Taiwan is popular vacation destination for folks in Hong Kong. So when I had two weeks in Hong Kong, I took a vacation within a vacation by spending a few days in Taiwan. Not only is Taiwan a change from Hong Kong, it is ever-changing within itself.
Streets come alive at night in Taipei.
Food is the first and foremost reason to hit up Taiwan. I am no snobby foodie but I do love potatoes. So when I spotted Prince Cheese Potatoes, I headed right for it. I pointed at what looked good and was served up a baked potato bathed in a tray of Velveeta-like melted cheese. I gobbled up this modern take on the baked potato but did not finish the cheese which I do not imagine anyone is expected to finish.
There is a potato under all that cheese.
To eat more like the local, I also had various animal parts like liver, kidney, and other chewy bits westerners typically do not eat. The variety of food is endless. There is sizzling steak and eggs over pasta, Benihana-style tableside dinner, or the infamous stinky tofu. I tried stinky tofu again after avoiding it for many years in hopes that my palate have changed enough to like it. Sadly, it has not.
Even being on a stick did not make stinky tofu any better.
Along with the street food are a fair share of vendors. Most are selling overly cutesy things and knock offs of well known brands. Amongst the things that caught my eyes is a hooded button-up. I could not resist buying it as I have not seen a button-up hoodie before but even in its largest size is too tight for my slender built. I ended up donating it and will stick with buying things other than clothes when abroad.
Overly cutesy monster bags and shoes with an identity crisis. Are they trying to be Converse or Adidas?
Trekking thru Taipei
Observation deck of Taipei 101
Photography Tip If you have to shoot through glass, there are a few things you can do to avoid reflections:
Shoot in daylight if possible.
Place lens adjacent to glass, flush against it if possible.
If you are in a hotel room, close the curtains behind the camera.
Use a circular polarizer filter.
As a photographer, I am always looking for high vantage points for photo opportunities, and there is no higher point than the landmark Taipei 101 building. From the viewing deck you get an unobstructed view from all sides.
As with exiting many skyscrapers, I had to go through a long maze of retailers peddling overpriced crap. One plus side of this maze, though, is I got to see the tuned mass damper that keeps the building safe in event of seismic activities.
The technology that keeps Taipei 101 safe in event of an earthquake.
Xiao Long Bao
Being in Taiwan, I had to stop by at Din Tai Fung for some world famous xiao long bao, which literally translates to little dragon bun but it is basically dumpling with soup inside. Din Tai Fung has a restaurant in Taipei 101, and the original restaurant is further down Xinyi Road. The dumplings are overrated and no different than what you get from any of their other locations worldwide. I guess you come to expect that from what has became a chain.
Bathing in Beitou
Beitou from Spa Spring Resort Rooftop.
Along the Metro’s redline towards Tamsui is the district of Beitou. Known for its natural geothermal springs, Beitou can be quite a romantic place. Unfortunately, I was traveling with my father. It didn’t help that the two beds in the Spa Spring Resort were squished next to each other. The cramp quarters gave way to a huge hot tub in the bathroom. There are several more hot tubs on the roof level. This particular resort gives each guest an egg that you can boil in a fountain of geothermal water.
If you are not staying in a hotel with a spa, you can find public baths in Beitou Qinshui Park. There I found a library and a hot spring museum surrounded by cascading creeks. Rising steam can be viewed from down in the nearby Geothermal Valley while high up a long stone staircase is the well preserved Puji Temple. Everywhere I look, there are bits of oasis found intertwined with the commercial hotels and chain restaurants.
Beitou Qinshui Park
Situated near the northern coast is the suburb of Ruifang. It requires taking the rails and a bus to get up to the mountain town where all the touristy shops are. Walking along the narrow road, the sound of the ocarina shops captured my attention, although what impressed me were the shear variety of ocarinas. They came in all shapes like animals, cars, and anything imaginable. Seeing the shop owner playing the ocarinas or hand painting them made the gifts more authentic compared to loads of generic souvenirs that were probably made in China.
Hand painted ocarinas.
Other authentic products I found were candy being made right in front of your eyes. The street food culture permeated through this area as well. I stopped by a food stand with a plethora of ingredients for you to choose from such as sea snails, squid, and more chewy bits. They boil or grill them, put them in a cup, add their special sauce and you are good to go.
The narrow streets of Ruifang are lined with candy shops and food stands.
I made my way up to the top of the mountain where the rewards are tranquil views enjoyed by tourist and stray cats alike. Apparently, a few cats are well known inhabitants of this area and friendly to the tourist. They slept through the day in spite of the noisy crowd snapping photos of them.
Cats of Ruifang
Blending of two views from Ruifang.
I ate my way through Taiwan from modern chains to fusion food to traditional cuisines. Not unlike the places I explored, from the bustling metropolitan of Taipei to the commercialization of Beitou and the humble town of Ruifang. Each had its distinct feel yet all melding together in a way similar to Taiwan’s evolving landscape.