My first real holiday in China just came and past, during this Mid-Autumn break, accompanied by a few friends, I escaped to Taiwan. Now, before arriving we had heard certain things, like once you’ve been to Taiwan you’ll wonder why you chose China at all. It seemed a little hard to believe; China has been great so far, and more specifically Shanghai is a fantastic city, sure it has a few negatives, but so does everywhere right? Having said that, there are a few stark differences between the countries, some you may understand, some you may not, unless you’ve experienced them yourselves.
- The Metro – I think this is something you could gauge better if you’ve ever ridden the metro in Shanghai, although I suppose the underground system of many a major city can draw parallels. It’s generally a case of survival of the fittest, the Shanghai metro boasts no order or patience, as soon as those train doors open its a battle to force your way on or off it. In Taiwan however, and more specifically Taipei, the metro was a joy to use. They have a set of rules in place and a level of etiquette that is abided by, by every single person. Everyone strives to “be a good metroer”. Truly it’s a marvel to behold. There is no pushing or scrambling, everyone patiently lets you off the train, before calmly entering it. They don’t litter or spit, the courtesy seats are left empty for those who require them. They queue! Even on the escalators they stay strictly to the right hand side, unless they feel the need to walk up the stairs. I may be rambling a little here, but the difference was remarkable!
- Polite and Clean – Now this isn’t to say everyone in Shanghai is rude and the streets are filthy along with its people. But Taipei appeared to be visibly cleaner. Not once did I see anyone spit or piss in the street, no one littered or created any real mess of any kind. On top of that they were all exceptionally polite, it was like a breathe of fresh air (not only due to the fact the air was less polluted).
- Finally the levels of English – Again the levels of English in Shanghai are high, without a doubt. But in Taipei it seemed everyone had at least a working knowledge of English, which for an Englishman who can speak only the one language, proved to be incredibly useful. It was certainly a lot less hit and miss. Even in the more rural areas we visited (or at least less urban) people could speak very good English.
Having read that, I can understand if you’re beginning to wonder, “well hey, it does sound like he prefers Taipei”. But not so quick there! Shanghai is still my home, and she has a lot to offer. But that’s not the point of this little post.
Back to the holiday! It was due to be spread over a week, from Monday to Monday, however due to influence of Typhoon Dujuan (2015) we effectively lost two days. So we had only one day to explore as much of Taipei as we could, we settled on the most touristy things, a trip to the hot springs, a visit to Taipei 101 (the tallest building in Taipei) and an expedition to a night market.
This was my first ever experience with a natural hot spring. It was fantastic! Its a crazy thought to this this water was naturally heated to temperatures ranging between 60 degrees Celsius to 90! You could feel the heat coming off the water just standing next to it, something even more apparent when you left the area and the temperature in the air noticeably dropped. The hot springs were beautiful though, but be warned, sulphur isn’t always the most pleasant aroma. You had to feel a little sorry for the kids that had been brought along by their parents, every time the wind rose up they were burying the heads in their faces trying to escape it all. The Thermal Valley, as it had been named was essentially a short tour of one hot spring. It was very easy to get to and was worth visiting just to see the steam dancing along the top of the water, something I’d only ever really seen in films trying to create a certain atmosphere up until then.
The second stage of our hot spring journey was even more enjoyable, although un-photographed (for obvious reasons, people don’t like you taking pictures of them bathing). We went to the Beitou Public Hot Springs. Here, for a small fee, you could relax and bath in the springs, revelling in all their professed healing powers. The pools were split into three levels by temperature, 35-40, 40-43 and 43 upwards (degrees C). There were a few signs in English, mostly stating common sense, like if you feel you are going to pass out, get out. Although not worded exactly like that. There was also some unwritten etiquette, like no splashing or frolicking, washing your feet before entering a pool and no inappropriate touching, these hot springs were strictly PC. The locals who use the pools will politely inform you of what you are doing wrong and show you how to do it right. The water itself felt like you were wrapping yourself in a blanket of heated silk that was simultaneously renewing your skin and lifting your spirit. Another way to look at it is like you are receiving the warmest hug you could imagine. The springs were just a place of pure unadulterated happiness.
This monumental building is definitely worth a visit, if not just for the world’s fastest passenger lift, that took us from the 5th floor to the 89th in 35 seconds! Once the tallest building in the world, and now the largest green building in the world, Taipei 101 truly does stand out. It’s staggering and it leaves you contemplating just how buildings like this are made and designed. The view from the top was just as special as the views from below. We spent a fair amount of time strolling through the observation floor (the 91st floor was shut due to damage it had received during the typhoon) soaking it all in. And as the sun began to set, a happy measure of unplanned timing, our eyes greedily devoured the sights all over again. There isn’t much more to say about this building, it’s just something you need to see for yourself!
The final chapter in out 24-hour dash across Taipei led us to what we hoped would be one of Taipei’s infamous night markets, known as spectacles for both your eyes and your stomach, adorned with wondrous foods and exotic tastes. Well, that’s what I had heard at least. My experience was ever so slightly different from the one I have just described. This is owed to one major factor, based on the recommendation of our hostel owner, we didn’t end up at one of Taipei’s large and extravagant night markets, instead we travelled across the city to a much smaller and more local affair. Here what we witnessed was much less of a spectacle, and more of an average night for the locals. There were no exotic tastes, just some very good meats on sticks. Their were no exotic wares, just people trying to sell fake belts, watches and Bamboo Juice (something I believe must be an acquired taste). That’s not to say it was a bad market, just not what we were looking for to end out stint in the Capital. Especially towards the end when, to avoid a rather large stray dog, we ventured down a long, badly light eerie tunnel, which we were followed down. Thankfully this little misadventure culminated in us arriving safely at the metro, in much better lighting.
All in all our trip to Taipei was fascinating and a truly great experience, full of a few firsts and a few hairy moments. But we survived to tell the tale and that’s all that really matters in the end. We only had the chance to scratch the surface of what Taipei had to offer. We didn’t have time to see any of its history, any monuments or museums. We didn’t have time to explore its streets or hike the surrounding mountains. But hey, any old excuse to go back! Without a moments hesitation I would recommend you putting Taipei on your list of place to see and to experience, because it is just that.