I flew from Hong Kong to Taipei just days after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck central Taiwan, leaving 9 dead and dozens of headlines on the news. Western media blasted out a version of the following: WARNING —avoid the region and beware of aftershocks.
Taiwan is in a “seismically active zone,” on the Pacific Ring of Fire. “According to the Central Weather Bureau’s earthquake monitoring service between 1900~1990, the average number of earthquakes in Taiwan is approximately 2,200 per year, of which, approximately 214 can be felt.”
While admittedly a bit nervous, my friends and I elected to venture into the region, ignoring the news, and arrived in Taipei City on February 9th.
The flight from Hong Kong to Taiwan was quick, roughly an hour and a half. We arrived late at night, and had to sneak into our Airbnb (supposedly the service is illegal throughout the city ). We stayed near the city-center.
Unfortunately, we were greeted by gloomy weather that persisted throughout the weekend. I have been told that hiking in Taipei is some of the best in the world — Teapot Mountain looks amazing — I’ll definitely be back for that.
Nonetheless, we woke up excited to explore the city and wander around.
I was surprised by just how densely populated the city was.
“Taiwan is slightly bigger than Belgium, but has a population of more than 23 million people! (For the record: the already dense population of Belgium is not even half as big with about 11 million residents).” Source
As you walk the city streets, you will find numerous small alley-ways and little nooks full of people. We met lots of friendly locals!
Politically, Taiwan is quite a confusing place.
Taiwan is an island which has for all practical purposes been independent since 1950, but which China regards as a rebel region that must be reunited with the mainland — by force if necessary. China insists that nations cannot have official relations with both China and Taiwan, with the result that Taiwan has formal diplomatic ties with only a few countries. The US is Taiwan's most important friend and protector. Source
Welcome to the Official Portal Website of the Republic of China, Taiwan. Discover all the government's online…www.taiwan.gov.tw
Taiwan - Government and society: Taiwan had no central governing authority until the Dutch colonized the island in the…www.britannica.com
Another historical anecdote is that Taiwan was under Japanese rule throughout the early 1900s. This, mixed with Chinese influence as well as the budding ex-pat” community in Taiwan, which makes for a very interesting blend of cultures.
You will find this “blend of cultures” well defined across numerous components of the city. There are really unique museums, impressive architecture, and amazing amazing foods.
We visited the National Palace Museum on our first day in the city:
Overall, touring the palace was “eh.” From a historical perspective, there was lots to learn of course and the architecture was very interesting…but I would probably never go back.
The National Palace Museum, located in Taipei and Taibao, Taiwan, has a permanent collection of nearly 700,000 pieces…en.wikipedia.org
It still stands as one of the world’s tallest buildings, and you pay something like $20 to go up to the top. It was a bit anti-climactic once we got to the top, though, as fog covered the city.
There are tons of things to do in and around Taipei 101. I really enjoyed the night-life — nothing too outrageous — but there were several fun bars/clubs with great views of the city. We were out really late a few of our nights there.
Probably the most memorable component of my trip to Taipei was the food. We ate and drank lots.
Taiwan is well-known for its “bubble tea” (also known as boba or milk tea). While I am not personally the biggest fan, we stopped often to try out the different flavors.
This drink has recently become extremely popular in the states.
Din Tai Fung
Din Tai Fung, now with locations outside of Asia (in NYC and LA), was started in Taipei. We ate there twice during our trip and did not regret it for a second. They have really tasty “soup dumplings” — that are impressively challenging to make.
We also visited a few night markets that had tasty snacks (and some disturbing ones).
If all of that was not enough eating for one trip, I have to share perhaps my favorite experience from all of abroad (at least top five):
My two friends and I took a private cooking class:
Two friends and I paid (roughly) $90 USD a piece to spend 9 hours in one of Ivy’s cooking classes. I will say, I have not done many cooking classes in my life. Experience lacking, I have to say this experience was incredible.
And it was about far more than the food…but I might as well start with the food because it definitely deserves (more than just a little) some attention.
We did the afternoon class, it was just us three and Ivy. We met her at the local food market. I am about 6 foot 2. She is about 5 foot 2. We were not a match made in heaven, from the looks of it, but as soon as I met her I knew this was going to be a great experience.
She showed us around the market, as her eyes lit up talking about different types of foods that were integral to the Taiwanese culture. She showed us all of the meats, vegetables, seafood, noodles, etc. that made Taiwanese food so unique. It was an interesting blend between Japanese and Chinese influence — it was great. If you know me, you know I love markets to begin with so this was just a great experience.
After the tour of the market, we went back to her apartment where she served us traditional Taiwanese tea. It was delicious — and served uniquely (in sets of 5).
I will not bore you with the details of the cooking class but it was a really awesome few hours of cooking different types of foods. We made beef noodle soup (one of the best dishes I have had, ever), green onion pancakes, and three cup chicken. The food was all really tasty — there was a ton of it but we finished every bite.
The food was amazing. I will tell you that Ivy is even more amazing.
Ivy leverages her knowledge of food to meet the world. She has a little notebook where she has all of her (now thousands of) “students” write their name, hometown, and favorite foods. Every single person who has been through her class signs that book.
She told me…(roughly)…that “I cannot afford to travel the world. But I can afford to have everyone come visit me so I can show them a taste of Taiwan. And that is what I do. In doing so, I get to meet the world and give them the gift of cooking.”
Ivy does no “real marketing.”
90% of her students come from word of mouth.
And that was our trip to Taipei. The summary: lots of eating and lots of aimlessly exploring. Cannot really complain about the trip — definitely happy I went and will be back to Taiwan soon!
Thanks for reading!
This note is part of my travel series, Giant Leaps: a collection of my experiences from across the globe.
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