After a 12-hour plane trip where we slept and watched a weird and interesting movie, we landed at Taoyuan Airport. Unfortunately, since we landed at 5:20 am, the counters for buying Taiwanese SIM cards for phones weren’t yet open, and it turned out Google maps was wrong about when the buses started running towards our friend Nathan’s place. Ultimately, we got on the airport’s free wifi to e-mail Nathan about the delay, figured out how to buy a ticket and caught the 8 am bus.
The ride from Taoyuan Airport to Taipei City took about 45 minutes and wound between tiny villages nestled in tropical green hills. There were a few tall apartment buildings with fields of crops just outside. The roads were well marked, and we soon learned to recognize the characters for “Exit.” I don’t think scooters are allowed on the highways, because they’re absolutely everywhere else.
We met Nathan and went back to the apartment he and Yushan share, which is small but cute and well laid out. There’s also an air conditioning unit in each of the 3 rooms, which is wonderful, as it’s very hot and humid (84 degrees when we landed at 5:20 am). After some rest and planning, we all went out in search of lunch, which ended up being Teppanyaki. For 560NT total (about $18), Chris and I each got rice, tea, and 3 plates of food grilled fresh in front of us – fish, shrimp, garlic, pork, and veggies.
Nathan helped us find a place to get SIM cards so that we can use our phones without international fees. It’s really helpful to have a little bit of Mandarin, though once you use it people tend to start speaking as if you understand everything they’re saying. We seem to have communicated that we each need 14 days of service, with internet and some minutes for calling friends locally. Hopefully we managed to communicate that, anyway – we’ll see if everything works the whole time. It ended up costing $850 NT each ($28) for the SIM cards and service, which is a little spendy because the closest package that met our needs actually goes for 30 days. It was a little tricky getting the internet working, and we had to go back to the FarEastOne store later to get them to fix the settings, but I think it’s fine now.
There are tea shops everywhere here, but the quality varies a lot. We looked up some reviews and stopped in at MingShan Tea Store to taste some ShanLinXi and LiShan. We had some great language practice with one of the employees, who took a picture with us and drew us a map to show us what restaurants and foods he recommended in the area. We bought a bit of delicious ShanLinXi at a much better price than we’ve seen at home.
After some tea, we continued exploring and ended up in an underground book mall near ZhongShan Station. There were so many bookstores, and many of the books only cost 75NT (about $2.50)! Too bad we packed so light this trip, as it was quite tempting to buy some.
After wandering through a park full of mosaic tiled animals and small robot statues, we ended up at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is closed on Mondays. It was attached to a great cafe, though. We got a little more than we bargained for when ordering ice cream resulted in a bowl full of shaved ice, fruit, ice cream and some sort of jelly dessert. Yum.
We met up with Nathan again and went to a nearby night market for a light dinner of squidballs, clam stuffed with cheesy stuff, spicy chicken, and papaya salad. It was fascinating to watch the making of the squid balls – there’s a pan with round depressions where they pour the ingredients, then flip each one over with chopsticks after awhile. It looks like they’re making aebleskivers. Night market snacks run from about $1-3 USD.
Overall, Taipei seems very exciting – there are tiny businesses everywhere, and lots of people stay out on the street at night. Food is delicious and inexpensive, and we’re able to communicate a little bit. We’ll see how hard it is to figure out travel to other cities, but we can certainly buy food and understand prices just fine.