After arriving at Taipei Taoyuan International airport I caught the bus to Taipei and found myself in the apartment of a stranger - Grant, my Couchsurfing host for the next few days. Thankfully first impressions didn't scream "serial killer" and aside from telling me I have a lot of wrinkles he appeared to be a really nice guy. Little did I know he would soon turn into my travel partner for the next week. It was strange, our first meeting was more like a reunion among old friends than a meeting of two strange Americans in Asia.
We spent a few hours talking, made a trip to the locksmith and enjoyed a delicious beer before leaving to a rooftop BBQ which Grant was kind enough to invite me to. On the way we made a stop for more beer and some Guava (not my favorite) but better if you sprinkle the "drugs" on it (I think it was actually plum? powder). I must say the availability, spread and price of the fruit in Taiwan is a definite bonus. That night I met some awesome people, ate some delicious chicken, beef, mango and pepper BBQ and took in the sites and sounds of Taipei. We called it an earlyish night as we were planning to meet another of Grant's friends the next morning at 8:30 for a hike (more on that later).
After the hike we decided to catch a bus to the Palace Museum - one of the must see's for tourists in Taiwan, plus it would shelter us from the rain. The museum holds close to 700,000 pieces of ancient Chinese artifacts and artwork, but the impressive part is the age, dating back over 8,000 years. It's interesting how the art wound up in Taiwan as general Chiang Kai-Shek "ran away" with the work during the Chinese Civil War.
Friday was my first day to explore the city so I made my way west on the subway starting my day at Longshan Temple. When I arrived it was packed, but understandably so, the architecture was amazing (and a pleasant change from the temples and palaces in Korea). Longshan was originally constructed in 1738 and consists of three halls with the fore hall used for people to worship. After the temple I decided to wander the street - assuming that I was making my way towards Ximen (a popular shopping district), but instead found myself at the gates of the Botanical gardens. Maybe I've been spoiled with my previous experiences (Greendale, Sydney, and Chicago) because the gardens were a bit of a let down, small and partially under construction.
After taking a look (or two) at my map I reoriented myself and made my way back towards Ximen. I had considered skipping it, but I was also told there were good food options and I was getting hungry, so it made sense. The highlight of the afternoon (okay maybe an exaggeration) was the banana smoothie I bought, although the accompanied brain freeze wasn't as enjoyable. I wandered the streets for a while, checked out some shoes and trinkets and continued on my way. I soon found myself outside the 2/28 peace park commemorating the 228 Massacre which took place February 28, 1947 killing up to 30,000 civilians making it one of the most important events in Taiwan's modern history.
More walking and I reached Chiang Kai-shek memorial hall - and wow, talk about an entrance. The front gate of memorial hall square (240,000 square meteres) was beyond impressive, and surprisingly not gorged with tourists. The park also contains the National Theater and National Concert Hall - both of which were extremely impressive buildings. I'm not sure why but the stairs to the hall were blocked off so I couldn't go up for a closer look of the statue of Chiang Kai-shek, who was an influential leader of the Nationalist party in China and became the President of the Republic of China, until death his in 1975. After a day of walking, sweating, sight seeing and eating I made my way back to Grants apartment to relax before going out with Grant and some friends for pizza and a going away party. It was funny because some of the guys (whom we both met that night) thought Grant and I were close friends for years - fooled them, only met 2 days ago!
Fast forward to Sunday morning (you can read about the nights and hikes in future posts), I ventured out with Grants second CouchSurfing guest for the week, Cory. Grant appeared to be dead to the world so we decided to navigate our way towards the Taipei 101 building and Sun Yat-sen memorial hall on our own. The memorial was not quite as impressive as Chiang Kai-shek, but this time I was actually able to see the monument inside. I remember hearing mixed opinions on weather or not to pay the admission to the top floor of the 101 building but I'd definitely say it was worth it. We made our way up (on the fastest elevator in the world - 55ft/sec) just as a storm was rolling into town which made for an awesome view and pictures. The tower is currently the second tallest in the world at 508m, recently surpassed in 2010 by the Burj Kalifa in Dubai.
Done in just under two days that constitutes the majority of touristy thing I did during my first visit to Taipei. I'm sure there is a lot more to see, but I had more to see and do - I can't sit still for too long!
This country has a smell, I can't describe it and I actually don't know what it is, but as soon as I step out of the airport I know I've arrived. The land of night markets, bubble tea and so, soooo much food, your tastebuds will be tired.