After leaving Japan behind, our next destination was Taiwan, where we would be spending a total of six nights. As one of the less travelled countries on our itinerary, we were unsure what to expect, and excited to see what we would discover.
It was a long journey to Taiwan, including a delayed flight, and it was late afternoon by the time we arrived at our hotel in the capital Taipei. We were staying in the lively Ximending neighbourhood, which seemed much like a smaller version of Tokyo’s Shibuya district. The busy streets were lined with high end shopping malls, restaurants and bars.
In need of some dinner, we wandered to nearby Huaxi Night Market. Night markets are extremely popular in Taiwan, opening late into the night and offering the opportunity to eat, stop and socialise all in one place.
Although the main covered section of the market is small, it spills out onto the surrounding streets, with a huge variety of food and other goods on offer. We sampled a number of delicious items, although with very few English menus it was quite a challenge to figure out exactly what we were eating.
The following morning started with a visit to Bopiliao Historical Block. The well preserved area has a long history dating back to the 17th Century, and now serves as a cultural and educational centre. It was interesting to walk through the narrow streets, and get a glimpse of how life in Taiwan used to be.
Just a short walk from here took us to Longshan temple. This is one of the most important in Taiwan, and as we arrived, the large complex was packed with worshippers. As usual Rachael was not dressed appropriately to enter, so we had to make do with admiring the grand exterior.
Later that day we decided to do something a little different and joined a free walking tour through the old town of Taipei. This began with a walk through the 228 Peace Memorial Park, which is steeped in history, and contains a memorial to the victims of the violently suppressed 1947 government uprising.
Our knowledgeable guides gave us a detailed account of the country’s complicated history with mainland China. While we had a limited understanding of this, we did not realised that there was also such a large Japanese influence on Taiwan, with the island under Japanese rule between 1895 and 1945.
With the promise of a free foot massage, our guide then took us to the park’s reflexology section. We started along the short stone path, which is designed to work specific areas of your feet. I soon stopped, finding it far too painful although Rachael made it to the end of the path. I did however take the guides advice and instead lied down and used the path for a back massage.
After leaving the park, we continued to the grand Presidential Office Building which was built during Japanese rule. Here our guide explained how Taiwan is still only officially recognised by 19 countries, despite many others having unofficial diplomatic relationships.
Our next stop was at the popular Snow King ice cream store. The store is famous for its unusual savoury flavours. We sampled a disgusting pork floss flavour, before settling on the tropical flavours of the Custard Apple fruit, which our guide explained was currently in season.
The tour came to a premature end, with a huge downpour arriving just as we were making our way back into the Ximending neighbourhood. Despite the weather we decided to continue with our planned visit to Xiangshan, a mountain to the south of the city which is more commonly known as Elephant Mountain.
After climbing a short but very steep staircase, we arrived at the first of several viewing platforms located along the mountains walking trails. This was well worth the effort given the stunning views back across Taipei. The city’s skyline is dominated by the 439m high Taipei 101, which was the world’s tallest building until it was overtaken by the Burj Khalif in 2010.
By this point we were ready for some dinner, and we decided to try and catch our own by visiting one of Taipei’s indoor shrimp fishing pools. This is a popular pastime in Taipei, and there are a number of pools located in the Shilin district to the north of the city. Visitors pay to fish by the hour, and can keep any shrimp that they catch, with cooking facilities also available onsite.
After entering one of the busier pools, we paid for an hour of shrimping and were provided with a fishing rod as well as a tray of bait. We made our way over to the fishing area and found some empty plastic chairs on the edge of the murky pool. With neither of us having any fishing experience, we carefully watched those around us before casting our rod.
It wasn’t long before I felt a nibble, and managed to pull one of the sizeable shrimp from the water. This turned out to be the easy part, with both of us struggling to unhook the shrimp, much to the amusement of those around us, and we both received cuts from the shrimp’s sharp pincers for our troubles.
We managed to catch a grand total of three shrimps within the hour, which we thought was quite an achievement given our lack of experience. This was despite the impressive haul of the elderly man next to us who seemed intent on emptying the entire pool of its contents!
Unsure of what to do next, we stood around looking lost until a friendly local took pity on us and showed us how to kill and skewer the shrimp. This part was particularly gruesome, and there was no complaints from us when he offered to prepare all three. We then rubbed the skewers in salt before placing them under a grill, and waited for the shells to turn to a vivid orange colour.
The cooked shrimp were delicious, although they didn’t exactly make for a substantial dinner for two. We therefore took a taxi back into the centre of Shilin, which is home to another of the city’s large night markets. We wandered around the stalls, before ending the evening with some food from the aptly named Huge Burger.