Longshan Temple, Taipei - place of 'worship' in every sense.
My 6-year run of working experience in East Asia (South Korea & Japan) alongside visits to Hong Kong and Shanghai quite literally begged the inclusion of a trip to Taiwan, the missing link, as well as an East Asian nation which possibly does not get a large enough share of the 'essence of the East' identity. Five nights in Taipei
(at the Shin Shih hotel) were to be the base for seeing as many vital reference points as could be hoped for in 4 full days, so a plan of action was devised in order to turn the Taiwanese dream into reality. Dedicating the first full day to shopping in Taipei was not such a bad way to commence, since it enabled me to get a rounded impression of the general cost of living, as well as an excuse to breeze around some tantalisingly fine night markets of note, mainly Huaxi Street (with covered arcade), Shida, and the king of all night markets, Shilin.
The cool-looking streets of Danshui, Taiwan.
Dinner at the 'Modern Toilet' restaurant in the Shilin area proved that theme restaurants can be as wacky and outrageous as they need to be, and I quickly deduced that nobody with money in their pocket would starve in Taiwan due to the omnipresence of food (stalls and restaurants) to suit all budgets. The following day was at least equally fulfilling, and entailed a subway ride, first to Xinbeitou station, in order to check out a cross-section of Taiwanese Hot Spring culture, the museum (of same theme), Hell Valley (didn't look so infernal!), and a bathing session at both an indoor and an outdoor hot spring. From there, it was onto Danshui
, which, for my money, turned out to be a sizeable contender for the 'world's coolest town' with its ice cool college vibe, interesting museum Fort San Domingo and fashionable streets which literally sprang alive at night.
The Twin Dragon and Tiger Pagodas at the Lotus Lake in Kaohsiung.
From Danshui, it was a short hop across the water to the township of Bali, where cycle rental was easily the wisest option for getting around the area. From the fishing spots, to the temples and backstreets, it felt like there was more than one alluring destination on earth by the name of Bali, and going back to Danshui as late afternoon descended revealed the whole area to be a most worthwhile escape route from Taipei. The following day involved the largest travel cost (return rail fare by High Speed train to Kaohsiung), but when confronted with Kaohsiung's set of attractions, you'll be more than content at having parted with the sum of money paid to reach the city. The highlight for me just had to be the multiple charms and delights of the Lotus Pond, the kind of place which stopped me dead in my tracks and made me realize exactly why I make such far-flung treks - starting off at the amazing Dragon and Tiger pagodas, the other-wordliness of it all was so hotly appealing, that I just realized how soulful overseas travel can feel when the vibes are so right.
Taipei, as seen from the dizzying heights of Taipei 101 tower (world's tallest tower).
Moving on, later in the day to Cijin island (yet more rented cycle action!), followed by the Tuntex Sky Tower, the subway station's 'Dome of Light' and Computer street brought it all home that Taiwan's second largest city has a lot more to commend it than meets the eye. The final day in Taipei was reserved for trips to the Living Mall (like a huge golf ball containing a slightly less huge golf ball), Taipei 101 (far out - the elevator shoots up like a rocket, and the feeling of altitude is dizzying), and the bright lights of Ximending by night (commercialism bathed in neon, and a great hang-out spot), and then, my case was packed for the following leg of the trip in the Philippines with the multiple cool-tinged vibes of Taiwan still tingling in a wholly fulfilling afterglow.