After a long, exhausting couple of months back in Penang and at work I was very, very ready for half term. 2018 has been one mental challenge after another and it felt good to escape for a few days to a new place with limited Internet coverage and lots of nature.
I chose Taiwan based on a Google search- “Where is it not the monsoon in Asia right now?”. Although Taiwan claimed not to be in the monsoon season, it rained every day. Sod’s law. It’s now beautiful sunshine as I am sat at the airport writing this but it was nice not be hot and sweaty constantly, and I like to think some the landscapes we saw had more personality in the gloom. Also I saved on suncream, which is highly expensive.
We started our trip queuing to enter the country and feeling hard done by because a new lane opened up at passport control right behind us. Then we made our way to Taipei main station on the MRT and checked in to our “cube” room at the hostel. It was a cube. I grew to hate this room because it was literally a cube. You could also hear everything through the walls…everything. However for a cheap hostel it really wasn’t bad at all, the staff were friendly and the room and bathrooms were clean. It’s called “Inn cube 3s” if you want no frills, cheap, central accommodation.
The first night we checked out the Ximending district. It was raining. We enjoyed all the lights and the city vibe, it was kind of like an Asian Times Square, kind of. We heard rumours of the biggest fried chicken imaginable so we went to check it out. It didn’t disappoint. I only ate half of mine and felt defeated and quite sick.
Next we went to visit the “Rainbow Bridge” because I read somewhere that it lights up at night. On the way we passed a cool temple and a night market selling street food for a very particular taste (such as frog eggs, octopus etc etc). Not my vibe.
The Buddhist temple was amazingly decorated. People were praying and throwing wooden stones on the ground in some kind of ritual which was cool to watch and not understand at all.
We then made our way to the bridge. It was not a rainbow because it was only red. The banks of the river were decorated with different “love themed” things and it was a nice space, just not a rainbow.
Worth a visit and a walk along for sure. After this we debated visiting some other things but we went back and watched “Orange Is The New Black” because of all the rain.
The next day we decided to travel and hike around the Pingxi District. This is a train line that you can explore from Ruifang Station. It’s 7 stops and you can buy a day pass that allows you to travel around them freely. Take the train to Ruifang from Taipei Main Station and change lines.
The first stop we got off at was Houtong, a cat village! Hardly anyone got off here and I really don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to visit a cat village. Houtong is a declining mining village. In 2008 local cat lovers began to house and feed abandoned cats, providing them with “cat houses” and feeding stations. They sterilise the cats to stabilise the population and tag them so that they can recognise when new cats enter the village. We absolutely loved it, hands down the strangest place I’ve visited. In the shops Christmas carols were playing with meowing instead of human singing. There were crazy Asian cat fanatics everywhere, some wearing cat ears. There were cat themed cafes, cat souvenirs and of course actual cats being as stuck up and “holier than thou” as you’d expect. I got my sister an “I am a nurse” postcard with a cat on it. You’re welcome Imogen.
The next stop on the train was Shifen. Shifen is a pretty, iconic village that comes up as one of the first images when you Google what to visit in Taiwan. It’s famous because it has a railway line running down the main street and because people like to light lanterns here. You choose the colour of paper to coincide with what you’re wishing for (wealth, happiness, love etc), write a message on it and then send it up into the sky. I spent some time investigating the biodegradability of the lanterns obviously. They’re paper so they’re not as bad for the environment as they once were. It’s a nice idea but seems to be more about the professional photoshoot than actually wishing for something. The main street is full of street food and quirky souvenirs and the buildings are really unique and beautiful.
We decided to walk towards Shifen Waterfall. Signs ranged from 1km to 1.6km to “1 hour walk”. Turns out it was about 15 mins max. The waterfall park is free to enter and worth a wander around. By this point it was torrential rain. We saw a British family that I had observed earlier on the train and learnt their life story, and we discussed the rain. “Bit rainy”, “Yes isn’t it”. Just for some background info on the family I listened in and learnt that they live in Hong Kong, the daughter is going to Disneyland but the dad won’t pay for her boyfriend to go, and they love M&S (who doesn’t).
The waterfall is a good one. Someone wrote that it’s like Niagra Falls. I’ve not been but I think this is an exaggeration. It was however a decent waterfall.
After we had been here a while we were absolutely soaked through so we had to give up and go back to Taipei. It’s a shame because further down the railway line were two other stops that we wanted to see and some hiking spots, but you can’t have it all.
In the evening we went for a beer and a burger. Asraf had a platter of fried things and then decided he had eaten too much fried food and then shortly after was throwing up, so that was the end of that day!
The next morning we woke up and it wasn’t raining (!) so we decided to take the bus to Jinguashi and then climb Teapot Mountain. We followed a blog that told us to find the trail behind the gold museum. You can enter the gold museum for free if you look like you belong and just walk with confidence. At the furthest point of the museum there is a bridge. Take a right up the stairs and that is the beginning of the trail.
The start of the trail is a lot of steps, which no one enjoys. After a while you get to a road which you should follow upwards, and then you’ll find the beginning of the mountain.
It’s an easy but really enjoyable hike because of all the rocks and the amazing views. The hike includes using ropes and climbing inside caves and over boulders so it’s really fun.
We had chats with some Japanese guys about the safety of the rocks but other than that we were pretty much alone up there. It was a really great hike. On the way down it rained and rained.
In the evening we decided to go and experience The Modern Toilet Restaurant. This is a chain of restaurants that are toilet themed. Just funny isn’t it. The seats are really toilets, the bowls are toilets, the mugs are toilets and the ice cream looks like poo. Why not? It was a lot of fun amd wonderfully Asian and they played Christmas songs.
The following day we tried and failed to go to Yangmingshan National Park. The entire park was in cloud and we rode the shuttle bus around hoping for the best but we could not see a thing.
Whilst we laughed about it we were disappointed. We had to give up and head back to Taipei. We tried to find a monument but we couldn’t. We had some pasta. Then we decided to hike up Elephant Hill to see the evening sky line.
This is an easy climb, around 20 to 30 mins of stairs. Somehow we managed to lose one another on one track going in the same direction. I was alone with no money and no data, freezing without a jumper and Asraf was nowhere with a phone that had no coverage abroad. Obviously in times gone by I would have been like “Oh well I’m sure he’s fine and we will be reunited shortly.” 2018 me was convinced Asraf had fallen down and was feeling anxiety about being alone and imagining what would happen next if he never appeared. Eventually we found one another and all was well, of course! 2018 me is working hard on these issues, it’s a work in progress.
On our final day we went to Wulai, an aboriginal village in the most beautiful setting. You can get a bus from Taipei Main Station- 849. The village itself is alongside a naturally blue, gorgeous river which creates natural hot springs. We didn’t visit the hot springs but there’s a lot of options for them. Some people were swimming in the river but as we are only acclimatised to Malaysia weather we felt like this was unappealing on a 21° day! We walked through the village to the Wulai waterfall. I have to say this is the most impressive waterfall I’ve personally seen.
We continued on and hiked along the river bed, which you can scramble down to when there is a break in the fencing. We are pretty sure this is allowed because there were ropes to help you climb down.
It was such a beautiful location and we both felt really relaxed for the first time in a while. On the way back through the town a local cafe owner said Asraf was handsome like an aboriginal village man. Asraf gave him 1 ringgit as a present.
We had a lovely local beer and saw the same kind of spider Jerry and I and I saw on the day we found Novs last year. I ate sausages and we ate corn and donuts. It was a good day.
In the evening we went for Thai food, had a beer and sent videos to Beth and Alice, who were at Oktoberfest back in Penang.
Finally, this morning, we had a good old Mcds breakfast with Sarah and Tom who arrived here for their half term.
Taiwan is clean, efficient, friendly and beautiful. I wish we had more time to explore it more. We will be back.
Next up: parents arriving in 10 days!!❤