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Published: September 27th 2014
Once again we've packed our bags, made the two hour trip to Brisbane airport and boarded a flight at the international airport. This time we are heading back to Asia. Initially we'll be spending a fortnight in Taiwan before flying to Vietnam, China and Malaysia. It was a long sleepless 22 hours from leaving our house to arriving at the hotel in Taipei. Two flights with Singapore Airlines, a three hour transit stopover in Singapore and another hour on a bus before we were greeted with smiles at the lovely Ambience Hotel. Our room is sparkling all white with a five star bathroom. Double shower and state of the art toilet - heated seat, and all manner of spray options!
After resting for a while we headed out to have a meal at Shilin night market. The MTR here is amazing - cheap (under an Aussie dollar) per sector, spotlessly clean and super efficient. Once you go underground it is a maze of passages - I think many of the stations are also connected underground via walkways lined with shops. We bought a refundable Easycard (MTR and bus pass) and were soon at Shilin market. It was raining lightly and
we appreciated the umbrella the hotel staff had given us as we left. Shilin market was as we had remembered it from a previous visit - very busy and not much to interest us. We did enjoy some steamed dumplings full of pork and vegetables. The main reason we went there was to buy a pair of Birkenstock sandals as I had left mine at home and I knew that there was a branch at the market. I had bought two pairs there at a great price previously. Found the shop but they didn't have my size!
We then went to the main train station to purchase a ticket for the train to Tarako Gorge (for Saturday) and were dismayed to find that they were all totally sold out, despite having many services to there each day. Then to top off a very long day we got lost in the maze of passages under the train station... We eventually arrived back at the hotel well after midnight with very sore feet. Our bed was very welcome,
Early next morning we went into the main bus station to collect bus tickets (bought with considerable help of the hotel staff
via a Taiwanese web site) to take us part of the way to the gorge on Saturday. From there we were told by the hotel staff that we should be able to get tickets on an onward local train - though probably only standing room tickets. We then visited two of Taipei's many beautiful temples. The Confucius Temple and the UNESCO listed Bao'an Temple. Both stunning - though Bao'on was much busier with worshippers. Again we watched tables in front of the altar gradually pile high with food offerings from the worshipping public. Within the main temple a group of nuns were chanting - hypnotic and quite wonderful to listen to. Temple decorations were as usual stunning - a riot of colour and gilt. I never cease to be impressed by the detailed carved and vibrantly painted internal roof structures. The air was full of the smell and smoke from long sticks of incense which are burnt in brass urns by worshippers. The walls are covered in paintings of flowers, birds and exquisitely dressed figures.
The Confucius Temple was as beautiful though nowhere near as busy however will have it's biggest festival of the year - September 28 -
when Confucius's birthday is celebrated. Whilst we were there we saw groups of primary school children, all dressed in matching frilly aprons (only form of school uniform they wear) having a day out with their teachers as they celebrated ' teacher's day.
Afterwards we caught a taxi to Dihua Street, an area known for it's Chinese medicine shops and fabric markets. After an interesting stroll playing 'guess what that is?' around the medicine shops we stopped at a 7/11 store for a cold drink. These shops are everywhere here and are great because you can buy cheap food and cold drinks and sit at one of the tables and take a break. All have wifi, tables and lots of prepared meals for sale so many locals use them for quick meals.
Another taxi took us to the area around Taipei 101. At 508m in 2004, it was for a very short time, the tallest building in the world. It is still pretty amazing, particularly from a distance, as it is much higher than any other building in the city. It was raining lightly by then so we went into one of the nearby shopping malls where I was
able to buy my birkenstocks (my feet really needed them and I hadn't bought any with me as I knew they were considerably cheaper in Taiwan and I had planned to buy myself another pair here). A welcome coffee at Starbucks before we spent a bit more time window shopping within the mall. It was raining quite heavily. The shops seem to stock a lot of quality Japanese products - some of the home wares made me drool.
Nothing is cheap here (except transport which is very cheap and super efficient - we haven't waited any more then a couple of minutes on any of the subway platforms) and the Taiwanese people have a high standard of living if prices are anything to go by. Certainly it is comparable or even more expensive than Australia. The people here are the most welcoming we have ever met. Very polite, extremely courteous and very helpful. Coming up to us, apologising because they overheard our conversation, then saying that they checked online on their phones and giving us the information we needed. No pushing anywhere. We can highly recommend the Ambience Hotel - close to two MTR stations, AUD $3 taxi to
main station, a fabulous bathroom (power showers, separate bathtub, comfy beds, strong wifi, tasty breakfast), sparkling clean white rooms and the most helpful staff ever. Even to the female reception staff rushing out to spray sun protection on the legs of all the young ladies wearing short, very short, shorts - high fashion items here. It's very hot - above 30* with very high humidity. And it's autumn!
Taiwan must have a strong anti smoking lobby as we haven't noticed anybody smoking (and in four days that is unbelievable!) Maybe smoking is banned in the streets... Our hotel is totally non smoking. The streets are very clean - another amazing thing as we've also struggled to find any rubbish bins!
We haven't seen a lot of the tourist sites as we covered the museums etc last visit. The next couple of days we'll spend in scenic areas outside of the city, returning to Taipei each evening.
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