Vince and I had a 23 hour layover in Taipei, Taiwan on our way home from Indonesia, and we used the stop to get a small sample of what the island nation has to offer. We took EVA Air for our transcontinental flights on this trip, and they offer a free hotel stay if you have a long layover where they have no other route options. We took advantage of this, and EVA handled everything, including booking the hotel for us and transporting us to the hotel and back to airport the next day. This was really nice because it saved us some money, and the hassle of finding an Uber late at night.
The next morning we took advantage of the hotel’s buffet breakfast, which was totally different from any breakfast experience of my life. While the buffet did offer a small selection of what we in the US would consider “breakfast foods,” it also included everything from cold fungus to french fries to a variety of soups. I could keep expounding on this list for a couple more paragraphs if I wanted to, but suffice it to say I have never seen a breakfast that included such a broad variety of foods before.
After breakfast we booked an Uber to take us into the city where we met up with a tour I had pre-booked that would give us an overview of the rich history of tea in Taiwan. The weather was looking downright dismal as we embarked, leaving me relieved that we had opted to visit Indonesia on this trip rather than our initial idea of island hopping in the Philippines. We had abandoned that idea because the only time that Vince and I could both get off of work was right in the middle of the rainy season for most of Southeast Asia. This particular morning in Taipei was showing us a nice sample of what we would have been in for if we had indeed visited the Philippines.
The drive into the countryside of Taipei was breathtaking nonetheless, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching foggy mountain scenes fly by as we rode along winding highways. The terrain strongly reminded me of the Chinese Landscape paintings I learned about years ago in art history classes. I always admired the blend of complexity and simplicity in these works, and the beautiful and expressive brushwork, and as I took in the landscape around me, I felt like I was viewing a similar scene to what had inspired artists centuries in the past.
The first stop of the tour was to Thousand Island Lake, which is a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains, with countless peninsulas jutting into it. The foggy condition were not ideal for viewing the lake in its entirety, but we had a good time taking in as much of the view as possible, while we huddled under umbrellas that our driver had kindly provided for us.
I particularly loved the neat rows of tea trees planted in terraces on the hills.
While we were at a second viewpoint, the rain got much worse so we piled back into the tour van, and our driver took us to our next stop, the Pinglin Tea Museum. An enthusiastic guide from the museum gave us an in-depth tour, explaining the history of tea in Taiwan. We got to smell a variety of different teas, and learn about how tea developed from the first cultivation of previously wild trees to the staple drink that it is around the globe today. My favorite part of the tour was seeing the gorgeous artwork on old tea packaging.
The round seal on the package in the second picture is an early form of copyright protection. This was long before copyright law existed, so people protected their art in a slightly different way. The seal is a actually a horrible curse that would effect anyone who reproduced the artwork on the tea packaging (apparently this particular curse would affect not only the perpetrator, but his entire family).
After the tour of the museum, we had one more stop to make. We had a tea tasting at a small teahouse on Pinglin Old Street. By now the rain was more of a torrential downpour, so we rushed from the van into the cozy teahouse, and gladly settled in for some warm oolong.
The tasting included two types of oolong, one with a lighter flavor and one that was more robust. The owner of the teahouse explained everything he was doing in Mandarin, and our guide translated into English.
The Pinglin tea tour was only a few hours long despite how much it included, so Vince and I still had a few hours to kill before we had to head back to the airport. We did the best thing we could think of on the spot, and wandered aimlessly around downtown Taipei, which ended up being a blast.
First we grabbed some lunch at good old McDonald’s. Before you scoff at how lame that sounds, consider this: we have now eaten McDonald’s on every continent that has McDonald’s. Doesn’t sound so lame now, does it? On second thought, don’t answer that…
After our gourmet lunch we walked over to the 228 Peace Memorial Park, which is a beautiful, green park in the middle of the city. Here, we encountered some beautiful architecture, and dozens of herons (I think they were black-crowned night herons) sitting in trees that fringed small ponds.
We left the park and wandered the streets until we found a bustling market that included indoor and outdoor spaces. Once we had navigated the maze of the market we kept walking around the streets and popped into a bunch of interesting shops, my favorite of which was a calligraphy store. Here we got to try out different calligraphy brushes, and browse books for learning the art of brushwork. I bought a card from the shop before we left. Our next stop couldn’t have been more different. We came across a two-story arcade containing only claw machines. After losing at various machines, we kept walking, stopping again in a book store that had something like six floors of books and crafting supplies. Finally we got ourselves some bubble tea, then walked to Taipei Station and took a train back to our hotel, arriving just in time to catch our shuttle back to the airport.
All-in-all the day was the most eventful layover we’ve ever had, and an interesting departure from our usual nature-centric travels.