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Published: August 9th 2016
I only had 1 day in Taipei before I headed to Taichung so needed to see as much as possible. I booked a tour through my hotel at the airport and was the only one on it. Alex was my guide for the day and he was great. Check out his FB page and book him before you leave home. He is happy to offer advice and knows all the best places for you to visit. We had some time to spare so he took me to a few extra spots that weren't part of the itinerary, away from the crowds which I really appreciated. https://www.facebook.com/CarMan.Alex
Our first stop was the Shilin Official Residence https://guidetotaipei.com/visit/shilin-official-residence
- the former residence of Chiang Kai-Shek and his wife. This was not a great start to my tour for several reasons: a) I hadn't had anything to eat for two days thanks to the worst case of food poisoning ever that I had managed to get at a hotel in Macau, b) I hadn't done any research, c) I was on my own, d) my first ever dose of culture shock was slowly starting to creep in due to being the only
Westerner in sight and e) an almost complete lack of anything in English. I was dropped at the main entrance and told to just follow the paths round. Having been to many parks in Hong Kong the week before, this felt like just another park. Then I came across what I assumed must be the official residence, behind a high fence and with a scary looking guard at the gate. I wondered if I was meant to go in and see the house but again, no obvious signs in English. There was a booth nearby which I thought may be for selling tickets to see the house (which I hadn't been told about when I booked the tour) but it wasn't open so I gave up. I have since learned that yes, you do have to buy a ticket there but it is only open for part of the day and my tour took me there too early! Never mind - I wandered round and found a rose garden. Naturally it was the wrong time of year for roses but a few were in flower so I leaned over to take a photograph of one and a huge bee flew
in front of my face. I leapt back and my brain was trying to work through the 'What the heck was that?' part and the 'There's no way that can be a bee!' part when it suddenly calmed down and let my eyes see what it really was - a hummingbird!!! I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was so beautiful. By the time I remembered I had a camera in my hand, the hummingbird had taken off in search of a better flower that didn't have a large human in front of it. I think this was one of the highlights of my entire trip (closely followed by seeing an eagle when I was at the Monkey Bridge). So, after a quick photo of the flower (minus the hummingbird), I wandered round a bit longer and headed back to the van.
Our second stop was the National Palace Museum. http://www.npm.gov.tw/en/
I was looking forward to seeing the Ming collection and being able to wander round and learn about Taiwan's history. After all, museums are quiet places where you can take your time, aren't they? I was in for a nasty surprise. The museum was NOT
what I was expecting. I couldn't just wander round. I was expected to follow the signs and go in the same direction as everyone else (Kiwis are not good at following these sort of instructions). The next problem was the huge volume of tourists who were actually being obedient and going in the right direction. I counted about 50 buses lined up on the streets around the museum, mostly full of tourists from Mainland China. They moved en masse and weren't prepared to let a solitary Western woman get a look at anything. Even being taller didn't help. I gave up, back-tracked and played dumb when someone who looked official tried to send me in another direction, then made my way to the gift shop. This too was a disappointment as they had plenty of things to purchase but not the sort of gifts I was after. So, having time to spare, I escaped, sat on a seat and watched the world go by. I have travelled to many parts of the world but sitting there was 'interesting' as all the tourists heading back to their buses openly stared at me - 1 lady nearly fell over because she turned
her head so far round as she walked past. I simply stared back, much to the amusement of the lovely Taiwanese people sitting next to me. At least no-one stopped and asked how tall I was as they had done several times in Hong Kong.
After dealing with the crowds, I was very happy to be taken to a quieter, calmer spot where I could see the National Theatre and Concert Hall. The buildings were beautiful, as was the Presidential Office Building. But the peacefulness soon ended as I visited Taipei 101. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taipei_101
I love heights and towers and was keen to get up and see the view. But there was the usual problem - all the other visitors who were jammed in there with me. I only managed to get a couple of poor photos by holding my camera above everyone's heads. Trying to get out was tricky as I had to make my way through an entire floor of enthusiastic sales people, all wanting me to buy something to take home as a souvenir or gift. I was pleased to get out but sad that seeing some of the amazing shops on other levels wasn't
part of my tour. At least the ride in the high speed elevator was impressive.
It isn't possible, or fair, to attempt to judge a city on the impressions gained in just one day. Some of the difficulties I encountered would have been different if I hadn't been there right before Chinese New Year. But as a city, it isn't on my list of places to revisit. I felt much happier once I arrived in Taichung.
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