One of the most stunning sunsets I’ve seen so far in Taiwan was at淡水 (Tamsui). At the end of the red 捷運 (metro) line, you’ll find 淡水 (Tamsui), a beautiful seaside town with historical sites dating back to Spanish Rule in 1628 and an old street lined with 小吃 (local eats). I visited 淡水 as a day-trip after class with a language exchange partner from George Mackay medical college. Since her college is only a 30 minute trip away via 機車 (scooter), she’s really familiar with the area—淡水 is where students in her college come for a weekend trip with friends, a romantic partner, or by themselves (perhaps to go to the temple to pray for a romantic partner). You might also recognize the romantic 淡水landscape if you’ve watched the staple Taiwanese drama “不能說的秘密” (Secret) starring Jay Chou. We also enjoyed slices of a delicious Taiwanese castella cake—warm sponge cake with cheese in the middle— while watching the sun slowly set on the riverbank.
Of the many things we ate at 淡水, my favorite was the 刨冰(kakigori, Japanese shaved ice dessert) at 朝日夫妻. The tiramisu 刨冰, sprinkled with chocolate powder, had the perfect amount of creamy and light mascarpone and QQ black coffee jelly inside. The matcha 刨冰 had 紅豆 (red bean) and 湯圓 (sweet glutinous rice balls), topped with a light matcha froth. From the outdoor seating of the restaurant, there’s a wonderful view of the river and nearby dock. At night, we stopped by 士林夜市 (Shilin Night Market, the largest night market in Taiwan) on the way home, where we had very yummy 滷肉飯 (pork braised rice) and did prawn fishing.
After three hours of Chinese class, there’s usually no other thought in my brain other than what to eat for lunch. Luckily, it doesn’t take much effort to figure out what to eat. 和平東路(Heping E Rd) is located right across the street from the Chinese Language Department, and it’s the perfect place to find lunch. Out of the many restaurants, we’ve tried poke, 石鍋河粉 (rice noodles served in a hot stone bowl), dumplings, Malaysian restaurants, Cantonese 河粉, and Taiwanese buffet. I first heard about this area from an NTU student, who had mentioned that many NTU students come here for convenient, cheap, and yummy meals, which my professor had later also recommended. If you ever need a break from the NTU dining hall, you can find lots of options here!
Aside from night and morning outdoor markets, there are plenty of places to 購物 (shop) if you’d like. I really enjoyed going to 西門町 (Ximending), which is an outdoor shopping district with pedestrian walkways. 西門町 is also home to 紅樓劇場 (Red House Theater), a theater built by the Japanese during Japanese occupation. Other than 西門町, I really like the 誠品線上 (Eslite Book Store chain) which can range from bookstores to entire shopping plazas. There’s an Eslite bookstore near NTU campus, and you can spend hours sitting there reading your book without anyone bothering you. If you’re looking for something more crowded, 台北地下街 (Taipei City Mall) is a really large underground market in Taipei— but it is incredibly easy to get lost inside of it. One of my favorite parts about shopping malls in Taiwan is the food courts. You can find everything from really good Korean to Singaporean food and many, many dessert options.
華山1914文化創意產業園區 (Huashan 1914 Creative Park), originally a winery created during Japanese rule, is a now an artist village. Even though it’s a small area, there are several art galleries, exhibitions, restaurants, and cute shops. We also passed by the theater, which seemed to be a popular location. This is because during late June and early July, there are screenings at 華山1914文化創意產業園區for the Taipei Film Festival. Since we decided to go after class one day to explore, we didn’t get the chance to watch a movie, but I know of students that have seen some very good films there! It was a very cute place to explore for a short afternoon trip.
Just like you can find a boba shop anywhere in Taipei within a 2 minute walking radius, you can also find 台灣彩券 (Taiwan lottery) booths everywhere. It’s easy to spot, since the bright yellow and red signs catches the eye from far away. I recently walked inside a lottery booth since I had been curious about it for so long. The lottery store was mostly empty since it was the middle of the day, with only older ladies inside, chatting away in 台語 (Taiyu), so I couldn’t understand a word of what they were saying. I found out that all of the lottery tickets were scratch tickets, with the lowest costing $100 NTD. Later that night, my roommate and I tried our luck at a $100 NTD scratch ticket for the cultural experience. The Taiwan lottery is sponsored by the Taiwanese government, and it is completely legal in Taiwan.
Sleeping kitten! I found this kitten camouflaged inside of a bamboo craftshop at 迪化街 (Dihua St). Most old streets in Taiwan, like 九分 (Jiufen), are outside of Taipei, but 迪化街 (Dihua St) is just a 40 minute public transit commute from NTU. The surrounding area which is 大稻埕 (Dadaocheng) used to be the most prosperous district in Taiwan during Japanese occupation. Wandering down the historical 迪化街 (Dihua St), we stopped by crafts shops selling embroidery, pottery, tea, and Chinese traditional medicine. Afterwards, we walked over to延平河濱公園 (Yanping Riverside Park), which is a beautiful sunset location. I also had dinner once at 大稻埕 (Dadaocheng) with a language partner, who graduated NTU this past year. He pointed out the construction area right next to 迪化街 (Dihua St) is going to be built into a modern residential mansion, so it’s very possible that this surrounding area might change in the next few years.
I followed my roommate to 北投圖書館 (Beitou Public Library) for her research project after class on a weekday. I’ve been wanting to visit a while, since 北投圖書館 is Taiwan’s first green library, and it’s known as the most beautiful library in Taiwan. From the inside of the library, you can get natural light from almost every corner, and the windows outside overlook a park and a small lily pond. Other than the usual temperature check, there were no other requirements to visit the library, meaning that it is public to tourists who might want to stop by or CET students that might want to study somewhere nicer on a weekday. Its only fault is that the air conditioning was not working properly on the day that we visited, making the inside of the library almost as hot as the hot spring we visited (although I was told by my professor that the AC does normally work). We ended up studying in the nearby KFC which had a wonderful view of the 新北投車站 (Beitou Railway museum) and 北投公園 (Beitou Park).
To get to 阿里山 (Alishan) for a weekend trip, we took the high speed rail to嘉義 (Chiayi),
which is the neighboring city. That night in 嘉義, we explored the 文化路夜市 (Wenhua Rd Night Market) which was bustling— the wide roads were blocked off by the police to let people through. Our taxi driver had told us that the 火雞肉飯 (turkey rice) is a must-try. Online forums also call this the specialty 嘉義, but I found it just to be a turkey version of 滷肉飯 (braised pork rice), reminiscent of Thanksgiving-turkey leftover meals at home— but I could also be biased since I find turkey less flavorful than other meats. I was really excited that we found a braised duck place (with a long line and twenty-minute wait time). The stall sells every part of the duck from its tongue to its intestines, and you can pick and choose between duck meat, pork intestines, and various kinds of tofu. It was my first time trying a lot of the delicacies that we chose, but it was absolutely delicious.
Since 阿里山 (Alishan) is most famous for its sunrise, we woke up at 3:45am on Sunday to hike our way to a lookout point. Unfortunately, it was foggy and we could not see anything except for the red laser of a tour guide next to us, pointing out the invisible mountains that we could not see. After the sun rose (marked by the presence of lighter fog), we stayed at the peak to drink 阿里山烏龍茶 (Alishan Oolong Tea), which is also a must-do at Alishan. As we drank tea, the sky slowly cleared up, and we were able to get a glimpse of the mountains in the distance for the next 30 minutes before it started raining again. Although it doesn’t look too impressive on my phone camera, this view from 8737 ft above sea level was quite spectacular in real-life.