Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Taipei Nights

I'm back from spending five days in Taiwan. The trip was amazing and there was so much to see and do that I'll have to recount it over several posts. This first post describes Taipei, the capital city, and the vibrant night culture.

I found Taipei to be a bustling and culturally unique city. It retains much of its older traditions and ways of life while still offering most conveniences of modern life. The subway system crisscrosses the city and allows for ease of transport, and main thoroughfares are filled with lines of motorbikes, taxis, and cars. However, you can find little alleyways right off the main streets, filled with street vendors, and people's homes.

This photo is a view of the city from 26th floors up: alive with lights! I like this view because it contains a more human scale than the perspective from a major skyscraper like Taipei 101.
A big part of Taiwanese culture is the night market. At night, several blocks of streets in a neighborhood will fill up with all sorts of vendors. You can find all sorts of food, from stinky tofu and soy braised meats to milk tea and fried chicken cutlets. There are also little shops selling clothes and little trinkets. Sometimes you will also stumble across massage parlors and kiddie arcades - something for everyone! The areas are pedestrian friendly, with large crowds of people roaming about, though occasionally people will move aside for the stray motorbike or delivery truck.

This is the Shilin Night Market, one of the most famous and "touristy" night markets. 
There are several night markets in Taipei. We ended up going to Shilin, the major touristy one, Shida, and Raohe. What I really like about these markets is that though they are somewhat of a tourist attraction, there are also plenty of locals that hang out there, shopping and eating. I'm not sure when the markets start up (probably around sunset or early evening), but usually things don't start dying down until midnight.

One of the lesser crowded alleys in Shilin. You can see the major crowds up ahead. 
At these night markets, most items are really cheap. In fact, Taiwan as a whole is very affordable compared to Singapore. Many of the food items are less than $1, and you can get a filling meal for $3-4.

There are always lots of fried goodies at night markets! This photo is actually not of a night market but of a street market in a nearby town, but there are similar foods available at all the night markets - fried meats, sausages, fish balls, etc. I even saw fried milk once! Most of the foods are conveniently portioned and packaged to be eaten on the go - no need for napkins or utensil.s
I really like this type of street food. It is called a red bean bun (a little misleading since the filling does not have to be red bean). Basically it is two pieces of dough that tastes like waffle batter, encasing a sweet or savory filling. Your options are usually red bean, cheese, peanut butter, or sometimes salted and dried radish. 

At the Shilin Market, this vendor sells pan fried pork buns - one of the great street foods you can find in Taiwan. Juicy minced pork is wrapped inside a chewy dough bun, which is then fried to a crispy texture.
This is Shida Market, the first one I went to on the night we arrived in Taipei. It is a trendier night market and caters towards a younger demographic with fashionable clothing stores. Apparently it used to be larger and take over several streets, but residents in the neighborhood complained of the noise and now it is a shadow of its former self. 
We went to a night market almost every evening - there was just so much to see and eat. The crowds sometimes do get overwhelming and there are long lines for the most popular vendors. However, people are really friendly and vendors tend to be helpful. Most people know a least a passing amount of English or will direct you to someone who is more fluent. I was able to get by very easily on my conversational level of Chinese. Additionally, the markets are quite safe, and I felt extremely comfortable the whole time, though it is always better to be on guard while traveling.

Besides night markets, there are also upscale malls and shopping districts which maintain a lively presence.

This is a fancy mall right beneath Taipei 101, the tallest skyscraper in Taiwan (and was tallest building in the world for a number of years). 
Of course, there are also bars and clubs for those looking for nightlife, but my sense is that there is not so much of a drinking and partying culture in Taipei. Rules around alcohol are loose (legal age is 18, no laws regarding open containers in public). I didn't see too many bars on my walks around the city, and after midnight all public transportation stops. The streets became empty and very quiet, in a peaceful but almost eerie way - definitely different from New York!

No comments:

Post a Comment