Our hotel in Taipei was in the lively district of Ximen, home to lots of shops and restaurants that cater mainly to the city’s younger generation. But young at heart as we are we felt right at home especially as the look and feel of it was rather akin to Hong Kong – one of our favourite cities – yet still with its own feel, at times almost European in quality. Well that’s what we thought anyway 🙂
However, Ximen really comes alive in the night when all the lights and signs are illuminated and the streets are busy with people looking for somewhere to eat, perusing the shops, watching a street performance, etc. It was a vibrant and fun atmosphere, yet not too crowded or chaotic especially as quite a few of the streets were pedestrians only after 6pm, making strolling around a lot easier and more pleasant without cars and scooters to avoid.
Here’s a little taster of Ximen.
Ximen is a fun area in a great city and a place we are very glad to have discovered, sights, smells, and weirdness all. We are already hoping to return to Taipei in the not too distant future.
And so this marks the last blog entry of 2016. We have been on the road now for nine months (nine!) and had a wonderful time so far, seeing some great places and enjoying some amazing experiences. Here’s looking forward to 2017 and the further adventures of the International Vagabonds.
Another favourite jaunt on our trips since we started touring this year has been temples, and in Taipei we decided to visit the Lungshan temple, one of the most prominent Buddhist and Taoist temples in the country. It was founded in 1738 and dedicated to Kuan-in, the Buddhist goddess of mercy.
The temple was fairly close to our hotel in Ximen so we decided to take a walk there, as it gave us the chance to pass through an unexplored area south of the district. As it turned out we were not missing much but it was worth making the trip all the same; you never know when you might stumble across a gem.
When we arrived it was obvious from the steady flow of visitors heading inside that we were not the only ones keen to take a look at the temple. However, we briefly toured the courtyard outside the Lungshan temple before going inside proper; an artificial waterfall and pond had been created and it was actually quite well done.
The temple turned out to be a little smaller than we had thought and it was a little on the crowded side with visitors in addition to the worshippers there making their devotions. But it was still a fun and interesting opportunity to look around, including some of the lovely stonework details we spotted.
As well as this more obvious ‘tourist temple’ we found several other temples tucked away in Ximen’s busy streets and alleyways, their small entrances almost obscured by adjacent shops. Fortunately we found these at night courtesy of their lanterns and inside they were quiet and atmospheric and we could explore them at our leisure and not get in the way of any devotees present.
These were beautiful temples, distinctly Chinese and different to those we visited in Japan and elsewhere. And while Lungshan was very much worth the visit, the more local temples we went to at night were especially charming; quiet and beautiful in the darkness. We’re very glad we stole a look at these.
from “La Storia Della Arcana Famiglia” soundtrack, Jun Fukuyama and Tsubasa Yonaga, 2012.
The National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院) in the northern part of Taipei is Taiwan’s main museum of ancient Chinese imperial artefacts and artworks. Historically the National Palace Museum and the Palace Museum in Beijing share the same origins. However, the Palace Museum in Beijing was split into two as a result of the Chinese Civil War, which divided China in into the two present-day countries of the Republic of China (ROC) on the island of Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the mainland.
With the National Palace Museum having a permanent collection of nearly 700,000 items and with around 3,000 of these on display at any given time, we were definitely keen to see the exhibits and hastened to the metro and headed to Shilin.
Although located not too far from Shilin station, the museum was still a longer walk than we wanted to undertake so we decided to try and get the R30 bus, which is the main – and most direct – bus to the museum. We waited and saw several other busses which said they also went to the museum but we let these pass hoping for the R30 to come along. After a twenty minute wait we agreed it was wasting time and that we would get on the next bus that came along and said it stopped at the museum. It wasn’t the R30 but we jumped on nonetheless and managed to get a seat. The ride was all very interesting as we looked around at the local area and as we went some of the stops were announced in English, which we though was helpful. However, we didn’t hear an announcement for the National Palace Museum and, despite most people getting off at one point, we didn’t think anything of it. Fortunately a kind local sat behind us tapped us on the shoulder and said, “museum” while we were sat there chattering and gawping. With hasty “xiexie” (thank you) and were able to hop off quick before the bus moved on again. Now we know why we don’t get busses often.
We headed up the grand approach to the museum and enjoyed a little Taiwanese sunshine of which in all we didn’t see too much during our time in Taipei. Getting closer to the museum it got noticeably busier and when we arrived we found the sight we had expected but hoped not to find: hordes of tour groups. And not only this but groups of school-children too. Regardless of when we were going to visit the National Palace Museum, we think we were destined to be be sharing it with the crowds.
Unusually for museums that we have visited, it didn’t take us long to spot the other hordes: of museum staff armed with the following sign:
There were a surprising number of these attendants and not long after we started to view the exhibits we could see why: the tour groups and school-children were often rather unruly and noisy. Far be it from us to judge but the majority of the tour groups were from A Large Country Not Far Away, and in fairness children will be children; although the couple of Japanese school groups we saw (distinguishable by their smart uniforms) were generally very well behaved. Despite the groups, we were able to tour the museum and see all we wanted to see, just occasionally having to switch or delay our meanderings in order to avoid another horde.
We enjoyed a long tour of the museum and managed to see all the galleries that were currently open in a little over three hours, and saw some lovely artefacts and exhibits, a few of which are included here:
This is one of the best museums we have toured for antiquities and even with the crowds it was a very interesting and pleasant afternoon’s viewing, and the National Palace Museum is worth anyone’s time if you are in Taipei.
We would love to go back and see some more of the treasures they have, and we’re sure we will definitely be returning to Taiwan.
from “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex” soundtrack, Yoko Kanno, 2003.
While we love to explore new places on foot, we do also like to take the opportunity to get an eagle’s eye view as well, as we did in several cities during our time in Japan over the summer; so the Taipei 101 tower was without doubt on our list of things to do in the capital of Taiwan.
While the weather in Taipei hasn’t been bad, it has been quite cloudy and overcast on most days – it is winter after all (low 20s Celsius) and we’re really not in the tropics anymore – so we opted to visit Taipei 101’s observation deck when the weather looked about as good as it was going to get.
A quick and easy ride across town on the Taipei Metro and we arrived to coo appreciatively at what is easily the tallest building in Taipei, reaching up to a total height of 508m; it was the world’s tallest building up until 2004. Formerly called the Taipei World Financial Centre, the tower is now called Taipei 101, after the 101 above-ground floors in the tower.
Hoping the clouds would be kind and not spoil the view, we headed inside to get our tickets. Fortunately the queue was very short, and we only had a little while to admire / be-mesmerised-by the pulsing rainbow ceiling in the entrance hall before we got our tickets. The ceiling lights were very pretty and – coincidentally – very gay-themed, as we have seen many young LGBT people in the city out in support of gay marriage in Taiwan. We really hope they get their equality.
The indoor observation decks are on the 88th and 89th floors and with the lifts reaching a top speed of 60km/h it certainly did not take long to get up there. Though the clouds were looming perilously close, there was still plenty to see.
Taiwan – and thus Taipei 101 – is prone to the earthquakes and fierce storms that are common in this part of the world and so to achieve stability for the building and lessen the impact of violent motion, it has a gigantic ‘tuned mass damper’ installed. This is a steel sphere around 6m in diameter, weighing 660 tonnes, and is suspended from the 92nd floor down to the 87th floor. The damper acts like a giant pendulum to counteract the building’s swaying in high winds, etc. Taipei 101’s engineers were so proud of the damper that it was made visible to visitors from its own observation gallery.
The damper is really impressive and you could feel the building move slightly when standing near it; fortunately it wasn’t moving anything like it does when earthquakes and storms have hit Taipei as shown in the video: Taipei 101 damper.
Another great iconic building and a great opportunity to see the city it dominates from the observation deck. We’re definitely fans of Taiwan – it’s the best new place we have discovered since our three months travelling across in Japan. And we will definitely be back.
During our visits to the area of Xiaonanmen (小南門站) where the Botanical Garden and National Museum of History are located (and to be regaled in future blogs), we encountered an interesting looking building. Philip – ever one to know what things are especially if I can’t tell him straight away – went around to find the entrance and see what it was: it turned out to be the National Taiwan Craft Research and Development Institute.
We put out heads in the door and discovered on the ground floor a large shop with many beautiful objects from Taiwanese artists and companies. Keeping our wallets firmly in our pockets we decided to have a look around. There was a glorious array of items, from decorative vases, bowls and ornaments, to clocks, furniture, and many other items. We think it is safe to say there was very little tat there as far as we were concerned and easily enough gorgeous things to half furnish an apartment. But International Vagabonds that we are, now is not the time to be buying desirable things, so they will have to wait.
The building was formerly the National Taiwan Science Centre, built in 1951 as part of a number of societal establishments: the Botanical Garden, the National Museum of History, the National Institute for Educational Resources and Research, the National Taiwan Arts Education Centre, and National Education Radio. The building remained the Science Centre until 2003, then in 2008 it was restored and re-purposed as the National Taiwan Craft Research and Development Institute.
With nine floors showcasing a variety of exhibits we decided to work our way up the NTCRI and see what was there. One of the largest showpieces was The Carnival of the Animals, which were very eye-catching and a lot of fun.
The details as you can see were quite amazing on some of these wonderfully odd animals; cute, colourful, crazy and creative.
Considering we did not have this on our initial itinerary, the ‘Craft Building’ was a great find and a really interesting way to spend a couple of hours.
It was time to discover how Taiwan fared in the modern and contemporary art scene when we visited Taipei’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). We do enjoy visiting MOCA-type galleries on our travels and with Taipei’s just a couple of metro stops away there was no reason to delay our visit.
The Taipei Metro (台北捷運) is very reminiscent of the various Japanese metros we used earlier this year as well as the Hong Kong MRT – basically they are clean, efficient, reliable, and cost-effective ways of getting around the city. We even decided to get the MRT’s EasyCard as these let you travel for a few Taiwanese dollars less than the usual fare as well as being accepted for payment in most any shop. The EasyCards will certainly pay for themselves in our two weeks here as the fare saving will outstrip the card deposit of $100 TWD. They are a nice keepsake too, and from what we have seen of Taipei so far we are pretty sure we will be coming back and can reuse them.
So EasyCards in hand we headed off to the MOCA at Zhongshan. The MOCA building was formerly an elementary school built in 1921 during the period of Japanese rule. After the handover of Taiwan it became a government building until 2001 when it was re-purposed as the captial’s Museum of Contemporary Art. It was also the first museum in Taiwan to be dedicated exclusively to contemporary art.
When we arrived we discovered that the MOCA was in the process of changing installations, which meant that the only exhibit we could tour was Post . Vision . Form by Ruan Weng-Mong. However, the good news was that we could view this for free and that the new exhibitions were due to open in a few days so we could still return and see these while we were in Taipei.
The Post . Vision . Form exhibit was housed in three small galleries and here are our favourites from what we saw of Ruan Weng-Mong’s work.
We really enjoyed the showcase of this artist; it was definitely contemporary art that we liked and could appreciate – no silly ‘stacks of bricks’ or ‘chopped in half animals’ here. And great for us that we that we caught this exhibition in its last few days. We are looking forward to going back to Taipei’s MOCA next week to see the new artworks currently being installed.
So we arrived in Taiwan, and the capital city of Taipei, after our first flight with China Airlines. The plane was a 747 and it seems like it’s been a very long time since we last flew on a “jumbo-jet”; it quite took us back to our earliest days of flying. Taipei’s Taoyuan Airport is modern, clean, and efficient, and we pretty much breezed through immigration and baggage reclaim. Unfortunately the new airport rail link still has not been completed so we got a taxi into the city as we are not big fans of the airport buses. The taxi was also clean and comfortable and there was not any haggling on price or claims of a broken meter – fortunately none of that nonsense here. With a quick ride along the new elevated expressway we reached our hotel in good time and were able to get settled in before grabbing some dinner and make some plans for what to do on our first full day.
We decided that we would begin with a visit to the National Taiwan Museum located in the 2/28 Peace Memorial Park around fifteen minutes walk from our hotel. The park contains memorials to victims of the February 28th Incident of 1947, which was an anti-government uprising in Taiwan that was violently suppressed by the Republic of China government, which killed thousands of civilians.
The park was a very pleasant space to wander before we attended the museum and there were plenty of features and items of interest amidst the greenery.
Established under Japanese colonial rule in 1908 the National Taiwan Museum is the oldest museum in Taiwan, situated at the north end of the 2/28 Memorial Park and just a few minutes from the main railway station. And with an admission price of just 60 TWD (which is around £1.50) the museum is definitely worth visiting.
Our visit unfortunately coincided with some renovations and parts of the museum were not accessible, however we were able to see the life sciences galleries and ancient Taiwan history, as well as quite a large display on bicycles, which were an important part of daily life until relatively recently.
The bicycle was introduced to Taiwan during the period of colonial rule by Japan, and soon became an integral part of daily life, as both a method of transport and also a way for people to ply their livelihood to customers. Bicycles are still popular although, as in many countries, they have been replaced more now by scooters for everyday transport.
The National Taiwan Museum is a beautiful colonial style building and it was great to see that it was both well kept as well as being maintained and renovated. On top of that it was a great museum too – there was a fair amount of English language text to accompany exhibits and even where there was not, this did not detract from the artefacts on display. Definitely a pleasure to tour around and one of the better national museums we have visited on our recent travels.