28 April 2018
Day 1 – Taipei, Taiwan
Diary of Taipei
“I think our hotel is this way”, I unsurely said as I manoeuvred two of our bulky luggages through the street just outside Taipei Main Station, where the airport shuttle bus had dropped us off. It was around 9pm and as tired as we were from our flight, there was going to be no rest until we had found our hotel. The air was warm, just a tad humid and the streets were still full of people going about their business. The map on my phone was playing up however I had remembered some landmarks that were quite close to our hotel and after seeing the H&M store, I knew we were close by. “There it is!”, I said with excitement partnered by relief as I spotted the hotel sign saying “Diary of Taipei”.
After checking in, we headed straight to our room. As soon as I opened the door, the first thing I noticed were the flashy wallpapered walls in gold and black. The damask pattern on the bed head wall was a little old-fashioned. Bub was loving the bed though, immediately jumping on the it, totally forgetting her tiredness from the travelling. After a much needed shower, we buried ourselves in the doona, turned the lights off to catch some z’s.
Joining the late risers in the packed cafeteria, it felt like a little competition had started against other hotel guests to see who could find a free table. I spotted a family about to leave theirs and jostled my way toward it, claiming victory. I sat down with Bub while Wifey had first look at the buffet breakfast. She came back bringing a plate of food that we didn’t expect to be having for breakfast such as stir-fried veggies, tofu and mushrooms. It was my turn to grab some dishes and I found the selection quite odd, a mix of everything. I spotted some fries, more stir-fried dishes, noodle soup, sweet pork stew with rice and toast if you weren’t feeling too adventurous. After sitting down with my plate of random food, I started to miss the bacon and scrambled eggs that was served at the previous hotel we stayed at in Osaka. Nevertheless, the hot noodle soup was enjoyed by Bub.
228 Peace Memorial Park
Walking a few blocks away from our hotel, we stumbled upon a park we thought was worth exploring. It was quite humid at that time and the shade from the trees above gave some quick relief away from the heat of the sun. “Squirrel!”, Bub shouted as soon as she spotted the animal who was busy munching on something it was holding. We tried to get as close as possible for Bub to get a better view, however it was easily spooked and ran up a tree in a hurry.
The squirrel was quickly forgotten when the pagoda came into our view. The three-tiered structure stood surrounded by water. A footbridge was the only way to reach it. Its bright red pillars attracted attention and its upward-curved roof, a typical style of Chinese architecture. A few family photos were taken at this picturesque spot.
As we walked further into the park, we came across hedges that were clipped to spell TAIPEI. We gave Bub some time to run around on the grass. It also gave us some time to just relax and not think about the next thing we had to do.
Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Food Court
It was getting quite hot during the day and to escape the heat, we entered the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi department store to cool off. Wifey was not really interested in purchasing anything but she was quite keen to have some lunch and it so happened that the department store had a food court on the basement level. There were plenty of Asian cuisine to choose from – Chinese, traditional Taiwanese, Thai and Japanese. To cover all noodle bases purely for Bub’s taste, Wifey ordered an egg noodle soup while I got a bowl of Japanese udon plus a serving of tempura prawns and sweet potato. The udon broth was quite mild, the noodles too thick for Bub to enjoy. She settled on Wifey’s meal instead.
Taipei North Gate
Another landmark that was a stone’s throw away from our hotel was the Taipei North Gate (Cheng-en Gate) that was built during the Qing Dynasty way back in 1879. The solid structure stood in the middle of the road, undisturbed by the traffic surrounding it. The top part was painted red while the bottom was bare, its faded red bricks exposed. An arched tunnel ran through the middle.
Viator Half Day City Tour
“Hi I’m Peter and I’ll be your tour guide today”, he said as we were whisked away from our hotel into the van and onto our first destination. I had earlier booked a half day city tour of Taipei through Viator online which was around $60AUD per person, Bub was $6. There was another couple in the van apart from us and they too were Filipinos.
Taiwan Provincial City God Temple
Our first stop was at a Taiwanese temple. Numerous lines of bright red lanterns were strung up the ceiling. Incense sticks continued to burn within large clay pots filling the air with a familiar musky smell. As Peter continued to talk about the statues and the rituals performed inside, I was too distracted by the intricate decorations and carvings that I needed to document on camera. The number of people around saying their prayers and giving their offerings were not at all disturbed by our “gate crashing”.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial
“Wow”, I uttered in amazement when I first laid my eyes on the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Built in memory of Chiang Kai-shek, a former leader of the Republic of China, the majestic building towered over everything around it. Its white-painted walls enhanced the brightness of its blue tiled roof. The gardens around it were also in full colour, most of the flowers were in bloom. “We are only passing through”, Peter said as we walked inside, stopped by a miniature model of the whole grounds for some history lesson and then out again and straight into the van.
Upon arriving at another shrine, we found out why we were in such a hurry. “The changing of the guards is about to start…”, Peter declared as he continued on with his talk and only stopping once the ceremony had begun. In synchronised form, five guards in full uniform performed their routine, marching their way toward the shrine. Many visitors followed them all the way inside. We decided to stay by the gate as the heat intensified and eventually the old set of guards made its way back to where we were and the ceremony was over.
National Palace Museum
Our last stop on our tour was the National Palace Museum. We were each given headsets so we could hear our tour guide Peter as he led us across rooms filled with Chinese antiquities. We managed to see the most famous Jadeite Cabbage, carved from one single piece of jadeite and the Meat-shaped Stone glistening under the lights like a glazed piece of pork belly. There were plenty of ancient porcelains, royal jewellery and antique furnitures – a historian’s playground. “Let’s… go… home”, Bub had zero interest in any of it.
Tim Ho Wan
We had always wanted to try Tim Ho Wan in Melbourne as I had read that the Hong Kong-based restaurant had been awarded a Michelin star. Since their restaurant in Taipei was only a couple of blocks away from our hotel, we had decided to finally try it. The line outside was long, as expected, however we only had to wait around ten minutes until we were inside. “One serve of this”, I said as I pointed to the crispy pork buns they were known for. Aside from the buns, we also ordered some fried rice, sui mai, vermicelli roll with bbq pork and a serving of the braised chicken feet. It was a smorgasbord galore! As I opened the crispy bun, the saucy bbq pork filing let off some steam. I cooled it off for a few seconds and half of it went straight in my mouth. It was delicious. Four stars for the overall taste of all the dishes.
Taipei Main Station
Full from our sumptuous dinner, we crossed the road to check out Taipei Main Station, the main transportation hub for the city. You could access the bus, trains and subway system here. The main hall inside boasted a huge public square filled with people casually sitting on the tiled floor. Some had their bags with them, clearly passengers passing the time until their departure. Bub happily pushed on her pram, taking advantage of her brief freedom to explore.
It was a busy fun-filled day. If it weren’t for the tour, we probably wouldn’t have covered that many sights. I would definitely recommend the tour for those who would like to make the most out of a day in Taipei.
Travel tip: As part of the tour, we stopped at a Handicraft Centre. I would suggest to hold off purchasing any souvenirs here if you have more time to shop as we had noticed that their products were quite expensive compared to what we had seen at stores within the stores at Main Station.