Taipei - and then homeward bound.....last three days of our trip!

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February 1st 2010
Published: May 13th 2010
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We arrived in Taipei after our short flight from Hong Kong to dull skies and cool weather. A bus from the airport took us to the railway station in central Taipei from where we caught a taxi to our hotel - The See You Hotel. It was actually only ten minutes on foot from the train station though we were thankful we didn't walk as it was hard to find amidst the traffic and highrises. The hotel was great - a small room but it had everything we needed, and was spotlessly clean and modern. Breakfast was included in the rate though we did get a surprise next morning when we asked where the restaurant was - and was given two breakfast vouchers to used at Kentucky Fried on the opposite street corner! We left to explore the area and got totally lost in the warren of underground passages around the train station. They seemed to go for kilometres and were full of people and lined with shops. It was very disorientating until we realised that there were coloured lines to follow around all the walls. One line actually took us to an exit right next door to our hotel! We bought plastic cards to use on the MRT line - they are set up with a set amount of cash, you scan them as you catch the trains and then can cash them in to reclaim any unused balance prior to leaving Taipei. A great idea and one which we saw worked really well in Hong Kong, though we didn't purchase their similar cards there.
That evening we went to visit the markets, via the MRT, at Shilin. They were incredibly busy but were aimed at teenagers so they didn't hold much to appeal to us. I was fascinated by the clothes all the young people were wearing - very edgy and quirky. It was cold but all the girls were wearing very short mini skirts or hotpants. We saw many cosmetics shops where all the staff almost seemed to be dressed in fancy dress costumes - funny shoes, big bows, frilly dresses.... We did enjoy some lovely food there though and I found a Birkenstock shop so was able to buy a couple of pairs of my favourite shoes at a much cheaper price then they would have been sold for in Australia. Once again though it was great to see the city come alive after dark - the lights are always very pretty.
Next morning after an unappetizing breakfast - I found a bakery cafe the following day - we caught the MRI to see what was now the second highest building in the world - Taipei 101. We planned on going up to the observation deck on the top but the girl selling tickets kindly told us that there was absolutely no view - except clouds! As it was very expensive we appreciated her advice and didn't go up - spent the money in a nearby coffee shop instead and then enjoyed an hour browsing in all the shops selling stunning Taiwanese crafts - all of which were phenomenly expensive. I will admit to be slightly disappointed with the tower as it didn't look high enough to be the second tallest building in the world. I think the shape of the top of it makes it look shorter. It was impressive from a distance though as then you really could see it towering above everything else around it. We then visited Lonshan Temple, one of the top religious sites in the country. It was beautiful, intricately carved pillars, thousands of tiny Buddha statues and stone carvings which were some of the most detailed we had seen since India. It was fascinating watching the locals praying. Dozens of people were taking two pieces of flat bamboo, each marked on one side with symbols, and dropping them repeatedly on the ground until they landed one symbol up, one down. When this happened it was a sign that their wishes would be granted. The practice of Religion in all the countries we've visited in the previous ten months has been one of the most interesting aspects of our trip.
Taiwain is renowned for it's natural beauty but as our stopover only allowed us three nights on the island we were very limited as to what we could visit. We decided to catch the train to Danshui which is at the end of the line. It is set on a river near the coast and is very popular with locals from Taipei who visit to get a taste of the ocean. It was very quiet when we arrived and cold! A wide promenade, edged with cafes and souvenier shops, lined the riverfront. Everything was closed but we did eventually find a cafe for a welcome coffee. The shops in the main street were full of strange medical herbs - most looked really horrible and I couldn't imagine eating them. We caught a ferry across the river and wandered along the promenade but nothing much was happening there either! After lunch we caught the train back into Taipei where we visited the Lin Family Mansion and garden. It was constructed in 1851 and is a 52 room house built in traditional Chinese style with three courtyards by a family who made a fortune in the rice trade. The walls were made from very impressive brickwork - the patterns were extremely detailed. The gardens were vast as well - very Chinese with lots of rocks and ponds.
We looked for a coffee shop and found a Starbucks - they are on every street corner here! However after we had bought our coffee we couldn't find a seat anywhere. The whole 3 story cafe was full of teenage students using it has a homework room - there were laptops, books and teenagers sprawled everywhere. And not a coffee in sight on the tables! It appears that this is very normal here in cafes after school hours. From there we wandered around nearby streets and visited a couple of big local temples full of incense and red decor. The footpaths were set up as beauty parlours and we passed many ladies having pedicures and facials. Quite funny to see amidst the motorbikes and pedestrians! Late that afternoon we visited the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall which was set at the end of a massive cobbled square. Also in the square was the magnificent National Theatre and the Concert Hall. The marble memorial hall housed a large bronze statue of the man himself, lots of space and guards and nothing else!
That evening we wandered the streets of an Asian city for the last time this trip which made us feel a little sad....
Next morning we caught a bus to visit the Palace Museum, one of the highlights of any trip to Taiwain as it houses early Chinese art, taken to Taiwain from China prior to the Cultural Revolution. It was an immense building but sadly the main display galleries were closed as they were setting up new exhibitions in them. I guess this has to happen sometime but.... However what we did see was beautifully displayed and worth the visit. A last afternoon wandering the shops followed - I've never seen so many shops which featured dogs and cats! Nothing else in them but products themed with dogs or cats. That night we headed off to the airport for our final flight later that evening. 11.30pm to Brisbane. Our trip was nearly over. What an adventure we had enjoyed.
Two months later I'm pleased to say that we settled back into Toowoomba very quickly - sadly it feels like we've never been away. However we are saving already for the next trip - hopefully we'll be South America bound in 12 months time.

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