Taiwan was my 50th country, and what a wonderful surprise. Well, maybe surprise isn’t exactly the right word. It’s not like I had negative expectations of Taiwan. If anything, I expected it to be lovely. I’d been told by a few people that Taiwan was great, with friendly people and cheap, delicious food.
If anything, they undersold it.
First, the people. In all the countries I’ve visited in my life, Taiwan has the friendliest people. Consistently and repeatedly I’d be greeted with a smile. Consistently and repeatedly people would go out of their way to help. A great example, at a night market some locals offered up what they were eating for me to try, unasked!
Ping, who worked at the hostel I stayed at (more on that later), even offered to give me a ride on her scooter, out of her way, and turned it into a rapid tour of downtown Taipei. Zooooom.
Min, born in China, grew up in HK, and was in Taiwan for film school, brought me to a Cantonese noodle place with the spiciest noodles I’ve ever had. I was sweating. A lot. It was good.
There was just a pervasive attitude of “Hey, welcome to our country! Thanks for coming, isn’t it great!” Any place at any hour I always felt safe.
It’s a country of 23.5 million people, in a space the size of Maine. Though it’s the 17th most densely populated country, it doesn’t feel it. Busy, sure, but not crowded.
In many ways, Taipei feels like a smaller Japanese city, in its extensive and modern infrastructure and controlled hustle and bustle, just without the endless skyscrapers of Tokyo. Well, with one notable exception:
There are two things I can’t handle well: stairs and humidity. This hike had an abundance of both. Worth it for this shot, and a few more I’ll be using for an upcoming CNET story on Taipei 101.
71 Likes, 3 Comments – Geoffrey Morrison (@inveterate_adventurer) on Instagram: “There are two things I can’t handle well: stairs and humidity. This hike had an abundance of both….”
For six years it was the tallest building in the world, and today it stands as an iconic symbol of Taiwan. Not only is it known for its unique design and incredible New Year’s Eve fireworks display, the tower is also the world’s largest LEED-certified Platinum building — that’s the highest level on the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design scale.
There are definitely commercial ties to the US and Japan, more so than say, Hong Kong, whose ties to Britain are unmistakable. These countries are probably coming to mind the most perhaps because I visited them directly after and before, but I the comparisons are probably valid.
Thanks to some fascinating history, Taiwan is the most populous country not in the UN.
As the sound of the bus fades, I’m left with silence. The kind of quiet only heat, humidity, and abandoned places can create. Before me is an entrance fit for the elite: multiple lanes approach arching gates. Behind, a tree-lined avenue heads toward the sea. Except instead of a grand, flowing thoroughfare, there’s urban decomposition.
Then there’s the food.
Did you know Mongolian BBQ is neither Mongolian, nor BBQ. It’s Taiwanese, using essentially the Japanese teppanyaki style of cooking. Ever heard of the 85 Degrees Bakery Cafe or the great dim sum of Din Tai Fung? Also Taiwanese. The Taiwanese have a sweeter tooth than most other Asian countries, which if you’re like me, means the food is awesome.
Night markets offer incredible variety of freshly cooked food, and you’ll be stuffed for just a few dollars.
Fried sweet potato balls, shredded pork and sweet potato balls, mango smoothies to blow your mind, seared and seasoned strips of beef… so much goodness. Probably my favorite delight is a peanut ice cream roll, which is basically an ice cream burrito. Ice cream cream or sorbet with peanut brittle shavings in a wrap. Bonkers good.
I think my favorite was tiny place across from the hostel. It was run by a husband and wife, with a grandma and a kiddo hanging out too. I devoured, on several occasions, a noodle bowl with a spicy sesame sauce and crushed peanuts. Oh my yum. With a Coke, it was about $2.50.
And lastly, the hostel. Without question one of the best I’ve been to. Top 5 out of the 100+ I’ve stayed at. That certainly helps for the love of a city and country. Star Hostel is walking distance to the main train station, and comprises the top two floors of a building on a side street. Spotlessly clean, and for about $15 a night you get a comfy bed in a dorm room. For $40, you can get a better private room than most hotels I’ve stayed at.
They also have a great free breakfast. Can’t wait to go back.
Looking for No Face at the Spirited Away bathhouse. Regardless if Jiufen was the inspiration for the town in the film, it LOOKS a whole lot like the town from the film. From the tremendous amounts and varieties of food available on the old street, to the narrow alleyways and tunnels, to the many, many, MANY stairs, being here is like being transported into the movie. You’re also, unexpectedly, almost always hearing Japanese too, since that’s where most of the tourists are from. Crowded, but the delicious eats make up for it.
62 Likes, 4 Comments – Geoffrey Morrison (@inveterate_adventurer) on Instagram: “Looking for No Face at the Spirited Away bathhouse. Regardless if Jiufen was the inspiration for…”
And go back I shall. I ended up spending just shy of two weeks in Taiwan, as I realized early that I wanted to come back and take my time exploring. Once I’d decided that, it was easy to just sit back and relax in Taipei, since I didn’t need to rush to see everything.
So I’m thinking Spring. Who wants to join me?
The eerie decay of the Wanli Futuro houses. An amazing place. Check out my CNET story about them: bit.ly/UFOHouses
116 Likes, 6 Comments – Geoffrey Morrison (@inveterate_adventurer) on Instagram: “The eerie decay of the Wanli Futuro houses. An amazing place. Check out my CNET story about them:…”