Taiwan – why we fell in love

  • People are really, really friendly

Many times we have been looking at The Book and people have asked us if we are lost and helped us, or just chatted to us when we crossed the road and given us great advice. Our Taipei host, Fiona, made us so welcome, checked our itinerary each night and advised us what to do, how to get around, even gave us a lift to the port when we were leaving.

  • Coffee is cheap and tasty

Chains and non chains of coffee vendor are everywhere and they are all really affordable and blooming great! We have now gotten to be coffee snobs, with a penchant for mandheling coffee. Drip coffee and single origin is very popular and isn’t just a new thing, coffee shops have been around since the 1950’s. 

  • Tea is expensive but worth it

We saw tea being grown, then tasted it, learning how to make a proper brew it wasn’t as intricate as a Japanese tea ceremony, but we could taste the difference in the teas and styles. We are now tea snobs as well.

  • Taiwan is compact and bijoux with excellent infrastructure.

It is simple to travel around due to its size but also because of helpful signage and announcements in English, and stations having good maps of the local area. There is also the Ezy card,  which acts as an Oyster card,  being able to be used on all transport in Taipei, but you can also use it all over the country, brilliant and saves you money.

    • Excellent food

    Taiwan is reputed to have the best Japanese restaurants outside of Japan which is some compliment as the Japanese are so particular about their food. The seafood we had at Aquatic Addiction was some of the freshest we have seen outside of Japan, and that experience was one of the highlights of our trip so far. We have also eaten middle eastern food and Indian curries, and seen Mexican and Greek restaurants. Sadly no Georgian restaurants have opened yet. Also, night markets – see below

    • Night markets

    The reason we first got interested in Taiwan was for the night markets, and they are amazing. All so different, some just for walking and snacking, some with cafes, restaurants, all with an amazing variety of foods.

    • Environmental Diversity 

    Whatever you want to see you can get it within a short train or bus ride. We have experienced clear beaches, sulphurous thermal spas, volcanos, stunning mountains, blue lakes, with opportunities for hiking, cycling, or scootering! Just travelling around you see a lush, green landscape full of wildlife which is unique to this small and perfectly formed beautiful isle . 

    • Taiwan beer, mango beer and Best whisky 2015.

    These are just a few of the great alcoholic drinks we have had here, it is not a drinking culture, we rarely saw anyone drinking, but did manage to try enough beers and whisky to convince ourselves we liked it.

    • South and North Asia mix.

    There is the Asian living life on the street, but with an efficient infrastructure which makes this country a fabulous mix of cultures. It is cheaper to eat out than cook, so you see kids having food on their own which would seem strange at home, but is perfectly normal here. There are are street stalls everywhere, each having their own speciality, which we often don’t know due to the language barrier, but we have still enjoyed delicious food all over the country. 

    • Cultural diversity

    In a marked difference to other countries we have recently visited there is a refreshing vitality about the people, their fashion and sense of self. They all have individual style and are happy to be different to the next person having dyed hair, tattoos, and diverse fashion sense! There is also a refreshing sense of equality here, women are just as likely to be in positions of power in business and not just meant for the home (our views are from advertising and reading). It is also clear there is more sexual equality here, gay pride and gay rights are the most progressive in Asia and we saw gay couples being openly affectionate.

    • Train station food court

    At home a train station food shop is to be avoided at all costs, here it is somewhere to go on a Saturday night for dinner. The one at Taipei main station is the best we saw, it had sections for beef noodle soup, Taiwanese and curry. There were also many  Japanese restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops, with queues outside the popular places.  

    • Love of animals

    You see many strollers here and don’t know if they contain babies or pets. The Taiwanese love their pets, especially dogs who are often carried down the street as if they were little china ornaments.

    • Respect for elderly

    You are likely to see youngsters accompanying their grandparents on a stroll,  especially at the weekend. It’s the Asian respect for the older generation which we are finding more and more appealing.

    In the interests of balance (you know, like the BBC) the only criticism of Taiwan is there are not enough rubbish bins. That is it. Everything else is just peachy.

    So I think we can safely say that this is one of the best countries we have visited, and we are planning on visiting again.

        14.12.16 Maokong

        Food is important to us and we love cooking but we haven’t cooked anything for three months (I don’t count pouring boiling water onto a pot noodle)

        In Fiona’s Airbnb apartment there is a kitchen and down the road is a wonderful local market which we described in a recent post here – locals market

        So tonight we aim to take advantage of these opportunities and cook a meal. Sadly, we are very excited about it.

        We hit the market with another one of Fionas guests who is from Hong Kong, so we have a translator! Green vegetables are great and often neglected when you’re eating out a lot, so we buy broccoli, bok choy and spring onions. 

        For flavour, we buy garlic, ginger, Asian chives and limes. 

        For body,  cep mushrooms and black fungus and the star of the show, fresh salmon fillets.

        We also buy a pineapple for breakfast which the stall holder peels for us.

        The market is a great experience and we really enjoy it. The stallholders are so friendly and the produce is so enticing. We drop our bounty back at the flat and take the MRT to Taipei Zoo at the end of line 1 where we ride the Gondola to Maokong, a tea growing region to the south of the city. This is all done using our ‘easy’ card which as well as being an MRT (tube/metro/subway) pass gives us a discount on the gondola.

        The weather is a bit cloudy today, but we can still see Taipei 101 in the distance.

        At Maokong we stop for a snack at one of the stalls around the gondola station then head to the tea promotion centre following the valley road.

        We try a local oolong tea which is really smooth with very little tanin. We walk back enjoying the views down the valley and the well ordered landscape where tea bushes grow in rows on terraces. We stop at a tea house and bag a window table with a view over a cloudy Taipei. We try two different Taiwanese teas and local snacks of dried fruit and biscuits. The teas come in cups which include strainers and saucers in a clever design. The tea leaves can be reused and the teahouse owner keeps topping us up with freshly boiled water. 

        We chat and spend time discussing our trip so far and how we miss everyone, especially at Christmastime. Suddenly, out of the blue, the stereo plays “Please, Please, Please let me get what I want” by The Smiths. It is so out of context and so poignant we are taken aback. A song which meant so much, in what seems like a different lifetime.

        On the way home we stop at Carrefour for wine to go with our meal. 

        In the apartment it takes milliseconds for us to slip into our old roles. I open wine and put on music while Al chops veg. Fully prepped but scared of ruining our only cooking experience, Al hands over to me to cremate the food. The two electric hot plates are new to us so I don’t get the timings quite right but the salmon has a wonderful crispy caramelized side. We are both pleased with our work and the veg tastes wonderful.