So I went to Taiwan again for business. I guess you have been to Taiwan a lot when you lose track of exactly how many times you have been. This time, I was able to “tag” a few days onto the trip as vacation. I was supposed to actually spend a few days in Hong Kong at the end of my Shenzhen business trip, however urgent customer business made me reschedule these plans and go to Taipei instead. Having a few friends in Taiwan definitely made the vacation very enjoyable and I am glad I went.
Anyway, like I said I was in Shenzhen and had to run back to Shanghai to pick up my laptop and get some work done. During all of these last minute flights, I was flying China Eastern Airlines. China Eastern is considered on of the “budget” airlines and has a notoriously bad reputation for foreigners. It is funny though- whenever I asked my friend about China Eastern my Chinese friends had glowing reviews while my western friends told me to avoid them at all costs. My verdict? The service/plane/food is really not that bad, however they are almost always late. From what I hear this has something to do with Chinese airlines having a difficult time getting permissions to take off, however I will say the actual service inside the airplane was 10x better than the average American airline. One interesting note was that when boarding the plane everyone had the old school “stairway” to the plane instead of the bridge. I was a little bit confused when I had to board a bus after scanning my ticket, but I guess this sort of thing is quite common in China.
Loading into the plane by the staircase
Going to Taiwan and not having the normal jet lag was a welcome change. I flew into Taipei and arrived around noon on Sunday. Since I didn’t have any customer responsibilities until the next day, I decided to go on a hike to Elephant Mountain (深山）. This mountain is a very small mountain that is situated very close to downtown Taipei. It touts some of the best views of the cities and was perfect for an afternoon hike. After taking the base of the mountain, I started my hike to the top. The one thing that anyone will notice when hiking to the top of elephant mountain are the stairs. There are so many stairs. This coupled with the high humidity and temperature made me covered in sweat. It was definitely a nice hike though and the view was pretty spectacular.
Stairs while climbing Elephant Mountain
View of Taipei 101 from Elephant Mountain
After getting back to my hotel, I took a quick nap and cleaned up for dinner. I was meeting a couple of my friends that I often hang out with in Taiwan (I had met them when I lived in Tokyo) for drinks/dinner. We went to Ding Tai Fung, a popular Xiaolongpao restaurant in Taipei. Xiaolongpao are a type of Chinese dumpling that are usually filled with pork/meat/etc. Ding Tai Fung tends to attract a lot of tourists from Japan/Hong Kong so it was pretty interesting hearing all of the different languages in the restaurant.
Crab dumplings from Ding Tai Fung
The next couple of days were all business. I was able to knock the customer issue out pretty quickly which allowed me time to relax and spend time with friends. On Tuesday after work I actually took the high speed rail to visit a friend in Taichung (a city in the middle part of Taipei). The high speed rail in Taiwan is pretty awesome and apparently contains elements from Japan/China/German high speed rails. The country is also quite small so you can get from one side of Taiwan to the other in about an hour.
On Monday night I met up with my friend to go to Outback Steakhouse and see a movie. In mainland China, movies are very controlled by the government and often times censored/altered if there is anything the censors do not like. For that reason, I took my time in Taiwan as an opportunity to see Guardians of the Galaxy. The movie theater experience in Taipei was pretty enjoyable and everyone seemed to be very polite in quiet. The Outback Steak we had before had was “so-so”. I asked for mine medium rare, however it came out pretty rare. A recurring theme in Asia is that you should always ask for your steak two levels above what the American standard is to get what you really want. Going back to the movie- it was awesome. I love Marvel movies. I am a bit afraid to see a movie in Mainland China though. I hear people are completely disrespectful, talk, answer their phones, and make the entire movie going experience a sham. I wish they would open up an Alamo Drafthouse here.
Wednesday was my first full vacation day. I wanted to walk around a little bit, so I decided to go try to take the Maokong Gondola to the mountains to get some fresh air. Unfortunately, it was raining quite hard so the gondola service had been suspended. Still, next to the gondola station there was the Taipei Zoo so I decided to check that you. It was very cheap to get in (only about $6) and was very worthwhile- unfortunately the rain dampened everything. I was able to buy a $3 umbrella from some random umbrella saleswoman on the street, but inevitably I got a bit wet. The new feature at the zoo was a new baby panda that was born. It was definitely the most popular exhibit and everyone seemed very excited to see the panda. Unfortunately, the pandas seemed to be very lazy and were just sleeping. Still, it was fun to go around and take pictures of all the animals. I saw tigers, monkeys, elephants, and a few other animals. Because of the rain, I decided to go back to the hotel and take a killer nap.
After the killer nap, I went to karaoke with friends and coworkers. Karaoke in Taiwan is very similar to karaoke in Japan. You get your own room, copious amounts of alcohol, and sing all night and a very low price. Very fun. I need to practice my Japanese/Chinese songs though as I am getting a bit rusty.
I had a full day planned on Thursday planned with my friends from Japan. We planned on going to Shifen. Shifen is a very old Taiwanese town that used to be a coal mine back in the day, but has since transformed into a touristy spot. It is situated on an old set of train tracks and is about an hour away from Taipei by train. For lunch we ate at Chili’s in Taipei. Chili’s in Taipei is very similar to Chili’s in USA (albeit a little pricier). After a quick taxi ride to Songshan Station and a mad dash to catch the hourly train, we were off to Shifen. As the train went further and further away from Taipei the scenery got more and more rural. It was a nice sunny day so the weather definitely aided more to the vacation feel. After about an hour, we reached an intermediary train station where we were going to take a cab to the Shifen Station.
Station on the way to Shifen
Again, the weather was gorgeous. After talking with a cab and negotiating, we took a cab ride for about 390 minutes to Shifen Station. The cab went over a very windy and twisty mountain that reminded me a lot of Initial D (a popular Japanese anime about racing in the mountain). They even had the gutters where Takumi does his special AE86 trick. Anyway, after about thirty minutes we were at Shifen Station. I am not quite sure if it is Shifen Station (or another station in the same area), however they all looked pretty much the same. Small shops hugging a functional train track that sell traditional Taiwanese fair such as Taiwanese sausage and tea.
A unique thing about Shifen is that they sell lanterns that you can write wishes on and light up into the sky. Different colors had different meanings (I forgot what ours meant), but the thought is you write your wishes onto lantern, light it up into the sky, and eventually your wishes came true. We held off this at the main train station (we were going to take the old-timey train to another station), and instead walked around and took pictures. There was a bit of an ominous cloud in the background which made the lanterns look a bit scary. Also at this station, there was a pretty cool looking rope bridge that we took some pictures on.
Ominous black clouds with lanterns
Rope bridge with me and my friend jumping.
After taking a pretty packed train to the next station, we explored around. I grabbed a snack of a Taiwanese sausage and some sort of a smoothie for energy. After going around and admiring the scenery/taking pictures, we made our own lantern. I wrote the typical nerdy things like “live long and prosper” as well as things like お金持ちになりたい (I want to become a rich person in Japanese). After lighting up our lantern it flew really high and eventually burned up and feel down. I was curious about what happens to all of the lanterns that fall down. I asked, and apparently they are made out of some bio-degradable material.
Writing wishes onto the lantern
Lighting the lantern with my friends
Up it goes.
Going into the sky
After we caught the train back into Taipei, we ate a nice meal of Dimsum and called it a night. The next day (Friday), my friends had to work so I thought I would give another try to the Maokong Gondola. The weather was perfect so I did not have to worry about it being closed. After talking the train to the Taipei Zoo exit, I walked about 5 minutes to the gondola station and bought my ticket. You can opt either for a “regular” gondola or a “crystal” gondola that has a see-through glass bottom. The line for the crystal gondola was about twice as long, however since I was only going to be there once I decided to opt for the crystal one. The view was amazing. Taipei has so many forests and mountains surrounding it that it makes the entire city very gorgeous. The gondola seemed to be very sturdy and provided excellent views of the city/mountains. I was in the same gondola as two girls from Singapore in Taiwan for vacation and we had a casual conversation.
Maokong Gondola Station
Crystal Hello Kitty Gondola
Glass floor led to some cool views.
View from gondola
At the top, I wanted to hike around and get some exercise. After buying a jumbo size of water from the convenient store, I started to walk. One thing I missed a little bit is that I didn’t take any specific hiking path- I just hiked around the road. This was still very enjoyable as I got to see some spectacular views of the Taipei 101 financial building as well as the luscious green scenery. I stopped at a roadside cafe called “The Cat’s got Nothing to Do Cafe” and had an iced green tea latte while admiring the scenery. I also ran into some random temple. I tried to video call my friend back in the states, however the 3G connection was a bit shoddy so I gave up on that.
Cat’s got nothing to do Cafe
Sipping green tea latte and admiring the view
My plan was to walk from Maokong Station (the highest one) to the next lowest station, however I underestimated the difference and instead turned back after about 5 miles or so (there was also an ominous looking rain cloud). I was a bit afraid the rain cloud would develop into something that would cancel the gondola so I rushed back to the station and took a regular gondola (not a crystal) back to Taipei.
After returning back to my hotel and taking another nap, I met up with my friend to go to the Raohe Night Market. In my previous times in Taipei, I have been to many night markets so I won’t spend too much time writing about it here. I bought a few Taiwanese snacks including a raw bamboo shoot dish that I always go for and a Taiwanese sausage. I wanted to buy a USB battery for my phone, but couldn’t really find anything that I felt was reliable/a good deal.
Raohe Night Market
Raw bamboo shoot with mayo
Stinky tofu. I did not eat this time.
After the night market, my friend and I combined with our other friend for a night of drinking. We wanted to go to Carnegie’s (a local bar that holds some nostalgic value), however it was in “club” mode so we decided to go to a different bar close by called “Music Land”. After drinking way too much at this bar (and making a side stop at the Shangri-La bar), I called an Uber. After dropping my friends off at their home, I headed back to my hotel, drank copious amounts of water, and fell sound asleep. The next day (Saturday) wasn’t terrible, however I was definitely tired and wasn’t looking forward to the flight. Still, after a quick breakfast with my friends, I muscled to the airport and flew back to Shanghai.
A few side notes about traveling to Taiwan this time. One is that this time I flew to/from Songshan Airport instead of Taoyuan Airport. Songshan is the smaller/mainly domestic airport and is definitely preferable. It is very close to downtown and customs/security takes a lot less time than the further away Taoyuan. Another side note is that I bought a SIM card for 7 days data for my unlocked iPhone 5S. This definitely was a good idea as I was constantly using LINE (a messaging app) and looking up stuff on the internet.
I’ve been back in Shanghai about a week now and definitely enjoyed my time in Taipei. I can’t wait until I can go back and also look forward to my next adventures. I have already booked airfare/hotels for Vietnam in September, Korea in October and Japan in November (all for vacation). It will be a very busy year and I look forward to making the most out of my time here in Asia!
Elephant Mountain Pictures
Taipei Zoo Pictures