Day 1 in Taipei, Taiwan
Let me tell you a secret: Taiwan is an underrated travel destination.
I never thought I'd enjoy this country. Honestly, it wasn't part of my 2016 bucket list. Filipinos are required to have an approved visa from their embassy before traveling to Taiwan. A lot get easily intimidated by their visa requirements and that includes me.
One thing that I know about Taiwan is the plethora of TV series and boy bands which were aired in Philippine TV back in the early 2000s. But, these weren't enough to convince me to visit Taiwan. Unlike Japan, Korea, or even China, the country wasn't charming at all at first glimpse. I once thought that it was just a typical industrialized country filled with towering skyscrapers and factories. I kept my expectations low.
As always, I was wrong.
Last January, a friend of mine invited me to this trip. I was aware that the airfare won't be that cheap because the trip's happening in less than three months plus the visa application. After finalizing our trip's itinerary and respective visas, we were all set for our Taiwanese adventure! #TaiwanMoBaMapapansin
We left Manila at around 10:30PM due to air traffic congestion in Manila but managed to land minutes after midnight at Taoyuan International Airport. The queue at the immigration was crazy but still manageable and hassle free, probably because our level of excitement didn't subside yet. The air was dry and cold the moment we went outside the terminal building. Since we still wanted to take the cheapest way to Taipei, I asked one security guard on duty. The conversation went like this:
Me: Excuse me, is the MRT still operational at this hour?
Guard: Yeah.. MRT to your left.
Me: No, I'm asking if is it still open or already closed?
Guard: Uhhhh, can you speak in Chinese?
Me: Awww, that's too sad. I only know Ni Hao, Xie xie, Peng Yo, Dao Ming Sue, and Xian Chai. It's okay. We'll just take a cab.
I knew from that very moment, conversing with the locals using correct English grammar and syntax would be futile. I'm actually having regrets on why I didn't pay much attention to my Mandarin lessons back in preschool and grade school. I'm pretty sure my lau shers are proud of me because I still recalled some key phrases in Mandarin. But hey, no matter how hard I try to sound like a local by mastering the correct pronunciation and enunciation of ni haos, peng yos, and xie xies, it will never give me directions to the nearest hotels, restaurants, rest rooms or God forbid, the Philippine embassy.
We finally took a cab to Central Taipei and the fare was NT$1000 (PHP1310). Not bad for a 90-minute ride from the airport. We stayed at Come Inn, a few meters away from Shandao Temple MRT station. Right across the street, there's Starbucks and 7-11. Talking about convenience.
Back where I came from, the weather is always sunny, bright, humid and hot. Temperature soars to 30 degrees even at 8 in the morning. In Taipei, the warmest temperature is only half of the average temperature of my home country. The sky was overcast and the weather was chilly. I wouldn't mind exploring the city on foot whilst wearing two layers of clothes.
Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall
Located at the heart of Zhongzheng District of Taipei, this landmark was erected in memory of Chiang Kai Shek, the former President of the Republic of China (Taiwan). It was a Sunday so it was expected that there were many tourists. The landmark was sprawling and we didn't mind exploring its premises for hours.
We also witnessed the changing of guards ceremony and I found it cool.
Mala Yuanyan Hotpot
It was almost 2PM and we got really hungry. Good thing was, Mala Yuanyuan Hotpot was our next destination, located at Ximending District. There were a lot of people inside but we didn't wait for our table, thank God. For NT$649 per head, we can enjoy the unlimited shabu-shabu using the dual pot of plain and mala soup base. Shabu-shabu restaurants here in the Philippines were put into shame because aside from our chosen beef and pork meat, there were wide selections of food to choose from such as fresh vegetables, mushrooms, cheese balls, squid, octopus, shrimp, fish, scallops, noodles, tofu, crabsticks, and a whole lot more. But wait, there's more! One thing that I really love about this restaurant are their desserts. Who says no to unlimited Häagen-Dazs and Mövenpick ice creams? Although, you only have two hours to stay at the restaurant.
Ximending District and Shilin Night Market
Ximending is remniscient of Seoul's Myeong-dong and is one of Taipei's famous shopping destinations. It is here where I bought a decent brogues for only NT$980 and a pomelo tea for NT$200. Shopaholics will definitely love this place. We left Ximending at almost six in the afternoon, and took an MRT ride to Shilin Night Market, another famous shopping destination in Taipei. The place was jam-packed and it was bigger than I thought. It's like a maze filled with different stalls of street food, shoes and apparel, souvenir, and a whole lot more! Basically, it's a one stop shop for people looking for food to eat and places to shop.
|Sea of people|
Unlike Ximending, Shilin Market offers authentic Taiwanese street food! I always look forward to try some of Taiwan's famous street foods. We first tried the Carbon Barbeque. It's a grilled asparagus wrapped in bacon. At first, it tasted okay, until the strong smell and aftertaste of red onion hit me. Also, some things aren't meant to be tried. See also: their infamous stinky tofu. Bleugh.
|Carbon bbq. Meh|
|Forgot this name but this one's delicious.|
There's also a subterranean hawker place at Shilin Night Market. Majority of the stalls offer fresh crustaceans. Toney and I didn't take risks of eating prawns because we're mutants (aka allergic). We resorted eating Taiwanese sausages which tasted good. Plus, it's affordable.
|Giant prawns! Wish I weren't allergic.|
Walking around Taipei wasn't tiring, all thanks to its cool weather. Frankly speaking, I thought I'd have the same treatment from the locals, the same experience I had when I went to Hong Kong and Singapore last year. I was wrong. They were generally nicer, organized, and hospitable. They never fail to wear that genuine smile whenever I ask them for directions or even the price of their goods. Despite the language barrier, they still try their best to communicate with us.
I know that my pretentious ni haos, xie xies, and peng yos didn't take me to my destinations quickly, but I somehow met kind and nice people along the way. Sometimes, getting lost in translation isn't a bad thing.
|Mandatory tourist portrait|
|Scenes of everyday life at Shilin Night Market|