Protocol Snow

Asia Trip 08 – Taiwan

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Three years ago, my family went on a trip that my dad said was “once in a lifetime”: a drive around the entire island of Taiwan. He called it that not because the feat is difficult (obviously, Taiwan is a small country), but we all knew that this was a two week journey we would never repeat. We visited all the major attractions of this beautiful island and essentially was finished with Taiwan as a tourist destination.

Even so, I’ve been to Taiwan twice since then, mostly to visit family, but also to relish in the amazing food and shopping. Following the break is a photo dump of some of the places I visited.

Typical street in Tainan, Taiwan

After a 13 hour flight from Los Angeles, we landed in the capital city of Taipei in the morning. The first thing we did was to check out the Presidential Office Building, which is basically Taiwan’s version of the White House. From what I understand, visitors had recently been allowed to tour the building for the first time, and my parents wanted to see it.

Imagine our surprise when we got there and saw a swarm of news reporters. That day was apparently the first day of work for the recently elected Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou. A line of visitors was waiting to go inside and tour the building, and the media was going into a frenzy, asking the line questions like “Why are you here? Are you hoping to see the president in person?” and “Did you know today is his first day?”

Keep in mind that we had just landed in Taipei just a couple hours prior. My family was joking that we should say we came all the way from U.S.A. to see the Taiwan president on his 1st day. That would have guaranteed we would be on national TV, but when the reporters came to interview my parents (they skipped right over my brother and me for some reason), my folks honestly said they had no idea the president started work today.

The tour wasn’t that noteworthy. We later visited a presidential garden that had some interesting shrub sculptures.

The National Palace Museum, which arguably is the best museum for Chinese art and artifacts in the world.

No trip to Taiwan is complete without visiting Taipei 101, currently the world’s tallest completed building. Strangely, you know factually that this is the tallest one but it doesn’t actually feel that tall. This strange illusion is probably caused because there aren’t any giant skyscrapers nearby that come remotely close to challenging its height. Drop Taipei 101 in New York City or Tokyo and it would seem a lot taller.

The lower 6 or 7 floors of Taipei 101 are for shopping and dining, including this faux park area next to some cafés. There is an observation floor at the very top (Taipei 101 is 101 floors tall, clever huh?), and everything in between is office space.

My attempt at an artsy shot.

One of the highlights for Taiwan has definitely got to be the food. You can find excellent Chinese cuisine wherever you go, not to mention quality Japanese and Korean restaurants thanks to its proximity to those countries. Due to the lower living costs in Taiwan, prices are very affordable. Mitsui is an upscale Japanese restaurant with phenomenal food. It is so popular that the owners opened an identical restaurant immediately next door to more than double its capacity.

We ended up eating so much sashimi and sushi in this meal that we decided to pass on sushi for the rest of the trip. The seafood was incredibly fresh, but it doesn’t take long for you to become satiated by raw fish. However, we did end up eating at a casual kaiten sushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurant in Asakusa, Tokyo a few days later.

This was a teppanyaki restaurant in Taipei where the chef prepares the meal right at your table. What he’s cooking now is the Matsusaka beef I mentioned previously that many aficionados consider better than Kobe beef. He divided that steak into 4 for us, which is the perfect portion size. The meat is incredibly rich and is best consumed in small portions. Eating that entire steak would have been too much for me.

A must-see when visiting Taiwan is the many night markets packed full of people shopping and eating. This is when Taiwan really comes alive.

You can find all sorts of Taiwanese delicacies out here, from grilled meats and buns to rice cakes and desserts, not to mention all sorts of refreshing drinks. Did you know boba tea (or bubble tea as some places in the U.S. call it) was invented in Taiwan?

Most of the food probably isn’t very healthy for you and is comfort food, but hey, you’re at a night market in Taiwan! Live it up!

We took the Taiwan High Speed Rail to travel to the southern part of the island. Specifically to Tainan, which is the hometown for both my parents. The High Speed Rail is Taiwan’s equivalent of the Japanese bullet trains but is substantially cheaper to ride. The train speeds through the scenic countryside of Taiwan and is a great way to travel.

We also made a day trip to Kaohsiung, an hour’s drive south of Tainan, to visit Dream Mall. It is a gigantic shopping complex, the largest mall in Taiwan and the 2nd largest in all of Southeast Asia. If you’re familiar with the amazing malls in this part of the world, you’d recognize what an accomplishment that is. 12 sprawling floors of shopping and food. There are literally over a hundred restaurants and food booths in this mall.

Strangely enough, the mall wasn’t packed with people and felt almost empty at times. When asked about this, a shop employee gave a reasonable answer: we were visiting on a weekday, plus the mall is so gigantic that the density of people would appear low anyway.

However, we felt that a sluggish economy might be the main culprit. Consider this: huge shopping destinations like Dream Mall typically charge hourly parking rates. Dream Mall opened just last year and had a temporary promotion for free parking to attract shoppers. I know this because I visited Dream Mall last year just within a few months of its launch. When I visited weeks ago, the parking ticket and token dispensing machines were all set up and ready to go. However, free parking was still being offered, a sign that business hasn’t been as strong as anticipated.

Last picture of this set: the Xbox 360 game area in the VIP lounge for EVA Airlines. I played Project Gotham Racing 4 for a bit, but the free drinks and food proved to be more attractive.

That’s it! I didn’t put a focus on taking photos in Taiwan since, as I said at the top of the post, my family was done with Taiwan as a tourist destination. If it seems like I didn’t do much except shopping and eating, well, that’s because it’s true. Next will be my Tokyo pics. I put more effort into those, but since I’m a terrible photographer, the sad truth is that you probably won’t be able to tell a difference! Look forward to more shopping and eating photos from Tokyo.

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Written by Protocol Snow

July 11th, 2008 at 4:24 pm

Posted in Food,Travel

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