On Wednesday we took a high speed train down to Tainan province on the southwest side of the island of Taiwan. We based this decision on the multitude of things to do there, and the various attractions. But we didn’t really do enough research. Tainan city, where we stayed, is mostly industrial. To get to the attractions you need to spend several hours on trains and buses, or rent a car. Which we didn’t want to do, because Taiwan is terrifying to drive in.
*Pro-tip: Check the location of your hotel and the distance from the attractions BEFORE you book. The location of your hotel can be just as important as the hotel itself, if not more. Since hostels tend to be smaller than hotels and cater to budget travelers, they almost always have better locations and more helpful staff. If getting around isn’t easy in the place you’re going, make sure you know your options before you go.
On our first night in Tainan, we went to the lantern festival advertised at the train station. It took us two and a half hours to get there via public transport. It was certainly neat, but not a lantern festival in the sense that you’d think. It was much like the light displays you get at Christmas time in the U.S. but instead of Christian symbols you get animal designs and displays that look like modern art. Of course, there was also a night market with food and games for children.
Our favorites were candied strawberries, dumplings, teriyaki ribs, and meat-on-a-stick. The candied strawberries (and other fruits) are nearly overripe fruits on a stick covered in cooked sugar. Basically like a tootsie pop but with a strawberry on the inside, and the candy layer is very thin. The meat-on-a-stick that Keenen can’t get enough of is sweet and savory, unlike anything we’ve had at home, even though it just looks like a normal sausage.
The following two days we were feeling jaded with Taiwan and had a hotel room to ourselves, so we stayed in, only leaving for food, and watched T.V. It was a lovely bit of rest. It’s important not to out do yourself during travel.
On our last full day in Tainan, we set out to the An-ping district to rent bikes and ride through the national park. We didn’t expect to encounter a huge market dedicated to Chinese New Year, or hundreds of tourists, but that’s what we got. The streets were teeming with people- locals and their families visiting from all over Taiwan and China. We got quite a few stares- we may have been the only white people there. We got some bizarre foods, like the J shaped ice cream cones, fried potatoes in a swirly shape, quail’s egg, a fried egg sweet bun, “dragon eye” dried fruits (we have no idea what these actually are), and shrimp cakes that shot out of a press like baseballs in a pitching machine.
Once we finally got bikes, we rode towards the national park and encountered vast fields of aquaculture, houses, streets, and… not nature. The American version of a national park is very different from what’s here, or least the Taijiang National Park. Regardless, the aquaculture was interesting to us because of our profession. We marveled at their simple to solution to the complex problem of keeping water aerated.
Yesterday we came back to Taipei, and settled in at a marvelously clean new hostel called Fun Taipei. Highly recommended if you visit! We spent the night eating munchies at the Shilin night market, a foodie paradise, and enjoying the people-watching in the teeming masses for Chinese New Year.
Today, we explored a bit more of Taipei and spent time hanging out with our new roommates at the hostel. Our new British friend Joe accompanied us to the night market to have a dinner of various foods as we chatted about the differences in our cultures and got to know each other.
What a wonderful way to finish off the day.