Living in East Asia you get the luxury of having two New Year celebrations. One on January 1st where the world celebrates a new year, a fresh start and makes some resolutions that may or may not be forgotten about by the beginning of February. Did I make any this year? I can’t remember, I am not really a resolution maker but I was determined to travel more this year and so far that has happened.
Near the end of January or beginning of February there is a second new year celebration and that is Lunar New Year. There is no definite date as it follows the lunar calendar. This year Lunar New Year came around January 28th and so we got a long weekend and decided to spend it in Taiwan. Lunar New Year is sometimes called Chinese New Year and we figured what better place to celebrate than The Republic of China, aka Taiwan. We headed to the capital, Taipei for a quick weekend getaway.
While we quickly realized that this part of the celebrations involved everything being closed and people spending time at home with their families, we were still able to see the main things in Taiwan and have a great time. We also managed to find a little local restaurant open and ordered many things off the menu which was all in Chinese, it was a lot of character matching to the words under the picture.
Despite the lack of hustle and bustle we were expecting from a capital city, we had plenty to do and three days to see all Taipei had to offer. First we started off our trip by climbing up Elephant Hill. To get here, we hopped on the Red Line and got off at Xiangshan station, followed the signs outside Exit 2 and walked alongside a park before finding the trail that would take us up. There are a lot of stairs! However this gave us plenty of opportunities to take in the view.
Taipei 101 is the iconic tower downtown. Climbing up Elephant Hill shows you how high the tower stands above the rest of the buildings. While I chose not to go up the tower, it is amazing to see it from Elephant Hill.
We took a wander around Liberty Square. Also called Freedom Square, this is where the Taiwanese celebrated the transition to a democracy in the 1990s. Today it is where the president meets foreign dignitaries and where families can spend a wonderful afternoon walking around the Memorial Hall, the Main Gate, and even visit the National Concert Hall and Theatre.
At night we had one thing in mind: Night Markets and we hoped that despite the lack of public festivities, the night markets would still be lit up and full of things to look at. We chose to go to the Raohe Street Night Market for food and shopping. There is such a variety of street food here that it was hard to choose what to eat, since we had already eaten dinner I opted for a crêpe dessert. Near the entrance to the night market there is an amazing temple that was decorated with colourful lanterns and had families visiting the temple to bring in the new year. Since we were there for Lunar New Year the temple was full of people praying, lighting incense and placing food on large tables set up under glowing red lanterns.
The next day we ventured out to the hot springs where we found several pools of steaming water surrounded by a mini forest. It was very relaxing to walk through this valley of hot springs.
After our visit we really wanted to go to one last place, and boy did it take quite the trip to get there. We had read about this place called New Taipei city and it was this little town on the side of a cliff. It sounded so amazing! So first we thought ok maybe a bus can take us there…no such luck so we headed to the train station. After getting a ticket we struggled to find the train platform. It didn’t help that all the information on our ticket was not in English, we asked the people on the platform and they got us on the right train. Success! Not really. Though on a very crowded train we had absolutely no idea how long it would take or when we needed to get off. After a couple of stops we decided it was best just to get off and take a taxi. Thank goodness we chose the easy option because who knows where we would have ended up. New Taipei City, also called Jiufen is this town located on the mountain cliffs and it is full of little lantern lined side streets, cute cafes and market stalls selling mochi, candy, food and souvenirs. There are also plenty of tea houses with views of the sea.