After 3 flights and almost 2 days of travel we ended up back in Asia. Taiwan was a fun way to start heading back north, and for us, an absolute blast from the past in some respects. Almost 8 years ago now, we spent a year teaching English in China. While we know that Taiwan is not China, it really did bring back some fun memories during our week and a half traveling around the country. To say that the little bit of the Chinese that we remembered was rusty would be an understatement; however, we did remember how to say the important things like order dumplings! Andy could not get enough dumplings while we were there. In fact, one day we ate them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!
The below sections are split-up based on the cities that we visited.
- National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial – This massive monument can be found in the center of Taipei and memorializes an original founder and president of the Republic of China. The statue itself is quite Lincon-Memorial-esque as it is Chiang Kai-shek sitting prominently in a chair with his arms stretching down the armrests. The building that houses the memorial also offers a small, free museum for visitors that displays a number of artifacts from Chiang Kai-Shek’s time.
- Taipei 101 – This was the worlds tallest building in 2004 until it was overtaken by the Burj Khalifa in 2010. (see our post about the Burj Khalifa here) Needless to say, the view from the top were amazing as we were quite literally in the clouds (a group would roll by ever few minutes). Also, from the top we could see the sprawling city which seemed to go on forever in every direction.
- National Palace Museum – Chiang Kai-shek fled mainland China after his army’s defeat to Mao Zedong during the communist revolution in the the1940’s However, before fleeing he ensured the protection of many Chinese Imperial artifacts by moving them to Taiwan. Today there are more than 700,000 artifacts from Chinese history that can be found in the National Palace Museum. The sheer amount and variety is really quite impressive. One of the biggest attractions in the museum was a jade bok choy cabbage. This was something of a running joke for us that day as it was constantly featured in signs around the museum and on pamphlets. We were expecting it to be several feet tall from the pictures, but when we finally saw it it was only around a 6 or 7 inches, which gave us both a good laugh!
- Sun Yat-sen Memorial – The Republic of China’s first president memorial is right in the center of town. The statue inside is very similar to Chiang Kai-shek’s memorial.
- Tamsui Old Street – Tamsui is a suburb of Taipei found on the Tamsui River about 45 minutes by train from downtown. This district was a fun day trip as various shops line the waterfront selling all sorts of colorful Chinese goods, novelty foods, and all kinds of other wares. It was a great place to watch locals interacting with tourists. We enjoyed spending a few hours by the river just people watching.
- Jiufen Old Street – We took a day trip out of town to an old village called Jiufen. The main draw here is a thin street lined with shops, restaurants, and storefronts offering various touristy services such as Chinese massages. During our visit there were literally thousands of tourists cramming there way down the narrow alley. While the street was the main attraction, we actually found the old village with far less people even more impressive. The town resides on the side of a mountain overlooking sea below, but has maintained a very traditional architecture and style that we had not seen else ware in Taiwan.
- Night Markets – Taiwan is world renowned for its night markets, and so it was an absolute must-do while visiting. Taipei has at least 4 well known night markets that seem to open up each and every night, and thousands of tourists and locals alike turn out. We loved the hustle and bustle, and in a way it actually reminded us of a carnival with tons of bright lights, food stands, games, and booths to buy small trinkets.
- Lungshan Temple of Manka – While we have visited so many temples over the years (or even the last couple of days) that we cannot count them all, this temple definitely still stood out. The sheer amount of people and the ornate details of each building was truly breath amazing.
- Elephant Mountain – One of the really unique features of Taipei was that, despite how densely populated it was, there were still a number of steep mountains jutting up within the heart of the city. These mountains were relatively entirely undeveloped, and created a visually fascinating contrast between themselves and the thick urban jungle that crept right up to their base. We hiked up Elephant Mountain which is one of the more famous mountains in the city. From the top we had an amazing view of the sprawling city, including the famous Taipei 101 which we went up in just a few days prior. What a fun day!
- Day Markets & Parks – Even though Taiwan is known for its night markets, it also has many others that run both through the streets and underground during the day. We took the opportunity to walk along the river front one day and visit one of these local markets which had many medicinal herbs. The park along the water front was interesting as there were many families taking advantage of the bit of open space and teaching there children to ride bikes. We also noticed the huge wall and large flood gates that ran along the riverfront in the city which were very impressive but also somewhat stunning to see in this environment.
- Confucian Temple – This is a Confucian temple which was built in the mid 1600’s. It was a fun place to walk around and see the documented history within. While we were visiting, a group of graduating seniors were also visiting taking there senior pictures. We also saw a group of elementary school children dressing up in costumes and taking photos. Over all it was fun to people watch.
- Restaurant – We found a restaurant in Tainan that reminded us of the restaurants we used to eat at while living in China. It was not the nicest, or the shiniest, but it was simple and clean and run by a local family. The food was delicious, and Andy loved the dumplings so much that we visited almost every day while we were there.
- Fo Guang Shan (BIIIIG Buddhas!) – From Tainan we did a day trip to Fo Guang Shan. We had to take a bus to a train, and then another hour long bus ride to get there…no easy feat considering smaller cities have little English to help navigate! But our transportation fiasco was well worth it. At Fo Guang Shan we saw two of the biggest Buddhas (over 120 feet tall!) we have ever seen; one was standing with a hand out, while the other sat cross legged. These were part of the much larger Fo Guang Shan museum and still functioning monastery. We spent several hours also exploring the surrounding grounds which included a number of pagodas, shrines, massive drums and gongs, as well as many other oddities worth seeing.
- Fort Provintia – This was a dutch outpost that was built in the 1600’s, destroyed in the 1800’s by an earth quake, and rebuilt again. Throughout the years much history happened here, and today the grounds and the pagodas are a well known tourist destination in the area, and a beautiful place to walk around for an hour or so.
We decided to just walk around and enjoy this city during the one day that we had to visit. It actually ended up being the perfect Saturday day to wander the streets since it was a sunny day and the entire town seemed to be out and about. We had lunch in a mall full of Christmas decorations, happened upon a festival in the streets, and watched the simple events of life take place as we strolled through the local neighborhoods.
While we were not ready to leave Taiwan and all that it had to offer, we were both excited and really interested to see the sites throughout South Korea next!