Getting to Tainan was more of a mission than Chad and I had anticipated. Due to the recent typhoon that hit the east coast of Taiwan, the trains heading south were stopped on the route we needed to head towards. Instead we had to make a detour and head back to Taipei, and take a high speed train to Tainan from there.
Eventually we made it to meet Chad’s friend Sonja who graciously hosted us in her amazing apartment. We got to know the expat crowd of Tainan and it doesn’t seem to be very different from the expat scene in Korea. The one huge difference that I did notice was that all the foreigners in Taiwan were there to study Mandarin and were able to converse quite comfortably in it. It’s pretty amazing considering how much more complicated Mandarin is in comparison to Korean, and I barely come across foreigners in Korea who are even somewhat fluent.
Of course, majority of the expats in Taiwan are also working as teachers but the contracts and hours are more flexible and as a result, the lifestyle is more laid back.
The best dumplings I have ever had were also in Tainan. They are soup dumplings (a Shanghai specialty) and it’s absolutely delicious because you get a little bit of broth with your dumpling.
My favourite thing about Taiwan is the tea shop culture. Every few feet there is a tea shop – my fave is of course bubble tea (flavoured milk tea with tapioca) and it’s dirt cheap! My second favourite thing about Taiwan are the people I met in Tainan. We spend an evening wandering the streets and bar hopping with people I had just met, but it felt like we had all been friends for a long time. It’s not everyday you can go to a foreign country and just meet a great group of people to hang out with! Sometimes, you just get lucky.
We did spend a day exploring the old city of Tainan. This included roaming some markets, buying some souvenirs and checking out a super cool treehouse – an actual tree that grew out of a house and became part of the structure. This building was used by the Japanese and now is a tourist destination. It reminded me of Ta Prohm temple in Cambodia, where the roots are embedded with the walls. It was quite random.
shopping for goodies
Our final destination was Taipei. I wasn’t too keen on spending time in Taipei since I had explored it already but since I was flying from there I had no choice. We couchsurfed with some awesome people in Taipei who really did end up making the time very memorable. Again, our hosts all spoke Mandarin who allowed us to try out more local cuisine and bargain at the markets. I also spent my last night in Taiwan in Xiamen, which is the ‘village’ of Taipei. It is an area in the middle of the city filled with open air bars, where it’s quite fun to just relax and observe the traffic. By day, Xiamen is a shopper’s haven with loads of shops selling everything you can think of.
The Modern Toilet is a very popular restaurant in Taipei, and we accidentally came across it while wandering in Xiamen and of course we had to go in! The restaurant is famous because it uses toilets for actual seats and bathtubs and sinks as tables. The dishes are served in little urinal plates! Yes, it’s pretty tacky but where else can you say you drank out of a urinal?!
Taipei is more of a transportation hub and my least favourite place in Taiwan. This mostly because there isn’t much history or authenticity to it. It’s just another big Asian city. What made me fall in love with Taiwan are the people – locals and expats. The locals want to help and go out of their way to do it. Their kindness is very touching and welcoming.