When planning our flight to the Philippines, we were seeing that there were a couple different ways to get there. Flying out of Norfolk was super expensive so we took a China Town bus to New York City and flew out of JFK to cut our flight expenses in half (also, any reason to visit NYC is always a plus). There aren't any direct flights all the way to the Philippines so we had to choose where we wanted to stop and have a layover. We ended up selecting a flight that had a 15 hour layover in Taiwan. We figured that would give us a chance to explore a new city during the layover instead of spending time sitting in the airport waiting for our connecting flight. After an extremely long 15 hour flight on EVA Airlines from JFK (the longest flight I've ever experienced) we landed at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport at five in the morning. A short metro ride west got us to the country's capital of Taipei and we had about half a day to spend in the city.
We arrived to an overcast and chilly day in February. It was so early that the city was oddly quiet and empty. We walked around as everything started to wake up and businesses began opening one by one. We stopped by the first coffee shop we saw to get some caffeine because our internal clocks were all jacked up. We walked through 2/28 Peace Park then continued through a bunch of streets and alleyways and just took in the sights. We let the fact that we just flew across the world sink in.
The first major landmark we stopped at was the Lungshan Temple of Manka. This temple dated back all the way to the 1700s; the fact that this site was constructed 300 years ago is an incredible concept to comprehend. It was peaceful yet busy with hundreds of people praying or meditating or whatever they were doing, they were all at this temple with spiritual thoughts and intentions. I was able to take it in, stop and pray with the other hundreds of people and it felt amazing. Large cauldrons were placed along the grounds with burning incense placed by all those who entered. The sight and smell of incense filled the air. The detailed architecture of all the buildings were a sight to see. This was such a great experience.
We jumped on the Metro that was conveniently located across from the temple. The metro was surprisingly easy to figure out and navigate. By this time the city was alive and more of what I imagined it being with tons of people in view. We took the blue line to Taipei City Hall. Taipei 101, the 10th largest building in the entire world, loomed over us while we took in more of the city. We then made our way to Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall. The grounds were filled with tourists and several dance crews practicing in the wide open spaces of Zhongshan Park. Once inside the Hall we were able to see the changing of the guards which was an awesome formal ceremony to witness.
Next stop: food. We stumbled upon the Rilakkuma Cafe by accident. No Trip Advisor or Pinterest research, we were just walking along the street and spotted the cute bear mascot named Rilakkuma, we had to stop in. This restaurant was so freaking cute as it was San-X themed with all the food based off of/formed to look like the characters. We started with a Raspberry and Lychee Soda and a Peach and Rose Soda with bear shaped ice. We weren't too hungry since we'd been snacking all day so we shared the Fried Cheesy Pork Chop with Black Curry Sauce. It was hard to eat since it was so cute, but we did and it was fantastic. Definitely an awesome find.
Taipei is a city I would definitely love to visit again. The short amount of time we spent here had us wanting more as there's just so much to explore. All the people were welcoming and friendly. There weren't too many people that spoke English but everybody was helpful and understanding of the language barrier. All in all, I would highly recommend giving this city a closer look when planning a trip to Asia. I know I'm already counting down the days until I can come back and see more of what this beautiful country has to offer.