October the sight of rain washing the streets as shop signs with bright neon lights burn and reflect on the sleek wet ground. Resembling something from 80s cyberpunk movies. The humid air wraps itself around pedestrians as sweat trickles down their forehead. A small island of roughly 7 million inhabitants Taipei has become an extremely popular tourist destination. Tourists from Japan and China can be spotted wandering the streets with expensive cameras admiring the small shops and never ending market food stalls.
Initially I thought of Taipei as a country not quiet developed to the extent of the Japanese or the Chinese both economically and infrastructure wise. Boy how wrong I was. State of the art buildings can be spotted from every corner of Taipei exquisitely designed shopping malls with exuberant shoppers can be seen enjoying their day out. Expensive cars are driven through the city like buses in London. I don`t mean your average Mercedes and BMWs I am talking about Ferraris and super cars I could not name.
Despite the obvious illustration of wealth and a stable economy what really makes Taipei unique is the abundance amount of nature surrounding this metropolitan city. Elaborately designed temples can be spotted surrounded by lush green trees and other kinds of plants. To absorb the beauty of the city and gather a sense of what Taipei truly is, Elephant Mountain provides a 360 bird’s eye view of the city. Here on a clear day the 101 building can be seen in its full glory and for photographers this is heaven. I warn you the climb to the top it’s a brutal affair. There are many steps and the humidity will have you dripping.
Public transport in Taipei is amongst some of the best in the world. I would go as far as saying it’s in par with Japan. Trains arrive as indicated on the time board. The carriages are clean and above all it’s very cheap. However, public transport is not limited to subway or over ground. The city is full of Taxis. These are not the sort of taxis that try ripping you off for being a tourist. They are all equipped with meters that start at 70TWD and later at night 90TWD. The service is great and the drivers are extremely helpful.
I believe Taipei can be fully admired during the night. It is during this time of the day that the famous markets open. These markets offer games for prizes, clothes, pineapple cakes (a popular delicacy) and an overall great atmosphere. The smell of fruits linger as you walk past juice stalls, fried fish of all kinds and steaming hot buns are put on display wetting the appetite. There is one food that you will encounter and its presence can be smelled a mile away. Stinky tofu. Strong poignant smell fills the nostrils and won’t fade until you are well distant from the food stall. If you are brave enough you may want to give it a try.
If you enjoy hot springs Taipei has an area dedicated to wondrous hot mountain water. The hot spring town is surrounded by nature and hotels and baths varying dramatically in prices. The quality of the hot spring of course is determined by how much you are willing to spend. Living in Japan I visit onsen`s regularly and normally they are the highlight of the week especially after a hard week of work. Taipei is not far behind the hot spring offered is quality. Clean and waters of varying temperatures to accommodate all types of hot spring admirers, makes visiting a must when you visit Taipei. The trip on the train itself is worth the time. As the carriage journey`s over ground allowing you to admire the beauty of the city.
Jiufen a very local town offering souvenirs and all kinds of food. Tea shops are around every corner with dozens of tea on the menu for you to try. Wandering beyond the main point of attraction can be extremely rewarding. I and my friends stumbled upon a small shop hidden away from the center. The inside was decorated with years of photography and photobooks. Classical music was smoothly playing in the background whilst the sound of rain from outside could be heard. There stood Paco a man in his 60`s we briefly spoke about photography and the great work he had on display. This was perhaps the highlight of my trip to Taipei.
I will remember Taipei as a city of many wonders. Great food, friendly people and amazing beauty. I will perhaps return in order to travel the island more extensively. I will highly recommend Taipei. If you are living in Japan or surrounding countries flights can be acquired cheaply and for accommodation there are numerous great hostels and hotels around the city. I stayed at Sleepy Dragon in Songshan I would highly recommend it. The staff are great it includes complimentary breakfast and the subway is 5 minutes away. Most importantly it won`t break the bank.
The link to Sleepy Dragon: http://www.sleepydragonhostel.com/