Day 255: One Night In Taipei

Thur. 25th April 2013

Not a clue what is in the sausageToday, we are off to Taipei for our final night on Taiwan. Although there is no particular rush to get there, there is still no lie in for us as we need to get up to say goodbye to Rob, Ceilin and Jamie before they leave for work and school at 7:15. Our week with them has been so enjoyable and has passed by so quickly we’re not sure we want to go. Rob has succeeded in his challenge to show us the variety and the beauty in Taiwan but even more than that, we have enjoyed getting to know his family a little better. We have seen new facets to everyone and we love the people that Ceilin and Jamie are growing up to become. Thank you all so much for looking after us so well.

A slower train than we were expecting to catchOur plan is to catch the High Speed Train (HST) from Taichung up to Taipei but it seems that today, for the very first time since the line opened, there has been a signal failure and the trains are not running. (They could take lessons from the monorail in Melaka which broke down on its first day and has never run since). It seems to be causing chaos and we later find out that between 40,000 and 60,000 people were affected. The next day the papers are full of how heads will roll because of the disruption.

So that's all clear then?Fortunately, Sian was looking after us this morning (she doesn’t leave for work until around 11) and she was able to put together a Plan B for us which involved catching the regular train from Changhua to Taipei. This means that our journey is 2.5hrs instead of just 45minutes. Sian treats this as if it is a disaster and, perhaps, before this trip we’d have felt like that about it too.Now it is just one of those things and all part and parcel of our adventure. In any, case it just gives us a chance to catch up on our blog!Sian escorted our taxi to the station and sorted our tickets out too.

Taipei Main Station all lit upA bigger issue for us (well, me) is that the coffee machine in the cafe on the platform is broken and so I am going to have to go cold-turkey on coffee until we get to Taipei. Otherwise, the train journey was unremarkable though it did reinforce my previous conviction that here on this side of the island one town just blurs into another. So very different from the picturesque east coast. Bang on time, we pull into the imaginatively named Taipei Main Station.

In the Huaxi Night MarketThis is a massive, massive station spread out over at least 3 levels combining both normal and HST trains along with the MRT metro service and a shopping mall too. You could seriously get lost here – we have only a half-hearted attempt and just about manage to follow the signs to find the correct exit. Sian had carefully briefed us on the right exit to take and how to get to the hotel once we found it. Our hotel is only a five minute walk from the station but a) its raining and b) we need to cross an 8 or 10 lane road and so we spend more time huddling under Janet’s tiny umbrella waiting for the lights to change than we do walking.

No, this isn't for money laundering!Sian had booked the hotel for us and she chose it for its proximity both to the train station and also to the airport bus for tomorrow. We’re very glad she did as otherwise we really wouldn’t have known where to base ourselves. We have a little over 24 hours in Taipei as our flight isn’t until tomorrow evening. The weather puts us off venturing too far today and in any case, we need to get some laundry done. (We still only have 7 pairs of pants each).

Be sure to follow the instructions!Eventually, we do find a laundrette (admittedly, it would have been easier to find if I had remembered to pick up the laundrette’s business card with a map on it from our hotel room). There was just sufficient English in the instructions for us to work out how to operate the machines. Our hotel seems to be in the middle of a district where the shops predominantly sell either cameras or computers and other high-tech stuff and so I go for a wander while the clothes are in the wash. In terms of technology, Taiwan is bang up to date but the side-streets and alleys with the hawkers of street food are from a bygone age.

Longshan temple at night and in the rainWhilst we’re happy to defer most of our Taipei sightseeing until tomorrow, we do only have one opportunity to see a night market and other night-time attractions in Taipei and so we need to head out this evening. We are a bit spoilt for choice as there are several night-markets flagged on our map. In the end we plump for the Huaxi Street (Tourist) Night Market because a) it is in the opposite direction to where we want to go tomorrow; b) the Longshan Buddhist temple is nearby; and c) this is the famous ‘snake’ market where (apparently) we’ll have the opportunity to drink snake blood and to eat snake soup.

Beautifully decorated lanternWe have been to many many temples for most of the major religions during our time in Asia, but we have never been to one at night before. Longshan turns out to be a bit of a treat. It is still drizzling and the grey skies and smog are lit up by the city lights and lend a surreal contrast to the vivid red and gold of the temple building. We try to stay out of the way of the people with their incense sticks and their wooden tokens that they toss on the floor to ask their ancestors the answer to a yes or no question. The photographs don’t quite do justice to the colours but do give a feeling for the atmosphere of the temple.

The entrance to the Huaxi night marketThe night market, by contrast is a little disappointing. It is busy enough and much bigger than the Hualien night market we went to with Rob. The street hawkers are there with the usual eye-popping (and sometimes, stomach turning) variety of street food. But there are no snakes to be seen – perhaps, we just didn’t look hard enough. This is probably just as well as I doubt we’d have gone for the snake blood. I had to settle for my sausage on a stick – though I was unwilling (as well as unable) to ask too many questions as to what was in the sausage!

And so our last night in Taiwan (and only night in Taipei) was filled with bustling people; vivid colours; strange sights, smells and tastes. A microcosm of our time in Taiwan, in fact. We now understand a little more as to why Rob and Calum love being here so much. We shall be sorry to leave.

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