We are back from Taiwan! As mentioned in our previous post, last week was the Chuseok holiday here in Korea and we had a five day vacation from work. We decided to make the best of it and booked two tickets to Taiwan. We were beyond excited to have our first real vacation since arriving in Korea in February, and couldn’t wait to explore a new country.
Taiwan is a small, but beautiful tropical East Asian country which is shaped like a sweet potato. For this reason, people from there call themselves “sons of sweet potatoes.” The tiny island attracted us for many reasons, one of which was the chance to visit our friend, Kenny who had just recently moved back home to Taiwan after teaching in Korea. Taiwan also offers some pretty incredible scenery such as rugged mountains with tropical palm trees, plants, and animals that we have never seen before. We really enjoy hiking and from everything we had heard, Taiwan is a hidden treasure with bamboo forests, waterfalls, gorges, coastal bluffs, and jungles. However, we will talk more about that later in our post about our hiking trip.
Before we could even board the plane at Incheon International Airport, we were met with some of the biggest crowds we have ever seen. With everyone trying to leave for the holiday, the airport was packed, and getting through the lines took forever. We arrived at the airport with three hours before takeoff, but waiting to check in and then go through security took forever and we were a little worried we would miss our flight. We arrived at our gate with only a minute before boarding, so we were really lucky!
This only shows about half of the length of the line we were in for the security check!
Nevertheless, we made it to Taiwan! We chose to stay in the capital, Taipei because of the convenient public transportation and the city is also near many of the places we were wanting to see. We found a reasonable hotel and the name pretty much sold us: Hotel Kevin.
The first day of our trip was taken up mostly by the flight to Taiwan, bus ride to Taipei, and then a taxi ride to our hotel. We dropped off our bags and then met up with Kenny for a late lunch. He introduced us to beef noodle soup, which sounds a little plain, but the broth is really good and it is a pretty hearty meal. We ended up eating beef noodle a couple of times throughout the trip because it was so tasty!
We explored the area a bit afterwards and noted that Taiwan really loves scooters. In Korea, we are used to crazy scooter drivers on the sidewalks and running red lights, and in Taiwan they do the same only they account for about 50% of the traffic. The streets are lined with parked scooters everywhere you look and when crossing the street, you have to be extra careful that one doesn’t whiz by and take you out.
It had been a long day of traveling, so we went back to our hotel to rest for a bit. Then suddenly, we heard some really loud music blaring from the streets below. We rushed out the door to see what was going on and came across a parade. The parade was in honor of the Moon Festival which is a celebration of mid-autumn and the full moon. Much like Korea’s Chuseok, Taiwanese people return home during the Moon Festival to spend time with family. Today’s recent traditions include eating barbecue and moon cakes, which we actually got to do with a family in Yilan.
Meanwhile, the temples have their own celebrations. Parading down the streets blasting loud traditional music, they push ornate carts with offerings to the Earth God towards the temple. Once they arrive, men dressed in giant, shoulder-mounted costumes dance to the music while others throw M-80s on the ground. Right before lighting them, they push the carts over the fireworks and stand in the middle of them bouncing the carts up and down, ignoring the explosions around them. Afterwards, they all have a big meal and watch a traditional performance together. All throughout the holiday, we could hear music off in the distance and fireworks going off as other temples took part in their offerings to the Earth God.