At the end of February I had a few days off and wanted to escape the cold drabness of the Tokyo winter and escape to somewhere a bit warmer. Being only 4 hours away, hot and cheap to get to, Taipei beckoned!
The primary objective of getting away was for some warmer weather – January was too cold for me, and my house here is pretty thin and flimsy. Checking the week before, the temperature in Taiwan was almost double that of Tokyo, until of course when I was due to arrive, when it started raining constantly. Whilst a pleasant reminder of British weather, it was a bit disappointing that it had to choose the 3 days I was there to start raining all the time!
I stayed at the lovely Homey Hostel, which was within walking distance of Taipei 101, formerly the tallest (and now the second tallest) building in the world. My first impressions were quite underwhelming. To be honest from ground level it didn’t really look that tall, though designed like a bamboo cane it was impressive to look at. Having been to visit the Tokyo Sky Tree since (second tallest structure in the world – purely a semantic difference on whether it’s inhabitable or not), whose height was equally underwhelming, I’ve come to the conclusion that while they obviously must be taller than other skyscrapers and tall buildings, from ground level at least the difference is completely negligible.
The ride up to the 88th floor in the world’s fastest lift was impressive though. At 1000m/min, it was ear-poppingly quick! The views from the top were incredible, though unfortunately I arrived at dusk so it soon got dark.
Taipei is famous for its night markets, selling lots of authentic foods and lots of unauthentic tat. Gourmet wise it’s particularly famous for stinky tofu, which is probably the only food I’ve encountered that made me want to retch before I could find stall selling it! The smell really was awful, and to be honest the taste wasn’t much better!
The next day I went to the National Palace Museum, apparently the greatest collection of Imperial Chinese artefacts in the world, after being exported for safety by Chiang Kai-shek during the Chinese Civil War, and I must say it was very impressive. Lots of jade and lots of pots when I went there, they rotate the displays quite a lot as they have so much they can exhibit.
Other highlights included the Longshan temple, a Buddhist/Taoist mix with lots of chants and music, and the aromas of much incense; taking the gondola up the mountain to Maokong (an area famous for its tea production), though this would have been better if it wasn’t pouring with rain and therefore reducing vision to literally only metres; visiting Chiang Kai-shek’s mausoleum, and watching the changing of the guard there.
All in all it was nice to have visited, but I think 3 days was enough. Compared to Tokyo it’s a bit shabby and run down, but that in itself added a certain charm.