My flight from Croatia to Japan came with an 11 hour layover in Taipei. I knew I didn’t want to sit in the airport all day so I started looking into options for entertainment. The Taipei airport itself is one of a kind and can keep most people busy for hours. Another option is guided half day tours in and around Taipei for travelers with layovers of at least 8 hours. They offer a morning and afternoon tour for tourists, and at no cost. The reviews looked promising but since I was there at 6am my only option was the morning tour, which did not go into Taipei city, but to the outskirts for a more scenic tour. I opted to just venture out on my own since the bus/tram lines looked self explanatory and I really wanted to see the city.
The buses run frequently (every 20 minutes), cost around US $4, and it takes roughly an hour to get into Taipei city. I was told the only tricky thing about the transportation is getting back to the airport because the station where you are dropped off is not the same station you need to get back. I was slightly worried, but once I got there I asked someone at the Info desk and they had clearly been asked that question a million times, it isn’t that difficult to find after all, can be accessed from the station you arrive at, and is also in English on every map. Also, the second I pulled out my map I had some local asking me if I needed help, AND they weren’t looking for a tip, just nice people (take notes, Europe). Another important thing to note it that I felt very, very safe in Taipei. The city is crazy busy, the morning tram line was so packed I barely squeezed on, but I never once felt in danger, and trust me I have been to plenty of smaller cities on this trip where I did not feel that same sense of security. Oh, and I was alone, so that says something too.
The tram station was right below the bus station and single way tickets cost about US $.60. Again, everything was in english, but I still managed to go in the wrong direction for 10 minutes (this wouldn’t happen to anyone with a sense of direction, I promise) but it was easy to get back on track.
My first stop was Taipei 101, the world’s tallest building until 2006 (now the third). It is now dubbed the world’s tallest “green” building. The tickets were a little expensive in my opinion (around US $13), but I accidentally took out way too many Taiwan dollars that morning and they needed to be spent (note to self: conversion rates matter and guesstimating is not a reliable mathematical tool). The view looked like a huge grey city from very, very high up, what can I say. It was cool but not near as cool as the rest of the stuff I saw that day, so moving on.
I was getting hungry so I went to the food court at the bottom of Taipei 101, (not your average chick-fil-a food court), it was filled with endless asian delights and I was very sad it was closed. Instead, I caught the tram and in minutes I was at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. It was massive and the architecture was my first big culture shock of the day. I took my fair share of selfies and walked around the gardens and up the steps. Being in Taipei is also the first time I’ve experienced a real humid climate. I was dying of heat, it was raining, and I wanted nothing more than to shower after being on a plane for so long- but I digress.
Now I was really, really, hungry and needed to find a place to eat. There is no shortage of restaurants in Taipei, and I wasn’t picky either, just wanted some street food. After catching the tram to the Longshan temple I walked down the block and my nose led me to a big steamy bowl of noodle soup cooking on the street. They had a little sit down area and I ordered a bowl of that (I know, soup on a hot day sounds weird but trust me you would have too), pork and mushrooms over rice, and tofu. The owner struck up a conversation with me in broken english while I ate. He was so adorable and amazed that I came all the way from America.
The Longshan temple is probably one of the biggest tourist attractions in Taipei city so it was pretty busy. The strange thing is the tourists taking pictures (guilty) mixed with locals actually using the temple for it’s intended purpose. I just wandered around and took it all in, it was such a unique experience I’ll never forget.
At this point I decided I should give myself some time to find the station and get back to the airport. The airport has multiple themed lounges and shops so I wanted to give myself a couple hours to explore those as well. I got back in plenty of time, walked both terminals, got a quick massage, and ate some delicious beef noodle soup before catching my flight to Okinawa.