Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Taipei - A city that speaks for itself...

It’s never easy to visit a city for a few days.  Such was my experience last weekend.  Having settled fairly well into Hong Kong University (HKU), it’s been strange boarding another plane to visit another nearby destination.  I’ll admit, it’s been tiring as I haven’t stopped travelling since June, but the last three days have been worth it, even if it involved extreme drowsiness, aching legs and almost falling asleep on the MRT (Taiwan’s version of HK’s MTR). 

This trip was quite interesting as our total group size was around 25.  Some of us left on Friday morning, whilst others came the next day.  Having a group of over 20 young travellers proved to be quite an interesting logistical task, and there were expected moments when we got lost.  It’s always hard to manage a group of that size, especially when there is no ‘leader’.  Perhaps that's why it worked so well.  We all adopted a flexible approach and went wherever we wanted.  Some visited malls, others checked out the scenery.  Either way, everyone reported having a blast!  We didn’t use phones which I believe was another great thing (yes, can't believe i'm saying that...  As we were there for such a short period, there wasn’t much sense.  Plus, it was more exciting getting lost and then randomly meeting up with people in the group.

My initial thought of Taipei was that it was a large city, full of skyscrapers and built for the 22nd Century… :P  My early picture of Taipei dissipated moments after we landed at the airport.  It was an interesting taxi ride (relatively inexpensive considering the distance).  What immediately stole my attention was that they were building many new roads/bridges on the way to the city.  Roads were large, clean and efficient and more greenery was noticeable.  However, something else kept nagging me: how could I classify Taipei as a city?  I couldn’t figure it out.  Even towards the evening of the first day, I still didn’t know how to place it amongst all of the other Asian cities I’ve visited.  Here are a few quick further observations.

The People
First of all, the citizens of Taiwan seem much more relaxed.  This is quite a generalised statement, but that’s the first impression I received, and it lasted with me for three entire days.  Even in the subways, (despite it being busier than HK at times) everyone seemed to adopt a comfortable walking pace.   What we did find difficult is that the majority of people do not speak english and this can be quite an issue if you’re travelling outside of the city district.  Otherwise, if you learn to smile, remember places with your photographic memory then all will be well!  Just take it as it comes, and you’ll finally get there.  It’s all about the excitement of getting lost and then finding your way around again :)  At least that's what gives me a buzz! 

Transport system
There isn't much to say, except there are a LOT more motorbikes/scooters.  The Cabs/taxis are yellow which is a nice change (and brings back memories of Melbourne, Australia).  The MRT stations are very clean and the lcd screens for trains arriving are better than in HK.  There is a little more seating compared to HK which provides very little if NONE.  Overall, I still prefer HK's MTR, it just has a 'classier' feel to it!

Random fact
It may be random, but it's quite important at times.  If you expect many rubbish bins on the streets, think again.  Very little around and it can be frustrating.  That's why there is quite a lot of litter in some city streets.  

What I would do on my next trip
If I were to be given the opportunity to return to Taipei, I would definitely spend time exploring further outside of the city, visiting places such as the Hot Springs, Tea plantations, Zoo (which has Pandas!) and all of the other markets/malls I hadn’t had time to visit.  I would love to go on a tour outside of the city, to get more of a feel as to how the ‘locals’ live.  Our trip was concentrated around the city, but it’s always worth visiting the outer regions.  That’s when you can begin to draw better descriptions of your experiences!  Lastly, I’d visit the 101 skyscraper again!  Although Taipei does not have many tall buildings as HK and New York and other large cities, it still provides a wonderful view of the city.  See the following pictures below:

The spectacular view!

General feel of the city
Although Taipei lacks the buzz that HK offers, it is a very unique city.  There are plenty of malls, markets and night markets.  It is a comfortable city to navigate around, although if you need to make certain places at a specific time, don't risk being late and ensure you have a translation of your destination!  I felt comfortable and safe at all times, day and night.  

National Museum - a fascinating place to visit.  I'll write up a blog about it soon...

Hot springs region up north- the HDR is not 'overdone', it really is as blue and clear as this!!!

 It really is tall!

 Taipei 101 has to be one of my favourite skyscrapers.  It is perfectly designed!

Night markets

Tapei remains a city that I find difficult to describe compared to others such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, New York and many others…  It has a very unique identity that sets it apart from the rest.  The best I can do is say that it’s somewhere in-between Hong Kong and Singapore.  It’s more spacious, more people-friendly but not the easiest destination for tourists to navigate around.  It’s somewhere you need to visit in order to grasp a better understanding of the city and the way it operates...

To finish the blog, I’ll leave you with something ‘special’ three of us experienced on our first night in the city.  All of us were guys, but we stopped here for a good 15 minutes despite running to catch a train.  It was an emotional moment, and we seemed to draw a bigger crowd.  They were dogs up for adoption, and being there at that moment while they lay there panting and close to each other brought a tear to our eyes...  The last photo says it all… 

If I only took these sequence of photos during my entire trip, I would have been very happy... It was one of those moments that can never be repeated...

Until next time Taipei!!!

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