What do I have to say about my experience in Taipei? 10/10 would recommend.
To make this whole thing a lot more romantic than it actually is, I am just going to go ahead and say this: I didn’t find Taipei, Taipei found me.
When I realized I had a four hour layover in Taipei, Taiwan on my way to Vietnam I was intrigued. Taiwan…. where exactly is that again? I did some googling, saw some pictures, and then promptly moved on with my life.
Fast forward to August 2016. I am reading Nat Geo Travel Magazine (aka the bible) andstumble across a 10 page “Getaway Game” spread on 3 days in Taipei.
My eyes widened. The world’s best soup dumplings? Karaoke as the national pastime? State of the art public transit? Say no more. I’m there.
I had a pretty hellish experience trying to change my flight. Luckily, at the very last minute (the actual last minute… like already sitting in the Taipei airport last minute) I made it work.
A special shoutout to my mom for encouraging me to go ahead and get the ticket even though I thought it was over my budget. There is a lesson in that. If you really want to do something while traveling but are worried about cost… fuck it. Go ahead. Do it. You will make it work down the road.
Was it worth it? You better believe it. I got to spend three glorious (albeit, jet lagged) days in Taipei, Taiwan.
I was sad to see Taipei go.... really sad. It if it wasn't for the fact every second I spent in Taipei was a second I couldn't spend in Vietnam (visas, man), I would have happily stayed longer.
But why? What made Taipei so great?
The internet states the same thing about every country on this planet: “For the most part, the people in *blank* are extremely friendly and will go out of their way to help you.”
Yeah, they say that, but for the first time in all of my travels, I actually experienced it. It wasn’t a one time thing either… people in Taipei couldn’t stop helping me. Everyone I passed smiled and cocked their head as if to ask, "everything okay?"
I didn’t see another white female the entire time I was in Taipei. My face stopped people in the streets. There was pointing, waving, and the occasional, "Hello girl!” (less creepy then it sounds).
Everyone I interacted with (with the exception of that 5am airport shuttle driver) was overly accommodating to my visit, even though there was no reason for them to be.
Shop keepers and waiters asked me about my trip and called me brave. Vendors insisted I try samples of their local delicacies. One women even got off a bus two stops past her destination to ensure I got to the correct temple, even though I kindly assured her I knew what I was doing.
Trust me: I loved the food, I was mesmerized by the culture, but it would be an absolute sin to not express that my time in Taipei was 100% made by the people who conveyed such warmth to this nervous stranger, without even speaking a word.
I am a sucker for good public transit. It is actually a point on my “perfect city trifecta”. Pittsburgh’s lack of good public transit is one of the only reasons I would consider leaving sometime soon.
Taipei…. you have outdone yourself. The city’s metro system, the MRT, is clean, timely, and best of all, cheap. The cost of a trip depends on the distance. The most I ever paid (to go an hour outside the city into the mountains, mind you) was 40 TWD, which is just a little over $1 USD.
The inside of the trains are operating room status clean, and extremely spacious. Even during peak rush hour, no one will be grinding up on you.
The entire process - from buying tickets to finding your train - is simple and expertly laid out. As a white girl who knows 0 Mandarin, I was able to completely figure out the system.
If the metro doesn’t suit your needs, Taipei also has a fantastic bus system. It is also clean, convent, and cheap at just 15 TWD (aka 50 cents) a ride.
In General, Taipei is a very walkable city best experienced by foot... but, Taipei is also a massive city, so luckily its public transit has got ya covered.
If there is one thing I love more than food, it is convenient food… and that is what Taiwan is know for. Street carts, night markets, and fast frys, oh my.
The same way Taipei itself found me, all my my meals found me too. By this I mean I literally stumbled across them while exploring. It is easy to feed yourself in Taipei just by smelling or seeing something delicious. I think my most common thought while in the city was, "is it time to eat again?"
There are certain foods you have to try. There are certain restaurants that you have to go to. Deffinetly do all of those, but also follow this basic principle: if you see a long line, it is probably good. There were several things I would have never tried if it had not been for the que that encouraged me to give it a whirl (special shoutout to Hujiao Bing at the Raohe Night Market).
I had this running theory based off of my travels in Europe that I could gauge the price index of a city based off of the cost of its hostel lodging.
Taipei disproved my theory. The lodging in Taipei was not cheap for Asia standards ($20 a night vs. the $7 a night I pay in Vietnam). This fact made me wary of how much my little diversion into Taipei was going to run me.
I was pleasantly surprised. Street food? $1-3. A liter of bottled water? $2. Lunch at the MUST visit restaurant? $10. Compared to the lodging price, I found the city to be very backpacker friendly in terms of finance. I paid less than $20 a night for lodging in Belgium, and yeah... that place was rulllllll expensive.
As I mentioned, my trip to Taipei was cut short by the clock ticking on my Vietnam visa. There were still plenty of things I wanted to see, and I am ashamed to admit for the first time in life, I let jetlag completely get the best of me. I actually made the choice to skip sights and food to sleep in my bed. I have never done that before.
In the Anthony Bourdain's special on Taipei (which I recommend watching if you are planning a trip), he finishes by saying, "Understated, charming, always exciting, a visit here will most likely leave you wanting to return."
Very true, Tony. Very true.
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