Taipei 101 – An Introduction

I love the rush and excitement of flying into a new place. And since we transferred through Tokyo on ANA, we flew into the closer Songshan city airport (TSA) and had a window seat on a long double loop around the dramatic hills and skyscrapers of Taipei….a free aerial tour of the city where we would spend our next week!

Lunar New Year Bunny Seats on the 89th Floor of Taipei 101
Lost? You can almost always spy Taipei 101 wherever you are.

Note that most longer flights go out of the much larger and more distant Taoyuan International Airport (TPE). But both have good rail connections right to the center, so no worries if you fly into or out of TPE.

Waterfalls, mountains, and forest

Taipei is a world class city that just doesn’t rise to the top of most (western) tourists lists. But we think the Portuguese nailed it with the name “Formosa”, as it is a beautiful, prosperous, and free place.

Local Agriculture in the Pingxi District

It’s certainly a place that is receiving more attention in the global news due to the complex geo-politics associated with its status and ultra strategic location in the South China Sea. We enjoyed learning so much more about the history of Taiwan. It has left a unique legacy on the psyche of the country.

Ximen, The walkable downtown of Taipei

After the Qing Dynasty lost the Sino-Japanese War in 1895, they ceded Taiwan and the Japanese colonized and controlled Taiwan for over 50 years. When their occupation finally ended after World War II. a dictatorship initially led by Chiang Kai-Shek ruled for the next 40 years under the KMT party, with strict repression of free speech, detentions, and killings known as the “White Terror”.

Getting dizzy in Taipei 101
The massive damper on the 88th floor of Taipei 101 has a series of cute damper babies…this one was my favorite. Way to make science cute.

By the late 80’s, a slow transition to a more open and democratic Taiwan started, and after the election of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2016, it has solidified its place as a liberal and forward looking democracy.

The Pingxi train and Shifen suspension bridge

They were the first Asian state to legalize gay marriage in 2019 and have 42%+ representation of women in the parliament as well as a female president. The Scandinavia of Asia?! Almost, but there is still a huge gender wage gap and other legacy issues of a male dominated business world.

Bali and Tamsui are easily reachable by MRT and ferry for seaside strolling or cycling

However, we could feel the positive energy and openness in Taipei, although all within a society that still values social stability and conformity. It’s an interesting mix but definitely a positive one to experience, even as an outsider.

Run Up to the Lunar New Year on Dihua Street
Cutest local fire station ever, Tamsui

Here’s the Top 10 reasons we loved our week in Taipei and why you might too:

1. The Food – you can see Cheryl’s last two posts for lots of details on the food scene…great food everywhere, and the amazing and exciting night markets.

Ready for the year of the rabbit
Food and SO many boba tea shops…Taiwan invented it and continues to reinvent it for the rest of the world.

2. Unique culture – fun and quirky with a rich history influenced by indigenous, Han Chinese, Japanese, and western culture. There is also a strong fascination with Korean pop culture and clothing. It’s not quite like anywhere else, it’s Taiwan.

Cute = Taiwan
Check in option at Tinguan Airport…no takers?
Cat/bartender at the Tipsy Dragon in Songshan

3. Efficiency AND Kindness – This is a neat and orderly city…people follow the rules and you will enjoy yourself more if you do too. Or at least make an effort. It’s an easy, extremely collaborative society, and everyone has built in empathy and spacial radar systems. You’ll never bump into someone or have them cut or push too much, even in crowds…it’s infectious and relaxing once you embrace the system.

Graceful and spacious MRT stations, many outside the core are aerial with quiet platforms, views, and pleasant breezes. No center running freeway noise here.
Stand right, walk left…always!

4. The MRT! – a comprehensive and modern system that carries 2 Million passengers a day. Buy a EasyCard (IC Card) at either airport station for 100 NTD (New Taiwanese $, or about $3 US), load some fare and then tap in and out like the locals for 50c to $1 a trip. We had the airport station agent add 300 to each to start, so paid 800 NTD. If you get a funny beep or issue with your card, there is always a helpful staff person nearby.

The MRT is integrated with neighborhoods, creating nice station area plazas such as this one in Shilin
Neighborhood pride in Shilin

There are also real time predictions at all MRT and most bus stops, so don’t be intimidated to use buses as well. Big numbers on the front…tap on and off with your IC card when you ride at the front or back doors. So easy.

Keeping an eye on train operations in Jintong

5. Bathrooms – Seriously, Taiwan is the most bathroomed place on the planet (interested to hear about others!?). Every station has one (or two), public parks, museums, attractions, malls, night markets, parking garages, busy neighborhoods….you get the idea. And all free and clean, which really does reduce travel stress and the need to go into “camel mode” walking about like in some counties.

Fun, inviting, and yes, bathrooms in Pinxi District
Always so close

6. Greenery – Parks, long greenways (140km of bike paths!), and lush hills and mountains make for a pleasant backdrop, plus potted street plants liven up even the drabbest streets.

Street plants seem to be a craze in Taipei and make the vast downtown neighborhoods a bit more livable
Ahead of the curve…the cool interchangeable scooter batteries of the Gogoro energy system
Alley greenery (and the ubiquitous Food Panda!)

7. Clean air – not perfect but good for such a large city due to great public transit, fairly clean vehicles, frequent coastal and island breezes, and the greenery noted above.

Spiritual moss on Jiantan Mountain
Building around tree or tree within building?

8. Safety – Traffic is pretty organized and street crime seems virtually non existent. One of our only social gaffs was inadvertently moving a women’s notepad/binder/IPad? from a back garden of a coffee shop…we thought it belonged to the shop, and she came out surprised to see us in her seat…we offered to move, but she refused and headed to another spot upstairs. Oops.

Pocket temple in Tamsui
More fun at the Onsen Museum in the hot spring town of Beitou…via MRT of course.
The historic Pingxi Train line runs 13km from Sandiaoling to Jintong runs hourly, so you can hop off and on or walk between stations.

9. Hiking and cycling culture – a great proportion of the world’s quality bicycles are made here (not to mention 90% of the worlds fast semiconductors), and they actually push cycle touring as a key component of their tourist advertising. On this first “winter” visit, we only grazed the endless mountain and forest trails that crisscross the spine of Taiwan… with many accessible by public transit.

Morning walk up Jiantin Mountain
You can walk from the edges of the city far into the mountains and take a train or bus back.
E-bikes for Spaniels…so green

10. Mixing with the locals – not many western tourists makes for a more exotic feel. And at least some English in most places makes interactions more rewarding. We’ve discovered this cool Asian capital, right-:)

Cheryl drying out one of the many cats of Houtong Cat Village
Cats keeping an eye out on the purpose built cat bridge in Houtong
Cat food on the cat bridge

Maybe you’ve been here and are nodding along, but if not, consider at least a stopover in Taipei on your next travels to Asia, or better yet, spend a few weeks or a month traveling around the whole island. Rail circles the island and the more developed west coast has a high speed rail network that takes you all the way south in about 2 hours.

So much to explore outside of Taipei…Shifen village between trains.
We only dabbled on the local trains, but there is a whole island to explore!

The more you learn about the people, history and culture, the more you will understand the how complex the geo-political conundrum really is. Our hope is strong for a positive future for Taiwan and we definitely plan to come back soon to explore by bicycle.

🐇🎉Happy Year of the Rabbit! 🎉🐰

Peace to all and happy travels!

How to get off the tourist track.

Step 1. Bike tour. You end up staying places that are not A list, ones with no big attractions but lovely people and normal settings where you might be only tourists, and folks in the bakery will be interested in what the heck these two Americans with not great German language skills are doing here.

I should have started my series of amusing fountains in town squares earlier, but here we go.

Step 2. TrustedHousesitters.com Check it out. You meet wonderful people and pets and spend time living a bit like a local.

The goose herder?

You get to go for walks on well signed local trails to beer gardens.

Squirrel trail? Sign me up!
That lower right sign is the beer tour route.
My own little bottle of wine with lunch.
Rich and a yummy Keller beer, at yet another beer garden. They are the perfect pandemic place to go and we seek them out.
Our sweet little charge, thank you to her for being the best little cat and to her human companions for choosing us to keep her company.
She loves to drink out of a proper glass. I love to watch. Cat tongues are fascinating.

Two days off the bikes and we head off today to Bad Windsheim, a pretty short ride, where there is both a thermal bath, one of Rich’s favorite things, and an open air history museum- one of my favorite things.

Happy pedaling!

From a few days ago, fall is in the air and beware- you may see socks being worn with these sandals very soon.