“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” Paul Theroux
After spotting a rare deal on airfare out of Korea, I headed to Taipei in December 2009. The weather was a welcoming break from the freezing temperatures of Seoul at that time of year and it was nice to see some greenery after the grayness of a northern winter. Having only three days, I didn’t have much time to see the city in detail, but had a fabulous time nonetheless.
The city is a mix of old and new, containing seemingly endless tenement looking buildings next to soaring skyscrapers-including the famous Taipei 101, which was the tallest building on the planet for a while. As the last refuge of General Chiang Kai-shek and his nationalist troops, the National Palace Museum contains many treasures rescued and transported to the island just before the fall of mainland China.
The city streets are abuzz with activity and sometimes chaotic with the sound of thousands of honking horns, shining neon lights and masses of people going about their activity. At times, all this sensory stimulation can become overwhelming and a little break is necessary.
Thinking of escaping the hustle and bustle of the city streets by perhaps slipping into a temple or shrine? Think again! The temples too are awake with activity, as the faithful go about their duty of making offerings and praying. The smell of incense permeating the air and the glow of the countless lanterns do provide a sort of mesmerizing aura however.
After battling the crowds and excursion to a temple or two, it’s necessary to try a few of the Taipei specialties and fill the stomach. Taiwan is famous for a few different specialties, including stinky tofu, which indeed lives up to its name, but is quite a nice little treat at one of the night markets. The markets themselves can be found in every section of town and they too are a bustling chaotic cluster with masses of people yelling out orders, shuffling to and fro to pick up orders or look for a spot to enjoy their food for a moment.
Another must try is the Xiao Long Bao, or soup dumplings, which come with multiple fillings and provide, when bitten into a burst of favorable broth. There are countless outlets serving this delicacy, ranging from simple street stalls to upscale establishments. I ended up at the famous Din Tai Fung, which is a popular choice among locals and travelers alike.