I might have mentioned before, probably several times, that I visit my family in Austria every year. It’s a looong flight to Europe from Australia, which can’t be done in one go. That is fortunate, because 20 hours straight on a plane beggars the imagination, even for Aussies who are used to long flights. If you want to live in Australia you have to accept that the rest of the world is a long way away and if you want to go there you will be on a plane for many hours.
I always try to organise a stopover, because even with a fuel stop, getting off one long haul flight and straight onto the next is the pits. Much better to get a few hours sleep in a real bed in between, and if there is time to do a little sightseeing, that is even better again. This time I went via Taipei and had 18 hours to play with, getting in at 5am and flying out just after 11pm. I don’t know about you, but an overnight flight always leaves me with a burning desire to sleep in a real bed, so I had booked into one of the airport hotels for a nap. The airport Novotel is only 4 stars, but I was left to wonder why, as I can’t see how a hotel could be much better. Everything looked very new, or extremely well maintained if it wasn’t, and apart from a luxurious bathroom and comfy bed, this is what awaited me when I got to my room.
No getting lonely in your hotel room with that giant panda for company!
I always do my research when I visit a new place, and it is very easy to get around in Taipei by public transport. I avoid taxis in large Asian cities if there is a good metro system available, because many of these cities are notorious for traffic jams. In Beijing there are something like 30,000 new cars registered every year, and I have watched it getting steadily more and more congested over the 10 years I have been going there. I don’t know if Taipei is as bad, but I wasn’t going to risk it because my time was so limited. Fortunately the metro is very foreigner friendly with stations written in English as well as Chinese and maps everywhere. On top of that the Taiwanese are super friendly, you only need to look a bit confused for someone to come up and offer help in fluent English.
I had planned to visit three places in the time I had, the Yongle fabric market (what else?), the old town which was conveniently adjacent and Shilin night market. Night markets are a big thing in Taipei and the star attraction there is the street food. I have been to markets on the mainland, mostly Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, but the Shilin market really was about food, not the cheap and cheerful designer fakes that dominate the markets elsewhere. The idea is to walk around and pick up snacks to eat, and there were plenty of people doing just that. I didn’t see a lot of western faces, but I believe this market is very popular with mainland visitors, so definitely used to tourists.
I decided to be brave and try as much of the street food as I could manage. Below is a stall selling different types of octopus and squid. The fat things at the back looking like peeled bananas are actually octopus tentacles. They chop them into bite sized pieces and deep fry them, then put them into a cardboard cup for you to eat with a tooth pick. Utterly delicious!
I have a sweet tooth, so I enjoyed quite a few of the sweets on offer. Below is a lady who presses glutinous rice into the wooden mold she is holding in her left hand, to make the little cakes you can see on her tray. They are sprinkled with either ground peanut or ground black sesame. Very yummy!
I’m not that keen on meat, but there was plenty of it if you wanted it.
More meat in the process of being fried. Just look at the serious blow torch in the man’s hand.
I was impressed with the cleanliness everywhere, no litter, no flies, no scavenging animals. Many people handling food were wearing gloves, hats and even masks. Taipei is pretty developed and I was told the food in the markets was safe to eat. They weren’t kidding. I even had a papaya milk shake, which is probably more of a risk than I should have taken, but no ill effects.
The fabric market was less of a buzz, lots of poly and not much silk. Quilters would probably have enjoyed it a lot more than I did, I saw lots of very cute quilting fabrics and fat quarters of traditional Japanese fabrics. I managed to pick up some ultrasuede for a jacket, so it wasn’t a complete loss. A couple of friendly Chinese fellow sewists who spoke good English stopped for a chat, which was fun, and I also discovered that little girls in Taiwan seem to love ‘Frozen’ as much as my three year old granddaughter does.
I’m afraid I was too busy looking to take more photos of the fabric market, but there are probably quite a few online if you want to see. For my money, the tailors market in Shanghai is really the best place I have been to buy silks and linens if you get the chance. Lots of variety, great prices and easy to get to.
I didn’t spend nearly as much time at the Yongle fabric market as I had planned, which was probably a good thing because it made the rest of the day much less rushed. The market is right in the old quarter which is full of the most interesting traditional shops, so I had more time to explore and poke around. I was too busy looking there too to take photos, but I found a few online that will give you an idea of what it was like.
I have another day in Taipei on the way home and am really looking forward to it!