For such a small island nation, there are a lot of things packed into this powerhouse. It is incredible that such a small nation is the World’s 22nd largest economy. Taiwan is very high-tech and has one of the most educated population in the World.
Some interesting tidbits:
Currency: “New Taiwan Dollar”: 1 TWD/NT == 2.13 INR
Language: Mandarin (Official Language)
Religion: 35% Buddhism
There are 6 cities in Taiwan, with over 1M in population!
Baseball is the most popular game in Taiwan and is considered a national sport.
Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial
Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese political and military leader, served as the leader of the Republic of China between 1928 and 1975. After evacuating to Taiwan, Chiang’s government continued to declare its intention to retake mainland China. Chiang ruled Taiwan until his death in 1975.
Chiang Kai-Shek’s influence can be seen everywhere. The Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial is the first place I visited.
Even though I went pretty early, there were many people around. The Memorial Hall houses a very good museum that takes us through the life of Chiang Kai-Shek. I also splurged on some souvenirs at the gift shops.
There was a hall dedicated to some nice paintings, highlighting the natural beauty of Taiwan.
It was a bright sunny day and I wished I had my sunscreen with me.
Confucius was a Chinese teacher, editor, politician, and philosopher of the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history.
This temple was constructed by the famous Fujian craftsman Wang Yi-shun in the late 1920s. This temple is a beautiful example of local architecture.
Since it is quite near to the Confucius Temple, popped in for a quick tour.
Now, this is the sight I was most looking forward to … I am a big fan of tall buildings. So far, I have covered World Trade Center (New York, Sniff … :-(), Empire State Building, Sears/Willis Tower, Petronas Towers, 2 IFC, Burj Khalifa Etc. One advantage this building has is that there is no nearby competition, I.e. There are no nearby tall buildings, and this helps Taipei 101 stand out very well.
At 509 meters high, this was the world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2010 (When Burj Khalifa overtook it).
I had booked two tours, one at night and one in the morning. The observation deck was quite crowded in the evening, when compared with the morning.
National Palace Museum
Wow! A souvenir-hunter’s delight! There are a few amazing gift shops … I went crazy with my purchases.
One has to take a Taipei MRT to Shilin and then take R30 bus to reach the museum. There are good English tours at 10AM and 3PM. I had reserved the 3PM tour in advance. I did a self-tour of the museum, bought my souvenirs and also took some rest, while I waited for my official tour to start. There weresecurity folks all around and a couple prevented me from taking a quick rest by sitting on the stairs (as all the seats/benches were taken by ladies and elderly people).
Since cameras and personal belongings are not allowed inside the museum, one has to use the paid lockers to store one’s belongings.
Beitou Hot Springs
Millennium Hot Springs is the main public bath house in Beitou. The public hot spring pools are outside, in the open air, and there are a series of 3 pools, each with a different temperature, hotter as you go further up the steps. The bottom one is the coolest and the topmost pool is the hottest. I am not kidding, I could barely spent a few seconds in the hottest pool 🙂 There are a couple of cold pools as well.
I had brought my swimwear with me for the purpose. The lady at the gate took one look at it and said categorically that I cannot use it, but instead had to buy “hot springs shorts” from her counter. Now, it was a hot and humid day (The humidity here makes Chennai seem like Oslo!) and I was tired from all the luggage mule duties. Tried debating with her. But voila, there on a board is the “dress NOT allowed” section with my swimwear being the star! I even thought: “Should I skip Hot Springs?”. I even briefly thought of going “full monty”. But then, what the heck … Wont be coming here again. So I bought this real skimpy shorts … As I was walking down, this dude (who was coming up) showed me “No pictures” sign … Oops, my bad.
There were different levels of pools … 35-40C, 40-43C, 43-45C, with the lowest one being 35-40C. I noticed that the 35-40C pool water was real murky. Anyway, tried it … Good. Then I graduated to 40-43C. This one was less murkier … Tried the 43-45C one and immediately jumped out before I became “broiled George”. Went back to 40-43C pool. Each pool drained to the next one. “Murky” mystery solved :-). 35-40C pool took all the drainage from the other two … Yuck. By now, I was sweating profusely. Was sitting and trying to enjoy the heat when an old dude came and sat to my left. It was evident that the guy was on indefinite strike against toothbrush/toothpaste. Whatever … After a few minutes, another old dude came and sat on my right. Voila! Another anti-toothbrush/toothpaste vigilante. And believe my luck, these 2 dudes turned out to be BFFs!! They started talking to each other loudly and passionately, with me in between … Now, I consider myself to have good endurance. The sulphur smell, the extreme heat, the bad breath … It was taking its toll and I started feeling light-headed. Somehow managed to cross 30min …
Shilin Night Market
Very crowded place. But worth it, if one wants a feel of local markets. The most well-known night market in Taipei, Shilin is quite big. Although it is chaotic some days of the week, I would recommend a visit. You find all the traditional night market eats. Pretty much any type of meat, and organ, can be found on a stick here. Taiwanese sausages, stinky tofu, Oyster omelets, coffin bread, candied fruit Etc. are some other interesting finds, all worth sampling. I felt a little queasy from all the smell and the crowds and actually did not eat anything. Tried a sugarcane juice though. Also bought Pineapple Cakes to take back home.
Must-visit, if you want to get great views of Taipei-101 … Pretty strenuous though. With my DSLR and tripod and with the high humidity, I was sweating like a mule by the time I reached the top. The other challenge was the mosquitoes … They were more like “birds” and “mosquitoes”, huge and strong.
Taiwan High-Speed Rail (“THSR”)
I was very impressed with THSR. Excellent smooth trains and as expected, unbelievably punctual. I took the THSR to Zuoying (from Taipei) and back. One leg was “Standard Car” and one leg was “Business Car”. I enjoyed the journey a lot.
All in all, a great few days in Taiwan …