Oct 8, 2016

Taiwan - Golden Week 2016

Taiwan! Bubble Tea!
Golden Week is a string of holidays in late May and early April that form a week or so long holiday for most people in Japan. It’s a crazy time of year for travel, within Japan or to nearby countries. This year I decided to go to Taiwan.

I traveled alone, which I have mixed feelings about. It can get lonely, and scary, sometimes when you're in a new place or country all alone. Taiwan is relatively safe, but that doesn’t mean that crime doesn't exist or that I felt 100% safe all the time. But, traveling alone can also be fun. I was able to go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and view things at my own pace. I don’t have to worry about if what I’m interested in is boring or disagreeable to my travel mate.

I arrived in Taipei in the evening, and was able to figure out the highway bus shuttles into the city to find my hostel. I stayed at Walkers Hostel - I really recommend them if you are staying in Taipei. The facilities are nice, not grand or fancy, but nice for a hostel. You can choose a mixed room or ladies room, and there are some private rooms as well. The people there are nice, it was a great price, and located right in the downtown area close to many things. It was really easy for me to get around to the places I wanted to see from there.

My first full day I saw the National Taiwan Museum, Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, the Museum of History, walked around the Bipaliao district, Longshan Temple, and of course hit up some night markets. The exhibits in the museums were a bit disappointing. I really love museums but I just had little interest in what was on while I was there. The History Museum actually only had one exhibit about history, the rest was modern art…
Chaing Kai-Shek Memorial
Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial
The Chiang Kai Shek Memorial was the highlight of the day. It was so huge and just amazing to walk around. You really feel so small in places like that. I timed it so I could see the changing of the guard, a roughly 15-20 minute long spectacle that is just amazing to witness.
Changing of the guard
Bipaliao district was cool too, it's a preserved and restored area of the city you can walk through. Longshan temple was my first visit to a Taiwanese or Chinese style temple, so it was fascinating to see how different it is compared to Japanese temples, which I’ve seen a lot of.
Longshan Temple

Second day I hit up the Zoo, went up Maokong, and ate way too much food thanks to some lovely girls I met that day.
I hit the zoo solo in the morning. I love going to the zoo and I enjoyed this one, but it could have been better. The animals were pretty lethargic and mostly hidden and sleeping. I really hope they are well taken care of at the least. After the zoo I went up the gondola to get to the top of Maokong mountain. Maokong is famous for its many tea plantations and tea houses and a very popular place for tourists and locals alike.
In the gondola were 4 other girls, who I started a conversation with on the way up. One girl was from France, one from Italy, and two were their friends from Taiwan. They had all met on exchange in Tokyo, so we had living in Japan in common. At the top of the mountain they invited me to join them for lunch at a tea house.
Traditional Taiwanese food
The food was amazing and I am so lucky to have met them. It was not an experience I could have had on my own.
Tea lessons
The man, maybe the owner of the shop, was super friendly too, and spent about two hours teaching us how to make tea the proper Taiwanese way and chatting with us.

Mango Ice
Xio Long Bao & traditional Taiwanese chicken soup
After lunch the girls invited me to stick with them for the rest of the day. We went to Dongmen and ate more food; mango shaved ice, xiao long bao (dumplings), and other popular street foods. Seriously I ate so much, I probably gained 5lb on this day alone.
Thank you ladies!

Third day was a bit more relaxing. I went to a few smaller temples, the Martyr’s Shrine, the Confucius Temple and Taipei 101.
The temples I went to were smaller ones, not usually on a tourist's radar, but they were really beautiful. I’m glad I was able to see them.
Martyr's Shrine
Martyr's Shine, interior grounds
Martyr’s Shrine was a huge highlight of the whole trip for me. The grounds are beautiful, and the buildings more so. Around the walls of the building were historic pictures and stories about the many martyr’s that are honoured at this shrine. It was very quiet and peaceful as there weren’t many people there at all, and I really enjoyed reading about the many parts of Taiwanese history from these stories.
So much history!
The Confucius temple was also fun, though I was a bit rushed as I got there close to closing time. It’s interactive, and as you walk through the site, you learn about the six arts of confucian teachings through fun interactive displays. The six arts are; rites, music, archery, chariot riding, calligraphy, and mathematics. The temple also hosts things like traditional music lessons for locals to attend.
Adorable Confucius statue
I had dinner at a Canadian restaurant I heard about from a friend, and had pulled pork and poutine. I was in heaven. After me and a guy I met at the hostel went to Taipei 101 - a huge tower known as the main landmark of Taipei. The view was great, not unlike that of Tokyo Tower or the Skytree in Tokyo.
Outside 101

The next day I went to a few more small temples, and the Palace Museum - which I had heard a lot about from my Chinese politics professor when we were learning about the separation of the Republic of China (Taiwan) from the People's Republic of China (China).
Palace Museum
The museum is a bit tough to get to but I was able to figure it out alright. It was easily the best museum of the whole trip. There are so many exhibits, almost all of which I really enjoyed. I easily spent over 3 hours there…
That night I went to the Shilin night market, which I think is one of the largest in the city. It was definitely one of the more impressive ones. I again ate a lot of food - buns and meat and all kinds of fruit like guava and mango.
Shilin Market entrance

My last day was an adventure, to say the least. I started with the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Memorial. I went to a temple after, that was very beautiful and full of gold statues and altars. While there this man, who spoke zero English, was attempting to show me the different parts of the temple, upstairs, etc. Then we wanted to show me an even better place. So, tempting fate because he seemed nice and innocent enough, I got onto his scooter and he took me away and up into the mountain nearby…
Mountain top temple
And into a stunning temple site. It was built into the mountain and included a hiking path which we went up. You could see most of Taipei through a break in the mountains that surrounded us, and it was so lush and green and beautiful. Not somewhere any tourist would be able to find that's for sure. We had tea at the temple, and he showed me pictures of his family, including his daughter who he guessed was about the same age as me. Conversation was super difficult, he tried to show me kanji of what he was trying to say, and my translating app was sketchy at best, but we got by. He was really friendly and chatty even though he probably knew I didn’t really understand him. After we rode down the mountain again, and he dropped me off near the temple we originally met at, for me the continue my day.
I don't even know his name, but thank you!

The rest of the day was spent in a popular youth district, Zimending, which is often compared to Shibuya or Harajuku. It was fun and relaxing - and safe after my wild morning. I had lunch at a cafe with swings for seats, and did some shopping and laughing at terrible engrish signs and other bizarre things.
I regret not trying this...

For my last night market I went to the famous Raohe St. Night Market, ate more food - mostly meat buns, random meat on sticks, and more fruit. Got some souvenirs, and just enjoyed my last night.
Thanks for the delicious food, Taiwan!

The next day I got up super early, figured out the buses, and flew back to Japan. It was a great trip, I met some great people and had some unique experiences that I never thought I would. I can't wait for my next trip abroad to see what I get myself into next.

*I lost most of my pictures when my computer died, the only ones safe were the ones on facebook... so excuse the mismatch of pictures. *cries*