If you’re a really sharp fan of this blog (or my Instagram feed), you will have noticed a few pictures geo-tagged in Taiwan. That’s right. With exams now behind me and a bit of time to spare, I decided to go on a spontaneous trip to this country that I have never seen before.
Most people go to Taipei for their first Taiwan adventure, but we went to see Taichung instead. It’s definitely still a big city! I was there for 4 days, and we barely saw a quarter of it. There are tall buildings just like any typical big city. But overall, there’s also a bit of suburb feel to the place. First and foremost, there is no subway that connects the city together. It relies solely on bus as it’s form of public transport, which is why this city is overcrowded with vehicles and motorbikes. As a tourist, it’s also quite difficult to get around with only buses. Thank goodness we had someone to bring us around!
As soon as you arrive at Taichung Airport, you already notice how small this place is. There are probably enough parking spots for 6 or 7 planes at most, and definitely nothing bigger than an A320 or B737. Point proven?
I don’t know if you are familiar with Taiwan, but the most famous thing about this place is definitely food. One Hong Kong Dollar is around four Taiwan Dollars, but the prices of food seems about the same in both cities. At the night market, most items are priced at around 40 – 100 Taiwan Dollars (obviously depending on what you get), so as a Hong Kong tourist, things feel like a really good deal.
On our first day, we had dinner at a somewhat famous and upscale hot pot place, called 鼎王 (Ding Wang). In Hong Kong, we are used to the cheap all-you-can-eat hot pot kind of thing, but this place is like gourmet hot pot. Their soup base tastes really good. On one side is this ‘sour veggie’ soup, and the other side is a spicy soup (which is not that spicy, since I can take it). When they add soup, they actually add a lot of the veggies and tofu in the soup as well, and not just the soup base, so there’s always a lot of flavour. Their hot pot items are good too. I mean, meat is meat, but they serve quite high quality meat, and the special items that they do make (such as the purple taro balls that we tried) are also good. Most importantly, the bill for 3 people (and we ordered very generous portions!) was $3000 NTD, which is something I would pay in Hong Kong for just mediocre food. This is already considered high class in Taiwan!
Before I go on, I should say that this is going to be pretty much entirely a food blog, because let’s be honest – what else is there to do in Taiwan?
OK, on our first day, we also went to this place called 高美濕地 (Gaomei Wetlands), which is an area on the western edge of Taiwan looking out at the water. There are many nice pictures that I see on Google of this place, but really, it’s just a normal dyke… like something I could see in Delta.
If you turn around to look towards the land, you’ll see the rural areas of Taiwan. It largely reminds me of China, and the scenes that I see when I go visit my relatives.
There’s a trail that you can leisurely stroll along this area, but it’s not something all that exciting to see. Most people wouldn’t drive to Delta just to see the dyke, either; but if you live nearby, you might take a stroll out after dinner.
Across the street from the parking lot, there are a few food stalls. That was our first glimpse of Taiwan street food, and we didn’t really know what to expect yet. Our local friend told us that 60 NTD for a drink is actually quite expensive, and if you go back to the city, it will be around 40 NTD.
After hot pot dinner, we went to our hotel to drop off our things, and then we went straight downstairs to the night market. I finally understand why my friend chose to stay right on top of a night market. Not just because it’s convenient, but also because there’s lots to do and see (and eat). You can easily eat a late night meal after your actual dinner, as these markets are bustling with people up until 2 AM. Not just on weekends, but every single day of the week. I don’t even understand how people can stay up so late every day!
Taiwan night markets are not what I thought I knew. Richmond has a night market every summer, but they just have an empty space and fill it up with tents. In Taiwan, their night market are actually permanent shops, and the area is huge! Basically, it’s this entire area lined up with stalls of cheap eats and clothing.
This particular market that we lived at is called the Fengjia (逢甲) Night Market. It’s next to Fengjia University, which is probably a huge supplier of night owls.
Nobody would be silly enough to attempt to drive a vehicle through these streets during evening hours. However, there are many motorbikes that come by the less crowded streets. The streets adjacent to the main market are all lined with parked motorbikes.
In fact, there are so many bikes that some stores need a ‘blocker’ to leave room for the entrance!
Here’s a common store in Taiwan, which would be considered a ‘specialty store’ in Vancouver or Hong Kong – a store for motorbike accessories. These are the small things that make adventures so interesting; when you see the differences between ‘norms’ in every city.
Even though the night market is mostly lined with stalls, you will come across a mall every now and then. There’s a small entrance for you to walk in, and you’ll follow it into a random opening filled with more stores. If you exit from the other side, you’ll find more streets of the night market.
Another thing that I found really interesting was all these old school carnival games that were still being constantly played. The most common one is where you shoot balloons at a distance. It’s actually not that hard (judging from watching other people), but you have to hit all of them to win a prize with absolutely no extra bullets to spare. There were also some other ones, like throwing balls into buckets, and rolling bowling balls, but these were definitely less common.
The claw machine was probably just as popular as the balloon shoot. They still use the old school type with three prongs, while 80% of the machines I see in Hong Kong have already evolved into two-pronged machines. (Just so you know, I never play two-prong machines, because they are literally impossible to ever win). In Taiwan, they even have this thing where there is a ‘maximum amount’ you can lose. Depending on what you’re trying to claw, this amount will be different. Every time you fail, the machine will keep a tally. When you insert enough coins, it will keep letting you try for free until you win something.
I really wanted something from this machine, because all the Ditto-transformed faces were simply unresistible for me. I ended up dropping around 25 x 10 NTD coins in here (the tally was already at 5 when I started), and finally ended up with a Ditto-transformed Espeon.
I’ve always known what slot cars are (there’s the slot car derby minigame in my Mario Party game I play at home!), but I’ve never seen one before – until now. We walked past this huge track, and unfortunately there was nobody playing, or else I would have loved to see a race. Maybe I would be good at it too, from my years of Mario Party experience.
And finally, here’s the 3D rolling ball puzzle, with 3 different levels of difficulty. As much as I like puzzles, I have absolutely no patience for these kinds of things. But it’s cool to see in real life, especially since they don’t have these in my city.
That’s all for Day 1, and also enough writing for one day. Stay tuned for part two!