We spent our last week in Taiwan hanging out in Taipei with our friend Shirley who lives there and her boyfriend Stephane. This city is fantastic, it is so clean and modern, you can get the metro to anywhere you need to go to and although our accommodation costs were slightly higher everything else was quite cheap. I was loving being in Taipei & Taiwan so much that a couple of days before we were due to fly back to China I got the urge to look up how much it would cost us to ditch our original flight back to China for one a bit later. Then I remembered I had booked us on a trip up the Yangtze and train tickets already in China and realised this would be an expensive idea so quickly ditched my impromptu plan…
So, what did we get up to Taipei? Below are some of our highlights of our time there:
This gondola is at the edge of the city. You can reach it by taking the metro to Taipei zoo and then it’s about 100m down the road from the MRT station. You can even use your Easy Card (bit like a London Oyster card) to pay for your gondola trip. It cost NTD50, which is just over £1, what a bargain! For this you get taken on a 4km trip up into the mountains.
At the top there are loads of tea shops you can visit as tea is grown locally on the mountain. I tried a roast oolong latte which was a bit like a cold tea milkshake and was actually quite nice!
Also at the top you can go hiking in the mountain. We opted to try to find some waterfalls and followed the signpost down a rather steep hill complete with ropes to assist you down the trickiest parts.
Despite the fact it was chucking it down all the foliage in the forest kept us reasonably dry on our walk. Once at the bottom of the hill we tried, and failed, to find the waterfall and ended up quite a distance from where we started. The rain got worse so we headed back the way we came. On the way back I managed to skilfully dunk my right foot in a stream soaking my whole shoe so I squelched my way back up the hill.
Halfway up the hill I felt a funny sensation on my right leg so rolled up my trouser leg to investigate… THERE WAS A LEACH ON MY LEG SUCKING MY BLOOD!!!
Naturally I freaked out at this point and started yelling for Alan to come help me, so dignified! Fortunately it seemed to have let go at this point of its own accord leaving a nice bloody patch on my shin. I managed to flick it down onto my sock so at least it was off my leg. But it was a stubborn leach and would not get off my sock. I was holding the sock taut away from my leg so it couldn’t get back for desert and Alan was jabbing at it with a stick trying to get it off.
Eventually Alan’s efforts were rewarded and it flicked off and we couldn’t see it anymore. We went to continue our walk up the hill. I looked down at my hand, the little monster was now on my finger! This resulted in more freaking out combined with hand shaking and some slightly ungraceful screams of “get it off meeeeeeeeee!” It would not let go! Alan tried jabbing it with a stick again but my composure was not there so I am afraid to say I bashed my hand against a rock and killed my assailant.
At the top of the hill I stopped at a bench to throughly inspect my legs and boots and found another leech lurking on the laces of my right boot waiting to pounce. The shoe was swiftly removed and was bashed at the correct spot to remove it. Not my finest hour killing off local wildlife…
We did a bit of research when we got back about what you should do in such a situation… Don’t do what I did! You should either wait until it has finished its dinner and naturally drops off or you should prise the sucker end off (opposite end to the mouth) with something thin like a credit card and then when it’s trying to get a hold again flick it away. If you don’t do that and instead inflict damage on it by bashing it, spraying it with an aerosol, burning it with a lighter etc then it might regurgitate into your wound as it dies giving you at best an infection or worse still a nasty disease… I’m ok because it let go of my leg naturally and it had only got a grip of my finger with its sucker and wasn’t biting yet. If I encounter another leach (which I really hope I don’t) then I’m going to try to be calmer next time and go for a more sensible approach to remove it! Incidentally, Shirley was pretty amazed I had managed to get bitten by a leech. It has never happened to her!
Despite the leech incident the walk was really nice, we didn’t see another person the whole time we were on it. The forest was teaming with wildlife and we heard and saw lots of birds and lizards. It’s amazing to think this is just at the end of a metro line and all yours to explore for £1!
I got a little bit obsessed with these while we were in Taipei. We went to four markets in total in our eight nights: Shilin, Rouhe, Shipai and Shida. I just liked the sights and smells and being able to go for a browse to scope out what I might like for dinner.
Shilin was the biggest and it was insanely busy and crowded, so although it had the most choice of all the markets it was probably the least enjoyable. Shipai and Shida were pretty quiet which meant we could stroll around and take in the surroundings in a more leisurely manner, although the choice wasn’t so great. Rouhe was our favourite, it had loads of stalls giving you lots of choice and a typically efficient Taiwanese system where everyone walks in the same direction to go found making it quiet civilised.
One of the highlights of what we tried was Papaya Milk (literally milk and papaya whizzed up in a blender with a bit of sugar). I drank so much of it I’m surprised I didn’t turn orange!
We also tried the legendary stinky tofu. It’s actually not that stinky and tastes pretty good! It gets the name stinky tofu as it has been fermented giving it a fragrance that smells slightly like a brewery, but a bit more smelly. The dry version gets served up with some pickled cabbage and chilli sauce. I may have indulged in that more than once… We also tried what I can only describe as mini-pies not made of pastry. It has a kind of batter casing and the pie is filled with tasty things such as red bean paste, cheese, custard or sesame. These were pretty good so we had them a few times.
Beitou Hot Springs
This was definitely a highlight for us. It was so good we went twice! The public hot springs were an absolute bargain at NTD40 each (80p). There are four pools of increasing temperature as well as a cold water pool. You are supposed to work your way up with a dip in the cold pool in between each hot pool.
The hottest pool was around 45-46C, there is a thermometer on the side providing you with an up to date reading. I was keen to have the full experience so did go in the hottest pool while Alan, Shirley and Stephane watched me clearly thinking I was mad. I’m proud to say I managed it. I got in and was able to sit down in it for about a minute before my feet felt like they were cooking.
Once I was back in the cool pool I got told by a local that I was “no longer new in Taiwan” as I had managed the hot pool. We got chatting and then once I was starting to resemble a piece of poultry in the supermarket as I was so cold and goose bumpy I stood to get out to go back to a warm pool.
As I stood up I realised there was a TV camera pointing in my general direction only metres away! Not wanting to parade my bikinied body on television I quickly dunked myself back down into the cold water, much to Alan’s amusement who was watching from the warm pool. I remained crouched down in the chilly water biding my time until the camera moved on. It was not to be though, they had spotted me and soon they were approaching me for an interview. By this time Alan was even more amused in his nice toasty warm pool while I was getting colder and colder in the cool pool.
The whole area around Beitou is teeming with hot spring pools in addition to the public hot springs we went to. If you head to the thermal valley you can see the water which feeds these pools at its source. The water here is around 90c!
This water then trickles its way through town as a steaming hot stream, gradually cooling off on its journey so that it is possible to dip your feet into it at the roadside without melting your skin off!
Stephane recommended that we go and check out this bit of Taipei and it was a very good suggestion! This is the old colonial part of the city. Originally the Dutch set up shop here in the 1600’s and they built a fort on the hill so they could get a good view out to sea and monitor the river mouth. After the Dutch, the Spanish took over for a short period of time. More recently the fort was used as part of the British consulate in Taiwan until the 1970’s when the British closed down their consular activities in Taiwan. Alongside the fort a newer brick building was built by the British in Victorian style, it was a bit weird for me walking around it as all the little details made me feel like I was back in Britain except it was baking hot and sunny.
Elsewhere in the town there was the surgery that Dr Mackay, a Canadian settler, had built in the nineteenth century. He was an influential figure in this area bringing his medical expertise as well as his desire to educate. He founded the university which still stands near to the fort on top of the hill.
As well as admiring all the old architecture we walked along the shore which ended with a bit of sunset viewing. It was a really nice part of Taipei to spend a relaxing day in.
Houtong (aka, The Cat Village)
In keeping with my reputation as a bit of a crazy cat lady, Shirley suggested we go to the Cat Village. This was about a 45 minute train ride out of Taipei, but was amazingly still covered by our Easy Card. Transport in Taiwan is good, we could learn a lot in the UK from what they do there!
The village was pretty small, but was teeming with cats. I’m pleased to say they all looked well cared for and well fed, after all they are drawing in tourists and money to the area so it does make sense for the locals to ensure they are cared for.
The tourists though… Well. Let’s just say some of them were a bit odd… There were grown women making very strange noises at the cats, much to our amusement and much to the cats bemusement who would just ignore them in return.
The funniest moment for us was when Shirley had crouched down near one cat, which took a shine to her and scrambled onto her lap uninvited and then curled up to go to sleep. This left Shirley in an awkward position cutting the blood off to her feet! After a few minutes one of the slightly-odd-noise-making women came along. She was clearly jealous of Shirley, who had done nothing to warrant this attention but had been chosen by this cat. Shirley by now was needing blood flow back into her feet so was trying to shoo the cat off of her lap.
Once the cat was off, the lady pounced. First she tried to encourage it onto her lap. If you have ever had a cat you will know you can’t get a cat to do something it doesn’t want, no matter how hard you try! The cat ignored her, probably put off by her desperation. Then she tried manhandling it onto her lap, the cat still wasn’t keen. I’m not sure if she succeeded in the end…
With a heavy heart we left Taiwan, we could have definitely stayed a lot longer. This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip so far.