“Because Traveling is What?” Series: 101 Trails of Taiwan + How Many Ed Sheerans Does It Take To Reach The Elephant Mountain Peak?

Warning before you proceed: this is useless if you’re looking for a travel guide just so you know but please continue reading.

Welcome to the first article of our “Because Traveling is What?” series. This site is not a travel blog but the photos and memories on my phone and in my mind will be a waste if I do not write and posts these things so what the heck, I said to myself, and so here we are. The comments here are annoying, living to the site’s motto, but hopefully you could find something useful in this article (and hopefully in other travel articles here that are yet to come), like how many songs of Ed Sheeran would it take for you to climb that so-called Elephant Mountain which will give you an idea of how long it takes to climb it (clue: more than that of the duration of “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You”) and what are the names of the various kinds of food that you should try when you visit there. I’ll say it here now, that egg tart is heaven.

Food

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From dumplings to noodles to street foods, once you get past the fact that the curry something smell in every restaurants and food stalls will make your stomach churn, you’ll realize that Taiwan food is actually good. So, in the tradition of “Bream Gives Me Hiccups: Restaurant Reviews from a Privileged Nine-Year Old” we’re rating the following kinds of Taiwan food out of 2000 stars.

Din Tai Fung

Rating: 952 out of 2000 stars for the Steamed Pork Dumplings and 311 out of 2000 stars for the noodles

2017-03-31 16.07.50It is my belief that every dumplings taste the same except for this one because it has this juicy thing going on and the way you have to it eat. (apparently you have to dip it in a sauce, place it in a spoon, make a hole in it using a chopstick and let the juice come out before you can eat it, by which time you are hungry as hell already and the dumpling will finally taste good). After all the ceremony required in eating this stuff you will be back again in believing that all dumplings taste the same, plus it is sort of criminally expensive so for that I am giving Din Tai Fung’s Steamed Pork Dumplings (xiao long baos) 952 out of 2000 stars.

For their noodles, we don’t have to talk about this one but it’s just sooo ordinary it sucks, okay nope it might have been better than your typical noodles, but if you’re looking for something new this is some boring noodles stuff you could just skip this part and order some cup noodles in a convenience store which tastes as good but not that expensive. For this I am giving Din Tai Fung’s noodles 311 out of 2000 stars.

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“Steamed pork dumplings or xiao long baos traditionally contain minced pork wrapped in a delicate dough skin, which is then pleated, twisted at the top and steamed. Din Tai Fung’s signature rendition consists of juicy meat filling wrapped in a melt-in-your-mouth skin with a minimum of 18 exquisite folds.” (dintaifung.com)

Squid balls with curry or something

Rating: 1125 out of 2000 stars

2017-04-01 11.32.54Finally, a street food worth eating. First I am not sure if this is a squid ball but I think it is. Once you get past the curry flavor thing which actually tastes good (the smell you could get use to after a while), you’ll realize that you’re done with it already because, well what can I say, it tastes good, not amazing though, but with its cheap price, yeah it’s worth a try, plus it helped that I ate this stuff while just lazily walking by a street full of cherry blossom trees or Taiwan flowers or whatever it is called (and don’t ask me where, i can’t even name the damn flowers). For this I am giving the I-think-this-is-a-squid-ball 1125 out of 2000 stars.

Egg tart

Rating: 1431 out of 2000 stars

2017-04-01 21.42.15This is some sort of a custard tart but instead of fruits, egg tarts are made by filling egg custards in the middle instead and I am telling you that the egg custard filling is heaven like it will melt in your mouth and you’ll die happy. Period. The outer pastry crust is good as well. Apparently this egg tart is popular in China, Hong Kong, and yes, in Taiwan. Like it is a symbol of Western and Eastern cuisine fusion blah blah blah. You could see it anywhere on the street but try the one in KFC because it’s much more safer to eat though it’s boring because you want to go local and try the street foods but who cares. For this I am giving the egg tart which is invented by the Asians 1431 out of 2000 stars.

Modern Toilet

Rating: 1266 out of 2000 stars

Poop Hammer! The disgusting toilet theme did not deter the people from Modern Toilet in making some amazing food in their menu, one because it’s not Asian food and two because they are offering pasta and chicken curry (wait, that’s Asian). The chicken curry is particularly brilliant idea because as you can see on the photo above, it really looks like an immense amount of poop. The chocolate ice cream is a no brainer for them, I’m sure, but it still is fun to eat it while imagining it to be a poop. The soda glasses are also cool (see photo above) but the pasta, especially their sea food pasta, is outstanding. Their tofu is great too. What else can I say? There’s free soup, the ice cream is free too did I mention that? And combined with the style of the restaurant, it is really a guaranteed unique dinning experience and for that I am giving all of the Modern Toilet’s food (as in blanket rating) 1266 out of 2000 stars.

Pancake or whatever (Wheel Pie as per my friend)

Rating: 1038 out of 2000 stars

2017-04-02 19.35.56This food which I don’t know what it’s called before a friend named it for me, is some sort of a pancake or a waffle and it tastes like a pancake or a waffle. It’s always nice to watch these things being cooked and if it’s nice to watch being cooked then chances are it’ll also tastes good. In this case it was good, almost. There’s a slight chaotic line upon buying this stuff but in the end it’s worth it. The outside was fine but the filling in the inside was superb, melting in your mouth like the egg tart. The catch though is the slight yogurt-like taste in the end which could have been no problem except for the fact that it might be milk turned sour or something like that. But it’s street food and it’s cheap so carry on. For this I am giving this pancake or whatever you want to call it 1038 out of 2000 stars.

Shilin Night Market

Rating: 722 out of 2000 stars

taipei-taiwan-shilin-best-biggest-night-market-street-food-9The Shilin Night Market, like any other night markets in Taiwan, is where you could find cheap but superb-tasting street food. The chaotic vibe on this market which is full of people going everywhere and seemingly nowhere definitely adds to the charm of the place if not to the taste of the food there. You could try to fall in line and wait for some fried chicken thing which is apparently famous or watch a milk tea stand shake manually the milk tea due to lack of shaker machine or try those stalls which do not have any customers and nope don’t try those because those probably do not tastes good. Who knows? But if all else failed, you could still roam around with those free drinks and be satisfied with the view and the smell of street foods being cooked. But please just stay away from that stinky tofu because it really stinks. For these reasons I am giving this night market and the entire street foods it offers 722 out of 2000 stars.

Tourist Sites

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Again, as with the food, we’re rating the following tourist sites out of 2000 stars ranging from the memorial hall of their founder Chiang Kai-shek to the night life in Ximending to the old streets of Jiufen up to the famous landmark that is Taipei 101.

National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (中正紀念堂)

Rating: 1364 out of 2000 stars

2017-04-02 16.50.24This Lincoln Memorial-inspired landmark is a gargantuan memorial building for Chiang Kai-shek and is one of the few authentic Chinese buildings in Taiwan where you could feel that you’re really in East Asia. From below, the view is stunning, looking up at the grand structure with its grand steps. It will not take you long to reach the top, don’t worry, but once you’re there, you’ll be greeted by this huge statue of Chiang Kai-shek sitting on something like a throne (a proper one, not like that from Game of Thrones), behind him are some inscriptions which I did not bother to translate using Google Translate (might be about patriotism and love of country that sort of thing). There’s a change of guards show every once in a while which you could not watch or take a video of except if you could find a tall tourist at the back of the crowd to take a video of it for you. There’s some local who would literally pray on their knees below the statue and you’ll notice the high elaborately-designed ceiling. But best of all, you get to see the view of the whole park from the top, the memorial hall’s steps, the concert hall and the theater hall facing each other, the beautifully designed garden, and the people roaming around, all of it framed by the giant door frames of the memorial hall while the sun is setting down.  For that I am giving the giant statue of Chiang Kai-shek 1364 out of 2000 stars.

“This memorial hall was originally established to commemorate Chiang Kai-Shek and drive culture promotion activities. After he passed away in 1975, people in Taiwan and certain of the overseas Chinese proposed to establish a memorial hall to express their respect for the leader. The site of the Memorial Hall was originally a military base and was later decided to be used as the location used for the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall.” (http://www.cksmh.gov.tw/)

The National Theater & Concert Hall

Rating: 1571 out of 2000 stars

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Probably the grandest structure in all of Taiwan, the national theater and concert hall sits near the Chiang Kai-shek memorial hall and was designed to mimic the grandeur of Chinese palaces. You could admire the structure even from afar with its gold plates (those look like plates) adorning its walls and also gape at the grandest roof you could ever see (or at least because those are really standard designs for Chinese palaces).

Climbing up the steps, you could pretend to be a visiting president from other country, there to meet the king or whoever and shake hands with him and present your cabinet. Or you could pretend to be the king, look all over the people roaming the park from above and proclamim “I am your king!” Those are the cool things to do when you’re there.  For that I am giving this palace-like structure 1571 out of 2000 stars.

“Located in the Boai District in central Taipei, the National Theater & Concert Hall (or the NTCH) features the traditional Chinese palace structure. The gold roofs, overturned edges, Chinese red colonnades and colorful arches demonstrate an elegant and imposing manner.”  (http://npac-ntch.org)

Ximending (西門町)

Rating: 56 out of 2000 stars

If you like shopping, this is the place to be. Admittedly, the combination of well placed buildings flashing advertisements on their huge screens displayed outside for all to see, plus the trees lined up at both sides of the sidewalk, plus the walkway itself (minus the cars which tried to kill us all the time we’re there) plus the people roaming around, definitely make this place charming, but after a while you will see the place for what it really is: shopping establishments with overpriced stuff. It’s good for taking photos but nothing else. The only redeeming quality of this place is the KFC on the corner and their superb egg tart. For that I am giving Ximending 56 out of 2000 stars.

Jiufen Old Street (九份)/Spirited Away and Jiufen Market

Rating: 234 out of 2000 stars for Old Street; 1205 out of 2000 stars for the market

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2017-04-01 16.08.04 HDRYou know that famous hotel/spa/restaurant in Spirted Away? You see the photo above? No it’s not the same but it’s close. Jiufen old street was a bit of a disappointment especially when you looked forward to an authentic Spirited Away-like street and instead you get a street-full of tourists and some decrepit old buildings trying to look lively and relevant to the old street theme of the place. There’s nothing much to say in here except maybe we could find a Spirted Away place in the provinces in Japan or maybe China, but definitely not in this place. As for the market, the smell will not deter you from enjoying the place because of the variety of things that the stalls sell and because of course, of the free taste that will make up for your lunch, thank you very much. For that I am giving Jiufen Old Street 234 out of 2000 stars for at least trying to imbibe the feeling of Spirited Away and the Jiufen Market 1205 out of 2000 stars.

Taipei 101

Rating: 540 out of 2000 stars

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Why is it that the observatory was placed in the 5th or 7th or 8th (I forgot) floor of the building but not in the highest floor? (101st floor? It’s Taipei 101 right?). This sky scrapper, one of the tallest in the world, is jam-packed with high-end stores some of which you couldn’t pronounce and some with criminally expensive price tags. It’s the home of (the original? not sure) Din Tai Fung, the noodles and dumplings restaurant I mentioned, housed on the ground floor so it’s perfect place to die if a plane hits Taipei 101 because there’s no escaping from there, but hey you died happily eating dumplings so no complaints there.

When we visited the place, there’s a posh painting exhibit, the technique of the artist which I admired and hoping to somehow copy once I finished this article. The inside of Taipei 101 is your usual high-end scene, the observatory of which, as I mentioned, could be reached via an elevator with no guards to stop you whatsoever, so don’t worry if you just wanted to sneak inside and take a look on the entrance because let’s face it, who wants to buy that expensive ticket just to take a look at the whole expanse of Taipei? We have Elephant Mountain for that.

One last take, are we sure it’s tall? I mean compared to the Petronas Tower… anyway and so for these mentioned reasons I am giving Taipei 101, 540 out of 2000 stars.

Longshan Temple of Manka (龍山寺)

Rating: 1077 out of 2000 stars

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The temple is of Buddhist type, but the cool thing about this temple is that it incorporates Chinese deities such as Mazu and Guan Yu, their halls and altars echoes that of the Chinese history and culture. It’s so peaceful in here, like when you step inside, you’ll be placed in a different time space. Watching the worshipers inside, there’s a feeling deep inside which I could not explain. Staring at the halls and altars and statues makes you feel like inside a museum but instead of looking from the outside, you feel that you’re one of them, like you’re inside your community church, but with different set of beliefs. Might be because of the setting sun or the man-made falls just right at the entrance of the temple, but the whole experience of our visit there was nothing short of magical. For that I am giving Longshan Temple of Manka 1077 out of 2000 stars.

The most well known temple in Taiwan, the Mengjia Longshan Temple was built in 1738 by settlers from Fujian as a gathering place for Chinese settlers. Located in the old village part of Taipei, Wanhua District, this temple has stood the test of time and lasted through several natural disasters and wars. (https://guidetotaipei.com/)

Xiangshan (象山) Mountain/Elephant Mountain

Rating: 1102 out of 2000 stars

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How many Ed Sheeran songs does it take to climb the Elephant Mountain? Three Ed Sheerans if you’re fast and will not stop on the many (so many) pit stops along the way. Four + “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” (not yet tested) if you take water breaks in between. Honestly, this one is not that high, at least compared to the mountains back here in the Philippines, but it’s high enough that you will lose the will to live (or climb, or move) for a few moments but soon you’ll realize that you’re too dramatic and you’ll move on. Then you’ll realize that this place is not that special after all and then you’ll stop again and reflect on what the heck were you doing there, but then again you’ll start climbing again until you reach the top. The view is not that stunning, at least during mornings, but worth it in some ways. There’s a rock that you could climb for taking photos (don’t try it, not worth your life) but there’s this safe place for doing it, with the view of Taipei 101 and stuff, just make sure not to include the many tourists in your shots. For that I am giving the Elephant Mountain 1102 out of 2000 stars and one Ed Sheeran.

Yangmingshan National Park

Rating: 1753 out of 2000 stars

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For a peaceful walk, try this place which is full of cherry blossoms or Taiwan flowers, I forgot what it’s called (but a friend, again, told me it’s called Yangmingshan). Sitting at the top of a mountain place, and accessible via bus, the pathway is lined with cherry blossoms at both sides with the majestic view of a mountain at the background. Drink tea or coffee while eating some bread or some fried food on sticks, while walking and enjoying the view, or else sit in one of the many benches dotting the pathway and still eat and enjoy the view. Or you could take photos, whatever. For it’s peaceful ambiance and breathtaking view, I am giving this place which I don’t know the name of but know I do prior to finishing this article thank goodness, 1753 out of 2000 stars.

Taipei Zoo

Rating: 1000 out of 2000 stars

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We are closing this article with a review of the city’s zoo and wonder at the same time if that panda who we saw sleeping Snorlax-like is awake now.  The place is insanely huge, even for zoo standards, and a walk from animal cage to animal cage was nice except if you’re from PAWS or some animal rights group. The place has an insane obsession with poop and comfort rooms which is a mystery to us and also vendo machines selling cheap drinks and other stuff. So back to the animals, nothing to report here except that the pandas are in some sort of a make shift viewing cage which is insane, calling the attention of PAWS. But this zoo has the feel of a rain forest compared to other zoos that I visited which is cool. For that I am giving Taipei Zoo and its panda 1000 out of 2000 stars.

“The Zoo’s combined area is 165 hectares, with 90 hectares being open to the public. The facilities comprise exhibition buildings (the Education Center, the Penguin House, the Koala House, the Amphibian and Reptile House and the Insectarium), as well as exhibition areas (the Formosan Animal Area, the Children’s Zoo, the Asian Tropical Rainforest Animal Area, the Desert Animal Area, the Australian Animal Area, the African Animal Area, Bird World and the Temperate Zone Animal Area). There is also an outdoor nature observation area, a wetland park, and a special exhibit house.” http://english.zoo.gov.taipei

Airport and trains (and buses and taxi cabs)

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2017-03-31 01.13.36The airport is connected to Taipei by Taoyuan Airport MRT, as well as to HSR Taoyuan Station. You’re out of luck if you arrived after 11PM or something because there’s no train, no food stalls, no anything, except for vendo machines and their convenience store. You can take a bus though but you still have to wait because, well, you don’t have any choice.

When you’re in the city, don’t ride in taxi cabs, it’s so expensive as you may know, and that sound that signal’s the taxi cab meter fare from 90NTD to 200NTD? It will give you heart attack. (The fare increases 5NTD every time you breath or depending on the taxi speed, as per my theory). Taiwan has a superb train system, no problem, and just buy the unlimited card and you’re good to go, plus grab some map. Their train stations ranges from super hi-tech and modern to super old and classic type with train platforms installed at a foot of a mountain forest complete with trees and snakes and squirrels.

“If the world is a huge stage, then Taoyuan International Airport is the spotlight of Taiwan. Situated among the airfreight hub of Asia Pacific, the five major airports in Asia are within reach in 175 minutes. Indeed, it has the most advantageous location among the airports in Asia Pacific”  (taoyuanairport.com.tw)

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Number of lines: 5 (including Wenhu Line, Tamsui-Xinyi Line, Songshan-Xindian Line, Zhonghe-Xinlu Line and Bannan Line)

Number of stations: 117. Transfer stations (Ximen, CKS Memorial Hall, Guting and Dongmen Stations) that connect two lines yet share only one physical station, are calculated as one station each. Other stations connecting two lines are calculated as two stations.

Network length: 131.1km (operating), 136.6km (constructed) (http://english.metro.taipei/)

1 Wenhu Line Taipei Zoo Station – Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center Station, 25.2km, 24 stations.
2 Tamsui-Xinyi Line Tamsui Station – Xiangshan Station (including Xinbeitou Station), 29.3km, 28 stations.
3 Songshan-Xindian Songshan Station – Xindian Station (including Xiaobitan Station), 20.7km, 20 stations.
4 Zhonghe-Xinlu Line Nanshijiao Station – Huilong Station , Nanshijiao Station – Luzhou Station, 29.3km, 26 stations.
5 Bannan Line Dingpu Station – Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center Station, 26.6km, 23 stations.

As for the buses, it’s good for sightseeing but you need a friend who knows where to go more or less, or else you’ll get lost.

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Photo courtesy of Cheska Peralta (https://www.behance.net/iskapade)

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