Round the World in 40 Days: Stage 3 – Taipei and NE Taiwan

Taiwan is not a popular destination for Western tourists. None of our party of four had visited Taiwan previously, unlike Singapore our previous port of call, and we had little idea of what to see and do during our two day visit.

Bamboo-like Taipei 101 tower
Bamboo-like Taipei 101 tower

However a little research on the Internet soon allowed us to put together an interesting itinerary.  We confined our visit to the capital Taipei and the nearby area of NE Taiwan, but within that small area of the country we were able to sample a rich mixture of old and new, man-made and natural.

We stayed at the Ambience Hotel near the centre of Taipei and can strongly recommend it for its attractive, modern rooms, great breakfast and friendly service. Our rooms were booked directly on the hotel website. The hotel was about ten minute’s walk from a Taipei Metro station. A one day ticket for the Metro costs just 150 Taiwan Dollars (TD), about £4. Excellent value!

Lungshan Temple
Lungshan Temple of Maka

The first stop on our sight-seeing tour was the Lungshan Temple of Maka, an impressive Buddhist temple dating back to 1738, although rebuilt many times since following fires, earthquakes and war damage. However it was difficult sometimes to appreciate the fine, classical architecture because of the crowds of selfie-taking visitors – a feature throughout Taiwan.

The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall was a short walk away. The Memorial building houses not just a god-like statue of the great military and political leader himself, but also a fascinating museum of his extraordinary life. There’s also a very good coffee bar there!

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Duly refreshed we wandered through the streets of central Taipei to get a feel of this intriguing bustling city, with a diversion through Daan Forest Park, a peaceful 64 acre arboretum.

A 20 minute journey on the Metro took us to the Maokong Mountain Gondola. This was the first of three gondola rides on our RTW trip and the most scenic, with great views of the south of Taipei and of tea plantations on the mountain slopes. A return ticket cost 240 TD, about £6.

Maokong GondolaThere is not much to see at the top station, so after a quick refreshment break we headed back down on the gondola, with the Taipei 101 tower gradually dominating the view. That was the next stop on our itinerary.

View from Taipei 101 tower
View from Taipei 101 tower

The bamboo-like Taipei 101 tower has, as its name would suggest, 101 storeys and is 1,671 ft high. It was the tallest building in the world from 2004 to 2009.

By the time we had negotiated the ticket booths, queues and lifts, it was already dark, but that is maybe the best time to enjoy the views from the 89th floor indoor observatory and the 91st floor outdoor observatory.  Tickets to ascend to the observatory floors cost 600 TD, about £15.

The following day we took a four hour taxi tour of NE Taiwan (at a cost of about £65) visiting two very unusual places along the way.

Queen's Head in Yehliu Geopark
“Queen’s Head” in Yehliu Geopark

The Yehliu Geopark is a mile long peninsula. It is dotted with strange stone formations, called hoodoo stones. Many have been given names reflecting their shapes, such as the “Queen’s Head” and the “Sea Candles”. Once again large numbers of selfie-takers visitors sometimes made viewing difficult. Entry charge was just 80 TD, about £2.

About 20 miles up in the hills south of the geopark is another curiosity, Shifen Old Street.  Rows of old buildings containing shops and restaurants are situated on each side of the Pingxi railway branch line.

Many of these shops sell sky lanterns which are written on and then let loose by excited youngsters standing astride the railway lines, all accompanied by the customary selfie photos. It became quite chaotic when a train pulled in to the station.

Sky lanterns in Shifen Old Street
Sky lanterns in Shifen Old Street

Taiwan is something of a non-state, having been thrown out of the UN in 1975, and it is being constantly threatened by mainland China. However that was in no way apparent during our visit. Taiwan appeared to be a vibrant and confident country, with helpful friendly people… who like taking photographs of themselves! It definitely deserves a return visit so we can explore the rest of the island.

Following our taxi tour, the driver took us directly to the airport to catch our two and half hour flight on Scoot airline to Seoul in South Korea and Stage 4 of our RTW trip. This was another no frills airline, but with reasonably good service on board. It was just a bit annoying that the flight arrived four hours late.

See also:
Round the World in 40 Days: Planning and Booking
Stage 1 – Golden Triangle of Agra, Jaipur and Delhi
Stage 2 – Singapore and the Gardens by the Bay
Stage 4 – Seoul and the DMZ
Stage 5 – Hong Kong Revisited
Stage 6 – Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef
Stage 7 – Earthquakes and Vineyards in New Zealand
Stage 8 – A Tour of Santiago, Chile
Stage 9 – Cusco and Machu Picchu
Stage 10 – Lima and Miraflores, Peru
Stage 11 – Miami and the Everglades