As you all know, I went on a splendid trip recently that required some time travel: past the international date line and into East Asia. I have not been before, aside from being born in Taiwan, and had been looking forward to this trip for basically my entire life. It was as strange and wonderful as I always imagined. Robert, the friend that I married, adventured with me and we both appreciated the fact that he was finally a racial minority. We began our trip in Tokyo, then stayed in the outskirts of Kyoto in Kurama before flying out to Taiwan and touring the entire island essentially. Our trip was only 2 weeks long, but we packed a lot (maybe too much) into it. Here are some of the highlights!
Tokyo: A feast for your eyes, ears, and tummy!
Tokyo delights the senses with overwhelming sounds and visual stimulation while bustling with orderly activity. Some favorite districts of ours were Akihabara, Harajuku, Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Ginza. Each offered their own distinct personality and flare keeping us pretty much in awe the entire time. The metro system is very precise and organized making it easy for any traveler to use, but there is a very specific etiquette for these trains. Before boarding you must stand in line, race each other to open seats and then sit noiselessly. Speaking at full volume is frowned upon on these train cars.
Conveyor belt sushi in Harajuku. You submit your meal requests on the electronic device, and the conveyor belt zips it out directly to your counter station!
Takeshita street in Harajuku – known for all things cute and sweet: cat-petting cafes, cotton candy stands, creperies (on every corner), fashionable shopping, and many food items to select!
Pictured here is the extremely popular and often photographed Shibuya crossing. It’s maybe the busiest crosswalk in Tokyo but as all things Japanese, superbly organized. The second the light changes to red, there is a complete absence of pedestrians in the street. Amazing.
UNIQLO in Ginza. Happy happy me!
Onsen in Kurama: Bathing naked outside and eating traditional Japanese food
The bathhouse that we stayed at was up the street from the Kurama Mountain, a hike boasting stunning Buddhist Temples and a steep train-car to the top. Two days of wearing yukatas at every meal, sleeping on tatami mats, and bathing outside in the wilderness was very refreshing.
TAIWAN: The Best Part
After enjoying eclectic and energetic Tokyo paired with quiet, drizzly Kurama, we made our way to the homeland. We flew from Tokyo to Taipei and made the most of our first day in Taiwan by doing laundry. Positioned right next to the street market and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen museum, we were able to wander around while the clothes spun.
Following a single evening in Taipei, we set off for the streets in which I was born – Taichung. A gritty, scooter-dominated city, Taichung represented a lot of what I imagine Taipei used to be. The skyline was dimly polluted, the night market was noisy and crowded, streets were narrow and without sidewalks, and nobody spoke English. The night market was probably the best part; imagine 3+ miles of food stalls, backpack and phone cases stores, and being packed in with a crowd of people while stinky tofu harasses your nostrils. I loved so much about this city, it really felt like home.
The courtyard of the orphanage in which I spent the first couple years of life. It no longer houses orphans, but instead is dedicated to caring for physically and mentally handicapped children. A wonderful place.
The rooftop garden of the orphanage.
After the emotional and wonderful time spent in Taichung, we ventured forth to Kaohsiung, a port city in the southwest region of Taiwan. This was a really fun city to visit and we were able to rent bikes, take a ferry to a local island, visit the British Consulate for Tea & Biscuits, and just wander around. We even got sunburns.
above: view from British Consulate
The best cold noodles I’ve ever eaten.
To round out the trip, we returned to Taipei and enjoyed some Din Tai Fung (very busy), night markets (Raohe >>> Shilin), visited the Taipei 101 Starbucks, and spent our final day at the National Palace Museum. I loved visiting Taiwan and Japan, but as they say, there really is no place like home.