We chose to start in Taiwan for a few reasons: tickets to Taipei were cheap, we have heard Taiwan is a foodie’s paradise, it is small enough that you can explore the whole country, and it was in Asia (our desired starting point). To be honest, I am not sure if I knew that much about this country when we signed up to come here.
We have walked until our feet want to fall off, tried out the food, sweated more than I would like to admit (hello humidity), visited temples, explored nature, and tried not to get hit by all of the scooters. There are a lot of things we have learned about Taiwan and ourselves in the past two weeks.
The MRT (Metro) & Friendly People
The subway system that runs across Taipei is extensive and easy to use (well, once you figure it out). When in a metro station there is a certain set of rules that should be follow. A person would assume that these rules would be posted everywhere, but they are nowhere to be seen. I suppose it is possible these things might have been posted somewhere in Chinese, but we will never know.
The best way to learn about that set of rules is to look very lost and confused while in the metro station and wait for one of the notoriously friendly locals to show you the ropes. We had heard the people in Taiwan are very friendly, but we learned so first hand when a local woman saw us and thought that it looked like we needed some help. For the record, we probably did need help. She rode to the station we needed to get to (she took a transfer to another line with us) and walked us to where to buy train tickets for our trip to our next destination in a few days. We were blown away by her kindness and overall very impressed with the metro system as a whole. Here are some of the things we learned about the MRT:
- There is no drinking or eating allowed on the train or in the station. I understand why chewing gum or snacks might be against the rules, but not being able to take a sip of water seems a bit harsh.
- On the escalator everyone stands on the right side so that the left is clear for people who are in a hurry. While this is a common courtesy a lot of places in the world, it is very serious here and everyone does this.
- You must queue to get onto the train. There are painted lines and arrows that will show you where to stand. It is astounding to me that people actually do this and enter the train in the order that they queued.
- They play classical music to indicate the train is about to arrive. I think it is lovely!
Taiwan is very serious about their night markets. Going to eat or even just walk around the night markets are hands down the best thing to do at night in Taiwan. There is so much delicious food at these markets that there is really no reason to eat dinner anywhere else. There are night markets all over the country and each one is a little different than the next one. There will be a whole blog post on the night markets in the future…there is that much to talk about.
We have quickly learned that trash cans are few and far between. Everywhere we have been in Taiwan is so clean and there is no litter on the streets, parks or sidewalks. There have been many times we stop and get a bubble tea. This is all a great idea until you have finished your tea and are looking to get rid of it. WHERE DO PEOPLE THROW AWAY THEIR TRASH? It is confusing and after almost two weeks here I have yet to figure out how this country is always so clean when they make it so difficult to ditch your garbage.
On another note, the garbage trucks that come around to collect trash from houses and businesses have been a highlight of our time in Taiwan. A song plays as the garbage truck drives around indicating it is time for people to come out and throw their trash bags into the back of the truck. It is like a disappointing version of the ice cream man, but we are so amused by the way trash gets collected here. Scott had actually learned about this on a podcast before we came. The first time we heard the musical stylings of the garbage truck we ran outside to get a good look (and take some videos). The ladies working at our hostel thought we were crazy for being excited about garbage collection, but overall I think they were amused by our excitement.
The Magnitude of Taipei 101
Upon completion in 2004, Taipei 101 was the world’s tallest building. It now ranks as the 8th largest building at the time I am writing this. We took the world’s fastest elevator up, clocking in at 37.5 mph, to the observation deck on the 89th floor to catch 360 degrees of incredible views. It is surprising to us that for such a tall building it is pretty hard to see when walking around most of Taipei, but I suppose that with other tall buildings around the view just gets obstructed. The one place that gets an unobstructed view is Elephant Mountain, which is a short hike from the city (actually just a bunch of stairs).
We also checked out the tuned mass damper. In an effort to try to keep my nerd level in check, click here to learn more about the damper and how it structurally supports the building. My engineering heart was so full after seeing this! They had some videos playing of some of the largest swings the damper has seen due to high winds caused by typhoons…although it would have made it more exciting to look at, I am glad the damper was nice and still while we visited 🙂
We have learned that we really don’t enjoy tours. It might be alright to do a half day tour, but you put us on a whole day tour and we feel like prisoners. We have taken one tour since we have been on the road to go explore Taroko Gorge, one of Taiwan’s biggest tourist attractions. Nobody spoke English on our tour, but that was fine as we only needed the tour for easy transportation. Everything was going great until lunchtime when we were dropped off at a buffet that was horrible and expensive (at least relative to what he have been paying the $6.31 a person buffet was outrageous). After lunch we explored more places in Taroko National Park. We loved some places we visited, but being at the mercy of someone else’s schedule drove us crazy. If the tour would have ended right before lunch we would have called it a perfect outing. Lesson learned: if we do a tour, make sure it is for no more than a few hours.
The day before the tour that never ended we decided to go independently to Mukumugi Valley to check out the scenery and go for a swim. This day was 10 times for enjoyable than the tourist “must do” Taroko Gorge as we were on our own schedule, we paid no money to see it (well, we did pay $3 round trip each for bus tickets), and we were not stuck with thousands of other tourists trying to see the same thing as us. Don’t get me wrong…Taroko Gorge was worth doing and we are glad we did it. It was stunning! We just have more fun seeing things independently and wished we would have skipped the full day tour. Our independent trip to Mukumugi felt much more authentic and it was a lot more fun. It also didn’t hurt that we could go swimming which was perfect in this oppressive heat and humidity!
We have learned that plans can change at the drop of a hat. We were planning on traveling around the entire country, but after 4 days in Hualien we decided to go back to Taipei and stay for the next 11 nights. We found a nice apartment through AirB&B that has a couch/separate living room area which is a huge upgrade after staying in a room with only a bed and no windows for a few nights. We have decided to finish out our time in Taiwan here before moving on to China. Staying in one place will help us not burn out (the pace we were moving and trying to see things was far too fast) and maybe help us figure out a routine of sorts. There is so much to see around the Taipei area and we are excited to make it our home base for a while!