Arriving in Taipei
Over 200 million people pass through the Taipei Main Station every year. But, at 7:30pm on a Tuesday evening it was virtually deserted.
After making our way to the ground floor, we were lost. Our Google map said we should use exit #5, we were at exit #4 with no indication of how to get to exit #5. In hind sight all I needed to do was go outside and I would have immediately know where we were. I had ‘walked’ the route to our hotel and was familiar with the landmarks.
However, they call it hindsight for a reason. Tired and hungry, the obvious solution didn't come readily to mind, we tried to find someone to ask for directions.
After dithering for a few minutes we saw two young men and a young lady approaching. I had the hotel address in Mandarin. With a few gestures and pointing I hoped to get pointed in the right direction. I was completely in unprepared for their response.
One of the young men spoke a little English. He said: “I don't know how to give you directions — but follow us.” They then walked with us to our hotel. We had heard that the Taiwanese were very friendly — but this was much more than we could ever have expected.
Staying Close to the Train Station
The Relax III is one of a four hotel chain, all within half a kilometre of the Taipei Main Station.
Read almost any review of the hotel and you will see “the rooms are small”. If you are the type of traveller that spends a lot of time in their hotel room, it may not be right for you. But for two night layover it was perfect. At 215 sq feet, the room our room was slightly larger than many other three star hotels in the area. Our only minor complaint was there wasn't anywhere to hang our jackets.
The room came with a basket of snacks, instant coffee, tea and hot chocolate (the tea was excellent), two bottles of water and disposable slippers. The disposable slippers were not designed for my size 13 EEE width feet, but would fit most normal people. The snack were all labelled in Mandarin. Except for the shrimp chips, we were not sure what we were eating — they were good.
The bathroom had the usual array of soaps and shampoos plus toothbrushes and tooth paste. The shower was large enough for me to use without bumping my elbows, which hasn't always been the case. What really blew me away was the “washlet” a combination toilet and bidet with a HEATED SEAT. Why haven't we got that in Canada?
Breakfast was served in the basement of the Relax II Hotel — about half a block away. The breakfast was more like a North American than Taiwanese — set meal with self serve for the tea and fruit. The first day was scrambled eggs, sausage and toast with oranges for fruit. The second day was chicken burger with passion fruit.
After checking in to our hotel we went to look for a place to eat. While Taipei has hundreds of exceptional restaurants, we were much too tired and hungry to find one of them. The “Noodle Shop” was half a block from the Relax III hotel. (One of chain of shops around Taipei.) Nobody seemed to understand English, but the menu had pictures — so “point & pray”. There were some items that were in a display case but they weren't on the menu, but we didn't known how to order them.
The noodles were filling, cheap, but not anything special.
Day 1 — Getting to Know the Area
Normally, I would have researched ‘things to do’ for the area around our hotel, I hadn’t done that for our stay in Taipei. We had a tour of the Huaxi Street Night Market and 101 Taipei planned for that evening. Deciding to just explore the area around our hotel, the Zhongzheng District, we started to explore the myriad of side streets and alley ways.
National Taiwan Museum
The main branch of the National Taiwan Museum has a permanent collection of the history of the island, including artifacts from some of the native Taiwanese tribes. There was also an exhibit of seeds and spores as seen by a scanning electron microscope displayed as works of art and an exhibit on the importance of salmon to Taiwan.
Considered one of the rarest fish species the Taiwanese Salmon is thought to be a sub-species of the West-Pacific cherry salmon (or masu salmon). The salmon was a vital part on the native diet and existed in a number of river systems. However, dams and silting reduced the habitat to a small part of the Chichiawan Stream located in Shei-Pa National Park.
While numbers were once as low as 200 fish — efforts by the Taiwanese government has brought back the numbers to where it is being reintroduced back into some of its old habitat.
Huaxi Street Night Market
The night market stretches over a number of blocks. We just walked through the section between Guilin Road and Guangzhou Street. Then walking down Guangzhou the Longshan Temple.
Formerly known as Snake Alley, the street was once know for delicacies such as snake and turtle meat and blood. It also was also know as a red light district, with pornography and prostitutes readily available. We only saw two places that were displaying snakes or turtles. Our guide strongly discouraged us from trying anything from the food stalls.
There were a number of massage parlours lining the street. Our guide assured us they were legitimate massage parlours and did not offer a ‘massage with happy ending’. He also pointed out that while the ladies featured in the posters in the windows were Vietnamese, the women working there were Korean.
There were many shops and stalls offering everything from coconuts to strawberries. Taiwan is situated between the sub-tropical and temperate zones. The high mountains make it possible to grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
Lungshan Temple of Manka
If you can, visit the Lungshan Temple of Manka (Longshan) at night. There is a sense of peace in the temple at night that was lacking in temples we visited during the day. A waterfall was on the left as you enter the courtyard is surrounded by vegetation, seeming to be a natural part of the landscape. Inside the temple there statues and incense and a giant incense burner. There was an air of peace and calm.
I am not a religious person, but respect the right of others to worship as they see fit and try not to intrude. No flash, just pictures using available light. Steadying myself as best I could, I was able to get these pictures of the temple.
Originally called the “Taipei World Financial Center”, “Taipei 101” was opened on Dec. 31st 2004. When it was built it was the tallest building in the world. It featured many unique design elements.
The structure incorporates many of the characteristics of the bamboo stalk it is designed to represent. A flexible design, lets it withstand winds over 200km/hr. The exterior green tinted glass is designed to flex without breaking and the sway of the building is dampened by a 660 tonne tuned mass damper. Like the roots of a bamboo, the tower is solidly anchored to the ground. The building is supported by 380, 1.5m diameter piles sunk over 80m into the bedrock.
- Don't expect to go to the top of the tower. The 101st floor is an exclusive private club.
- There are observation decks on the 88th , 89th and 92nd floors.
- At night the lights on the outside change to reflect the day of the week.
- A clock at the base of the tower runs on the energy of the wind passing around the building (wind shear)
Dinner at “Din Tai Fung" was part of our tour. “Din Tai Fung” now has restaurants around the world, but the first one was in Taipei on Xinyi street. ( “Din Tai Fung” is noted for their “xiao long bao” or soup dumplings. ) There are now five restaurants in Taipei. Like all their outlets, the one at 101 Tower is very popular. There was a 40 minute waiting time for a table when we there. However, our tour only had a 15 minute wait for our table.
Day 2 — Even More to See Close to the Hotel
We had been told that we could drop off our bags at the EVA Airline office at Taipei Main Station in the morning. When we got there we found out that the drop-off didn’t apply to flights to Canada, they wouldn't take the bags.
Even though we had already checked out, to see if we could leave them there. The staff was very accommodating, letting us leave our luggage there for the rest of the day.
228 Peace Memorial Park
Adjacent to the National Taiwan Museum on Xiangyang Road a grove of rubber trees mark the entrance to the 228 Peace Memorial Park, the oldest park in Taipei. Built in the early 1900's during the Japanese occupation (1895 — 1945) as the “Taihoku New Park”, the name was changed to “Taipei New Park in 1945”. In 1996 the park was rededicated as the “228 Peace Memorial Park”. A memorial at the centre of the park commemorate the Feb 28th 1947 slaughter of thousands of civilians protesting the Kuomintang government.
Jieshou Park is located across Ketagalan Blvd from the 228 Peace. Like the Peace Park, it is quiet and serene and like the Peace Park, contains a memorial to one of the atrocities of the Kuomintang government. The memorial to the “White Terror” refers to the 38 years of marital law from 1949 to 1987. During that time over 100,000 people were imprisoned and over 3,000 were executed for being ‘communist spies’. A statue of Lin Sen stands at the entrance to Jieshou Park. With the resignation of Chiang Kai-shek in Dec. 1931, Lin Sen became chairman of the National Government of China. He would retain that position until his death in 1943.
The President’s Residence
You have to admire the efficiency of the Tourism Department. At crosswalk the corner of Huaining and Guiyang Streets is a sign that says — “Best Photo Point of Office of the President”. Following the arrow on the sign into a parking area I got the picture of the Office of the President. (I used a little digital magic to get the effect.)
As we wandered toward the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial we saw what appeared to be Army guarding some of the corners. While I can't be sure, this seems to be part of the response to increase protection for President Tsai Ing-wen. Protection for the president was increased after Chine staged military exercises on a mock-up of the Presidential Palace. In addition to the Army guards we saw saw metal barricade fencing and trailers ready to deploy razor wire.
National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial
National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall was started in 1976 after the death of President Chiang Kai-shek in 1975. The 89 steps from the base to memorial hall represent the President's age when he died. The hall, normally a gleaming white, wrapped in grey plastic we were there.
The 240,000 square meters plaza in front of the hall, called Liberty Square, was constructed in the early 1970's. It is a favourite location for national event. In addition to the memorial hall, the plaza is flanked by the National Theater and National Concert Hall. Immediately opposite the Memorial Hall on the west end of the plaza is the Liberty Square Main Gate. The gate is a traditional style of Chinese architectural arch known as a Paifang or pailou. Like the Memorial Hall, the gateway is huge.
Shin Kong Life Tower
The "Shin Kong Life Tower" is a landmark visible from most open areas in the Zhongzheng District. Directly across Zhongxiao Road from the Taipei Main Station, the name on the outside of tower is "Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Building" — which is the name of the store that is located on the bottom floors of the tower. The store has many high fashion displays with many signs in English. There is an excellent food court on the basement level. Depending on the time of day, seating space can be limited. There are tunnels from the food court to the Main Station as well as a public restroom.