As proven in my masterful previous article, Taipei has a lot on offer for the alert traveller. It’s a pleasure to get lost in its maze of streets and alleyways, and there’s always something to see or eat while you’re at it. Tired of the crowds and need some open space? No worries buddy! It’s a pleasant stroll along the river, and there are nice parks spread out all over the city. Some of them are former industry grounds that were quite recently reclaimed as green spaces. The old warehouses now serve as quirky art galleries and bars – perfect locations for the dedicated people spotter. If you want some actual nature though, you’ll have to move out of the city. A relatively short public transport trip is all you need for that. It’ll take you to the coastline, to roaring waterfalls or to fantasy landscapes full of woods and steep rock climbs. Sadly this is not a hiking magazine, and my prose isn’t developed enough to keep a four hour nature walk interesting without having to resort to pretentious poetic clichés. This is why you’ll just get four extra things to try out in central Taipei instead. It can’t be Christmas every day people. It just can’t.
1. Let Peggy take you to the night market
Before I visit a new city, I always check whether there are any free guided tours available. These are mostly led by students and volunteers, and not by your average facts regurgitating schoolteacher guide whose mere shadow is enough to make me run for the hills in panic after eight years of press trips. Free guides usually tell more personal stories. Furthermore they are exclusively paid in tips, which means they’ll have to either do their very best or starve to death. Isn’t capitalism fun? There are two major players organising these tours in Taipei: www.likeitformosa.com and www.tourmeaway.com.
“Stinky tofu makes the whole street smell like an open sewer, infested with drowned, diarrhoea ridden pigs, but nearly everyone here seems to think it’s the ultimate delicacy.”
The culinary walk by Tour Me Away is the one that I most fondly remember. The Hunger Games tour takes you to the bustling Jingmei night market. There, you’ll be welcomed by Pei-Ru – Peggy for those who are troubled by Chinese names – who will take you through the streets smiling and practically skipping, while she’ll treat you to some of the local delights. Most of what she stuffed my face with was genuinely tasty. Even the chicken hearts on a stick were edible, and gave me the ever underestimated inner power of the hen. The only thing truly horrific was stinky tofu. It makes the whole street smell like an open sewer, infested with drowned, diarrhoea ridden pigs, but nearly everyone here seems to think it’s the ultimate delicacy. I simply don’t get it and I probably never will. This said: Peggy is the best, and I don’t think I’ve laughed any harder in Taiwan than on her tours.
2. Enjoy the view
Climbing the top of Elephant Mountain is one of the most popular walks in Taipei. All of the city’s classic panoramas are made from here. Getting there is easy. The subway basically stops at the foot of the path. The climb itself is a bit more challenging and can get a little rough on untrained calves, especially when it’s hot and humid. When you manage to get there without fainting though, you’ll be able to enjoy a magnificent view with the iconic Taipei 101 in the foreground. You won’t be alone though. If you want to make decent pictures at sunset, you’ll have to come early or subtly push the smallest and weakest members of the crowd back down. The great circle of life can be harsh, but it is always there. I was a little late for one of the preferred spots on the viewing platform, so I decided to crawl under it instead. The eventual result was more than worth the wait and the mosquito bites. When I tried to get back down after dark a while later, some dude was crawling up the path in the opposite direction, doing a push-up on every step while being cheered on by a gathered crowd. “What an asshole”, I thought, while the twenty dumplings I would soon once again order were already dancing in my head.
3. Torture your feet for your own good
228 Peace Memorial Park is a nice park with a difficult name that can be found right next to Chiang Kai-Shek’s pompous grave monument. This is the place where a group of civilians trying to protest the growing government corruption was shot by police officers on 28 February of 1947. To alleviate this historic pain, the park was turned into a symbol of peace 50 years later, and that’s what it still is today. Under the beautiful old trees and pavilions, street musicians play their songs and locals gather to flee the daily urban rat race. Somewhere in the middle of the park though, is Heaven Road: a podiatric path with a criminally inappropriate name. It consists of oval, upwards facing stones ending in a point, and according to the acupunctural map next to it, you’re meant to walk it barefoot.
“I personally suspect the Taiwanese to have constructed this path just in order to be able to laugh at a couple of dumb Westerners hurting themselves – while they sit around leisurely eating a sandwich.”
The stimulation of no less than 41 different pressure points in the soles of your feet should improve a whole list of physical problems – from a runny nose to a painful butthole. Sadly, every step you take on this footpath to hell is excruciating torture and vastly overpowers the inconvenience of most known, non-fatal diseases. I personally suspect the Taiwanese to have constructed this path just in order to be able to laugh at a couple of dumb Westerners hurting themselves – while they sit around leisurely eating a sandwich. But hey, if you’re really looking for a miracle to get rid of that dirty STD, you can always give it a try. There’s more to see here than in Lourdes at least.
4. Sleep in an indoor treehouse
Because I often travel alone, I really like hostels. You won’t get me into a dorm anymore – I’m too old to be sleeping next to four snoring, piss-drunk Germans these days – but having my own little room is always cosy. This way I can be social when I feel like it, but I can also isolate myself from the cruel world we live in when my contempt for today’s society reaches the appropriate level. During my time in Taipei I stayed in Star Hostel – most likely the best hostel I’ve ever visited. It’s located on the fourth floor of an apartment building, in a little street full of restaurants and shops. After checking in, you leave your shoes in the lobby. In exchange you’ll get a couple of snug slippers to help everything stay clean. They’ve also constructed a couple of large wooden structures with multiple floors in the common rooms, and stuffed them with fluffy pillows for you to dose on throughout the day. The staff is young, enthusiastic and hilariously witty. You’ll get a different kind of free and fresh breakfast every day, and a couple of times a week they take out the Switch for a very intense Mario Kart tournament. If you know a better way to make new friends/arch enemies than to undeservedly win a race by using the spiny shell in the last lap, you tell me. There’s a Polaroid of me on the lobby wall by the way. Find it, make a picture of it and send it to me for a small imaginary present. www.starhostel.com.tw
There, that was everything I wanted to share about Taipei. Did I forget anything? Do you want to add something to the story? Feel like congratulating me on my splendid work? Think I’m a borderline idiot who needs to hang himself with his internet cable before daring to post another shit article like this one? Do let me know in the comments below.