After a week in Taiwan (more correctly in Taipei), I must admit I still know very little about this island. I blame it on my crazy business meeting schedule, and even crazier weather (it rained for the whole week). But here’s the list of 10 interesting things I learnt about this Ilha Formosa (beautiful island in Portuguese):
- Great people: Taiwanese people are so friendly and hospitable. A colleague of mine took me around almost everyday, even during the weekend. Shopkeepers smiled warmly and brought me their best dishes despite the language barrier. Bus drivers made sure that I went the right way once I got off (which was super helpful given my supremely poor sense of directions). A student standing next to me on the bus tried to help a group of tourists without even being asked. It is quite bizarre why such gentle people can get into serious fist fight when it comes to politics (Google “Taiwanese parliament fights”).
- They queue for everything: from shopping, buying snacks at night markets, to boarding the train, you name it. The security queue at Taoyuan airport the day I left was unbelievably long, it took me nearly an hour to get through.
- Weird and wonderful street foods: Night markets in Taiwan are heavens for street food lovers like me. You can find all sorts of weird and wonderful local delicacies here, from oyster omelette, sweet potato balls, grilled sausage, steamed buns with stewed pork belly, shaved ice with sweet toppings to stinky tofu, BBQ chicken butt, and pig’s blood cake. They are all super cheap and tasty!!!
- Din Tai Fung: Taiwan is home to the original Din Tai Fung, a Michelin star restaurant specializing in xiaolongbao (yummy!!!). Its very first store is small with a humble setting compared to its sister outlets in Singapore, Shanghai, or Kuala Lumpur, but the food is amazing!
- National treasures: the Forbidden City in Beijing is an empty shell. All treasures from China are now in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. It has so many artifacts and artworks that even with regular rotations of its collections, it will take years to display them all. The place is massive, and jam packed with tourists, especially in the Jade room. If Louvre Museum has Mona Lisa, NPM has two famous masterpieces called ”Jadeite Cabbage” and ”meat-shaped stone”. No joke, they look like real cabbage and stewed pork made of jade and jasper. Next to the museum sits Silk Palace, a fancy restaurant serving modern dishes resembling the museum’s imperial treasures.
- 7/11: There are thousands of 7/11 stores around Taipei. You can literally find a 7/11 around every street corner. They are truly convenient stores, where you can buy groceries, pay bills, print documents, and even have a sit-down meal. Amazing!
- Crazy about Japan: there are so many Japanese restaurants in Taipei. You can also find Japanese food at night markets across Taipei. Quite a few Taiwanese friends and colleagues told me their families travel to Japan every year, even a few times a year.
- Aboriginal people: Believe it or not, there are aboriginals in Taiwan, 14 tribes to be exact. I did not meet any, but saw a group of arts students using aboriginal patterns in their designs.
- Motorbikes and bikes: I did not expect to see that many motorbikes in Taiwan at all. It felt like being back home in Vietnam. There are also many bikes in the city. Public bike rentals (YouBike) are available to locals and tourists alike.
- More spacious and affordable than Singapore or Hong Kong: Taipei is surprisingly spacious. There are not many skyscrapers in the city except in the CBD. Roads are big, traffic is light (compared to other big Asian cities), and hotel rooms are huge (my room at W hotel was twice the size of my flat in Singapore).
Old residential areas in Taipei
Motorbikes on the street and a shop selling helmets in the background
Rows of motorbikes
A bike-repairing shop
A charming old house
Waiting for traffic lights in the rain
A seafood restaurant
That old man on the right looks so hippy
Various night markets
Hujiao bing – baked buns
Hujiao bing – baked buns
BBQ fish cake, chicken butt and stinky tofu
A temple in the middle of Shilin night market
Tourists flock to night markets even when it rains
Not sure what this shop sells, it has a row of big pots
Local delicacies from night markets – pig’s blood cake, deep fried stinky tofu, stinky tofu soup with duck blood and pig intestine, and BBQ chicken butt
National Palace Museum
National Palace Museum in Taipei looks like a real palace. There was a special exhibition from Musée d’Orsay when I was there.
Cloisonne box with lotus decoration
Painted enamel vase with dragons and peony decorations
17-layer ivory ball
Details of the 17-layer ivory ball
Jadeite Cabbage – one of the museum’s most famous masterpieces. There’s always a long queue in front of this tiny carved jade.
White jade branch of elegant lychee
White glazed pillow in the shape of a recumbent child
Some pieces on display have very modern design and patterns