As much fun as four full days off in Toyohashi sounded, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get out and explore someplace new. And that’s what this year is al about right? Exploration and adventure and finding myself, and what better way to keep up that process than by seeing a new country?
Wow. What a whirlwind this trip was. After an unintentional train detour on my way to the airport, I made it to the airport Thursday morning (one day I’ll figure out the trains here). I think I found a flight that was part of a bigger flight connection route because the plane was a giant 787, it’s less than three hours to Taipei from Nagoya International and usually you don’t get the big guys for such a short flight. Not complaining though as the seats are bigger and we received a full meal service for lunch.
I touched down mid-afternoon, and after the always stress inducing interaction at customs/immigration, I was finally in Taiwan! I found a deal through a website to rent a portable WiFi hotspot so I picked that up before leaving the airport. It was $7 USD for five days and for peace of mind in a new city, it was definitely worth it. It especially helps when you exit a Subway station on the wrong side of the road and suddenly nothing looks familiar. Not that I have any experience with that….
Catching the bus from Taoyuan In’l Airport was easier than I thought. After customs, I followed the signs for “Bus to City” which led me to the ticket counter and for NT$125, or $4.13 USD, the bus took about an hour to get to the city. And it was air conditioned with free wifi. Heaven.
We pulled up to the city terminal and it was dark and pouring. My favorite combo when arriving in a foreign country. Thankfully my hostel was only a 10 minute walk up the block, so I put my umbrella up and started walking in what I hoped was the correct direction… It wasn’t, but I still found it after a minor course correction!
I stayed at the Start Hostel Main Station, near the main train/bus station. It was down a side street and thankfully clearly marked by a big sign hanging over the sidewalk. This was probably one of the nicest hostels I’ve stayed at. I was in an 8 bed, female only dorm room (because I booked late and all their private rooms were filled). I usually don’t like dorm style but this set up was decent. I had the top bunk and my little pod included three outlets, a light, small shelf, pillow, comforter, and a decently thick mattress. All contained behind a sliding room darkening curtain. Next to the beds were a line of lockers which could only be opened with your specific room key, all electronic.
The communal space was big and airy and had so many little nooks to relax in, the kitchen had free snacks on the counter for the guests, and breakfast came included in with the reservation! All good things!
But I digress, since I checked in late on the first night, and it was raining I didn’t want to venture too far out for dinner. Luckily there was a night market about half a mile up the road from me which seemed like the best option.
Taipei knows street food. All over the city are places called night markets and they are permanent fixtures in these neighborhoods. These night markets are filled with carts, trailers, assorted stalls, and sometimes small restaurants cooking up all manner of delicacies. Some of these markets are one street, while others take up multiple blocks and rival the size of small shopping malls. They are their own tourist attraction!
The first night I visited Ningxia Market. This one is regarded as one of the more “local markets” without so much tourism hype.
The first line joined was for grilled king oyster mushrooms. This man was furiously chopping and flipping and moving mushrooms along his little grill as fast as he could. There was an assortment of spices to choose from and I opted for black pepper. (Okay, I panicked and that was the first one I pointed to when he looked at me). Next was a mountain pig sausage on a stick, which was great, but definitely did not have the same spices that I’m used to with American sausages. Then I ended the night with a pancake-esque pastry filled with custard and red beans. In total it cost me about NT$200 which is less than 7 USD. Currency conversations always mess me up, but for what I paid and the amount of food I had it seemed like a good deal to me.
Most stalls had English translations of their menu, some had pictures, others had numbers, and some just had their menus in Mandarin with no pictures (those I tended to avoid, especially if I couldn’t even tell what the food was). Even though it was a rainy mess walking around holding an umbrella, dodging people, eating, rubbernecking at the stalls, and taking pictures, it was a success of a first night! Stay tuned for part two!