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TRAVELER NOT TOURIST | 30 October '18
According to Megan McDonough of Bohemian Trails
Even before visiting Taiwan myself, I felt a draw there. My cousin has lived in Taipei for eight years now, and I always look forward to his visits home when he tells me about his life half-way across the world. So when Journy put together this trip of a lifetime, it was hard to contain my enthusiasm.
Each day brought new adventures, and I quickly learned that there are so many immersive ways to experience Taiwanese culture as a first-time traveler. I’ve rounded up a few of my favorite experiences to add to your own Taiwan itinerary.
After my China Airlines flight from Ontario, California to Taipei (it’s a new route, by the way, and it’s direct!) I arrived to the Palais de Chine hotel surprisingly refreshed and ready to start my first day in Taipei.
For breakfast, our group headed to Addiction Aquatic, a large complex broken down into 10 areas including a live seafood market, a gourmet food supermarket, sushi bar, oyster bar, hot pot restaurant—and more.
Get into a ‘secret’ cocktail bar
I can’t resist a good cocktail bar and luckily, team Journy had an “in” to the best bars, lounges, and clubs in town.
One of my favorite spots is a members-only bar called “Staff Only.” To get in, you need a keycard, and only members have cards, so you’d need to befriend one to enter. There was an Australian guest bartender from Singapore in town that night (they host many a guest stint), so I sampled a few of his craft cocktails before progressing to the main menu.
I’m big on ambiance, and I loved the 20’s-esque decor featured throughout the dimly-lit space. Cocktails were equally as elegant, with carefully selected ingredients and garnishes.
There’s clearly an art to making the 18-perfect folds needed to elegantly seal the dumplings, and the speed at which these professionals do so is super impressive.
The menu itself is fairly extensive, even beyond soup dumplings; there’s everything from noodles with minced pork and dim sum dishes to jellyfish and vegetables.
I don’t have much of a sweet tooth these days, but that didn’t stop me from sampling Tiger Sugar’s famous milk tea. The drink, made out of dark brown sugar syrup, fresh milk cream, a black tea base, and boba pearls is perfection.
If you’re wondering, ‘Tiger Sugar’ gets its name from the caramelized syrup mixed with the milk tea. Together, it creates a striped effect like the one you see below—rawr.
Night markets are a major aspect of Taiwanese culture and one you won’t want to miss. Neon lights, the sizzle of the grill, and shoulder-to-shoulder crowds give off a palpable buzz that’s contagious.
Ningxia night market, located in Taipei’s Datong District, is one of the most popular in Taipei. There are so many dishes to sample—everything from stinky tofu (it tastes better than it smells, trust me), squid, dumplings, beef noodle soup, goose noodle soup, and that’s not all.
For travelers who are only in town for a few days (or on a budget), Ningxia is a safe bet. You have your pick of local delicacies to try and can choose how much or how little you’d like to sample. Prices are super reasonable, and it’s a perfect way to immerse yourself in the local food scene.
Be a face in the crowd at Longshan Temple
While my Instagram feed might suggest otherwise, I’m a pretty introverted person. I’ve always found that there’s a certain freedom that comes with anonymity. As just another face in the crowd, you can take in all the stimuli, process it in your own time, and render meaning.
On our last full day in Taiwan, our group went to the Wanhua District of Taipei where the famous Longshan Temple stands. The temple dates back to 1738 during Qing rule, and today, continues to be a revered place of worship.
It was Sunday, so the temple was perhaps more crowded than normal. There were a group of Buddhist monks chanting inside the temple’s innermost shrine, while dozens of others bowed their heads in prayer and offerings.
One of my favorite parts of our Taiwan trip was visiting Shifen Old Street. The first thing I noticed are the railway tracks dividing the street. Originally, Shifen railway station was built for trains transporting coal during the Japanese era. As it runs straight through the village, Shifen Old Street became the center of local life. Today, there are shops and restaurants lining both sides of the tracks.
There’s also a celebrated tradition of lighting and sending lanterns into the air. Historically, the purpose of these lanterns was to alert the townspeople of trains approaching. Today, people come to Shifen Old Street to light lanterns that symbolize their hopes and dreams.
The lantern shop we went to offered them in eight different colors, with each color representing a different intention or wish for the future. For example, white for a bright future, pink for joy and bliss, blue for for one’s career, and purple is for knowledge.
After decorating my lantern with words and phrases that hold meaning for me, I walked down the railroad, lit the lantern and watched it ascend.
Jiufen is a mountain town east of Taipei and best known for its narrow alleyways, cozy teahouses, food stalls, and souvenir shops. We visited on a particularly rainy evening, which made the whole scene feel like a page out of a history book, almost as if I had time traveled a few hundred years back in time.
Instead of landing at one of the more overrun teahouses, our group opted for the tucked-away Taro Potato, and it was the best decision we made all day. Finding it can be a bit tricky, but that’s all part of the fun. After what felt like endless sets of stairs, we made our way to the small cave passageway leading up to the teahouse.
Once inside and sheltered from the rain, we took in the bird’s-eye view of Jiufen’s famous red lanterns glowing against the rain-splattered street.
Megan McDonough is the blogger behind Bohemian Trails, who visited Taiwan with Journy and Taiwan Tourism.
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