After over 8 weeks of traveling, I couldn’t believe that today was the last (full) day. As excited as I was to be returning home to those I had been missing, I was ready to take advantage of my last hours in Taiwan and check off a few more destinations on my list.
The first stop of the day was the Grand Hotel, an iconic landmark of Taiwan and the host to many foreign dignitaries. Aptly named for being grand, both the outside and inside decor were orante and fancy. We walked the mezzanine, and browsed in and out of the jewelry and jade shops.
After the hotel, it was back to Food Republic where we munched on hot, fried karaage and sipped on pearl ice tea. I’m really going to miss all of the delicious snacks and drinks of Asia when I return home. 😦
A catnap later then it was time for the main part of our day- a self guided tour to several cities located to the East of Taipei. We hired a cab for 600NT ($20) / hr. and prayed that Google translate would be sufficient for us communicate when needed. Our first stop was Shifen Waterfall. I had seen stunning pictures of this waterfall online and was excited to practice some slow shutter photography. Our driver dropped us off at the entrance of the falls, but we had to walk through a small marketplace and over a few bridges to reach the main viewpoint. The waterfall didn’t have nearly as much water as the pictures online, but I still had a great time snapping photos and looking at all the food for sale.
After the falls, we retraced our steps through the small town, found our taxi driver, and soon were driving to our next destination, Shifen Old Town. Located right next to train tracks, we found a bustling area filled with people decorating paper lanterns and merchants selling food.
I was excited to see the paper lanterns and eager to decorate one myself. After choosing our paper color (pink for happiness), we were set up at a small station complete with a fat paint brush, a bucket of ink, and a frame that our lantern was clipped to. There were four sides to decorate so mom and I took turns writing wishes for the future, memories, love for our family, hopes for safe travels and so on. Mom even whipped out some of her Chinese writing skills!
It was fun painting with the thick hair brush, but definitely a little tricky! When we finished our masterpiece, the vendors helped unclip it from the metal frame, took photos of us with each of the decorated sides, and then lit the inside of the lantern. We had to wait for the wind to quiet down to reduce the chance that our lit lantern would set a nearby wooden building on fire, but soon our pink lantern was floating in the sky and joined by tens of other colorful globes. Part of me wondered what happened to the lanterns once they burned out…. did someone scour the nearby forest and collect them? Or where they left where they lay…?
Once our lantern was off into the distance, we walked along the train tracks to exit the small town. From there our taxi driver took us to our next destination, Jiufen Old Street. We drove up a looong hill to get to this street, by this time night was starting to fall. Looking down on the world below, you could see the clouds covering a scenery of water and lights.
The old street was a small covered pathway filled with a collection of food stalls and shops. Fun fact, this place was inspiration for a famous Japanese movie called Spirited Away! One of the interesting things we tried was a peanut + ice cream + cilantro wrap. The peanuts were shaved from the peanut brittle block just like we had seen at Shilin market a few days earlier. They were sweet and yummy and paired nicely with the refreshing, cold ice cream. The cilantro was recommended as a garnish, but mom and I were not huge fans. The thin skin skin that held the snack together was slightly salty….? but tied it all together well. This snack was so different than any of the ice cream sandwiches I’ve had before, but I was glad to have tried it.
We sampled a few more snacks as we walked, bought some tea for grandma and then headed back to our taxi as shops were closing early, around 7pm.
Back in the taxi, we were finally ready for the last stop of the evening, Keelung Miaokou night market. It being our last evening in Taiwan, it was only right to visit a nightmarket one more time. Having had a couple markets under our belts, it was cool to compare this one to the others. As usual there were tons of food stalls, however, it was not as crowded nor beautiful as the one in Shilin. This didn’t stop us from having some good eats though. We got a bucket of deep fried crab and shrimp, similar to the sample we had enjoyed in Hualien. Mmmm. I still couldn’t believe how you could eat every part of the creature, claws and all. At one point, a claw poked the roof of my mouth which kinda hurt. It was alive!
The second snack of the evening was a delicious onion pancake wrap filled with peaking duck and hoisin sauce. Delicious.
Finally dessert was up. We tried something new this time, cold soft tofu with taro and yam cubes, mochi and tapioca pearls, and ice + syrup. It was very different than other desserts- part of me just couldn’t get over the fact that I was eating tofu. It was super sweet, refreshing, and nice to chew on all the different textures. However, it soon became too sweet to eat and I had to retire. Walking back to the beginning of market I felt pretty satisfied and tired. Our trusty taxi man drove us back to our hotel where we said our goodbyes.
Tomorrow I’ll be headed home- it’s still hard to wrap my head around the fact that I’ve been abroad for 2 months! I enjoyed my time in Japan- teaching English to high schoolers, meeting other college aged people, exploring ore of the country by myself, making new friends both American and Japanese, and getting comfortable living in the heart of Japan. The pace in Taiwan was a little different, but I had a great time bonding with my mom, learning about a different culture, and snapping even more photos. I feel so lucky to have had these opportunities, but I’m ready to go home, settle down, and see loved ones. But no worries, more travels to come!