Taipei

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Off to Heathrow. This time terminal 3. And an opportunity to try out a few more lounges. Cathay was very aesthetically pleasing, but very, very limited on vegan food (vegetable dumplings and fried rice was all they had). Qantas was brand new. Completely empty. But didn’t serve food until later in the evening. So back to British airways to stock up on vegan snacks for the journey (shortbread and crisps!)

Then off on a 5pm plane to Hong Kong.

The flight was long. 12 hours. And I didn’t sleep too much.

Thursday 22 March 2018

We landed in Hong Kong at 1pm local time. And I only had a 1 hour layover until my next flight, to Taipei. Luckily it was quick to transfer through. Despite being stopped at security scanning again. No one ever likes dive equipment.

We flew right out over Hong Kong city – down the causeway. Such amazing views.

And it was only an hour flight. I didn’t realise Taipei was quite so close.

It took a while to get out through passport – long queue. And my bag was already waiting for me.

I wanted to get the train into the city. You need cash to buy a ticket. I found an ATM and got 1,000 Taiwanese dollars (about £20). I followed the signs for the train. But then this seemed to turn into signs for the bus, to a train. I didn’t think that was right. So I turned around and tried again and eventually found the train station.

Buying a ticket was confusing. The ticket machine wouldn’t accept 1,000note (but that’s the lowest an ATM does). So you have to exchange the big note for smaller notes in a different machine first. Then you can buy a ticket from the actual ticket machine, into the city, which is TD160.

I was lucky and a train was almost leaving just when I got down to the platform. A nice modern, clean train, which only takes 30 minutes into the city centre.

The views were great. Firstly through farm lands. But more and more buildings as we approached the city. Along with the first view of Taipei 101.

Friday 23 March 2018

I slept badly. Despite falling asleep at 9pm. I was awake from 2am – 4am. And didn’t want to get up when I had planned to at 8.30am. It felt like I was getting up in the middle of the night.

But I have a lot of exploring to do.

I decided to wander around my local area first. And I’m staying 1 block from the Presidential Office Building. The building was built facing east – to the rising sun and was completed in 1919. It is large and occupies a whole block. It was surrounded by security.

From here, I headed towards the shopping district of Ximen. Large wide streets, full of shops, which turned into small alleyways of shops. I popped into a few – I needed a few bits and pieces. Everything is very colourful and all in Chinese.

Just off the Main Street is a circular building, built of red brick, known an as the Red House. This was originally built as Taipei’s first public market. However, now it is a cultural centre with performances, exhibitions and an attached shopping market. Today there was nothing on. Or maybe I was too early.

I wandered around the streets, with no real plan, other than the general direction I wanted to head. This was a housing area. Very Japanese looking. I bumped into basic cafes sprawling out onto the streets. Small streets, lined with motorbikes and colourful signs. And lots of locals going about their Friday morning. The air smelt like Asia – a mixture of cooking food and dirt (I think mostly from the sewage system – Semporna always smelt like this!)

I eventually popped out near the Bopiliao area. This is a preserved historic cultural centre. They have preserved sections of Qing and early Japanese-era architecture. It was a bit odd. Building that looked like shops. But I don’t think they were shops.

And at the end of this street, was the Longshan Temple.

This is a Buddhist temple and is one of the oldest – founded in 1738. Although it has been rebuilt many times since then. It was a typical Chinese temple. Very elaborately and colourfully decorated. With lots of statues and candles.

Outside the temple was a wall of yellow lanterns. There were several layers of buildings inside. And lots of shrines dotted about. The air was thick with incense.

The temple was very busy. Many people were here to pray and leave offerings (biscuits wrapped in plastic, or flowers it seemed!). And many were sitting around the edges, perhaps finished with their worshiping.

The streets surrounding the temple were busy shopping streets. A market selling all kinds of ‘food’ – mostly every type of animal part. I didn’t head down that road. The bakery street was more appealing. And there was a vegan one! However, it wasn’t a hipster cafe with everything in English. Fresh bao were making their way from the back room and there was a queue of people. I bought a couple of things – but wish I had bought more. There was a large selection of things that I had no idea what they were.

I wanted a 1 day metro pass. But it didn’t seem possible to buy this from the ticket machine. So I had to queue for the person in the booth. But all very easy.

The metro system here is simple – all colour coded. Very clear on directions. People queue in the designated queuing slots, waiting for each train door (!) and everyone is very polite. The trains and stations are also immaculately clean.

I had to change from the blue line, onto the red line. Again super simple. And I stayed on this line until almost the end. I got off at Taipei 101.

Taipei 101 tower held the title of ‘world’s tallest building’ for a number of years. The tallest is now the Burj Khalsa in Dubai (which I have been up). 101 is a strange shape and was supposed to resemble a bamboo stalk.

Underneath the tower is a shopping mall. Lots of fancy shops. A large food hall. And nice toilets.

I walked around the outside of the tower and surrounding it were many other modern glass buildings. This felt a world away from the small Asian streets I had just been wandering around. I could have been anywhere in the world.

Just behind all these glass buildings is a mountain – elephant mountain. And there are several hiking trails to head up it. Random having hiking right in the middle of the city. The entrance was easy to find, there were lots of signs pointing the way.

And from the bottom it was just continual stairs. Up and up and up.

It was mostly in the shade, covered over by the surrounding forest. It was exhausting. When I was about half way up, a group of school children were heading down – a whole class of them. And they can’t have been older than 4-5.

There were also lots of older people.

Putting me to shame.

It took about 20 minutes to reach a viewpoint. With a great view, through the trees, across the city – and with Taipei 101. From here, you could head further up. So after a bit of a rest, I carried on.

At the top were large rocks. It was possible to climb onto these to have a photo. But the queue was long. And I don’t think I could have climbed up anyway!

I headed back down, but a slightly different route. And ended up with more view points, back across the city. Really cool.

By the time I was all the way back down, it had taken an hour. My legs were a bit wobbly!

I walked back into the glass building area. There are several malls all grouped together. All the usual western brands – H&M, Adidas, Nike, Gucci, hermes, Chanel, lululemon! And underneath all of these malls are food courts!

I knew which one I wanted. And eventually worked out how to get down into the basement to find the cafe I wanted – Vegecreek.

Here, you choose your vegetables and greens and noodles – and they make it up into a noodle soup. I chose carrots, aubergine, pumpkin, pak choi and udon noodles. There were lots of vegetables I didn’t recognise – and I don’t know why I didn’t get those. That was a bit silly.

I had to wait about 10minutes for them to make it up. And it was really good!

Back in the metro, just for a couple of stops. And out in another shopping district. Just off the main road was a grid of roads, all full of small boutique shops and cafes. All very modern and ‘design’. I was here for the vegan gelato shop…!

The gelato was really good. But very expensive (£4!). And I had a bit too much and felt a bit sick!

A few more stops on the metro and I got off by the memorial park.

This is a large open space, at one end, two large colourful Chinese buildings that look like temples, but are actually concert halls. And at the other end, a memorial monument with a circular blue roof. All surrounded by gardens.

The memorial monument is for Chiang Kai-shek. And there is a large statue of him inside. You climb up 89 stairs to get inside – the age of Chiang when he died.

Opposite the monument, sitting between the two red buildings, was a white statue, filled with lots of arches.

The whole park was really cool.

Outside of the park, the roads were huge. It took me nearly 15 minutes just to cross over a couple of them. Apparently they were modelled on Paris, which is what the Japanese wanted Taipei to look like.

After navigating the maze of roads which were too big, I walked back through the 2-28 Peace Memorial Park. This park was the first urban public park in Taiwan and was built in 1908 apparently following European models. I’m not quite sure what was European about it – it was full of pagodas. And pagodas sitting in ponds. And a small lake with an Asian style bridge passing over it.

The park was busy. Just people sitting around and walking through. No one selling anything, or hassling. And a large group of school children sitting around the lake, watercolour painting!

My hotel is just opposite this park – looking right out onto it.

After a couple of hours of laying down, I felt like I should go back out again. Even though I was tired and couldn’t really be bothered.

I walked up to the main station. Past all the small shops, lining the streets underneath all the tall buildings. The sunset was visible in the distance, down each of the long streets.

Getting into the station was confusing. I followed the signs. But ended up in an underground shopping mall. Which lasted forever. I was following the signs for the metro. But then decided to follow the signs for the bathrooms instead. Which I never found, but ended up in the metro (even though the signs further back were pointing in a completely different direction).

The metro was crowded. 5.30pm rush hour.

I was heading north, to the Shilin neighbourhood. This is apparently an affluent residential area. It was about 5 stops away.

And appeared that the whole train was headed here. Because of the popular night market.

A local Taiwanese specialty is the bubble tea (boba cha). These can now be found across the world. And there are lots of places in London. But I’ve never had one. The main problem is that most of them are milk teas. And they don’t offer a soy milk option. Nor does anyone speak any English. But the stall here had photos – and they had a lemon tea option, which had no milk! So I got that. It was really good. It cost TD50 (£1.20).

I walked back to the metro. It was now even busier. The streets were packed full of people.

I headed a few stops back towards my hotel, but got out at Zhongshan. A busy shopping district. (Almost everywhere seems to be!). Near to here was a place I wanted to go for dinner – Canteen by plants. A vegan cafe at the back of a fancy toiletries shop (they had a lot of English brands, like neom and neals yard).

I wasn’t too hungry, but given the amount of walking I’ve done today (20km!), I thought I should eat. I ordered a mung bean curry – which came with brown(red?) rice and some salad leaves. It was really good.

The cafe was along a small street of boutique shops. Very similar to where I was earlier today – and similar to the small streets of Seoul. I popped into a few shops, but didn’t buy anything.

Then back on the metro, a couple of stops back to my room.

Saturday 24 March 2018

Sleeping was a struggle again last night. I was up for several hours in the night. So when it was time to get up at 9am, I was struggling.

I popped out to 7-11 to get some food for the day. I got the last packet of inari. They’ve ran out already!

Then at 9.45am headed in a taxi back to the train station. They have an app where you can call a normal taxi. Uber is very expensive here. Slight pain that you have to pay in cash, but I had change – so it was fine!

The train station has city check-in for a couple of airlines. I’m flying China Airways – which works, so can check in and drop my bag in the city (and hope it makes it to the airport and to the plane!!). Much easier than carrying it to the airport.

There did appear to be a few problems with my ticket – mainly because I had paid using a foreign card (which is also why I couldn’t check in online). But once I had convinced them I am the owner of the card. And also that I didn’t need a Palau visa. And definitely didn’t live there. I was allowed to check in.

I had to wait a while for an express train to the airport. But by 11am, I was at the airport. Ready for my 1.30pm flight.

The airport has a food hall. I wasn’t very hungry (mostly just feeling jet lag ill). So didn’t get any food.

But instead made my way through security, expecting no shops the other side (because there were so many pre-security). But surprisingly there were still a lot of shops airside. Although now all international shops – nothing Taiwanese. And even more surprising – a gym! No one was using it, but it had all brand new equipment and looked really cool. If I wasn’t feeling so awful, that would have been a great idea.

Leaving was a bit confusing. We were on the runway, ready to go, started to go. Then stopped quickly and turned off the runway. No explanation. Then drove around for another 20minutes. I thought we were headed back to the terminal – as we were right back at the gates. But we kept going. And ended up at the other end of the runway. And took off from there, in the opposite direction instead. Weird.

We flew out back over Taipei city – could see all the buildings and Taipei 101 looking very small. And out towards the nearby Japanese islands. Once we reached the islands, we turned down South and the rest of the flight was just over ocean.

Food was surprisingly good. A raw grated vegetable starter. Main course was tofu and vegetables, in a sweet soy sauce, with rice. And some apple and guava as a pudding. The first time I’ve ordered vegetarian oriental (vegan wasn’t an option). But it was all vegan.

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