Taiwan – day one: Attack of the Tour Groups.
I recently spent 5 days in Taiwan with my neighbour/ bridemaid/ amazingly patient friend, Amanda. We woke up bright and early on the day we were to leave. Far too early, actually. 5am – and we were already sleeping at the airport. Both of us were grumpy and tired – Amanda moreso than me, as I had splurged for a booth in a rest station, but she had braved the airport itself, rather unsuccessfully, as there was a fellow passenger who seemed to want to chat and make noise at all fo the inopportune moments possible, like 3am.
We stumbled through check in and immigration, I picked at a bowl of curry udon, then we boarded our cruelly early flight to Taiwan. We flew Peach, the new low-cost airline based out of Japan (Japan’s first). The flight was pretty uneventful. I did notice that they took their name seriously – about half of the foods for sale on board were peach flavoured.
Breakfast Udon, aka I have lived in Japan too long and feel a compulsion to take photos of bowls of noodles.
We arrived in Taipei at 9am, and hopped on the bus to the metro, then caught it to our hostel. We stayed at Mango53 Inn, and could totally recommend it to anyone visiting Taipei – clean, safe, excellent location and really friendly staff.
We were greeted by this guy at the airport. Note the cute Taipei 101 he is carrying.
For our first outing, we decided to visit the National Palace Museum. This museum has the largest collection of Chinese art in the world. This was my second visit to Taipei, and I was really excited to visit the National Palace Museum again, as I had a fabulous experience my first time around, and they regularly rotate their collections (the museum has about 600 000 pieces and displays about 3000 at any one time). We bought our ticket and entered, excited to spend a leisurely afternoon wandering through ancient Chinese artifacts. Unfortunately, it was anything but relaxing.
The exhibits were great – those which we actually got to see. The museum was completely overrun with tour groups. Tours of over 50 people, all crouded around each exhibit. There were points where Amanda was literally pushed out of the way by tour groups, and on more than one occasion we were just swarmed, suddenly caught in a mass of people. A number of the staff were also quite blunt, making the whole experience frustrating. The exception was the Japanese tour groups we came across, who were lovely and polite. I honestly had never seen anything like it. At one point there was a staircase in the museum (a grand, wide staircasethat was unaccessable, due to the crowds of people blocking it. Eventually, we escaped the tour group mahem, and made our way to the tea house on the top floor (rather difficult to even get to, as we had to navigate through the tour groups). Honestly, the museum really is fantastic, but the entire experience was ruined by the tour groups. I haven’t come across anything close in my life – and I live in Japan, where people take tours for EVERYTHING.
The teahouse was lovely. The food really was delicious. We enjoyed a range of dim sum – my favourite was the bamboo shoot and shrimp dumplings. We were so tired from travelling and then having to navigate the tour group that we spent well over an hour just relaxing in the tea house, before braving the last section of the museum.
After surviving the museum, we headed over to the Shilin Night Market – the largest night market in Taiwan. We enjoyed spending a couple of hours strolling the streets. We bought a few pairs of earrings, and Amanda bought a really cute bag. The vendors were really friendly, and it felt a lot less pushy than a lot fo the night markets I have visited.
We eventually got tired and headed downstairs to the foodcourt. It was hot, smelly, delicious mahem. After wandering around to get our bearings, we sat down to a dinner of oyster omelet and spicy dumplings. It was cheap (a couple of dollars for two of us) and delicious. We grabbed a few more snacks on our way out of the market. Amanda especially enjoyed munching on small, whole fried crabs, while I had the most amazing pepper steak bun – crispy on the outside, and extremely rich and flavourful on the inside. Perfect.
After dinner we were feeling extremely tired after a long day, so we went back to the hostel and crashed.