. We had tried this restaurant in Melbourne and had learned that it actually originated in Taipei, so were pretty excited to check it out. We were staying right near the DTF at Taipei 101 and went to have a look the first day we arrived. When we got there, we realised there was an 80 minute wait for a table. We were pretty hungry, so decided to go another day. The original DTF wasn’t far from where we were staying either, so we thought we should check out that one anyway.

We went to DTF the day that we went to Shifen and Jiuffen actually! We had returned from the day trip and were starving and weren’t disappointed. We ordered at least four different kinds of dumplings, including their famous Sha Long Bao, or soup dumplings. We had heard that the dumplings at DTF were some of the best, as the casing was so delicate. It was a delicious meal but we couldn’t help remembering the dumpling restaurant we had been to on our street food tour.

Exploring and eating are two of my favourite things to do while on holiday. I highly recommend going to DTF in Taipei and making a trip out to Kavalan, however you end up getting there!

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Taiwan and its cultural quirks: Part III

Another tour we had organised was a trip to Shifen and Juifen. We knew that these were traditional towns in Taiwan, and the areas were famous for lanterns, mountains and waterfalls.

We were surprised when a yellow taxi met us at the hotel, ready to take us on tour. There was a girl sitting in the front seat already, who greeted us with a warm smile as we clambered into the back seat. Our driver and tour guide introduced himself as Barry and we were off. We made chit chat with the girl in the front seat and learned that she was from England. She was friendly and told us she had not been in Taipei for long, so was interested to hear what we had been up to.

Yeh Liu Geopark

Our first stop was Yeh Liu Geopark, which Barry told us wouldn’t take long to look around. He waved us goodbye and got back in his car, where we soon realised that he would wait until we were ready to leave. The first thing I noticed were the people. There were tourists everywhere, posing for photos with the rock formations and talking excitedly amongst themselves. The three of us stuck together and walked around the Geopark admiring the rocks and stopping to take a few photos (no posing snaps with the ‘princess rocks’ though, sorry to disappoint :)). We could see a track that led through some trees, so went to explore. We all liked hiking, and it seemed like a less crowded option than the geopark. It turned out to be a beautiful walk through the greenery, towards the clifftop we could see from back at the park. As we walked along the track, we saw colourful butterflies of all sizes spreading their wings as they gracefully moved across the bushes.

When we returned to the taxi, Barry had gotten us each a bubble tea, which was very kind of him. I had never had one before and was a bit thrown by the blobs of goo that came up through my straw from time to time but enjoyed it none the less.

Shifen

The next stop was Shifen. Barry stopped the car, let us out and pointed down the street. He suggested we get something to eat because the next leg of the drive was long. He joined us this time, as we walked down the crowded main street, fascinated by the number of lanterns available for people to purchase, light up and let go into the sky. None of us wanted to do this ourselves, as we were aware of the impact these lanterns had on the environment when they landed, so we moved on. There was a railway track right through the middle of town and stalls on either side. We crossed over a bridge and found ourselves in a quieter part of town, where locals cowered over broken lanterns, mending them to get them ready for sale.

Back on the other side of the bridge, we saw a medium sized pig running through the crowd of people, squealing as it skipped along, clearly on a mission. It was quite the spectacle, as tourists reached out to touch it. One man even gave it a firm slap on the behind, which was very amusing.

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On the way to Jiufen we stopped to look at the ‘Golden Waterfall’ on a mountain near an old mining town. The water was brown or golden coloured because of the copper and iron that came from the surrounding rock.

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Jiufen

The next stop was the picturesque town of Jiufen, nestled amongst the mountains, almost Cinque Terra-esque in feel. There were shops and food stalls on either side of us as we walked down the steps of Jiufen Old Street. We were beginning to regret our decision not to get food in Shifen; we were very hungry by now. On the walk down the mountain, we tried a coriander, peanut butter ice cream burrito which filled a hole, and later stopped for some dumplings.

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It was a different tour than we expected but was very enjoyable. Barry turned out to be a kind, funny man who knew the area well. We hadn’t expected to spend the day driving around in a taxi but it was a nice experience as a small tour. We were actually getting pretty used to touring in taxis by now, but I’ll explain that in my next post.

I would definitely recommend this day trip to Shifen and Jiufen for people who want to get out of the city for a day and see more of Taiwan’s beautiful countryside.

Stay tuned or Part IV!

Taiwan and its cultural quirks: Part II

The first night we arrived, we had to check out some of the night markets we had heard so much about. Every search we did prior to landing in Taipei led us to blog posts with pictures and descriptions of delicious looking food. We knew that there were a lot of districts in the city that had famous night markets to choose from, but since it was our first night, we thought we should try one of the best: Shilin night market.

A Taiwanese feastmarket style

It was raining, but that wasn’t going to stop. We knew the train was meant to be really convenient in Taipei, but we were hungry, so caught a taxi. This took us close to one hour because Shilin was on the other side of the city to where we were staying, right near Taipei 101.

When we finally arrived all we could see were bright lights, drizzle falling from the sky and a crowd of umbrellas. Our first stop was a convenience store to pick up some umbrellas of our own; the rain was relentless and didn’t look like it was going to stop any time soon.

We ventured into the market and the first thing I tried was a local delicacy, barbecue Pleurotus Eryngii, a type of oyster mushroom grown nearby. It was tasty with its salt and pepper flavouring, and the man at the stall gave me a generous portion.

The next thing we shared was a giant Taiwanese type of chicken schnitzel, which was delicious. It was lucky we decided to share one because it was literally SO big. The chicken was surprisingly juicy and the crumb was coated with a chilli seasoning.

I left my husband in search of a rubbish bin and walked up and down the rows of market stalls for some time before I was able to find one. I returned to my husband, who I had left in a long line to get a Taiwanese Black Pepper Bun, which was delicious.

I was getting full by this time but didn’t want to leave without trying some dessert. We each got a mochi, which we knew to be a Japanese treat, but had heard Japanese food was good in Taiwan too.

The rain was still coming down when we decided to get a taxi back to our hotel, and as we approached, we could see Taipei 101 in all its splendour, illuminated by red lights. We agreed that we would check it out the next day.

The visibility situation

As we were about to cue for tickets to the observation deck of Taipei 101 the next day, we saw that the visibility was very poor. I suggested we wait and it actually ended up being the last day of the trip before we went up. Visibility was excellent, so we were very happy with our decision to wait.

The views were spectacular, and we were higher than Elephant Mountain now so could really notice the contrast between the city and the mountains that surrounded us. We saw an interestingly shaped figurine for sale as a magnet and as a printed picture on items such as mugs and drink bottles. When we saw a giant statue of the figurine we became even more curious. We eventually learned that it was a ‘Wind Damper’ and its purpose was to counter the effects of wind or other strong motion, such as the earthquake that occurred just days before we arrived.

Views of Taiwan

We explored other night markets as the trip went on, but Shilin was definitely the standout. The fact that we waited until our last day to go to the top of Taipei 101, only for the visibility to be excellent was a perfect result.

These are some more reasons that I think Taipei is one of the best places I have travelled to and will have to return sometime soon. Stay tuned for Part III!

Taiwan and its cultural quirks: Part I

Has anyone ever been to Taiwan?

My husband and I recently spent 6 days in Taipei, and we weren’t sure what to expect, but I’ll tell you what, we loved every minute of it!

I’m going to tell you about our trip by uncovering our adventures as a series of interrelated ideas. A lot of the time, one thing led to another, which made for a lot of choices on our trip. Isn’t this the best way to travel?

So, let me tell you about our street food tour and hike up Elephant Mountain – two activities which we did not end up doing on the same day, but as promised, they are interrelated.

The streets of Taiwan

We had booked a street food tour for our third day there, which we were pretty excited about. For some reason, which is strange because we both really love our food and we travel overseas at least once a year, we had never been on a tour like this before. It was almost ignorant of us, assuming we knew the best bits about Asian food as a result of our travels through Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia and Japan because as we found out, we most certainly did not!

The food we tasted on the tour was fabulous, but so were the people we met and the cultural quirks of Taiwan that we learned about. It is such a great way to experience a new place. Walking through the busy streets allowed me to take the time to appreciate the beauty of what went on around me. A lady hunched over a bucket of nuts, shelling them to uncover the best bits, a team of pastry chefs working to create a Scallion pancake masterpiece or a fruit stall owner offering the freshest fruit with toothpicks to use as forks so that customers could keep their hands clean.

We ate some tasty and very unusual food, which I will tell you more about another time, but the people we met on the tour and the things we learned about Taipei also made it very memorable.

Market stall

There were 3 fellow Australian’s on tour, along with 2 girls from the US, a girl from Israel and an older guy from Canada. Some people, like us were travelling in pairs, but were just as keen to chat as the solo travellers. We found out about restaurants and must-see attractions that we foolishly had not factored in but luckily, we took their advice and checked out Elephant Mountain.

Where city meets mountain

It was a great hike, and we passed a lot of people on the way who were looking sweaty and accomplished as they stumbled down the steps. It was lucky that the steps had been built, as the slope was quite steep. There air was full of humidity, being April, and we were drenched in sweat. But we had dressed prepared – we made a quick pit stop to the hotel to change into our sports clothes after a busy day of sightseeing.

The views were magnificent. It felt like we could see the whole city, including one of the top 10 tallest towers in the world, Taipei 101, and the brilliant mountains that surrounded us. It was phenomenal – I don’t think I have ever seen such a contrast between a city and the surrounding mountains. It was a different view than we would get from the top of Taipei 101 – but I’ll get to that in another post.

For now, I hope you have begun to realise why this little discovered place is now one of our favourites. It was a short time there, but there is plenty more to tell you about Taiwan. Stay tuned for part II.