When I was writing my previous post, I was packing for C and I’s winter trip, and now I’m writing this while procrastinating with unpacking the same things. I also usually get sick whenever I come back from any trip and I guess it’s because the weather in South Korea and the Philippines is night and day. While we were there, all I worried about is making sure I don’t get frostbite or hypothermia because I went from Manila’s 26-degree weather to Seoul’s -2 degrees (at the warmest, cold snap happened while we were there and it hit -21). Fortunately, during our time in Taipei, I didn’t have to worry about losing any of my limbs to the cold but said limbs were, unfortunately, protesting over all the physical activity (TONS of walking) I had to do while I was there. Once again, we were up early and started our day with breakfast from the hotel’s cafe. Since we were heading up the mountains, I decided to bring my brother’s denim jacket in case it would be colder than usual.
Initially, our itinerary was to ride the Maokong Gondola, look around, get off at Taipei Zoo South Station and then explore the zoo. However, I failed to anticipate the fact that there were four of us sharing one bathroom, and so even if we all got up early, we still finished preparing later than expected. The area for the gondola and the zoo are a bit far from the city center and can be found at the end of the train line. The gondolas are essentially cable cars, and there are two options to choose from which is the regular cable car or the crystal cable car with transparent floors. While both cable cars cost the same, the queue to the crystal cable car is longer and slower, hence, we ended up taking the regular cable car. The cable car had a couple of stops along the way before you get to the last stop which was Maokong Gondola. You can also go there by car, but where’s the fun in that?
I was right with the idea that this place would be colder. The moment we alighted out of the cable car, we were hit by a gush of cold mountain air and immediately gave me chills. Although it still wasn’t cold enough to justify those puffy jackets I keep seeing, my brother’s denim jacket was enough and worked its charm. Upon exit, there’s a tourist information office within the station itself with English maps and locals who can speak English for tourists who have inquiries or in need of help. As usual, there’s also a vicinity map (all train stations in Taipei also have this which is more than a tad useful) and signs all over to guide you with where you want to go. Taiwan really does seem to be a place for people who enjoy the outdoors. There were a couple of trails and it is indicated in their signs their estimated time of completion for the trail. I’m a bit unsure if the people who measured those are athletic or plain optimistic, but we found that their time estimation is always a bit lacking. 15 minute walk radiuses turns out to be at least 30 minutes, and the like. Or maybe I’m just a slow walker? I really couldn’t tell because my dad and brother both walk alarmingly fast, and while we try to keep up with them, we often end up spending much more time than the estimates. But I digress. We ended up making a pass on the trails and just check out the attractions near the station.
We found out during this excursion that there wasn’t really a lot to do in this area of Taipei. This mountain is filled with tea fields, hence, there were a plethora of teahouses to choose from. I’m not even kidding when I say, you just need to pick one. A lot of the teahouses though had quite a few flights of stairs as with all the restaurants and teahouses are offering similar items on their menu, the competition included which one had the best view. We walked around and found a vast number of quirky teahouses that look interesting enough to head in to, but we all ended up just taking photos, wandering around the area, and enjoying the chilly weather.
Along the streets, there are a lot of food carts to choose from as well. We’ve been seeing different carts selling an array of candied fruits on a stick. The price varied between the fruits, although the three most common variety that we’ve seen are strawberries, pears, and cherry tomatoes. We bought a stick each of strawberries and pears to try out, and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was! The candy coating they used on the fruit was not too sweet and was thin enough to not overpower the tanginess of the actual fruit flavor. I did enjoy the candied strawberries over the pears, even if both were quite tasty.
There was also a cart selling peanut roll ice cream. We were curious at how they present the ice cream itself as they start off with a crepe (or a pastry wrapper? I’m not really sure what it’s called in English lol). They have a huge block of caramelized nuts which they shave off, place the shavings in the crepe, top it with ice cream (that seem unicorn-themed!!!), and then roll it into something that would look like a fresh spring roll (or a burrito). Eating it was a bit of a messy affair, although the different textures worked well together.
Since there were quite a lot of restaurants to choose from, we decided to look for an establishment that was a bit packed to ensure that we end up where most patrons head to. Hence, we ended up in a small food court of sorts. There were different stalls with different food offerings and the only challenge about it was finding an unoccupied table.
After we had lunch, we went back to the city and headed to Daan Park Station to join another tour from Tour Me Away. This time, we went on the Taipei Chill Out Tour. Our first stop was at the Daan Forest Park, which used to be an actual forest until people started building on it illegally. In turn, the government evicted the squatters out and demolished the buildings. They then turned this space into a park for the community. They even have a pond, where some migratory birds can be found (at the time). Since the weather in Taiwan can get a bit humid, there were also bug repellant stations available for free within the park so that people can enjoy it without getting insect bites.
On the other side of the park is Heaven Road. When the tour guide initially asked for ideas why it was named that way, the first thing that popped to mind is because a lot of car accidents happened there. Haha! Fortunately, it was aptly nicknamed because along the road (and within this area) are at least five different churches. Taipei seems to be a melting pot of cultures and religions, and so different religious establishments were built to accommodate the people and their corresponding faith.
We explored the Qintian neighborhood, and one of the establishments you can see here is the Mongolian and Tibetan Gallery (with the building painted by their colors). It’s a bit of a political statement (in my opinion), as I know for a fact that all three countries (Taiwan, Tibet, and Mongolia) are fighting to be independent and autonomous from China, while China still considers them to be under their sovereignty. But I don’t really want to go into more political facts as I’m not that knowledgeable about it.
One of the stops we made is on an entire building filled with antique stores. I’m not fond of digging through antiques, but the shop I was most interested in was the one selling ‘tea cakes’. Back when locals were still having their tea imported from China, manufacturers realized that it would be more cost efficient (and efficient in general) to pack all the dried tea leaves tightly. People soon realized that tea packaged this way and aged more than the usual loose tea leaves are much more delicious. Just like wine, the older the tea cake, the more expensive it becomes. During the rest of our stay, we also observed that these tea cakes are often found in more luxurious tea shops with no price tags whatsoever (unlike their non-premium tea).
After a couple more twist and turns in the neighborhood, we finally found ourselves in Yong Kang Street. This street never really came up in any of my research on where to go in Taipei but it’s definitely something I’d recommend for any foodie to head to. You can reach it by going to Dongmen Station. This area houses the original branch of famous xiao long bao, Din Tai Fung. Yongsan Park is also perfect for traveling with children as you can sample a lot of food and eat it there, while your children play. There were a lot of restaurants that really looked interesting, as well as quirky clothing stores, and other specialty shops (the craft shops are quite nice too).
The last stop of the tour is the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. Although it is their founder’s memorial hall, his body is not laid to rest here. Instead, it is in an above ground sarcophagus in Taoyuan (the area where the airport is located). The memorial hall is designed to look like China’s traditional architecture, but the colors are blue and white instead of the usual red. Walls are also filled with decorations of plum flowers as it symbolizes perseverance and resilience, which in the context of Taiwan’s history, is an apt symbolism for its people. The memorial hall was under renovation when we went, although you can still head inside.
Once the tour ended, we headed to Yansan Night Market. We were all tired and no one wanted to head to a night market where you have to queue up in different stalls for food. I brought them to the hotpot place I ate in at Yansan Night Market. I was a bit worried that it would be defunct because it took us a while to find it, but luckily, it was still open. We ordered separate hotpots for everyone, and the non-hotpot lover in me enjoyed my meal here once again. 🙂
I hope you guys enjoyed reading about our third day in Taipei. I had a bit of trouble writing this because writing, while you’re ill, is not a great idea. Let me know if I missed anything, and I hope everyone have better health conditions than me right now. 😉