Returning to central Taipei after my morning excursion to Tamsui, I came into contact with Taiwan’s more recent history and tasted a colourful slice of its lively night-market scene.
After enjoying a hearty lunch in one of Taipei Main Station’s many restaurants, I hurried back to my hotel and began the long, arduous process of changing over to the hostel where I was going to stay for the second night. (Oh, the agony.) I collected my luggage, headed for the lift, pressed the button…
…and got off on the next floor.
Talk about coincidences. At the time of booking, I knew that Hotel Puri (where I spent my first night) was located on the same street as Star Hostel, but I wasn’t aware that they were in the same building – or that they were just one floor apart!
In any case, the hostel was really nice for its class, and I’d happily stay there again. (Stay tuned for the review that I’ll write about the experience.)
After jettisoning my luggage, I headed out once more and rode the metro to Taipei’s Zhongzheng District, where some of the city’s grandest and most important public buildings are located.
A short distance from Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Station’s Exit 5 is Liberty Square, a vast public space dominated by the massive monument from which the metro station takes its name.
But let’s set that aside for the moment and have a look at the buildings closer to where we’re standing. To the right is the ornately decorated – and quite enormous – National Theatre…
…directly opposite of which is the equally gigantic National Concert Hall.
A quick about-face gave me a head-on view of the plaza’s monumental entrance gate. The four letters of the inscription above the gate are a witness to a highly controversial episode of Taipei’s history, and indeed of the history of Taiwan as a whole.
Another about-face, followed by a long walk across the vast plaza towards the great white building towering over its eastern end.
The heavily overcast sky gave the building’s marble-clad walls a dull grey look, but I can imagine them shining radiantly white – perhaps even blindingly so – on a clear sunny day.
I’ve read that the broad staircase leading up to the memorial’s main hall has 88 or 89 steps, representing former president Chiang Kai-shek‘s age when he died in 1975. The difference in the number of steps (which depends on the source) could be anything from a typo to a counting issue related to the traditional Chinese manner of reckoning ages. In any case, counting steps on staircases ranks surprisingly low on my priorities as a tourist, so I’m in no position to verify the figure…
…though I’m quite happy to confirm that the upper platform offers a great view of Liberty Square.
The area in front of the doors was crowded with visitors, including a large number of Japanese high school students. (How very nice of their school to send them off on overseas field trips … all I got were bus tours to nearby provinces.)
Inside, a statue of the Generalissimo silently gazes out through the massive doors, with two perfectly motionless guards standing nearby.
A minutely choreographed changing of the guard takes place every hour during most of the day.
There’s also a museum in the base of the monument, which isn’t bad for gaining a bit of historical context – or for killing time whilst waiting for the next changing of the guard.
A little later, with dinnertime looming, I decided to pop by one of Taipei’s most famous restaurants, conveniently located within a short walk of Dongmen Station.
Welcome to Din Tai Fung.
The restaurant was quite crowded, so I decided to place a takeaway order and enjoy their delicious xiao long bao in the comfort of my hostel room. Several varieties of this incredibly scrumptious dumpling-like soup-filled bun were on offer, from the traditional pork-based version to exotic blends featuring crab roe or truffle. I kept things (relatively) simple and went with chicken.
Mmmm, one of my new favourite dishes. (Even as I type this, my mouth is starting to moisten up from the delicious memory of those juicy little nuggets of goodness.)
Dessert consisted of steamed red bean dumplings, which were quite similar in external appearance to the restaurant’s regular xiao long bao.
And as with their regular xiao long bao, I loved every one of these sweet morsels down to the last bite.
(Needless to say, Din Tai Fung can expect a return visit from me the next time I’m in town.)
After dark, I ventured out to cap the evening with an excursion to one of Taipei’s oldest night markets.
I had some difficulty (read: got myself lost for a while) trying to reach the place from Houshanpi Station, which was one of the nearest subway stops to the market before the Taipei Metro section of Songshan Station opened for service just nine days after my visit (curse my rotten timing).
For comparison, this is how one would have gotten to the market from Houshanpi Station. The path I took would have been fairly similar to this, with perhaps a few more bends and kinks.
And now from Songshan Station. Note that the walk may be even shorter depending on which exit you use. I vaguely recall seeing one particular exit (still closed on the day of my visit) that was mere steps away from the market entrance.
So yeah, bad timing and all that. No matter, I did (eventually) get to the entrance of Taipei’s lively Raohe Street Night Market, where I encountered the richly ornamented facade of Ciyou Temple.
To the left of the temple was the eastern entrance of the night market itself. I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry at this point, but I would have had plenty to choose from if I’d been in the mood for an evening snack.
Not a bad haul for one day in Taipei. Now here’s the best part – we’ve got another full day of sightseeing to enjoy. (But I’ll leave that story for another post.)