24 Hours in Tainan

Tainan (台南) is a medium-sized city located in the southwest corner of the island, and it is considered the oldest city in Taiwan. Tainan is located just south of the Tropic of Cancer, and somehow you can feel the sun searing down in a way that doesn’t happen just a short drive north in Taichung.

Full of charm, Tainan is dotted with temples and small parks, and full of winding, narrow lanes.

We started the morning at the Confucius Temple (台南孔廟 Táinán Kǒngmiào) which was right across the street from our hotel. It has a nice grassy courtyard and (Hugo’s favorite) a fish pond.

There are turtles, too!

There are turtles, too!

Of course, with a toddler, quiet exploring is probably not on the agenda. Racing around and around the narrow passageways is more Hugo’s cup of tea.

Sorry for the blurry shot, I don't think he ever stopped for a second

Sorry for the blurry shot, I don’t think he ever stopped for a second

Tainan is also a place to visit some former Dutch colonial sites, the oldest of these being Fort Zeelandia (熱蘭遮城 rèlánzhē chéng), built in 1624 by the Dutch East India Company.

Cannons in the plaza at Fort Zeelandia

Cannons in the plaza at Fort Zeelandia

After most of the day sightseeing in the hot sun, we grabbed an ice cream and headed to the small street carnival set up just outside of the fort.

Hugo caught on pretty quickly:

Press the button to shoot the ball...

Press the button to shoot the ball…

Lights and bells! You win a prize!

Lights and bells! You win a prize!

Our last stop was Chihkan Tower (赤崁樓 Chì kǎn lóu), built during the 19th century on the grounds of a former Dutch fort which was destroyed in an earthquake.

Full of charm, Tainan is dotted with temples and small parks, and full of winding, narrow lanes.

Chihkan Tower and grounds

Although the tower is not very big, the grounds are beautifully maintained with colorful flowers, a small waterfall, and plenty of koi to feed.

Exploring the gardens at Chihkan Tower

Exploring the gardens at Chihkan Tower

It was a long, hot day, and Hugo collapsed into an exhausted sleep before eating dinner.

Don't worry, there was still time for mango shaved ice

Don’t worry, there was still time for mango shaved ice

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Running in Taichung: Zhongzheng Park to Calligraphy Greenway

I made a great 7 mile running route through some of the best places to visit in Taichung, starting at Zhongzheng Park and taking you through the Botanical Gardens, the National Museum of Natural Science, and the whole length of Calligraphy Greenway to the Taiwan National Museum of Fine Arts and back.

If you don’t want to run the whole 7 miles, it’s easy to turn around at any point, or just do it as a 4 mile, point-to-point route.

You can find all the details through this link over at worldwiderunners.com!

Wu Wei Cao Tang Tea House

Tucked away behind a wall, the Wu Wei Cao Tang Tea House (無為草堂 wúwéi cǎotáng) sits like a secret garden in the midst of the traffic and mayhem of central Taichung.

A simple calligraphy sign welcomes you to the tea house

A simple calligraphy sign welcomes you to the tea house

What is most striking about visiting Wuwei Caotang the first time is the immediate, spa-like serenity of the location. You are surrounded by greenery and flowing water, with boardwalks and pathways leading around a central pond teeming with colorful koi.

Stopping for a moment to feed the fish

Stopping for a moment to feed the fish

All of the seats are at low tables, and all have a view of the inner pond.

Take off your shoes and have a seat. We're ready to begin!

Take off your shoes and have a seat. We’re ready to begin!

Your server will bring you an array of tiny cups and platters, as well as various snacks to pair with your tea selection. If you are not sure what to order, there are set packages available so you can have a chance to try many different things.

Our tea cups neatly arranged on the serving tray.

Our tea cups neatly arranged on the serving tray.

Your server will also demonstrate how to best brew the tea in the tiny earthenware pot, and how to pour, smell and taste the different types of tea.

Ready to serve

Ready to serve

By the time we finish, night has fallen and the lanterns are lit on the walkways surrounding the koi pond. We walk out onto the still-bustling streets of Taichung to make our way home.

Wu Wei Cao Tang Tea House Visitor’s Notes:

  • Name in Chinese: 無為草堂 wúwéi cǎotáng
  • Address: No. 106, Section 2, Gongyi Road, Nantun District, Taichung City, 408 (公益路二段106號)
  • Hours: 10:30am – 10:30pm daily
  • Minimum charge: $120 NTD

The Taichung Second Public Market

The Taichung Second Public Market is the kind of place where you can find almost anything you might want: vegetable stalls are next to fabric stores are next to toy stores are next to butcher shops, and on and on until you are dizzy from taking in all of your options.

A view of the main entrance of the Second Market

A view of the main entrance of the Second Market

The Second Market was originally built in 1917, but was rebuilt after being destroyed in a fire in 1936. It has a distinctive hexagonal shape, with spokes radiating out from the center and narrower walkways interconnecting the stalls. At the center of the hexagon is a small temple dedicated to Mazu, goddess of fishermen and sailors.

Approaching the center of the market.

Approaching the center of the market and the Mazu temple.

Originally each “wedge” of the hexagon had different types of goods for sale, but nowadays they’re all mixed together, making for an interesting shopping and dining experience. The myriad food stalls are selling all of your favorite local foods such as pork buns, radish cakes, and various kinds of noodles and wanton soups. If you’re looking to sample lots of different things and not sure what to order, this is a great place to point to someone else’s food and say “I’ll have what he’s having.”

I could eat baozi every day. Side note: It's hard to take a good picture of food.

I could eat baozi every day. Side note: It’s hard to take a good picture of food.

Of course, the fish were a big hit with Hugo. I think he’ll be disappointed at the lack of living creatures in our American supermarkets.

Watching the live shrimp wriggle around.

Watching the live shrimp wriggle around.

Taichung Second Public Market Visitor’s Notes:

  • Name in Chinese: 第二市場 dìèr shìchǎng
  • Hours: 7am-4pm daily
  • Map

Taichung Big Jade Market and City Hall Park

In search of some last minute gifts, Hugo and I went to the Taichung Jade Market (台中文心玉市 Táizhōng wénxīn yùshì) to see what we could find.

The Jade Market is only open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and is just around the corner from the City Hall BRT station

The Jade Market is only open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and is just around the corner from the City Hall BRT station

Situated in a warehouse-like building, the Jade Market has row after row of every sort of jade jewelry and trinket you can imagine. In addition to jade, there were glass ornaments, some artwork, and more teapots in more shapes than you ever imagined.

A real turtle shell!

A real turtle shell!

The vendors were less than thrilled to have a small child pawing their wares, so we ended up leaving pretty quickly without buying anything.

Since it was still pretty early in the morning, we wandered over to the Taichung New City Hall building which is surrounded by a vast open square and a newly built park.

The shiny and imposing Taichung City Hall building. You can see it was an overcast and hazy morning.

The shiny and imposing Taichung New City Hall building. You can see it was an overcast and hazy morning.

I have walked by here dozens of times but I’ve never actually gone into the park before. I had thought it was just a small greenbelt between buildings, but was surprised to find some very nicely landscaped gardens and pathways, a small temple, and lots of benches to sit and escape from the hectic traffic of the city.

I imagine there are a lot more people here on days when Google isn't sending out poor air quality notices

I imagine there are a lot more people here on days when Google isn’t sending out poor air quality notices

Then, we stumbled upon the best part of the park:

A huge sandbox!

A huge sandbox! A much more fun place to play than the Jade Market.

I think this made up for taking him to a place where he wasn’t allowed to touch anything.

Taichung Jade Market Visitor’s Notes:

  • Name in Chinese: 台中文心玉市 Táizhōng wénxīn yùshì
  • Hours: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 9am-6pm
  • Map

A Walk Through Taichung Park

Taichung Park (台中公園 Táizhōng gōngyuán) is the oldest park in Taichung city, built in 1903 during the Japanese occupation.

Footpaths shaded by broad trees criss-cross the park

Footpaths shaded by broad trees criss-cross the park

It contains a large man-made lake full of ducks and turtles.

Looking for turtles

Looking for turtles

Situated in the center of the lake is the Lake Heart Pavilion, built in 1908 for Japanese Prince Kanin-no-miya Kotohito.

A view of the pavilion from across the lake

A view of the pavilion from across the lake

You can cross a foot bridge to go inside the pavilion. It is almost entirely made of wood. Even though the park is in the middle of a busy urban area, from inside the pavilion all you hear is creaking wood and the lapping water of the lake under the floorboards.

Checking out the view from the pavilion. On most days you can rent paddle boats on the lake (the small blue boats in the background), but today the day we were  there they were closed.

Checking out the view from the pavilion. On most days you can rent paddle boats on the lake (the small blue boats in the background), but the day we were there they were closed.

In 1999, Taichung Park was granted historical landmark status.

There is a small waterfall and koi pond tucked in among the trees.

There is a small waterfall and koi pond tucked in among the trees.

Today the park is popular with families because of the large playground, and people looking for a shady spot to walk their dogs.

Hugo explores every corner of the playground

Hugo explores every corner of the playground

It is also the site of large celebrations for Lantern Festival, marking the end of Chinese New Year. I imagine the lake and pavilion are beautiful on a cool night in early Spring, lit only by twinkling red lanterns.

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Taichung Park Visitor’s Notes:

  • Name in Chinese: 台中公園 Táizhōng gōngyuán
  • Map

Feng Jia Night Market

The Feng Jia Night Market (逢甲夜市 féngjiǎ yèshì, map) is the biggest one in Taichung, and I can’t believe it has taken us two weeks to get here. Night markets are a big attraction in Taiwan, and are a great place to walk, people-watch, sample foods, and shop for pretty much anything you can imagine.

We arrived around 5:30pm, and as you can see it was already busy.

We arrived around 5:30pm, and as you can see it was already busy.

The night market fills the side streets around Feng Jia University. At every corner there are new shops and stalls to explore. Sometimes the choices were overwhelming. Night markets here are really focused on food. It is kind of the opposite of what we saw at the Sunday market in Chiang Mai where it was mostly things like clothing and art for sale, with the odd food cart thrown in.

IMG_20150420_194517598

The Porky Box was delicious!

If you catch yourself thinking “I really want to eat an entire roasted squid! If only it were flattened and on a stick so I could eat it while walking through a crowded market,” have I got the place for you!

Squid on display.

Sesame squid!

I was really hoping for a Beijing-style jianbing, but we had to settle for a small egg crepe.

Our crepe on the griddle.

Our crepe on the griddle.

Can you get good jianbing anywhere outside of Beijing? Is it available near my house? Am I going to have to open my own jianbing cart and sell them myself in order to introduce their deliciousness to the Pacific Northwest? Shall I do a kickstarter?

IMG_20150420_174711480

Roasted ducks hanging in a row.

As the night grew darker, the crowds grew bigger. We left the food area to check out some of the other shops.

Clothing, books, shoes, music...

Clothing, books, shoes, music…

Hugo’s favorite was the toy store.

Hugo's favorite was the toy store!

Unfortunately all the toys were wrapped in plastic, so there wasn’t a chance to give them a try.

There were even carnival-style games!

Our round of balloon darts did not go well.

Our round of balloon darts did not go well. Although I’m not sure what we would have done with a giant stuffed chipmunk anyway. If you can’t read the sign, it says that men have to pop 7 to win, but women only have to pop 6.

We left with tired eyes and full bellies.

Feng Jia Night Market Visitor’s Notes:

  • Chinese name: 逢甲夜市 féngjiǎ yèshì
  • Map
  • The map pinpoints the center of the market, but it extends to all the side streets around. If you’re taking a taxi, I recommend getting out at the intersection of Fuxing Lu and Fengjia Lu
  • Hours: every day after 5pm

24 Hours In Taipei

We got up early and headed to the high speed rail station (HSR or 高鐵站 gāo tiě zhàn, which is different from the train station or 火車站 huǒ chē zhàn. Be sure you’re headed to the right one!) to hop on a train to Taipei.

High speed trains leave Taichung for Taipei about every 20 minutes, and the journey takes about an hour.

High speed trains leave Taichung for Taipei about every 20 minutes, and the journey takes about an hour.

We bought our tickets in advance at a 7-11, but it turns out that you can easily just arrive at the station, buy a ticket, and board the next incoming train.

Our train pulls into the station

Our train pulls into the station

Our first stop in Taipei was the National Palace Museum, which houses a dizzying array of Chinese art and artifacts.

Checking out the jade collection. It turns out you're not supposed to take photos in the  museum, so after being chastised by the security guard I sheepishly put away my camera.

Checking out the jade collection. It turns out you’re not supposed to take photos in the museum, so after being chastised by the security guard I sheepishly put away my camera.

National Palace Museum Visitor’s Notes:

  • In Chinese it is called 故宮 gù gōng
  • Admission is $250 NTD for adults. There is a student discount of $150 NTD, and children are free.
  • We were there on a Saturday and it was very, very crowded.
  • Website
  • Map

Since the weather was nice and it was still too early to check in to our hotel, we decided to take a walk through a couple of Taipei’s many parks.

There is a small park with a fish pond right next to the Palace Museum.  Admission to this park was $20 NTD. You can feed the fish and black swans, and explore the pavilions and walkways. It was a nice contrast to the noise and crowds of the museum.

There is a small park with a fish pond right next to the Palace Museum. Admission to this park was $20 NTD. You can feed the fish and black swans, and explore the pavilions and walkways. It was a nice contrast to the noise and crowds of the museum.

We found a fantastic playground in a large park just behind our hotel, too.

For a short time we had it all to ourselves.

For a short time we had it all to ourselves.

There is an extensive network of city parks in Taipei, and a lot of mountain hiking in the hills around town. We didn’t have a chance to go into the mountains on such a short trip, but I’ve heard they’re worth it if you have the time.

After checking in to our hotel and having a bit of a rest, we headed out to dinner. Everyone raves about the night markets in Taipei, but unfortunately a torrential rainstorm started just as we were leaving. So we headed toward Yongkang Street (永康街 yǒngkāng jiē) to meet with the group for dinner. Yongkang Street is a small lane full of popular restaurants, so if it’s a rainy night and you have to skip the night market it’s a great place to experience the different foods that Taipei has to offer.

We ate ourselves silly at James Kitchen (大隠 酒食  dàyǐn jiǔshí, then began the arduous task of finding a cab home in the rain.

We ate ourselves silly at James Kitchen (大隠 酒食 dàyǐn jiǔshí, then began the arduous task of finding a cab home in the rain.

The rain had cleared by morning, and after checking out of our hotel we headed downtown to Taipei 101.

Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world until 2004 when it was surpassed by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

The view from the bottom. Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world until 2004 when it was surpassed by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

We whizzed up the super fast elevator…

Up we go!

Up we go!

…to the 91st floor observation deck to check out the views.

The skies were a bit gray and hazy but the views were still spectacular. There's something thrilling about being so high and seeing a grand cityscape in miniature.

The skies were a bit gray and hazy but the views were still spectacular. There’s something thrilling about being so high and seeing a grand cityscape in miniature.

And to prove that I was there:

Look, Mom! I'm at the top of a tall building!

Look, Mom! I’m at the top of a tall building!

If you are interested in such technical architectural features, there is a 660 ton steel pendulum that helps prevent damage to the building in high winds.

This giant golden orb is the largest damper sphere in the world. Take that, Burj Khalifa!

This giant golden orb is the largest damper sphere in the world. Take that, Burj Khalifa!

You can even hop an elevator to the 91st floor to an outdoor observation deck. Due to high winds that day, most of this deck was closed while we were there. However, we could still go out onto one section.

Here I am, carrying my backpack since we had already checked out of our hotel. Because the bars obstructed the view it was actually much nicer to look out from the indoor observation deck.

Here I am, carrying my backpack since we had already checked out of our hotel. Because the bars obstructed the view it was actually much nicer to look out from the indoor observation deck.

If perchance you think Hugo is always a happy-go-lucky travel companion, this is the expression he wore most of the time in Taipei 101.

Sure, he looks pretty miserable here and refused to get out of his stroller and look around, but if you ask him what he did in Taipei he will excitedly tell you he went to the top of the world's tallest building.

Sure, he looks pretty miserable here and refused to get out of his stroller and look around, but if you ask him what he did in Taipei he will excitedly tell you he went to the top of the world’s tallest building.

After zipping back down the elevator, we grabbed some lunch at the Taipei 101 mall, then caught our train back to Taichung.

Taipei 101 Visitors Notes:

  • Tickets were $500 NTD for an adult, children are free
  • We got there first thing in the morning and there was no wait to go up. However, we had to wait in a long(ish) line to come back down, about 15-20 minutes. I’ve heard from other people that it can get very crowded, so I definitely recommend going on a weekday morning.
  • There is a subway stop for Taipei 101, so getting there is very easy
  • Map

Calligraphy Greenway and the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts

Calligraphy Greenway is a long, narrow park and sculpture garden that stretches from the National Museum of Natural History to the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts. It’s a wonderful greenbelt oasis in the middle of a bustling downtown, connecting museums, shopping and dining areas along meandering shaded walkways and open grassy fields.

We hopped on the BRT (the Bus Rapid Transit system, which is a free and efficient way to get around town!), got off by the Natural History Museum, then headed south into the park.

The northernmost point of Calligraphy Greenway. As you can see, this would also be a great place to go for a run!

The northernmost point of Calligraphy Greenway. As you can see, this would also be a great place to go for a run!

There are lots of little things to discover along the way, like this Reading Bar:

This is just like the Little Free Libraries we have in the US, where you can take and leave books, or just borrow one to read on one of the park benches.

This is just like the Little Free Libraries we have in the US, where you can take and leave books, or just borrow one to read on one of the park benches.

These rental bikes are very popular and available in lots of parks around the city.

You just make a deposit at the kiosk, then return the bike when you're finished. See those people in the background in the orange shirts? It was a ballroom dance class!

You just make a deposit at the kiosk, then return the bike when you’re finished. See those people in the background in the orange shirts? It was a ballroom dance class!

There is public art all along the walkway.

Pretending we're in Chicago and taking a photo of our reflection in a mirrored sculpture

Pretending we’re in Chicago and taking a photo of our reflection in a mirrored sculpture

After a couple of miles of walking, taking time to stop at the various fountains and playgrounds along the way, we finally reached our destination: the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts.

There was a garden of giant pink ladybugs out in front

There was a garden of giant pink ladybugs out in front

The museum is free, and has a variety of temporary and permanent exhibits. My 3 year old is not very interested in fine arts museums generally, but this one has a special Family Room full of interactive art projects for children.

Building block patterns

Building block patterns

Almost every surface has something interactive for the children.

Painting with water! There were also white boards, crayons, paper, and sculpture materials available.

Painting with water! There were also white boards, crayons, paper, and sculpture materials available.

Did I mention there were blocks? So many kinds of blocks.

Hugo says he's building a train. Some of the older children were making very elaborate, multi-room structures that they could climb into.

Hugo says he’s building a train. Some of the older children were making very elaborate, multi-room structures that they could climb into.

I’d recommend the Family Room for kids under age 8, since most of the activities are geared toward younger children. We’ll definitely be back again before we leave Taichung!