When I was crossing the Indonesian border in July, I started queuing for a paid visa but an immigration officer saw my EU passport and directed me straight to the immigration desk. Not knowing the difference, I skipped the paid Visa-On-Arrival and got stamped with a free one instead.
What’s the difference between them?
As I learned, the free visa in my passport meant that I had to leave Bali a month later and come back. I looked for flights to the countries surrounding Indonesia. Everything looked interesting. Having to do this “back & forth” trip, gave me an excuse to travel. Singapore. Malaysia. Philippines. Australia. East Timor? So many choices… But then my thoughts went a bit farther North.
How about Taipei?
A friend from my school years lives there. It’d be fantastic to catch up after so many years. I checked the tickets. All right. We’re going to Taipei. I wrote to Pengshian that I’m coming to Taipei and she asked what I was interested in: history? Nature? Monuments? Well, now that I had to think of it, I was interested in everything.
Not a long time later, I received a message with a suggested sightseeing itinerary for the few days that I was going to spend there. I was speechless. Someone actually went through the trouble of thinking how to arrange a good time for me? More than that: Pengshian wrote it down. I was moved and impressed.
Of course, the list wasn’t set in stone and we improvised as we went along. Here’s my list things that are an absolute must-do if you have a city break in Taipei:
1. Climb the Qixing Mountain in the Yangmingshan National Park.
How often do you have a chance to climb a volcano? The Qixing Mountain began erupting about 700,000 years ago. It seems like a long time but don’t be fooled, as the smell of sulphur is very strong in the air. Since sulphur is not the healthiest things to breathe, you probably shouldn’t think of camping here.
With its height of 1,120 meters, the Qixing is an easy and pleasurable hike. The routes around the national park are clearly marked, so walking a different path up and a different path down is nice and easy. If you’re planning to do that, don’t park your car on one side of the mountain as you’re going to end up in a completely different place.
The mountain has hot springs and fumaroles, which are exciting things to see. You can actually observe water that is boing in puddles coming straight from the earth. But the best thing about the Qixing mountain are the views of the surrounding area with an amazing vista of Taipei! That’s really worth the hassle and the exercise.
2. Go to the hot springs.
“Taiwan is famous for its hot springs,” you will read in every tourist guide. Tired after hiking the Qixing Mountain, we really looked forward to an option to relax. My muscles were sore from the effort and a hot spring seemed like the best solution.
It is fortunate that when coming back from the Yangmingshan National Park to Taipei, you end up straight at the hot spring neighbourhood. You can choose from many different places as a lot of hotels have hot springs in their offer.
If you want a real outdoor experience, you have to go outside Taipei but who has got time for that if you’re staying in the city just for a few nights? The hot water is going to calm your body and refresh your spirit. You can be sure of that!
3. Eat at the Food Court of the Shilin Night Market.
A lot of tourists go to the Shilin Night Market but not a lot of them go down to the Food Court. From the few souls that find their way there (usually guided by a local person), still less take the time to sit down and eat.
This might be because a very strong smell hits you as soon as you come underground (yup, that’s where you’re gonna find the Food Court). Don’t let this discourage you. You didn’t travel half way across the globe to have a look at the place and run, right?
Sit down, enjoy the atmosphere. The place is bustling with people, noise and a plethora of smells. It’s a unique experience to let this atmosphere sink in and you won’t be able to do that without sitting down, without allowing the pushy hosts to take care of you. Eat. Don’t forget to eat.
4. Pray at the Longshan Temple.
The Longshan Temple is one of the city’s top religious sites. Founded in 1738, the amazing traditional architecture is set amongst tall modern office and residential buildings, creating a wonderful contrast and a sight-to-see. The temple’s current look is an outcome of many rebuilding sessions after damage to the temple was done during earthquakes and wars.
Longshan is busy with life. Early in the morning, the people of Taipei as well as tourists flock to the temple. Longshan is dedicated to Guanyin, the bodhisattva of mercy, but over 100 other gods and goddesses are worshipped in the rear and side halls of the temple.
With a mass of people praying constantly at the temple, the energy of the place has very unique vibrations. The spiritual support at the Longshan Temple is amazing. Why not tap into this great source since you’re already there? This is a sacred ground and you can be sure that whatever your religious beliefs are, or even if you don’t associate yourself with any particular faith whatsoever, you will be heard from here.
When in doubt, Taiwanese people go to temples and pray to the Gods, asking for guidance. It’s even possible to ask a question and get an actual answer, if the Gods permit it, of course. There’s a set ritual of praying at the temple and you can read about it more here.
5. Ride a bike at night.
With all the amazing things I’ve done in Taipei, this one came as a surprise. Tired of sightseeing, my Taiwanese friends proposed that we ride bikes back home. Oh, how I loved the idea!
It was already evening. The air was stuffy and hot. Another trip by metro would be tedious and boring. We went to a bikes’ station, took three two-wheelers and pedaled thorough the dark city brightened by the lights. Suddenly, the heat wasn’t bothersome. Cool wind was stroking our skin and our feet had a moment to rest. It was time to breathe…
We rode the bikes around landmark monuments, parks and squares. The streets were empty, no tourists in our path. It was an experience on a completely different level.
As you might have noticed, visiting Taipei 101 has not found its way to my 5 Great Things To Do In Taipei list. I guess if you’re in Taipei, you’re gonna go there anyway. However, since 101 isn’t the highest building in the world anymore, the magic is gone. And if you don’t like feeling like a speck of dust caged in a tourist trap, it is much better to experience one of the things above.