Nǐ Hǎo Taiwan!June 2 in Taiwan
For the first time on this trip (and in any trip I’ve taken come to think about it) I make a slight mistake with my planning. I thought I had booked a flight from Hong Kong to Taipei (the capital of Taiwan), but I had actually booked a flight to Taichung (a city two hours south of Taipei)... Luckily I realised my mistake the day before my flight, it would’ve been a bit of a shock when I got to the airport otherwise, trying to look for a flight that doesn’t exist. Well as it turns out i was planning to visit Taichung anyway and this mistake actually meant that it saved me having to bug a return train ticket from Taipei. When I landed in Taichung airport (by the way I was the only foreign tourist in that flight...) I got the airport bus to the central train station and left my bag in one of the lockers. The main reason I wanted to visit Taichung was to see the famous “Rainbow Grandpa Village”, a collection of small buildings owned by an armed veteran who decided to paint his house when he found out it was going to be demolished. He started with his own house and then moved onto the neighbouring buildings and it became a tourist attraction, resulting in it being saved from demolition. The “village” was quite far from the station, and as my locker was only available for three hours I decided to forgo a long bus ride in favour of a taxi. When I got to the village I found I wasn’t the only visitor to this quirky site and joined a group of chinese tourists getting their Instagram worthy snaps in. It’s a very small collection of buildings (you can walk around the whole place in a minute) but the rainbow colours and quirky pictures and designs on each wall make it quite an impressive sight. Rainbow Grandpa still lives there and adds to his gallery all the time. The other buildings house a souvenir shop, a museum and a small drink kiosk. Definitely worth a visit if you are passing by. After walking around the site for about half an hour (seriously it’s tiny!) I got a taxi back to the centre to a vegan cafe and had a very yummy black “squid” ink pasta (no idea how they made it). On the way back to the station I stopped at another art installation area, this time “Cartoon Street”, which you’ve guessed correctly is a street with cartoon murals. Very cool. I then headed to the station and took the two hour train north to Taipei, changed to the metro and finally reached my hostel in for my Taiwan stay.
As I mentioned in my Guilin post, Liza the French girl i met was going the same route as me so we decided to meet up in Taipei as we were there at the same time and had nothing planned out. For our first day we headed to the National Palace Museum which houses one of the largest collection Chinese artefacts in the world, all of which were moved from mainland China during the civil war to save them from being destroyed. We spent around two hours in the museum walking around most of the exhibits which included many items of made of jade, porcelain and bronze. The two main artefacts in the museum were a stone in the shape of meat aptly named “Meat-shaped Stone” and a piece of jade carved into the shape of a piece of bok choy called “Jadeite Cabbage” (I kid you not...). After the museum we headed to the the centre and had lunch in a vegan cafe before wondering around the local market streets. We then headed to the east of the city to take the free Modern Walking tour of the city, highlights include a haunted hotel and an apartment complex with apartments reportedly costing in the region of $60m (insanity!). The main highlight though was the gem of Taipei’s skyline, Taipei 101. This 101 storey building was the tallest in the world from 2004-2010 when it was succeeded by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. It now holds the title of the largest Green building in the world due to its energy efficiency and low carbon footprint. After the tour it was back to our hostels for an early night as tomorrow was going to be a busy day.
We met early in the morning at the central train station and caught the local train to Ruifang in the north. We then changed to the scenic tourist train to Shifen and Pingxi, two small villages. We stopped at Shifen first, where the train track runs straight through the main street. We walked back along the track (the train only runs once an hour), passing many tourists releasing large paper lanterns (very bas for the environment by the way) to the Shifen Waterfall. It’s not a large waterfall by any means, but the walk along the side of the river and the waterfall itself were very picturesque. After taking in the view we headed back to the village and caught the train to the next village along the track, Pingxi. Highlights of this village include a small cave, a wooden bridge to nowhere and a very small bell in a disproportionately large bell tower in the middle of the woods. After we took in these impressive sights we caught the train back to Ruifang where we changed to a local bus to Juifen, Taiwan’s answer to Santorini. The old town is built on the side of a hill and it’s winding old street is lit up by many Chinese lanterns, making for a very picturesque sight. While there we stopped in a Greek style tavern and had pizza for dinner (because why not?). After seeing all that Juifen had to offer we headed back to Taipei, pretty tired after our packed day.
For our last day we started by joining the free Historic Walking tour of the city (same company as the Modern tour), which highlights included the Longshan temple and Ximen Red house, a building in the shape of the cross which interestingly shields the cities oldest Gay bar from unwanted attention and as a result is now the location of the annual Taipei Pride event. The most interesting thing we learnt about on the tour was about the relationship between Taiwan (officially the Republic of China) and China (officially the People’s Republic of China). In a nutshell Taiwan is the home of the former government of China which was pushed out by Mao and the communist movement after WW2. Both countries feel that they are the real “China”. However as China (PROC) is now a powerful country they want Taiwan back and as a result have convinced most UN nations to accept it as the only ”China” meaning only 20 countries in the world accept Taiwan as an official country. Very complicated stuff. Basically China wants Taiwan and Taiwan hates China. After the tour we headed back to Taipei 101 to visit the tallest Starbucks in the world. As it’s cheaper to visit the Starbucks on the 35th floor than it is to visit the top of the building the cafe has gotten so popular you can now only visit by making a reservation 24h in advance. You are given a 90 minute slot and have to spend a minimum of 200 Taiwan dollars (around £5). It is a pretty nice view of the city though. After lunch me and Liza parted ways as she was catching an early flight to Japan. I then walked the short distance to Elephant Peak where for a small effort in climbing a few hundred stairs you get a pretty impressive view of the city, including the gem of Taipei 101 itself. After my hike it was back to the hostel to pack my bag once again.
So there you have my few days in Taiwan, the Republic of China, one of the most understated countries I’ve been to.
Next stop, the Philippines!