I am at a loss of words on how to describe the day.
It has been a day of culture, food, relaxation and pain all rolled into one. The only common denominator in all these is that our dear friend, Sam volunteered to spent the day with us making some day trips out of the city centre. It was proven to be a learning experience for us and him, something which you couldn’t get out of any guidebook.
Our first stop of the day was the Guandu Temple, one of the oldest temple in Taiwan and overlooks the Danshui river. Although he has been living in Taiwan for years, Sam has never been to this particular temple and we were all equally astounded by the majestic rise of intricately carved spires, colourfully tiled roofs and tunnels which seem to glow. There was hardly any visitors around, just a handful of locals doing prayers. The atmosphere couldn’t have been more serene.
We then headed to Beitou, where we had a quick lunch before walking around the city centre. Beitou is famed for hot springs and, in the past, of prostitution. Apparently Taiwanese and Japanese love a shag right after the hot spring experience. I I asked, is it something in the water that make them, uh, keen on romping? These days all that remain from their past are a handful of motels around town, a ghost of their economic boom time.
We walked around town to take in part of Beitou. Of notable experience was the Taipei Public Library Beitou Branch, an eco-green building which was designed to blend into the surrounding greeneries and does not have aircond, even for summer. That was a bold claim, but as you walked around the library and take in the exceptional effort of sustainable architecture, I marveled at how seemingly more cutting edge Taiwan really is compared to Hong Kong. They are just way more liberal and advanced in so many areas.
We also walked past the Ketagalan Culture Center, a museum dedicated to one of the ten aboriginal tribes in Taiwan and is now a distant memory (long story of how the Ketagalan people fought hard with the Japanese during the occupation years and was, for the lack of a better word, exterminated). The Beitou Hotspring Museum is housed in a beautifully maintained house built by the Japanese. Looking around its ground, you would be excused to think you have been transported to Japan.
We then drove into the mountain for some local hot spring action. If you have not done this favorite Taiwanese past time the way local does, you have not done hot spring properly. Kawayu Hot Spring Spa does not appear in any guidebook, and you would think it was designed for tourists. This Japanese-themed spa charges only TWD200 per entry, and you get the whole hot spring shenanigans surrounded by lush, green forest. After dousing myself with stone cold water and soaking in the almost unbearably hot pool, my whole body seemed to expand in relief, stress melting away. It was also a day I had my first full frontal in front of a camera – a Japanese TV station came in, camera blazing, much to the amusement of the naked patrons. I always dream to be a television darling, just never thought that my fans will get to see so much of me.
We then headed to the Fisherman’s Wharf at Danshui to catch the sunset, but just as luck would have it we missed it, and it was raining when we arrived. I guess the wharf is simply a hotel, market and shopping mall complex built for tourism, but the Taiwanese did it in style. The long plankway stretching into the sea, scene to many of jaw-dropping sunsets, was eerily deserted. With a slight drizzle and hot coffee in hand, it was almost magical.
A short while later we found ourselves in a wholesale wineshop specialising in Japanese whiskey, where a very local Taiwanese boss told us in no uncertain terms that we have missed the best time to find A-gi (some sort of Danshui’s delicacy) and there is only one more place in town where we could find decent food.
So off we go in search of this “hei dian”, loosely translated a “black shop”. That is a slang for shops which rip you off, but the boss assured us it was just all in the name. After some hilarious moments trawling the area and asking strangers “excuse me, is there a hei dian around here?”, we found the Dark Palace Taiwanese Gourmet.
I can’t put my finger on the food I am eating. It was definitely not as Taiwanese as the usual food I tried. Sam reckoned that this cuisine comes from the mainland, hence the unusual style. We particularly relished the pork chop rice with minced meat gravy. On another note, funny story about the shop: We arrived almost at 7.30 p.m. when they are about to close (err, why so early?). As we order, there was an old Chinese song playing and Sam asked if they are closing already, since shops in Taiwan always play that song to gently remind their patrons to eat faster and get the fuck out of their restaurant so that they clean up our craps. Over the course of our dinner the song was on loop incessantly but none of our fellow diners (very very local, very very not tourists) seem to pay heed. It was hilarious to watch.
The journey back to city centre took almost an hour, and we arrived for our foot massage appointment ahead of time. This would be my third time in three days doing this, and Sam was keen to right the wrongs I have experienced.
My dear readers, I have found the best foot and body massage I ever experienced in my life. I discovered that three things: (1) my pain threshold is not as high as I thought, (2) there’s certain part of my anatomy which I overused, and my therapist (and aborigine old man from Hualian with bad teeth who sweat profusely throughout the session) was adamant to point out to Sam, (3) I like my foot massage to be medicinal rather than therapeutic.
I was told in no uncertain terms not to write about this amazing place. The staffs are all experienced, their cost very reasonable, and their capacity is limited. But if you are in Taipei and is a massage junkie like yours truly, go ahead and drop me a line. Some things are meant to be shared, even if only in private.
The night ended on a fiery note. Sam insisted that we do supper, mala-hotpot style, and we found ourselves at Tripod King. I am a fan of hotpot and this gets my stamp of approval. Every single dish we ordered was stellar, and the staff is unfailingly polite. After ever single interaction with us, they will bow deeply like the Japanese do. I found myself deeply uncomfortable with this display of devotion and was itching to bow back. Sam told me that was definitely out of order and went one up against me and told the waitress I wanted a photograph.
Has it not been for Sam, we wouldn’t have had such an enjoyable day. Zipping around town in his car we catch up on each other’s lives and found ourselves to be better friends.
I couldn’t have asked for a better last evening for my Taipei trip.
See more of my Taipei 2013 posts:
- The One With Tales of Taipei, Part 1
- The One With Tales of Taipei, Part 2
- The One With Tales of Taipei, Part 3
- The One With Tales of Taipei, Part 5
- The One With Da Shan Wu Jia – An Extraordinary Yilan Food Adventure Into The Mountainside of Taipei
Eating Out & Restaurants
Dark Palace Taiwanese Gourmet
No. 10-11 ZhongZheng Rd, Tamsui District, New Taipei (新北市淡水區中正路11-10號)
Tel: +855 2 2626 6363
Tripod King Hotpot
No. 89, Guangfu N Rd, Taipei
Tel: +855 2 2742-2116
Exploring Around & Attractions
Taipei Guandu Temple
No. 360號, Zhīxíng Road, Beitou District, Taipei City, Taiwan 112
6:00 am–9:00 pm daily
Taipei Public Library Beitou Branch
No. 251號, Guāngmíng Road, Beitou District, Taipei City, Taiwan 112
Sun-Mon 9am–5pm; Tue-Sat 8:30am–9pm
Beitou Hot Spring Museum
2 Zhongshan Rd., Beitou, Taipei
Tue. ~Sun. 09:00~17:00；Close Monday and Holidays
Kawayu Hot Spring Spa
Tel: +855 2 2874 7979
No.10, 300 Lane, Shin-Yih Road, Taipei, Taiwan
Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf
251, Taiwan 新北市淡水區漁人碼頭