I never imagined myself visiting the island of Taiwan until a friend told me about Snake Alley- a night market in Taipei that sells delicacies like dishes made with snake blood and snake meat among other things. Now I wasn’t exactly interested in having a taste, but I was intrigued enough to make a trip to the mysterious city of Taipei I knew so little about.
My first day was accompanied by an umbrella and regret for wearing mesh running shoes. June is the hot and rainy season, so most locals were sporting flip flops and sleeveless shirts. The wet and warm weather is perfect for all the tropical plants in the city, but not so much for exploring all day. Nonetheless, I quickly began to understand that I was going to love Taipei for the nature knitted into the city, the people, and food.
After a 13 hour flight from San Francisco, the first thing any person is going to need is food, and not that stuff that resembles food they serve on planes that is probably just plastic and preservatives. I dropped my bags off at the Imperial Hotel Taipei and ran to a local quick eat restaurant called Bafang Dumpling. They offer a huge menu of small dumpling dishes. I never knew dumplings could have such a huge variety. I didn’t recognize anything from the menu so I cluelessly pointed at some pictures of menu items that looked good, and soon I had an order of 4 or 5 small plates. My favorites were the mini pork wontons with chili sauce and curry flavored dumplings that I dipped in soy sauce. Taipei is a culinary heaven. I mistakenly thought the food would be similar to that of China and I was incredibly wrong. It seems like I’m eating 8 times a day and I know that sounds crazy but with food this good, anybody would have the appetite.
Another day, I made some friends with Hawaii natives and we took advantage of the clear weather by taking a ride on the Maokong Gondola. The gondola is a crystal cabin suspended by a ski lift going up the side of a hill. The glass bottom is optional and while every piece of my height fearing being was telling me to pass, I decided to hop into one of those death traps. Hovering above the lush vegetation, up the green hills that surround Taipei, was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. The district used to be the largest tea growing area in the region so when we got to the top, we thought stopping in at a tea house would compliment the scenic views best. After a warm herbal drink, I found a vendor that had a delicious green tea ice cream. There is a zoo that is located at the bottom of the hill so we stopped there after our ride down to see the playful pandas that live there.
Ximending is a neighborhood that I fell in love with for the energetic streets filled with young people and street performers that bring the area to life. This is the “Harijuku of Taipei” lined with different shops offering many things including clothes with Japanese, Chinese and Western influences. The mango shaved ice I had at The Smoothie House might be my favorite part. Taiwan is known for this desert so I had to make sure that I got a taste before leaving, plus there was air-conditioning so I was sold. One order is a mountain of mango shaved ice with cascading tropical fruit like mango, kiwi, and strawberry. It was a perfect size to split with another person. This is definitely a spot I will have to visit again the next time that I am in this city and maybe even stay here.
The locals are very warm and welcoming. With their polite smiles and waves, it seems as if they are thrilled to see you. I think it is harder to come across Taiwanese people that don’t speak English rather than not. This combined with the expansive and clean train system make this an easy city to travel through. I end my trip with an even greater interest in Taipei. Maybe next time I will even make a stop in Snake Alley.