Taiwan: The Other China (2018)

img_20180708_142453“The Howard Plaza Hotel please”, I told the cab driver as I got in, going back to my hotel from the National Taiwan University in Taipei. Earlier on way from the airport I had noticed that the city is surrounded by mountains. So as the cabbie started to drive towards the mountains I got a little concerned,  and tried to communicate this to him. A little to my surprise most people  do not speak English in Taiwan. A few nods is all I could get as the ab sped away form the city, another 10 min and several hand gestures later, he finally took an exit and we parked at the plaza of whatever town we had landed at, the guy gathered a few people and by and by we were able to figure out where exactly I wanted to go. A forty five minute cab drive later I was at my hotel, the cab driver refused to charge me for all the extra distance despite my insistence, setting the tone for a great visit to Taiwan!

In and around Taipei:

A conference at the National Taiwan University in the summer of 2018, provided a good opportunity to explore Taipei and its surrounds. There is no direct flight from Lahore to Taipei and one has to go either through Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur. After a 9 hour journey through Bangkok I got into Taipei around noon, the airport is 30 km away from the city and it took me around 45 min to get to my hotel in the Da’an district of the city. The Howard Plaza hotel was nice enough with some decent (and of course over priced restaurants on site). The city is well connected through a metro system and getting around is very easy. Cabs are actually affordable, the only problem is that you need to have the addresses written out in Mandarin as most cabbies do not speak English.

The University campus was spread over a large area and was quite well maintained, it was reminiscent of some of the big public sector universities back in Pakistan. The surrounding area had many cafes and eateries, had some decent cake and coffee at Barista Coffee with P, whom I meet almost every year at some conference, another place we wanted to try out was the highly recommended Wisteria Tea Room but unfortunately it was closed when we went over. My friends M and K were also there visiting from Canada and we took a bus tour of the city. There are two lines one can take from the main station, the blue line takes one past various landmarks to the National Palace Museum, the red line takes one by the Chiang Kai Shek Museum, the Sun Yet Sen Memorial and the Taipei 101 tower among other points of interest. We of course visited the Taipei 101 and did some shopping and had dinner there. 

When in Taipei a must visit to a night market is a must. M, A and I headed out to sample the goodies at the Linjiang Night Market in Da’an district about a couple of miles from the hotel. From fresh cut fruit to barbecue of various sorts there is much to sample here. We started off with a walk through, checking out the various stalls, we had some corn soused in a barbecue sauce, sampled some pork buns and finally had a leisurely meal at a Teppanyaki restaurant in the market. Once again the language barrier posed a little challenge but we were able to not only navigate our way through, but also bargain down a vendor selling belts and other leather goods. I think the much advertised night markets are a must when in Taipei.

Taroko Gorge:

Since I had a short time left in Taiwan and I wanted to explore a little outside of Taipei, I booked at tour with Edison Tours for a day long visit to Taroko Gorge. THe trip is a lot of fun and definitely recommended, that only issue was a constant reminder by our guide that “this-is-a-VIP-tour”!

M, K and I were picked up from out hotel and taken to the central train station. After a 2 hour rather scenic train ride we arrived at Hualien city. A tour bus was waiting here, this wook us on a very picturesque through Taroko gorge, making several stops on the way to take in the scenery. We had a nice lunch at the Plum Garden Restaurant at the Silks Palace Hotel in Taroko, there is a  buddhist temple (Hsiang-Te) one can visit here. On the way back we stopped at the Eternal Springs Shrine and a marble factory, the Hualien Stone Sculpture Factory The last stop was at the Hualien Qixingtan Beach where we had some refreshments and took in the ocean air. We were dropped off at the Hualien train station and got back to the hotel around 8pm. The trip is rather long but completely worth it.

The next day after a hearty taiwanese breakfast I headed for the airport, did a little shopping at the many shops there and headed back to Lahore via Bangkok. It has been a short but memorable trip and I hope to be back someday and explore the Island…

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