What happens when you decide to fly to Taipei for a one night stay, by yourself, and you don’t speak Chinese? A lot of fun…but mostly eating. During my Golden Week vacation, I went on a two day, one night adventure to Taipei with no plans. It was exactly what I needed, even if I am not any more well rested or mentally clear than I was before I went.
From Tokyo it is easy to catch a cheap flight to Taipei using one of the many budget airlines. I used Peach, as I was able to pay cash for the ticket at my neighborhood conbini (convenience store). My flight left at 6am on a Thursday, and returned at 1am on Friday/Saturday. That left me about 36ish hours to explore Taipei.
I got into Taipei at 8am and took the train directly from the airport into Taipei where I had reserved a hostel for one night. When I got to my stop and walked out into the street, I immediately felt more alive. Taipei is hot and humid, just like where I grew up. It felt good to have the sun beaming down on me.
As I walked to my hostel to leave my bag before I started exploring the city, I couldn’t help but notice the plethora of street food. My hostel happened to be in the Ximending neighborhood of the Wanhua District of Taipei. It reminded me a lot of Shibuya, here in Tokyo but cheaper and a little more chaotic, which I loved. On the corner of my street was a place for a typical Taiwanese breakfast. I got warm soy milk, fried bread, and a clay oven bread with egg in the middle. I fell in love at first bite. This ended up being the theme of the trip, eat whatever you want, whenever you want.
Immediately after breakfast I picked up a bubble tea, and made it back to the train station to go explore another neighborhood and do something I haven’t done in two years…get my nails done. I made my way to the Da’an District and on to Dunhua South Road. It was another shopper’s paradise with tons of stores and even more food stalls. I got my mani-ped accompanied by wine and felt like a queen. I explored the area after and ended up picking up some papaya milk and a peanut butter cronut as a snack. I LOVE papaya and being able to get some cheap tropical fruit was an amazing blessing.
It was around 3pm when I decided to go and properly check into my hostel, shower, and change. I stayed at the NEXT Taipei Hostel, and I highly recommend it. The location is amazing and the atmosphere and people were great. They were super helpful and even gave me some Mandarin/English cheat sheets for sightseeing spots.
After getting all cleaned up, I put on my trail runners and made my way to Elephant Mountain to hike up the trail and see the sunset over Taipei. The trail is well marked from the train station, and it isn’t hard to find. It felt great to be among the lush green on the edge of a sprawling metropolis. I had originally thought I would just go to the top and turn around, but it felt so good to rain down sweat, I did the entire trail. I got some stares along the way due to my mistake of wearing new blue eyeliner that ran down my face as I was sweating from the humidity (things you forget after living in Japan). That being said, I was able to get some great photos of Taipei 101 and the evening sun. It was a spectacular view. And because I decided to do the entire trail, my finishing point ended up being a Buddhist temple, a great way to end my hike.
I decided to walk to the famous Taipei 101 from the temple. There weren’t many other pedestrians while I was walking, mostly due to Taipei’s cheap and convenient train system. But, I wanted to enjoy the weather. At the bottom of the tower is a food court, where you can find any food you desire. One of my favorite things about Southeast Asia is the food courts. Along with the food court, you can also find the Taipei 101 branch of Din Tai Fung, the world renowned dumpling spot. The line to eat-in was at 70 minutes, and because I was alone, I decided to do take-out instead. It was ready in 15 minutes and I was able to take my 5 boxes of dumplings to the food court and eat in peace. I got dumplings and buns. By far, the dumplings were my favorite and well worth even the 70 minute wait.
After stuffing my face on the deliciousness at Din Tai Fung, I decided to hit the streets again and walk around the area and do some window shopping. I was enjoying the sounds of ABBA coming from Forever 21 when I noticed a food truck event across the street. Even though I had JUST had dinner, I decided to see if there was anything else that looked enticing. I settled on some delicious craft beer. It was happy hour and they were having a two for one special. So, I imbibed in the deliciousness of two Taihu beers. The brewery had some interesting brews, including a Pizza IPA, but I decided on a stout and a red. As I was enjoying my beers and standing on a fake lawn lined with twinkle lights taking the sights and sounds of Taipei at night, the familiar sounds of Celia Cruz started to blare through the speakers. I thought I must’ve been drunk or dreaming, but about 5 minutes later a Latin dance troupe started a demonstration followed by a group lesson. If I haven’t mentioned it before, I love to dance. In college I was in the Salsa dance club and my family is full of great dancers. Living in rural Japan, the chances to dance Salsa, Merengue, and Bachata are non-existent. So, I joined in the class and ended up dancing non-stop for two hours with a mix of people from Taiwan and even one from Argentina.
When my legs were just about to give out, I decided to walk to the nearest night market. I said good-bye to my new friends, giving them hugs, and hit the streets of Taipei once again. Wandering through the night market made me feel like I was back home in Mexico City. The sights, sounds, and smells. People selling clothes right next to people selling fruit and late night snacks. It was the one time all day that I didn’t eat anything. I was completely stuffed. I walked back to the train station and went back to the hostel.
The next day, I woke up nice and early. I went back to my little Taiwanese breakfast spot, this time having an egg wrap with the soy milk. I followed that with some onion pancakes that were being sold on the street before I made it on to the train to venture to Beitou, the hot spring area of Taipei. I walked around Beitou taking pictures, and enjoying the surrounding greenery. After, I hit some other popular tourist spots including Longshan Temple and the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. With all the walking and dancing I decided to get a massage. The massages are cheap in Taiwan and you can get just your feet or your whole body done at what most people might spend on a meal in the States. Feeling completely revitalized, I stopped by a Taiwanese bakery, picked up some sweets and continued my trek. I eventually made it back to the Ximending district and got a pitaya smoothie while I did some souvenir shopping. I also picked up my last Taiwanese food treat of my trip. I stopped at Potato Prince, where I COMPLETELY indulged in an entire deep fried potato covered in velveta cheese with pineapple. It was over the top ridiculous, and completely delicious, the perfect ending to my trip.
I arrived back in Japan where I slept for 16 hours. I loved wandering around a new city, even if it was the first time I had no language skills to get me anywhere. The people were completely welcoming, and I felt right at home. I was not there for a quiet vacation, I was there to experience the culture and chaos that I miss while living in Japan. Taipei not only found its way to my stomach, but to my heart. It was a shorter trip than I would have liked, but I was able to accomplish a lot, even gaining almost 4lbs.
Now I am settled back into my routine, extremely busy with work and hobbies. But, I have that reminder, that I am still that girl that can pick up and go anywhere in the world alone and have amazing experiences. The magic of travel will always be with me, and I hope to continue that even more in the future.