It took a while to finish this post because of our intermittent connectivity issues as our internet provider is “upgrading” their services (which I doubt because internet in the Philippines just sucks). I’m also sporadically producing Taiwan posts as the entire week leading up to this has been hectic, to say the least. This is the digital version of making sure the house is clean and orderly before you leave for any trip so that you get home to a welcoming abode and don’t have to worry cleaning up instead of taking a rest. You are free to imagine me, sitting in my version of a home office with my pink luggage on the floor, clothes strewn about in the couch while I type this up – then get back to packing and planning my outfits when words run out.
Our second day in Taipei also started with some packing as we were moving out of the loft room and moving to the actual room I booked for the remainder of our stay. I have a system in place, wherein unless I am staying in only one accommodation for the entire trip, I keep all of my stuff inside my luggage when I’m not using them to make sure that I don’t leave anything of importance behind. Once everyone was done packing their own luggage, we checked out of the room, left our luggage at the reception and had our breakfast at the hotel’s cafe. While their breakfast was its usual serving size, I preferred the previous variation of breakfasts from my previous stay.
I decided not to bring a jacket for the day, and immediately regretted it when we started walking to the train station as it was quite chilly. However, during our entire trip was not as cold as I expected, and I ended up not bringing a jacket most of the time that we were there. It was surprising to me that a lot of people walking the streets even wore down jackets that were meant for really cold weather when I didn’t find it that cold.
Our first stop of the day is Beitou. It’s an area in Taipei that’s famous for the thermal valley and in turn, the hot springs that are said to have natural healing properties. It was clearly apparent that it was popular as there was hot spring-themed decor in Beitou Station as we transferred to a train service that served people going to Xinbeitou Station.
I think one of the things I enjoy about Taipei, in general, is that they have helpful signs everywhere. You can see where each station exits are leading to and a map of the vicinity of the station to guide people who just off the train. Since we went there early, there weren’t a lot of tourists roaming around yet, but unfortunately, the Badou Cultural & Creative Plaza was still not open for visitors. The map indicated that we needed to walk along ZhongShan Road until we reached Beitou Thermal Valley. We passed by a great number of hot spring hotels located in Beitou before we even got to the thermal valley. We also passed by another culture center, the Ketagalan Culture Center, but didn’t enter because it did not seem open at the time (even if the main door was open lol).
One of the sites up the slope to the thermal valley is the Beitou Public Library. It is located within Beitou Park and the architecture of the building itself is quite interesting. It looks eco-friendly with all the floor to ceiling windows, and it was just a beautiful building. There’s also a pond filled with lilies, and the public bathroom located outside of the library was clean. (I usually hate public bathrooms and avoid using them as much as possible but this one, smelled nothing like pee lol). There were other attractions along the road, however, the Beitou Hotspring Museum was under renovation when we were there so we weren’t able to see it. Other attractions include a public hot spring (where a lot of elderly locals and tourists are queued up so they can take a dip) and Plum Garden. We got quite entranced with the sights that we totally missed the sign pointing to Beitou Thermal Valley and headed straight, and ended up heading towards the quiet residential area. We encountered a local jogger, and with the use of the Google Translate app, he pointed us to the right direction (by telling us to retrace our steps back and we will find the sign there).
When we finally made our way to Beitou Thermal Valley, we realized just how serene it was. It was quite beautiful and it seemed to be a perfect location for mermaids to swim, although even if mermaids were real, they would probably stay far far away from this as the water temperature is really high. According to the signs you can find in the area, the locals used to cook food in this pool of extremely hot water but the government ultimately sealed it off due to contamination of this natural resource, accidents, and health concerns. The water is this surreal soft green color because of the green sulfur that you can find in the water. Nevertheless, it was still quite a great sight to visit. After our short visit to the Thermal Valley, we decided to walk along the stream to head back to the station. The stream water comes from the same source as the thermal valley and had tons of signs warning people to steer clear of the water and make sure they avoid contact with it. I can’t imagine willingly touching something that might burn my hand off but they sealed off any access to the stream as some people were probably stubborn enough to not heed the warnings.
Our next stop from Xinbeitou Station was Daan Park Station. We signed up for Tour Me Away’s Old Town Taipei Tour and it was the meetup place for the tour. Tour Me Away is a free walking tour agency consisting of local volunteers that want to educate visitors about the country, and they operate on donations gathered from the tours. Their tours are really informative and give you better insight into Taiwanese history and culture. When we got off the station, there were a couple of helping hands sculptures which were eventually explained within the tour as a symbol of peace, and of the Taiwanese encouraging to help each other out.
Since we were early at the meetup point, we walked around and found a surprising amount of Japanese restaurants in the area. This one caught our eye with their minimal interior and huge ass photos of ramen and Japanese curry. The reason why there were a lot of Japanese influence, especially within this area, is due to the fact that Taiwan was colonized by Japan for 50 years, and they were the ones who started developing the area outside the walls of old town Taipei. It actually made so much sense because Taiwan felt similarly like Japan in a sense where people are disciplined and the transportation system is just as efficient. A lot of the snacks and street foods you can find are also similar in nature. Some of the locals, mostly elderly, can also speak in Japanese.
One of our favorite snack finds is this waffle bun (I’m not really sure what it’s called, to be honest) with a variety of fillings, and we always buy one whenever we find a stall. My personal favorites are the cream-filled and cheese-filled ones, but the red bean flavor is also one of their bestsellers (I hate red beans). It’s highly similar to Japanese taiyakis, except it’s not fish-shaped, although the concept is the same. We also stopped by and hanged out at Cow Banana and ate their best selling banana cheese tart. I usually don’t like banana flavor on anything else than the actual thing or homemade banana bread, but their cheese tarts were surprisingly refreshing. The banana flavor was just a hint and did not taste artificial, which was good. They also had wifi, so we passed the time browsing social media, having our daily fix of milk tea, and eating their cheese tart.
** Before I dive in with the things I learned during the tour, please let me know in the comments if I mention any incorrect information as I’m literally typing all this out from memory **
The tour started at National Taiwan Museum with a brief history of Taiwan – when foreigners started coming to it (similar to the Philippines, it is one of the places affected during the Spanish and Portuguese inquisition), the different dynasties and colonization, and the power struggle between Chiang Kai Shek and Mao Zedong during the civil war. Chiang Kai Shek lost the civil war, China became communist (Chiang Kai Shek believed in being nationalist), and retreated to Taipei. It remained officially as Republic of China (ROC) while mainland China became People’s Republic of China (PRC). Taiwan, or ROC, has maintained their own sovereignty which is in conflict with China’s ‘One China Policy’, where all the other autonomous countries (are actually inseparable from mainland China. With this policy, PRC kicked ROC out of the UN and refuses to maintain ties with countries that officially acknowledge ROC as a separate entity, even if Taiwan has their own government, a judicial system, currency, etc. There are also threats of using military force if and when ROC declares their independence from PRC. This is also the reason why Taiwan’s official flag carrier is China Airlines and China’s is Air China. Taiwan’s economic growth was rapid (and still growing), and they are trying to bring in more allies by opening the country to more visitors. As of writing, a lot of countries who used to need a visa to enter (such as the Philippines), are going through a test phase of visa-free entry.
We then headed to 228 Peace Memorial Park. It was named after an incident that occurred post-Japanese colonial period. Chiang Kai Shek has regained control of Taiwan, and it was currently post-Japanese colonial period. A lot of items have been taxed so heavily such as cigarettes, and a woman selling them as contrabands was apprehended by soldiers. There was already some tension brewing due to the fact that while they were supposedly part of China (at the time), the locals acted more like Japanese people. They ate the cuisine, dressed like Japanese, and even spoke the language (instead of the Chinese language). One of the soldiers hit the woman, which sparked an outrage that eventually led to a protest against police violence against civilians in front of the governor’s office on February 28, 1947. The military came out and started shooting at everyone involved in the protest. Survivors of the massacre ran to the broadcasting station within the park to broadcast what happened to a national audience. Martial law declared, as well as rebellion groups formed during a period called White Terror. It was eerily similar to the Philippines’ Martial Law where people are terrified to speak out in fear of extrajudicial violence (mostly leading to death). A lot of civilians were missing or imprisoned and executed, both from the hands of the government and the rebellion. Eventually, the martial law was lifted after 38 years. A foundation was set up for the families of the victims and the government apologized for all the events that happened during the time. They have a 228 Massacre Monument commemorating all the lives that were lost, but the significance of this event was not forgotten.
Finally, we’re on to a lighter topic! Our next stop was a common fixture in parks in Taiwan. This stone path is actually rooted in reflexology, and there was some sort of map of your foot displayed here. It is said that it is healthy and relaxing to do this, however, if you find it painful, you refer to the map to check which body part is failing depending on which part of your foot hurt. In my case, both my feet hurt so I may be dying without knowing it? Haha! A lot of us failed to walk the entire path and hopped off a couple of steps in.
The Presidential Palace resembles Tokyo Station as this was built during the Japanese colonization period.
Our next stop was the Inner City Market. This place used to be where all the affluent members of society used to shop as the goods here are of good quality. I can’t say the same for its current situation as we literally just walked through it and it was filled with goods that I wouldn’t really purchase. They also had different streets called ‘shoe street’ or whatever kinds of shops that lined it because whenever a specific retailer becomes successful, similar shops pop up right beside it or within the same vicinity.
Unfortunately, I have no idea what the English name for this store is but one of our stops is an ice cream store. It’s not your usual ice cream store as they serve sugar-free ice cream in a variety of unusual flavors. While they have the usual fruit-flavored confections, they also have pig knuckles, pork floss, sesame chicken, wasabi, curry, chili pepper and tea flavors. I tried out their pork floss ice cream and it was surprisingly good. It didn’t taste as icky as I initially thought it would and finished up the entire scoop.
Afterwards, we headed to the Ximending area. On our way to Red House, we saw a demonstration for people who are pro-One China Policy. The Taiwanese people are still divided on whether they should or should not be part of mainland China, and both camps launch their peaceful protest within this area. The tour guides warned us that some of the protesters sometimes ask to take photos of foreigners holding their propaganda material and post it online with a caption that even foreigners support their cause. Also, one of the things that are frequently happening in Taiwan is peaceful protests for whenever the community needs the government to take action on an issue. To push better laws for the LGBT community, they held protests to ensure that same-sex activities become legal and that sexual orientation should not be a basis for discrimination. In turn, Taiwan is considered as one of the most progressive Asian countries with regards to LGBT rights. ❤
One of the prominent fixtures in Ximending (which is designed by the Japanese to resemble Shinjuku but I can’t remember if that’s correct) is Red House Theater. It used to be a department store, then a theater, to a cinema, eventually a pornographic cinema, and now it’s turned back into some sort of retail store again. I went here last year too and found a lot of quirky items I didn’t know I needed in my life (like a globe inside a display case of some sort), and once the tour ended, we browsed the stalls inside. We ended back to where I bought my first set of temporary tattoos (sticker tattoos), and me and the sibs all bought one each.
It was already dark when we got out of The Red House and went walking around in search of dinner. Dad wanted to visit all of the remaining gates (since Old Town Taipei used to have walls, there were five gates that still existed but without the walls, of course), but the three of us were already tired from the three hours of non-stop walking. We eventually found ourselves in a hole in the wall place serving local food. Fortunately, their menu had photos so we just pointed them out and voila, here they come. The serving was huge and we all left with our tummies almost bursting to the seams.
And that’s it for our second day in Taipei. Again, I did type all the historic detail from memory as a test of how much I remembered from the tour. The Old Town Taipei Tour was really informative, and there were so much more they discussed that I didn’t get to write here, and it’s a tour I would highly suggest anyone visiting Taipei for the first time to sign up for. Do let me know if there are some facts I remembered wrong! 🙂