So it seems that unassuming destinations make the biggest impressions. Taiwan was one of those places I had put aside because basically because, for the lack of better word...it was just there. But one weekend, we thought that after having traveled around pretty much all the places we wanted to see in and around the region, why not check out Taipei? Scott had been to Taipei in 2005 and did like it. Also he was in Taipei 101 in the middle of an incoming typhoon as it swayed in the wind.
Seduced by food (we were told, Taiwan is such a food haven) and the chance just to get away from the humdrum of KL life, we packed our bags and flew to the Taiwanese capital, Taipei. It sits on the northern part of the self-governing island also known as the Republic of China and is the political, economic, cultural center of the island, and is considered as of the most important hubs of East Asia.
Going around Taipei was a breeze because of their efficient public transportation, and everything was so orderly that it kind of reminded me of Japan. As we arrived in the evening, the first stop was Longshan Temple, one of the enduring temples in Taipei. The temple has been destroyed by fire, air raids and rebuilt so many times. After a brief stop at the historic site, we hurried over to the world famous Shilin Night Market. Well, you see, most of the time, we would follow certain travel blog recommendations for foods to eat. However, we felt like taking it easy this time and just amble around on purpose to really get a good feel of the local vibe.
For one thing, Shilin did manage to meet our expectations. The food was delicious, diverse and downright tasty (although I would have to say, the best Taiwanese Beef Noodle we’ve had was still at the Departure Side of Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok airport, sorry guys).
The following morning we took a stroll through the 228 Peace Memorial Park- a memorial to the victims of February 28 incident of 1947, victims of the uprising against the Kuomintang-led government at that time. Now the park serves as a place of rest and respite as well as a venue for morning tai-chi practitioners. From the park, we continued on our way to the massive Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. A Taipei landmark, the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall is named after the controversial 1st President of the Republic of China. The white hall has a blue octagonal roof with two sets of white stairs, each with 89 steps to denote Chiang’s age at the time of his death. While the ground level houses exhibits dedicated to the former leader’s life and career as well as Taiwanese history, the upper level contains the large statue of Chiang Kai-shek flanked with ceremonial guards.
After soaking up the local history, we couldn’t miss a critical stopover being cat lovers as we are. We headed out to Taiwan’s most famous cat cafe, the Café & Cats 1998 right on 129 Fuhua Rd. While hailed as the World’s First Cat Cafe, the owners were a bit more modest. They said that other cafes in the area had done similarly, but it was only theirs that really made the whole concept globally famous. While the refreshments weren’t anything to shout about, we were just so busy fussing over the cats in the cafe who are pretty much used to visitors. The cafe was homey, which we guess is a perfect, comfortable place for our feline friends.
After our cat cafe trip, we thought we’d swing by the trendy and artsy fartsy Ximending district with its alleys of cool graffiti art. Ximending is Taiwan’s centre of fashion and subculture- Taipei’s equivalent to Tokyo’s Harajuku District. The area was a well-known theatre street in the 1930’s until the 1990s. It went a period of downturn and then revived in 1999 when Taipei’s government pedestrianised Ximending during weekends and national holidays. The district has over 20 theatres and 6 thousand vendors and is always buzzing with small concerts and street performances.
To cap off our little jaunt to Taipei, we dropped by the towering Taipei 101 to cool down from sizzling summer temperatures, who was at one time the world’s tallest skyscraper (where we did a bit of luggage shopping- a favourite brand was on sale so I couldn’t resist snagging some sweet Rimowa cabin luggage). Insiders say that Taipei is one of the best places to shop for electronics as well as luggage in the region. A short distance away from Taipei 101 is the Elephant Mountain (Xiangshan Mountain), a popular hiking spot and is probably one of the best places to photograph Taipei City especially during sunset. The views are pretty impressive despite the hike up its 1.5 kilometer trail.
As we chilled out at Commune A7, a trendy strip of bars under the shadows of Taipei 101, we realised that the brief taste of Taiwan was more than enough to impress us. The Taiwanese people that we met were nice, friendly, and helpful, and did I say the whole place is very orderly? Unlike other cities in the region, Taipei was a welcome respite from chaos. It was orderly without being stand-offish, it genuinely ranks among some of our favourite capital cities in the region. Taiwan was such a surprise, and we can’t wait to go back, and maybe we won’t wait a long time for that to happen.