Last week was the Korean holiday Chuseok. Its basically like the Korean Thanksgiving. Everyone goes to their hometowns to celebrate with family by eating a lot of food. Of course, being American, the holiday is totally irrelevant to us..and just means that we don't have to work. My friends and I took advantage of our week off by booking a last minute flight to Taiwan!
Sammy and Marla flew into Taiwan on Sunday morning, and Brian and I went on Tuesday morning (we had to work Monday :[ ). We arrived into a sunny and hot Taipei, and found the hostel Sammy and Marla had booked for us all to stay at. Almost immediately after our arrival we were paraded around the city by Sammy and Marla (and some guy named Spike). Our first stop was the Chiang Kai Shek memorial hall and square. Chiang Kai Shek was responsible for separating Taiwan from Chinese rule. Although China still considers Taiwan a part of their territory, it is essentially independent. They don't have the internet restrictions that the mainland has, and have a separate government, although China doesn't recognize it. This public square was one of the most beautiful that I've seen, and probably one of my favorite.
Chiang Kai Shek
After CKS, we went to 228 Peace Park. It reminded me of a smaller version of the Temple of Heaven park in Beijing that Courtney and I visited. The park is an oasis of quiet surrounded by busy streets and tall buildings. We were there late afternoon into sunset, which is my favorite time of day, and the park looked so beautiful.
228 Peace Park
After the park, the 5 of us crammed into a taxi and went to Din Tai Fung. This restaurant was named one of the Top 10 Restaurants in the WORLD. And after eating there, I can see why. We ordered lots of xiao long bao (steamed soup dumplings), noodles, fried rice, and vegetables. The staff was multi-lingual and helped us order and recommended their favorites for us.
Din Tai Fung
After dinner we walked back to CKS square. It was filled with people and illuminated under an almost-full moon. There were dance teams practicing for some sort of competition (brought me back to my high school days).
Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall at night
We went back to shower and get ready for the night. We took the subway (one of the simplest I've ever seen) to the Shila Night Market. The market is crowded and noisy filled with food, clothing, and games vendors. The food vendors sell everything from stinky tofu to chicken wraps, to baked potatoes.
The next day we took an 8:30am High Speed Rail train to Zuoying. We hired a taxi to drive us for 2 hours to the small beach town of Kenting. We stayed at a surf shack/hostel that was across the street from the beach. We spent the afternoon laying out and swimming. The water was really warm, but there was a slight undertow so we couldn't swim out too far. That night we went to the main strip of Kenting (which is about 3 blocks long and that's it). Kenting was sort of like, Chinese Thailand. There were neon lights, bars, and restaurants filled with tourists. There were souvenir and swimsuit shops as well.
On the beach with Sammy
For our second day in Kenting, we went to a different beach, a little further away from our hotel. We had hoped to surf, but the water was really flat, unlike the day before, so we opted for jet skiing instead. It had been awhile since I'd driven a jet ski, and almost threw Sammy off a few times :S but we survived! We ate dinner on the beach, and at night walked around the main strip again and hit up a few of the bars. We got pretty henna tattoos too :)
We had until about 2pm on Friday until we had to leave for our train in Zuoying, so we rented some mopeds. I was a complete disaster driving one on my own so I teamed up with Marla and she drove me around while Brian drove Sammy. We drove along the coastal road and ended up driving straight into a mini-typhoon. Again, though, we survived! Once we dropped off our mopeds back at the rental place, we picked up our bags and loaded them into the taxi we had pre-arranged to pick us up. I know it probably seems a little strange that we would take a taxi for 2 hours. But honestly, it was more convenient, and somehow only amounted to like $3 more per person than taking the bus. So...why wouldn't we do it?
Trying not to die
Once we arrived back in Taipei, we re-checked into the hostel from our first night, and then went back to Din Tai Fung for dinner. We knew exactly what we wanted this time around, and we ordered sooo much food.
To celebrate our last night in Taiwan, we went to a small bar for some drinks and KTV (karaoke). Then, we went to a huge club in Taipei called Luxy. It was "Wonderland" night, so the club was decked out like Wonderland and the lighting was so trippy. We had such a fun time though, and met so many people. I have to say...the Taiwanese are some of the friendliest people I have ever met in any country. Not just in the club, but literally everywhere we went. If we appeared even a little bit lost or confused, someone would approach us and ask how they could help. The Taiwanese were much more outgoing than Koreans are. Koreans are so polite and nice, but very quiet and shy. The Taiwanese are much more openly friendly, in my opinion. Also, people in Taiwan as a whole speak wayyyyy more English than in Korea or China. It seemed like no matter who we asked for help or directions, they were able to communicate without trouble to us. In Korea or China, it would be a long shot to find someone who speaks enough English to convey what they want to say to you.
We were out until nearly 5am, but had to check out by 11 that morning. After we checked out, we stored our bags so that we could go to the Taipei 101. Its the 2nd tallest building in the world (the tallest is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai). We went to the top of the building where they have both an indoor and outdoor observation deck. The elevator is also the fastest elevator in the world...taking you up 91 floors in under 45 seconds. FYI...that's fast.
Me and Marla at the top!
From the 101, we had to rush back to the hostel so we could pick up our luggage and make our way to the airport bus station.
So, my overall observations about Taiwan are that its cleaner and a little quieter than Beijing. The people are definitely more polite than the Chinese and I would say equally as polite as the Koreans, although in a different way. Taipei was hot and crowded but not overwhelming. Taipei is definitely influenced by all of the Asian cultures and it shows in their cars, food, and language. I wasn't sure what to expect from Taiwan, but after visiting, its probably one of my favorite countries that I've been too. I was really impressed by the city of Taipei, and the people in general. Its such a small country, so I wouldn't suggest people come all the way around the world just to see this country...however, if you're ever in Asia, I'd say its a must-see.
So that's all for now. I'll update soon again. Hopefully we'll be taking another trip to Busan in the next few weeks, and I'll write about my co-teacher's wedding!
Here's the latest song from 2NE1 - its called "Go Away". I attached the version with English subs since the video has an added story line. Click here to check it out!
"To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries." -- Aldous Huxley