I had arrived in Taipei in the very early hours of the day,.
This, after flying direct from Toronto by Eva Air on its Business Class.
I was staying in the Marriott Courtyard, and there was a bus service from the airport that stopped right in front of the hotel. The first bus was more than an hour away, so I took a mini rest at the airport itself.
Halfway through the wait, at 5.30 am, one of the counters renting a portable/pocket wife (aka hotspot) opened and after some thinking I went for it. I had initially thought about buying a SIM with a data package because it is smaller and I just had to insert it into my unlocked phone whereas I had to carry the pocket wifi, with its charger, all the time. Unfortunately, the SIM card counters were not opening before 7 am so I decided to go for the wifi.
The bus ride took about an hour to get to the hotel – which was located above the Nangang bus station.
We are Marriott Gold members, and the hotel staff were kind enough to give us an early check-in.
Toronto, where I live, is 13 hours behind Taipei so bedtime was fast approaching. This is never good because the body assumes it is time to wind down. But I did not want to sleep until night time Taipei time.
So, I had a shower and left the hotel to start my Discovering Taipei journey.
Discovering Taipei with Breakfast
And what better way to start my tour than go to a restaurant to enjoy a traditional Taiwanese breakfast?
Fortunately, the receptionist at the hotel was very helpful in directing me to a great joint. As well, she gave me a map of the local area and marked out the restaurant. There were also the names of two dishes and she wrote down their names in traditional Chinese as well.
Well, with such generous assistance, it was time to walk up to the restaurant.
The restaurant was just about ten minutes by foot from the hotel. And I was surprised because it looked a very simple restaurant; usually, posh hotels tend to recommend high-end restaurants.
Simple but Delicious
The joint was a simple operation, run by two women behind a long counter. As I saw what was available and the dishes the women were making, I had this urge to order every tasty-looking dish but I controlled myself and ordered just the two dishes – steam dumpling and omelet pancake with pork – by showing them the map with the dishes written out in the local language. One of the waitresses cum cook asked me whether I wanted soy milk and I replied in the affirmative, so got some soy milk.
There were a few cheap tables and plastic chairs around but the place was almost full with customers delving deeply into their dishes.
Both dishes were hot, fresh and, needless to say, delicious – all served without much fanfare.
Having tasted the first authentic Taipei experience, I walked back to the hotel and got ready for my next adventure: enjoy a hot spring. One does not have to travel farther from Taipei to enjoy this luxury. The closest probably is the Beitou area, which is full of hot springs.
The Beitou Hotspring Experience
Japanese, who are known for their love for their onsen (hot spring) developed this area during their occupation in the last century, using the geothermal waters from the nearby volcano.
Beitou hot spring area is also now easily reachable by the public transit. Take the MRT system to Beitou and then hop onto the pink line which has just one station – Xinbeitou. When you come down from the station, you will get the feeling that this area is for such pleasure.
The Beitou Hot Spring Resort is close to the station, so I decided to check it out. They had only indoor pools but I was okay with that situation. After paying the fee, I was guided by a male guide to the males section.
I deposited my cloths in a locker and walked to the showers with a towel for a good rub in the true onsen tradition before going for the pool experience. There are three pools, which were being fed by the volcanic waters. The first two pools were just above the 40C range and I dipped into the colder of the two and then the warmest.
After alternating between the two hot water pools, I decided to take the plunge into the third one which had a temperature of just below 19C. My body almost froze as it tried to accommodate this sudden drop in the temperature. Determinedly, I took the plunge and stayed there for a few minutes before getting out, feeling very refreshed. After a mini-shower I got dressed up and came to the cafeteria to get my green bean (mung bean) soup and a toast.
Afterwards, I took a leisurely walk along the narrow road down to the metro station. There is a museum, which displays the equipment, rooms and other interesting materials from the Japanese times but unfortunately it was closed.
Guanghua Electronic Mall
From the Xinbeitou station I decided to take a look at one of the famous Taiwanese electronic malls. And what better mall than Guanghua mall? The mall was not close by but, of course, in Taipei, there is an MRT route going through it.
From the station, the mall is by foot and I ended up at a place with small streets lined up with electronics stores. After going through some of them, I ended up buying a tripod for my Nikon. By this time, hunger was gnawing to the bones and I found a small Taiwanese restaurant where I had some fried rice and soup.
I decided to return to the hotel for a nap and I later realized that I had missed out on the real Guanghua mall, which is a six-floor building full of electronics stories. Ouch.
At the hotel I had access to its lounge, so I had free food as an early dinner.
After this, around eight pm, I decided to try out the night market.
Visiting Raohe Night Market
Taiwan is famous for its night markets. There are a number of them in Taipei itself, and I chose to go to the Raohe Night Market. I love walking whenever it is possible and safe, but it was dark and I had no intention of getting lost in Taipei so hopped into a cab.
He dropped me off at what it transpired to be the back entrance of the market.
One of the first stands right there, at the centre was a black pepper bun stand. Watching how the men and women flattened the dough, used chopsticks to add meat filling before putting the filling upside on a dish with spring onions and then working it with the chopsticks so that the onions are in the centre, covered by the meat filling and then the dough – all now rolled into a ball shaped bun – was a very interesting experience.
On the side of the booth, there were few tandoori oven-like circular ovens and another person stuffed the buns on the inner part at the top of them. were taken out.
It took about 35 seconds for the woman to make the bun and I read it somewhere it takes about ten minutes to bake them. The bun was delicious, with a thin crust enveloping juicy meat and green onions.
The market itself was everything one could think of – food stands selling buns to stinky tofu and grilled squids, souvenir stands, stands selling small toys such as fidget spinners of different colours and designs, and stands selling cloths and other items such as shoes.
After walking up to the other end, I decided to stop by a stand and taste the famous stinky tofu. And then do some shopping.
On my way back, I saw a massage place and could not resist the temptation to walk in. It was a clean place and they gave me a fresh short pants to wear as I was wearing jeans. The massage was comfortable and at times gentle, and was a far cry from those deep tissue massages that apparently send of the recipients into loud moaning to handle the pain.
When I came out, it was close to midnight and the market was almost closed. The pork bun stand was a shadow of its former self.
And it was time to get back to the hotel, to end Day 1.