Nothing helps you get used to a foreign country than getting naked with the locals. And I mean that in the cleanest possible way.
On our first full day in Taiwan, we met up with my good friend/classmate/colleague from university, Jessica, along with her male-model pilot-to-be boyfriend Kelvin and their pop-star friend Raymond. Yes, that’s right, I have some ridiculously good-looking Taiwanese friends in high(-ish) places. So naturally the first thing we did was head to Beitou, a famous hot spring resort on the outskirts of Taipei, to take off all our clothes.
I am no stranger to bathing nude in public thanks to Japan, and it’s my opinion that nothing helps you re-adjust to a healthy body image like a trip to the hot springs. Lots of different bodies of all shapes, sizes and ages: all human and all beautiful. It is a little strange, though, to be having your first conversation with a friend you haven’t seen in years sans-clothing. Real friends have nothing to hide?
After the hot springs and an epic lunch, we headed to the nearby Yangmingshan National Park to explore the highlands. It was beautiful, and actually quite chilly compared to the tropical December temperatures of the city below. We even saw a shivering bride and her wedding party posing for photos amid the mud pies left behind by the wild cows that roam the park.
Following that we headed to Shilin Night Market to get some dinner. I had my first – and only – taste of stinky tofu, which honestly doesn’t taste that bad if you can get past the smell. And a lot of other delicious things as well. Then we headed back to our hostel to get some sleep, which we would very much need for gallavanting all over Taipei on days two and three. It was an amazing first day!
On our fourth and final day in Taiwan, we met up with Jessica and Kelvin (sadly, not Raymond) and headed off to Jiufen, a beautifully quaint village in the mountains. The town is famous for, among other things, being the place that inspired the village in the Hayao Miyazaki movie Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し). Probably largely because of this, the town was virtually overrun by Japanese tourists. It was also, ironically, the only time we actually got stared at / heckled by people in Taiwan – by the Japanese tourists! “Look, foreigners!” We simply cannot escape them. At least now we can heckle them back in their own language (“You’re foreigners here, too, you know…” is a close approximation to what Jordan and I muttered). Have I mentioned how much I love Taiwanese people?
Anyways Jiufen, and Jessica, are entirely responsible for my trip to Taiwan, because as a parting gift at the end of my last semester of uni, Jessica gave me a heartfelt message on a postcard of Jiufen, imploring me to come to her home country one day and visit her favourite tea shop. I warned her that I would take her up on it, and shortly after she returned to Taiwan at last, I booked the flight. I cannot describe how cool of an experience it was to stand in the exact spot from the postcard photo with her to pose for a photo of our own, followed by a visit to said tea shop, fulfilling my quest at last. So without further adieu, I present Taiwan, Part Two!
Day 1: The hills above Taipei
Day 4: Chasing a postcard dream in Jiufen
…and by “accommodating,” I mean by not killing the Giant Rubber Duck when I’ve driven for hours to see it and breaking my heart.
In closing, they say that Taiwan is Asia’s most under-rated travel destination, and I’m inclined to agree. We saw very few tourists in our time there – they were missing out. The smashing success of our trip was largely thanks to our friends, of course, but the country is very traveller-friendly and has so many things to be experienced. Unlike many of my fellow Japan-dwelling expats who have a love-hate (or, for the Japanophiles, a love-love) relationship with Japan, mine’s always been a big more of a lukewarm like-dislike relationship. But Taiwan, now that is a place I could see myself falling head-over-heels in love with. If you are wondering where to go next, I’d definitely put it at the top of your list!
That’s all for now! Check out Part One of my Taiwan photo gallery if you haven’t already. Cheers!
Have you ever embarked on a quest like mine, to chase a dream from a postcard? Or is there a quest you’re still waiting to fulfill? What would you say is the “most under-rated” travel destination that you’ve been to?