Sampling local wine with gold bits, trying to stand upright at the beach, and the night market’s the place to be.

Day 193: Hualien, Taiwan. Our original plan today was to hire bikes, but given a wild gale was blowing, we decided walking was the safer and more sensible option.

We joined the coast path and walked to Qixingtan, a small coastal town to the north of Hualien, getting buffeted back and forth as we went.

We stopped on the way to visit the Hualien Brewery and Distillery, part of the TTL group which brews Taiwan Beer. We’d read about it in a travel article, but couldn’t find any other details online. It’s a pretty bizarre place; from the entrance it looks like the site might be abandoned, but it’s still a working brewery and distillery, with a huge green area with bowling games and a ‘products promotion centre’.

We had a look around the products centre and tasted a few different drinks, including local whiskey and wine that has flecks of gold floating in it (which the girl behind the counter told us improves the taste). It tasted ok, nothing too amazing though, and at around 100 AUD a bottle, we were happy to give it a skip.

We wandered back outside, and big kid Jim just had to goof about with some crazy cut outs.

We spotted a sign pointing to ‘visitor experience’ further down the road. We followed some faded white painted feet on the pavement and into the brewery buildings. We had to battle our way through the entry and exits which had thick plastic door curtains, which were flapping madly in the wind and nearly carved pieces off us.

We walked down to the exciting-sounding craft beer bar. The look of disappointment on Jim’s face when he found it closed, couldn’t be caught on camera.

The beach at Qixingtan is impressive, albeit it’s comprised more of stones than sand. The town itself looks a little dismal, though to be fair the weather didn’t cast a great light on it, and everyone was probably hiding from the strong winds.

Despite the wild weather, there were still bus-loads of tourists being dropped off for selfies at the beach – watching this group of ladies trying to pose and stay upright in the wind was hilarious.

After a quick coffee, we retraced our steps; it was late afternoon and starting to get dark. We walked along the cycle and pedestrian path back into town, nearly getting blown over several times.

When we got back to town, we visited the night market, which is big and lively and lots of fun. It’s clearly the place to be on Saturday evening – it was absolutely packed with adults and children and dogs.

Tomorrow we’re planning a quiet morning to catch up on some admin stuff, and maybe a walk to a lake in the afternoon. And fingers crossed the wind has abated, and we can walk without being blown over.

More then.

A once in a lifetime cliff hike; beware killer bees, bears and snakes; and coffee served with a side of sausage.

Day 192: Hualien, Taiwan. We were up at crazy o’clock to get ourselves together and catch an early morning bus to Taroko National Park for some hiking.

There’s a brilliant shuttle bus service running from the station up and down the valley for a daily fee. The bus left on time at 6.30am, and we reached Taroko just before 8am.

We had plans to do a few hikes, but were particularly excited about having permits to hike the Zhuilu Old Road trail, a breathtaking trek high above Taroko Gorge.

The Old Road Trail was originally built in the 1800s as a hunting path by indigenous local people. At that time it was a mere 30cm wide. When Japanese forces reached Hualien in the early 1900s, they needed a way to move artillery through the mountains. They decided to use the Old Road path, widening it to its current 90cm.

Thankfully despite the rain that had lashed Hualien overnight, the Zhuilu Old Road trail was still open to hikers. We handed over our permits and passports and the guy at the trail checkpoint unlocked the gate to the trail – and we were off.

The original Old Road trail was 10km. These days only 3.1km is accessible as a 2016 typhoon wiped out the rest of it. However the remaining 3.1km is still stunning, and unlike anything we’ve experienced before.

We started with a swaying walk across a suspension bridge, then a very steep climb up steps (yes, more steps) and across rocks, followed by a kilometre along the very narrow cliff path with a sheer 700m drop on one side, and a rock face with a rope on the other.

The Old Road trail is an ‘out and back’ walk – once you’ve completed it you need to retrace your steps, so we had time to gather our wits before getting a second opportunity to quiver on the cliff path, with views in the other direction. The rain started to clear on the return journey, giving us spectacular views down Taroko valley.

We were very happy to complete the Old Trail in one piece.

When we got back to the main road, we caught the shuttle bus to check out a couple of smaller trails, the Swallow Grotto Yanzikou trail and the Tunnel of Nine Turns, which has great views down into the chasms carved by the Liwu River as it comes off the mountain. Finally we caught the shuttle bus back down the valley to the visitor centre, where we walked to the Shakadang trail.

The Shakadang trail is also great – it’s 4.1km each way, through nature reserve and lands still occupied by indigenous people. Signs at the entrance warned of the various dangers of hiking the trail, including killer bees, venomous snakes and wild animals. And they say hiking is good for you.

The ‘killer bees’ they refer to are Giant Asian Hornets – terrifying huge bees that are 1.5 to 2 inches in length, and pretty deadly. Around 40 people die every year in Japan from them (we haven’t got figures for Taiwan), and about 5 or 6 years ago 42 people died in China in one single attack. They’re the stuff of nightmares and horror movies. Even if you only get stung once, you need to head to hospital. And if you get stung multiple times, things get more serious – even for people who are not allergic there’s a high risk of kidney and other organ failure.

Here’s a picture of Giant Asian Hornets from an article online, to give you an idea of just how big they are.

Image copyright: Devon Henderson

Thankfully we managed to complete the trail without encountering any deadly creatures, though Lil did spend more time scanning the ground and nearby bushes and trees than enjoying the scenery. And it rained the entire way. The trail follows a stream below with stunning blue water, and huge poinsettia trees growing in the surrounding jungle.

When we got back to the visitor centre, we ordered two coffees to help warm us up. A very enthusiastic young sales guy tried to upsell us to coffees with peach honey, then informed us that they have ‘very good indigenous sausage today’. Quite how that goes with coffee, we have no idea.

Then we caught the bus back home, had a very hot shower to thaw out, grabbed some beef noodles at a nearby restaurant and plonked ourselves down in front of the TV for the rest of the evening. We could hear the rain lashing against the windows and a gale start to whip up (and it’s supposed to be dry season here).

Tomorrow we might rent bikes and pedal along the coastal path, depending on the weather (and our legs). Or we might just explore some more of the town and surrounding area. Whatever we end up doing, hopefully we won’t encounter any killer bees or any other deadly creatures along the way.

More then.

Scoffing stodgy scallion pancakes, a soggy walk along the waterfront, and coffee time in recycled shipping containers.

Day 191: Hualien, Taiwan. We woke this morning to another cloudy but less chilly day.

While Lil did another chunk of her Teaching English as a Foreign Language course, Jim headed out to organise travel passes and print our permits for Taroko National Park tomorrow. He came back with the printing, but said the lady at the transport booth (who was very focused on eating her meatballs) said we needed to get passes tomorrow.

Then we headed out for a walk along the coast. It was still cloudy when we left, and the weather went steadily downhill as the afternoon went on.

First stop was the Yellow Car Fried Spring Onion Pancake stall, to buy one of Hualien’s renowned Egg Scallion Pancakes. We’d been warned that it can take an hour or more to get to the top of the queue at busy times, so we decided 3pm on a Thursday was a good time to visit – which it was.

There was only a handful of others in the queue, and in less than 5 minutes we had our paws on a deep fried concoction that tasted amazing (a doughy pancake with scallions, with a soft egg in the middle) – but probably isn’t on the list of foods recommended by the Heart Foundation.

Then we walked along by the waterfront, which was lovely but would probably be a lot more lovely if the sun was shining.

The weather doesn’t seem to deter anyone from getting out and about here, they just get their umbrellas out and go for a walk in the rain.

Towards the end of our walk, we wandered through Taiwan Happy Farm, a large open area with ornate ponds and bridges, and had a quick look at a collection of pheasants and other birds which also looked pretty soggy.

We were surprised to see that Starbucks is one of the iconic landmarks on the tourist information map. Soggy and starting to chill down, we walked across for hot coffees, and discovered the cafe has been built with 29 recycled shipping containers and is stacked up to three levels. It’s a fascinating cafe, and although we’re not big Starbucks fans, this one was a novely.

We had a quick look around the shopping centre next door, tantalisingly called New Paradise (though there wasn’t a great deal to see), posed for a quick pic by the Christmas tree and a giant teddy bear, then caught the bus back home. We had dinner at the same restaurant as last night – it’s only a one minute walk from our guesthouse, and we were wet enough as it was.

Tomorrow we’re visiting Taroko National Park, and we’re praying that the rain will hold off at least until the afternoon. We’ve got permits to do the Zhuilu Old Road trail, a slightly hairy hike with some very narrow paths and a 200m drop into the gorge below. Should be fun.

More then.

Wise words on marriage and potatoes, a dinosaur on a leash at the station, and Jim has a quick stint in jail.

Day 190: Taipei & Hualien, Taiwan. This morning we packed up and headed to the train station to catch a train to Hualien, a town on the east coast of Taiwan.

We had a good giggle as we walked down the street and past an Irish restaurant called ‘Ireland’s Potato’. An advertising board above the restaurant entrance proclaims:

“There are two things in the world that can’t be joked: 1. Marriage 2. Potato.”

It took Lil (who’s Irish) a couple of reads to sort of understand what they were getting at. Goodness only knows what local Taiwanese people think of it all.

We arrived at the station early as always, and plonked ourselves on the floor in the waiting area (which is what people do here). The wait came with another opportunity to eyeball the train-themed Christmas tree, which was roped off this morning with a camera crew standing in front of it.

A few minutes later a very large pantomime dinosaur was led across the floor by a leash. Turns out it was a promotion for a new exhibition of Walking with Dinosaurs – The Live Experience in Taipei later this month. The presentation was half in English, half in Chinese, and the Q&A about dinosaurs was pretty amusing. The funniest part was when they got a small child to say they weren’t scared of dinosaurs and to go up and pat it on the nose, then have the presenter go ‘boo!’ right behind them.

Our train was one minute late arriving at the station – the efficiency of the Taiwanese train system meant an announcement was necessary to advise us of the late arrival (gotta love it).

The train was ultra-comfy, modern and clean with cute bear head rest covers and a slogan saying “It’s time for Taiwan”. Timely from our perspective, given we’re just heading off to explore the island.

We arrived in Hualien mid afternoon and walked to our accommodation. The lady who runs the guesthouse is lovely, and makes good use of Google Translator to communicate with her guests (as we did in return).

We headed out for a walk around Hualien, which is a fair bit bigger than we’d anticipated. It was a cloudy day, and not long after we set out on our walk, the rain started – drizzle at first, then it gradually got heavier.

We walked across to the Hualien Railway Cultural Park, which was created to encourage people to become interested in rail travel. It’s small but interesting, and one of the exhibits was the old prison cells where miscreants got locked up for traffic offenses. Jim of course had to do his ‘Look at me, I’m in jail!’ impression, much to the amusement of the locals (and the groans of Lil).

Defeated by the rain, we decided to head home, popping into a cute secondhand bookshop on the way. We found nothing of interest (their English book selection was very small), so stopped at the supermarket to pick up a few things then headed for dinner at a local eatery.

We had pretty good pork and egg fried rice, and spicy beef noodles. We spent ages using Google Translator to interpret the menu on the wall, then one of the ladies running the place whipped out an English menu from a box under the counter.

Tomorrow we’ll do some exploring around the town, and take a walk along the waterfront and through the night market. Hopefully we’ll find some interesting things to eat, though whether Irish potatoes are on the menu remains to be seen.

More then.

A day spent looking at rocks, getting photographs with the Queen, and feeling festive at the train station.

Day 189: Taipei, Taiwan. Today the plan was to visit some rocks. Not just any old rocks, but some unique formations at the Yeliou EcoPark, one of Taipei’s popular attractions, about 20km north east of the city.

We walked to the bus station, which is next to the main train station, but turned out to be fiendishly difficult to locate. After trekking up and down a bunch of escalators and lots of flights of stairs (with Jim grumbling about his aching legs), we gave up and asked a couple of security guards who pointed us in the right direction.

Two minutes after we arrived at the station a bus pulled into the terminus. We climbed on board and settled in. It felt more like travelling on a plane than a bus – there was a full set of safety instructions, including details of how to fasten seat belts, operate the safety hatch, open the door if the driver is unable to do so, break a window with the provided tools, and use the fire extinguishers. Pretty impressive.

An hour and a quarter later we were at Yeliou, a small fishing town jutting out from the rugged northern coastline.

We walked a little way to the entrance of the EcoPark. We were happy to be visiting on a Tuesday, as we assumed it would be very quiet. But how wrong we were. The place was crawling with people – not just with adults on a day out, but with crowds of noisy kids on school trips.

Regardless, it was a fun day out. The park is on a long peninsula, and contains lots of weathered sandstone blobs, many of which have been given amusing names like queen’s head, leopard and elephant. And even a pineapple bun, which sounds like a bit of a joke. The lunar-like landscape is fascinating to walk around; CNN have even referred to the park as ‘the closest you’ll get to Mars on Earth’.

Jim had fun photographing fossils embedded in the rocks, even if he looked like a geek.

One of the main attractions is the Queen’s Head, a mushroom rock that has become an iconic image in Taiwan. It’s in danger of falling over at some point due to erosion, so people are desperate to get a picture while they can. There were queues around a boardwalk to get selfies with the rock, so we cheated and walked around the other way.

We wandered away from the busy area along a boardwalk and up more steps to a viewpoint, with spectacular views back across Yehliu town. Thankfully we were well bundled up in fleeces and jackets, as it was freezing cold and we were blustered back and forth as we walked along the raised coastal path.

When we walked back down to the crowds, a camera crew was filming five youngsters doing a choreographed dance , which we think was for an advert for the local town. They must have been freezing.

When we’d had enough of rocks for one day, we walked back into the town to catch the bus home. We got back to Taipei, got train tickets for our journey from Hualien to Taitung on 9 December (everyone advises to get tickets in advance before they sell out, so we’re trying to book ahead), and had another look at the fab train-themed Christmas tree in the concourse. Jim posed for a pic, though had to wait for an over-excited gaggle of grannies to move out of the way.

We walked across to a recommended restaurant called Fuhong Beef Noodles for their renowned beef noodle soup. And wow, it was good. Thick hand made noodles, big chunks of beef (which Lil scoffed, as it was ‘identifiable meat’) and lots of condiments including another sauerkraut type dish, sweet chilli and some powerful XO paste.

We walked home through lots of brightly lit streets – our last night in Taipei before we start to travel around the island. We’ve really loved it here, it’s a vibrant, interesting and happening city, with very friendly people.

Tomorrow we catch the train to Hualien, a town about 120km south of Taipei on the east coast. And perhaps we’ll get to sit through another set of safety instructions on the train too.

More then.

Lil’s second faux pas in two days, a spot of nerdy plane spotting, and Jim tracks down the elusive stinky tofu.

Day 188: Taipei, Taiwan. We mentioned at the end of yesterday’s post that it was unlikely we’d climb any steps today. Turns out we were oh so wrong.

We had a catch up morning at home, working through admin, plotting and planning. Around lunchtime Lil suggested heading out for a walk; she’d already picked out a nice short hike that was doable in an afternoon – Jiantanshan Trail. The trail is set on Jiantan hill, previously a restricted army base, but now open to everyone as a popular walking area.

We caught the train to Jiantan, and found the start of the hiking trail. And right in front of us was a very large flight of steps, that went on and on through the forest. So steps were a big thing today too.

Before heading up the trail, Lil popped over to a nearby shop to buy some cookies. As she walked off with a box of unusual strawberry crackers, Jim pointed out that the shop was part of a small temple, and she probably should have been buying the cookies to place on the shrine as an offering. So that’s her second faux pas in two days.

We set off on the trail, bracing ourselves for the climb ahead. The weather was cloudy and cool, making it perfect hiking weather. Large signs along the trail warned of venomous snakes and wasps – hopefully they’re not so active during the cooler months. Though having said that, we saw a wasp the other day at Yangmingshan, which resembled a small drone as it tore past our heads – pretty huge and very scary.

A few kilometres along the trail, we reached the main lookout point, the Old Place Viewing Platform. The views over Songshan airport (the smaller inner-city domestic airport) and the surrounding city and hills were outstanding. We spent a while on the lookout deck watching planes taking off and landing, nerdy plane spotters that we are.

When we’d had our fill of take offs and landings, we continued along the trail, past lots of old military checkpoints and pillboxes and a cemetery with many semi-ruined graves of early Taiwanese settlers.

The trail turned from paved path to a muddy path through the forest for a while, then we emerged again on a small road, which wound down to Jiannan MRT station.

We stopped at Ningxia night market on the way home – and hallelujah – we at last found Stinky Tofu.

We smelled it before we saw it – it smells pretty bad while it’s cooking, which didn’t stop Jim ordering a sizeable dish of the stuff. Lil sniffed it, wrinkled her nose, tried a small piece and said the rest was all Jim’s. And Jim reckons it’s tasty – not something he’d order regularly but pretty good even so. So that puts a tick in that box.

We had more food in a nearby restaurant – oyster omelette for Jim, meatball soup for Lil (she drank the clear soup and left the meatballs, saying they were ‘unidentifiable meat’ – and Jim happily scoffed them).

Then we headed home for another quiet night in, and to do some more travel planning. Tomorrow we’ll likely head to the north coast to the Yehliu Geopark, assuming the weather is reasonable. And hopefully we really will avoid climbing steps for one day.

More then.

Lil’s chopstick faux pas, night time views from the mountain, and a good day for repairing walls.

Day 187: Taipei, Taiwan. We checked out of our airbnb room this morning, and headed closer to the city centre to our next accommodation. We were happy to be moving on, given the bed we’d slept in for the last four nights was the most uncomfortable ever.

On the way, we stopped off at a laundromat to do a pile of washing. Thankfully there were English instructions which sped up the process, and with the wash underway, we looked around to see where we could sit down and wait. Lil’s back was aching from the dreadful bed, and she wasn’t keen on standing for the entire wash cycle.

There was one white wooden bench, with one guy sitting on it, with a very large bag. We asked if we could sit alongside him, but he started shaking his head and waving his arms, which we took to be ‘no’ – and shouting lots of Chinese. Goodness knows what it all meant. Jim asked why we couldn’t sit there; it’s always good to understand if there is a local cultural issue we’re not aware of – maybe it’s rude to ask to share seats here, or maybe it’s not a good thing for females to sit close to male strangers, who knows. Unfortunately the language barrier means we never got to the bottom of it.

Lil perched on the arm of the wooden bench, which was seriously uncomfortable (but still better than standing) and Jim snapped a picture of her laughing and grimacing as the metal arm started to make her bum go numb. Then the guy on the bench decided to take photos of Jim, along with pics of our luggage. All very weird. He stood up when one of his washes was finished, and waved at us to sit down. Lil said thanks and gave him a thumbs up, and again, he unleashed a barrage of Chinese at us. We squished up on the bench so the guy could sit beside us, but he indicated with his hands that the space was too narrow. Thankfully he went off soon after, scowling and checking under our bench to make sure he hadn’t left anything behind. Lil waved goodbye, but he ignored her. We still have no idea what was bothering him. Perhaps he goes there every week so feels he is entitled to the the space, as opposed to us, who are just visiting.

Once our washing was finished, we went and sat in Peace Park for a while. Check-in time at our next accommodation wasn’t until 3pm so we had a couple of hours to kill. We bought a large slice of delicious multi-layered scallion pancake on the way, and sat and munched it in the park, watching people feeding squirrels and pigeons with uncooked rice, and watching the world go by.

Then we walked to our new accommodation, which is in the heart of the city. It’s perfect – a small studio with high table and stools, a kettle and a fridge and thankfully, a soft and comfortable bed. Here’s to a good night’s sleep.

After we’d settled in, we walked across the main Taipei train station to buy tickets for our trip to Hualien on Wednesday. We managed to navigate the ticket kiosk which saved queueing for tickets (though given how efficient everything seems to be here, we’re guessing queuing wouldn’t have taken too long anyway). The train station is huge and clean with excellent signage and packed with great shops and cafes – all the things a good train station should be. And as a bonus, it has a huge train-themed Christmas tree in the middle of it all, which is pretty fabulous.

Then we headed out to Elephant Mountain, a 15 minute train ride away in Xiangshan, to watch the sun set over the city. Except we got our timing a little wrong, so by the time we got there, the sun had already set and the city lights were coming on. Which turned out to be perfect anyway; we had the chance to see the city skyline including Taipei 101. Opened at the 2005 New Year celebration, and built to withstand Taipei’s regular earthquakes and typoons, Taipei 101 was the world’s tallest building until 2010, when Burj Khalifa in Dubai overtook it.

After yesterday’s monster mountain climb, it was a bit of a challenge for our legs, having to climb up so many more steps, but it was totally worth it for the views.

Then we retraced our steps, and stopped at a restaurant called Fat Zhou’s Dumplings in Xinyi for some food. Jim ordered Hot Sour Noodle Soup, and Lil had Beef Noodle Soup. The soups came with an amazing vegetable and chili condiment, that was a little sauerkraut-like.

A couple arrived after us and sat at our round table. The lady looked over at Lil, snorted loudly, then whispered something to her husband, who looked at Lil and also started laughing. Turns out that Lil had made a dining faux pas and one of her chopsticks was upside down. Regardless, they were a lovely couple who spoke good English, and we had a good time chatting to them about our travels.

When we left the restaurant, we couldn’t resist ordering two pork and scallion pastries from the bustling restaurant next door, where people were queuing on the pavement. There was a 10 minute wait so we wandered around the local streets then circled back to pick up our goodies. They were unbelievably good.

Then we caught the train back to the city, and popped in to Carrefour, a branch of the French hypermarket. Jim bought a selection of Taiwanese beers to stash in our fridge, and Lil picked up some nibbles including Charcoal Bamboo Peanuts – which are peanuts coated in bamboo charcoal. They’re surprisingly good. We also bought a bottle of French wine, which meant we had to buy a corkscrew too – something else to add to our luggage.

Afterwards we headed home to relax for the rest of the evening. Lil read the Taiwan Times with a glass of red wine, and Jim tried out a couple of his Taiwan beers.

The lunar prophecy in Lil’s newspaper says that today is:
A good day for:
– taking a ritual cleansing bath before entering monk or nunhood
– repairing walls
A bad day for
– all auspicious matters.

So there we go.

Tomorrow we’ll probably avoid walking up any steps, though we might check out a local museum and visit another local night market. And perhaps we’ll at last track down the elusive Stinky Tofu.

More then.

Climbing a stairway to Qixing, still no sign of the elusive stinky tofu, and who knew beer bottles could be so much fun.

Day 186: Taipei, Taiwan. We woke to a cool but fairly clear day, deciding the time was right for a hike in Yangmingshan.

We walked to the local market to buy some fruit, and along a nearby street we spotted these people making the day’s supply of noodles. Very cool.

We caught the train to Jiantan, which is just north of the old city, then jumped on a bus to Yangmingshan, about 10km further north in the hills.

It was fabulous to see so many people out hiking – from cub scouts, young people in fashion gear and white sports shoes, to lots of elderly people in their 70s and older, all working their way up the mountain.

And it’s a pretty tough hike to the top of Qixing. While the walk is fairly short – around 6km up and down – there’s about 550m of climb, and around 90% of it is steps. We reckon we walked up around four thousand of them on the way up.

We headed up via Qixingshan park to get some great views south over the city, before heading up into the clouds to the top of the mountain.

At the next viewpoint our heads were (literally) in the clouds and we were nearly blown off the summit with strong winds. It was really cold too.

The mountain range at Yangmingshan is formed from extinct volcanoes, though there’s still activity going on, with fumaroles puffing out sulphur dioxide, hydrogen sulphide (rotten egg smell) and lots of steam.

From the end of the walk it’s about 10km back to Yangmingshan. There’s an impressive fleet of shuttle buses that go round in a loop to all the car parks in the mountains, arriving every 10 minutes or so, taking everyone back to their cars or to the bus depot. It’s not costly, is well used and must save hundreds or thousands of car journeys each day.

We arrived back at Jiantan and headed to Shilin nightmarket. The market kicks off about 5pm with lots of street vendors selling all kinds of food. We arrived just after five and had fab steamed pork buns and a crispy spring onion pancake with bacon. By then, the market was really packed and we headed off to catch the MRT back home.

Sadly we still didn’t find any Stinky Tofu, though we did spot some pretty interesting bitter gourds on one stall.

Another stall had a whole roast pig on its counter, and was drawing a pretty long queue of people keen for a bit of crunchy pork.

When we got back to our district, we found another local restaurant with great food, and lots of Saturday night activity. Large groups of people were eating and drinking and the noise levels went up and up as the evening went on.

There were lots of kids in the restaurant too, including one very cute boy (who may have had a bit too much coke to drink), who went to get a plastic bottle carrier from behind the counter, then spent ages putting empty beer bottles into it, then taking them out again. Who knew beer bottles could be so much fun?

Tomorrow we’re moving accommodation, this time into the centre of Taipei. We’re also hoping to visit Elephant Mountain for sunset, get some train tickets for the next part of our journey, and hopefully we’ll find the elusive Stinky Tofu.

More then.

Oh we do like to be beside the seaside, mighty portions of crabs and cake, and Jim queues for his five minutes of fame.

Day 185: Taipei, Taiwan. Our plans to go hiking today were pushed out, due to last night’s heavy rain. Instead, we decided to have a day out by the seaside.

We caught a train north to Tamsui, which sits at the entrance to the Tamsui estuary – the main river through Taipei. In October 1884, Tamsui was the scene of an historic defeat of a French invasion, though nothing of the historic fort remains.

Having left Tamsui train station, we’d only walked 20 metres when Jim spotted a food stall selling all sorts of fish delights. He ordered some small deep-fried crabs, which prompted Lil to do her nose wrinkling thing. He wasn’t sure whether he was supposed to take a ready-cooked box from the display or not, but the girl who runs the stall quickly set him straight. She only speaks a few words of English but apparently is very adept at jumping up and down at speed and shouting “No, No!” while doing so.

While still scoffing the large bag of crabs, Jim spotted another food stall giving out samples of boiled baby squid, so he managed to pile one of those in as well. More nose wrinkling from Lil.

We walked to Fisherman’s Wharf, a 3km walk along the waterfront, with stunning views across the bay to the suburb of Bali. Fisherman’s Wharf is a little touristy but fun; we skipped joining the queue to have our photo taken in front of a large read ‘I love Tamsui’ sculpture.

We retraced our steps, popping in to a couple of historical buildings along the way, including one that had some animated interactive games. Jim queued up with all the little kids to get his photo added to the game, with mixed but hilarious results. It would have been even more awesome, if he was currently sporting a beard. Guess that’s Jim’s five minutes of fame sorted.

As we walked back into the town around 4.30pm, lots of busking musicians started setting up at 100 metre intervals along the seafront.

We reached the town again, and for once it was Lil that was keen to search out a local delicacy. Tamsui is renowned for A-gei – tofu stuffed with glass noodles in a spicy sauce. We found the original restaurant that’s famous for the dish, and it was fabulous (if a little difficult to eat with chopsticks).

Afterwards we walked down ‘Old Street’ – a lively collection of shops and food stalls. We spotted a large queue of people at one stall and went over to see what the fuss was about. Turns out they were queueing for Castella Cake, an egg-heavy sponge cake and a local delicacy. So we did likewise, and bought a piece, which turned out to be huge. We walked off swinging our large red cake box, and sat by the waterside to try out the cake and watch the sun setting.

The sunset was stunning – there were crowds of people by the waterfront snapping the sinking rays across the water.

Before catching our train home, we finished our visit with another walk along the waterfront, where musicians were still playing and people were snapping more pics by a large brightly lit Christmas bauble.

Tomorrow we’re hoping to go hiking at Yangmingshan National Park, assuming the weather is kind to us. And perhaps we’ll find some Stinky Tofu for Jim to sample on the way home.

More then.

Scary looking fish heads at the market, Jim gets to pose with Santa again, and dreaming of stinky tofu.

Day 184: Taipei, Taiwan. Our ability to make early morning coffee ground to a halt today, as we discovered our travel kettle won’t work in Taiwan (at least not without causing some issues).

We stumbled out onto the local streets in search of caffeine, and steered into the first eatery we spotted. Which turned out to be a very good choice. The lady who runs the place doesn’t speak a lot of English, but she still whooped when she heard we were from Australia. She made us two huge coffees and when we tried to pay said “No, no – free for you!” A pretty awesome start to the day.

With hefty amounts of caffeine coursing around our system, we set off for a very long walk around Taipei. We’d only gone 50 metres when we spotted a local street market selling heaps of great fruit, vegetables and fresh flowers.

A little further along, we found ourselves walking through another market, where a man was doing pretty much anything to sell towels, including wearing them on his head. We also viewed some whole plucked chickens in a glass case, and and a scary looking selection of fried fish heads.

There was a chilly wind blowing today, and we passed lots of dogs and cats wrapped up against the cold.

We paid a visit to Longshan Temple, first erected in 1738 by Chinese settlers from mainland Fujian. It’s a folklore religion temple, with over 100 deities to worship. A firm favourite is Yue Lao, who can grant that you will find and stay with your true love forever. Pretty impressive.

A service was underway while we were there, with many local people reading from prayer books and quietly saying their prayers, along with the priest in the main pavilion and a few small drums. No one was making a lot of noise individually, but the overall effect was incredibly beautiful. The flower arrangements within and around the temple were also spectacular, with thousands of fresh lilies, roses and chrysanthemums.

Even though Christmas is just another day in Taiwan, with no public holiday, we were surprised at all the Christmas trees and decorations in shops and in the foyers of local businesses and hotels. Jim got another chance to pose with Santa – it certainly won’t be his last.

Next we wandered through the Western shopping mall – a trendy place for young people to hang out. We walked past the Modern Toilet restaurant, which had a bathroom display in the entrance way – the restaurant itself was upstairs. Jim scanned the menu but decided against going in for swirly poop ice cream.

We also walked though 228 Peace Park, a memorial to the bloody period between 1945, when Japanese rule ended at the close of WWII, and 1987 when military rule ended.

The park is full of birds – herons, egrets and of course pigeons – and also some very tame chunky-looking squirrels who come down from the trees to be fed by the locals. They’re super cute.

The park also contains a foot massage path. This brave guy was slowly walking along the rocks in his socks, grimacing – it didn’t look like fun at all.

Our walk around the city ended at the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, named for the man who ruled mainland China and then Taiwan for 46 years from 1928 to 1975, helping to end the war and bring prosperity to Taiwan. Fabulous buildings and displays, including a couple of Chiang’s old cars.

Once the sun went down, it got really cold. We headed for dinner at Jin Feng, a small restaurant renowned for its Braised Pork with Rice. We were fortunate to share a table with an English speaking guy who helped us fill in our menu card, meaning we managed to skip the pig brain soup – this time at least. Along with braised pork, we ordered some greens, stewed egg and some oily tofu – though we still need to try the Taiwan specialty – Stinky Tofu.

We caught a train back to Yonghe – the MRT here is cheap, clean and very frequent. Something we’ve noticed is people don’t just sit down because seats are free, lots of people seem to prefer to stand. Which worked well for us after our 15km walk – we were quite happy to be able to grab a couple of seats.

Our last stop was for a couple of beers at the bar we had food at last night. The guys at table next to us said cheers and insisted that in Taiwan, if you say cheers, you have to knock back your glass of beer in one go (which they were doing lots of). Lots of fun people in a lively environment, and a lovely finish to the day.

Tomorrow we were planning to go hiking in Yangmingshan National Park. However given heavy rainfall this evening, the tracks will likely be soggy so we may well do something else instead. And so knows, perhaps tomorrow will be the day Jim gets to try Stinky Tofu.

More then.