A Weekend Trip to Taipei

Chatteris' own Jude Holmes grabs her passport and takes us through a weekend trip to Taipei!

It’s a minute to clock-out time, and I usually only count the seconds when I’m trying to make a free-flow (seriously though, you try racing the clock at rush hour from Sha Tin to Central). But today I’m holding a heavier bag than usual and this destination requires a passport; I’m about to have a weekend trip to Tapei! Thanks to the speedy MTR, I arrive at the airport in plenty of time to get through security and grab some food before buckling up for under 2 hours (so short I couldn’t watch a whole film!). Arriving in Taipei, security takes a little longer than I expect before I jump on the commuter train to the central station (if possible, grab the express train as it shaves 20 mins off your time!). Swapping lines once, I walk the last bit to the hostel, noticing how quiet and safe Taipei feels already just before I pass out in my bed.
Jude living her best life

Getting my bearings better in the daylight, I make the most of the free breakfast, maps and guidebooks at the hostel and make a plan of action. First on the list is the highly rated Miniatures Museum, a quirky collection of dolls houses, replica streets and snow white scenes with contributors from the USA, UK and elsewhere. Notably, there’s an “oriental room” built by a Canadian couple which is delicately described as “surely not the house we are accustomed to here in Taiwan”.

Heading on foot towards the centre, I notice that Taipei is much less built up than Hong Kong, with wider streets, small, quiet backstreets and plenty of cafes with plants everywhere - very relaxing to wander through! Passing the Museum of Contemporary Art, I look in for an enjoyable hour before heading towards 2/28 Peace Park. I grab food from the street stalls and eat it in the park, overlooking a pond. The Taiwanese Tourism Board fund 3 free walking tours a week across different areas of the capital, so I meet to tour guides Han and Grace, who lead around 20 of us across the old town, seeing the city gates and tasting street food & ice cream with their guidance. At the end of the tour, 6 of us decided to continue sightseeing together, walking through the pedestrianised area of town before heading to the CNY light shows. We jumped on a MRT (HK = MTR, Taipei = MRT) north to Shilin night market, which has  a functioning temple and performances on a raised stage in the middle. Sharing bites of each food allowed me to try the best fried spicy tofu, cuttlefish, quails eggs, dumplings and lemongrass jelly drinks! To end the night, we made our way back to the start of the Elephant Mountain trail, hiking to the top, just in time to see the Taipei 101 lights switch off at 11pm.
Jude with her new-found friends!

Waking up a little later, I spent the morning eating breakfast, charging my phone and using the free WiFi to make a more relaxed plan for my second day. After signing out, I picked up my bag and thanked myself for the small amount I’d packed. I’d made a plan to explore the area closer to my hostel, starting with a short walk to a local temple marked on the map. On the way, I take a detour into a smaller, unmarked temple which is empty except for me and the guy selling incense whilst eating his breakfast noodles and watching a makeup channel on the TV mounted to the temple wall. It’s beautiful. Walking onwards, I see the rainbow bridge - a symbol of Taipei’s improving inclusivity of the LGBTQ+ community, something the city is proud to share. At the Songshan Ciyou temple, I find out where everyone’s been hiding. It’s full of life, and trestle tables piled with clothes and bowls of food - either offerings or for sale, I’m not sure. People are queuing for incense sticks and bowls of noodles to eat inside the ground floor and old men and women sit around on stools exchanging news and gossip. Two floors up, a service is in full swing with cloaked attendees chanting to drums. Walking up the steps to the fourth floor (and highest open to the public) takes care as people are waving lit incense sticks walk from room to room, honouring different statues with prayers, often also carrying children or bowls of noodles as they go. The community feel of the temple is present even up here as you look down on the lower floors, hearing the chants waft up, seeing the noodles being served and watching parents teach their children how to respect the place they are in.
One of the many temples in Taipei

I spend the rest of the morning walking through the underground bookstore that lines one side of an underground walkway between two MRT stations, with independent jewellery, leather and coffee shops lining the other. Afterwards, I wander through the 1914 creative park, full of exhibitions of zero waste clothes, Moomins and tea ceremony kits; jugglers, toy sellers and street food carts entertain families in the courtyards and on the grass outside the park buildings.

Heading back to the area of town where I first saw the cafes, I walked past the Taipei Tech University where a beautiful wall of trees are shaped into growth by metal supports. I took lunch at Yucca cafe, which prides itself on using locally grown ingredients to make amazing Taiwanese pesto and chicken pasta and french toast layered with fruit. YUM.

Finishing up my trip, I wander to Daan park, where standing bikes let you power water fountains and kids play football until dark. Wandering slowly back to the MRT station and towards the airport, my phone battery is low but my heart is full.

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