In May 2010 I decided to leave my job in Australia and travel around the world before moving to the USA. This journey ended up involving travelling in 18 countries on 4 continents (North America, Europe, Asia and Australia) and taking me around the world 1.5 times over a 12 month period! I wrote a number of travel emails from that trip and I thought it would be fun to revisit them with some additional info and photos. The following blog is Part 21 of that journey (continued travel in Taiwan).
September 6th, 2010
A Typhoon/severe tropical storm off the coast of an island such as Taiwan can cause some pretty bad weather (there are actually 3 of them off the coast – North, East and South East: Namtheun, Kompasu and Lionrock)! I was perfectly safe, but it was just a hassle. Monday it rained all day – really heavy!
Despite the weather I managed to get to Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall in Taipei, this place is a huge exhibition hall that celebrates the life of Sun Yat-Sen (1866-1925) – he started the revolution in China that basically ended the rule of the Emperor and eventually he became President of the Republic of China. The exhibitions were really interesting and I got there in time to see the changing of the guard (airforce troops) in front of a huge statue in the entrance hall. This was a different process to the one I saw at Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall (Chiang Kai-Shek was once the leader of China and led the fighting against Japan and the Communist Chinese, and eventually became the leader of Taiwan). There was also a great view of Taipei 101 (the 101 story skyscraper) from the hall but the rain didn’t help with photos!
I then when to the National Palace Museum (contains 700,000 artifacts representing Chinese art and culture – many things from the Chinese Emperor’s collection was rescued and ultimately placed here). Ironically my favourite piece was probably the smallest – a tiny hand carved ivory dragon boat – the level of detail sighted through a magnifying glass was incredible! No photos allowed unfortunately.
The typhoon threat has limited my travel somewhat as I need to keep away from mountains, rivers and beaches! Three quarters of the country is mountainous except for the West coast, so I headed to the South West of Taiwan via the High Speed Rail. The train was great – relatively cheap to travel on and fast with a top speed 300 km/h (186 mph).
First I went to the city of Tainan – one of the oldest cities in Taiwan and the former capital under the Qing Dynasty during Chinese Imperial times. The city was once colonised by the Dutch in the 1600’s (1622 to 1662 – then a Chinese uprising kicked them out) and also the Japanese during their occupation from 1895 to 1945. China lost the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 and had to hand what was then known as Formosa to the Japanese, but this occupation of course ended with the Japanese surrender in WW2. Taiwan has had a tumultuous history! Communist China would also have liked to take the country over after they seized control of mainland China in 1949.
There are lots of temples in Tainan. The main ones I visited were the Confucius Temple (also the first Confucian school in Taiwan), Queen of Heaven Temple and Chikhan Towers originally called Fort Provintia (built in 1653 by the Dutch).
The night I stayed in Tainan it was still about 28 degrees celsius at 8pm and as it wasnt raining I went to a place in the city called South Park (wheres Cartman?!) – an open area with food stalls, shops etc. I wanted to get an ice bubble tea, but the girls working there didn’t speak english, the menu was only in Mandarin and there were no photos of the drinks. So one of the girls ran off and found another girl from a shop down the road who could speak English! She helped me order a drink – very helpful people in Taiwan! Nice drink too!
The rain didn’t stay away for too long. I had planned to go South to Kaohsiung the second largest city in Taiwan, but they had a typhoon day and businesses and schools were closed. So I took the High Speed Rail North to the central city of Taichung the third largest city where it was still raining too but not quite as bad!
Upon arrival in Taichung I had planned to go to a science museum, but by the time I got into the downtown area and found a dodgy hotel, it was raining and I really couldn’t be bothered…instead I got a great beef noodle soup and saw the creepy documentary style movie “The Last Exorcism“. It was pretty good as far as this type of horror/thriller goes, but still nothing on “The Exorcist” though – I don’t think they will ever better this one as it is an absolute classic!
I then headed back to Taipei where there was much better weather and less chance of rain, but very hot – it was 37 degrees celsius in Taipei City. I have actually been staying in Banciao City which is a suburb of Taipei.
I went back to Taipei 101, quite an impressive building design – 101 stories (about 510 metres tall), very Asian in its styling – kind of like a giant pagoda. It was the tallest building in the world until the Burj Khalifa skyscraper was built in Dubai (a massive 828 metres tall – 163 habitable stories plus 43 maintenance levels in the spire!). The CNN tower in Toronto, Canada is physically taller than Taipei 101 but that is only due to the mast, not habitable floors of the building.
I went up to the observation decks on the 89th and 91st floors of Taipei 101 – the elevator gets up there in less than 40 seconds, apparently the fastest elevators in the world. Here I was greeted with incredible night views of the city and surrounding mountains. On the outdoor observation deck you could hear the wind howling through the structure, quite an eery sound.
My final days in Taiwan have been spent doing day trips to areas surrounding Taipei. Chung Cheng Aviation Museum near the international airport was a must see for me (naturally). They had a great collection of military aircraft there, all very well restored and maintained. The Taiwanese Air Force has been very successful in repelling Chinese air attacks during the Cold War period and this history is proudly displayed within the museum.
I spent an awesome day hiking to the top of Qixing Mountain in Yangmingshan National Park on a very hot day, it was 33 degrees celsius by 11am. Reaching the top I was drenched in sweat and mildly sunburnt, but it was well worth it for the spectacular view of Taipei and the surrounding mountains – this particular mountain has 7 various peaks (I went to 2) and is covered in grassland at the top.
Sunday I went on a day trip to the northern town of Danshui which was once a colonial outpost for Spain, then Holland, then England then Japan! It has a number of old colonial forts and buildings and a great historic street with lots of street food to try. Very tasty stuff! It was so hot there though I had to retreat to the air conditioned comfort of Taipei!
A strange fashion trend with some young women in Taiwan is to:
A) Wear blue eye contact lenses (looks very weird);
B) Wear thick rim glass frames with no glass!
C) Put on ridiculously long fake eyelashes (if combined with the blue eye thing it looks bizarre);
D) Have a fake sun tan!
Something that amused me greatly at the Taipei International Airport was the Hello Kitty waiting lounge! Another interesting thing I noticed at the airport was an air raid shelter – they still don’t trust big brother China! The Taiwanese have had a few battles with them since the fall of mainland China to the Communists in the late 1940’s, but Taiwan has managed to win against superior numbers in each battle. Pretty amazing given the size of the countries! The last major attack China made on Taiwan was back in 1967…not that long ago I guess?
Now I am back in Hong Kong for a couple of days. I will return to Australia soon.