We began our next day with a short stop at Florida Bakery, which despite the name didn’t seem American at all. After some breakfast, we took the MRT to Daan area to visit Wisteria Tea House. On our way, we walked through Daan Forest Park, a large and beautiful park with a pond in the middle where herons, egrets, and birds I couldn’t identify congregated. We also saw our first Taiwanese squirrels, which are darker in color and have a slightly different head shape than their US counterparts.
Wisteria Tea House was built in the 1920s and was once home to a Japanese governor during the occupation. It’s named for the four very old wisteria vines growing just outside, and walking in felt like stepping into another world. Their tea list was excellent, and we sat on tatami and drank Baozhong and Da Hong Pao, accompanied by dried starfruit and some of the best mochi I’ve had. We left reluctantly, and then it started pouring rain.
Seattle rain has nothing on Taiwanese rain. It’s like you’re getting buckets dumped on you. We had been planning on taking a gondola to Mao Kong, a tea area that is mostly outdoors and has great views, but we decided to visit Taipei 101 to wait out the rain instead. We caught a bus, got off one stop too late, and ran through the rain into the first entrance we found – a fancy Hyatt hotel.
Eventually we found a way to get from the Hyatt to Taipei 101 without getting soaked again. Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world from 2004-2010, and while there’s an observatory on the top, the rest of it is filled with stores for all the fanciest designer brand names you’ve ever heard of and a few that you haven’t. One store was full of huge coral that people could buy for display, and we were disturbed that something that takes so long to grow would be harvested and sold. We figured the rain would obscure a view from the top, so we wandered around a little and made reservations at Din Tai Feng on the bottom floor.
Din Tai Feng is an upscale chain restaurant that started in Taipei, known for its excellent xiao long bao (soup dumplings). There are two of them in the Seattle area, and we wanted to see how they compared to the original. We tried the original and crab xiao long bao as well as a noodle dish and some garlic green beans. Honestly, while the dumplings were good, I thought the ones at the Seattle location were a little better, and the atmosphere there is definitely more upscale.
As we’d suspected, a thunderstorm had closed the Mao Kong gondola that afternoon, so we took the MRT to Beitou instead, as we’d heard their library had won accolades for its architecture. While walking towards the library, we encountered a playground full of what looked like toy exercise equipment.
Continuing on our walk, it soon became evident that Beitou is famous for its hot springs. There was a steaming stream running next to the sidewalk, and we went past the hot spring which had, unfortunately, just closed. The area was weirdly eerie at dusk just after the rain. At one point we wandered down some stairs which ended abruptly at a drop off in an area teeming with giant snails.
Unfortunately, Chris felt some stinging bites and found some tiny ants on his legs, so we escaped to the library where he discovered that Taiwan is home to fire ants and started feeling some mild paranoia around Taiwanese insects.
The library was beautiful and had a large outdoor deck and little seats hidden between the shelves. Of course, most of the books were in Mandarin and we couldn’t read more than a few words.
On our way back to Nathan and Yushan’s place, we stopped at Shilin night market, which is the largest in Taipei. It was definitely big – multiple blocks dissected by alleys full of shops and people. I ate some fried crabs, shells and all. It was a good end to a busy day.