I had hoped to visit Yangmingshan, a mountainous national park just north of Taipei, but our last full day was dull and humid with low, threatening clouds – we’d probably see nothing at 3000ft. So we settled for a trip out to Tamsui, at the end of the Metro line where the Tamsui River meets the sea – Taipei’s Southend-on-Sea.
It was probably more picturesque than Southend in a monochrome kind of way, with flat calm grey water, grey silhouetted high rise buildings, and green grey mountains appearing and disappearing into the grey sky. Large fish leapt salmon-style in the estuary to taunt the fishermen on the bank. Assistants in official T-shirts pushed wheelchair users along the promenade to enjoy the cool breeze and the smell of the sea.
We briefly detoured inland to visit the Fuyou temple. Not as large or famous as Longshan but atmospheric, with beautifully carved stonework and determined jiaobei throwers. Back along the promenade were the kind of seaside shops and stalls found everywhere – sun hats, T-shirts, ice cream and seafood.
Returning via the high street we came across a long queue of people who, it transpired, were waiting for cake. We lingered to see the next batch turned out of the pan, a large rectangle of hot, wobbly, custardy sponge. The queue eyed us suspiciously in case we pushed in and bought what was rightfully theirs, so we moved along and headed down Danshui Old St, past the Museum of the Strange (stuffed 2-headed animals, photos of deformed people etc) and more food stalls.
As we’d not had lunch we stayed on the metro all the way to the railway station to return to Minder, the vegetarian buffet restaurant, where we ate our fill and then packed a couple of takeaway boxes for dinner in our room while packing. We also checked to see what the cheapest option would be if the airline demanded that we had an onward ticket from Thailand, which technically we needed in order to enter without a visa.
The 1961 to the airport conveniently stopped very close to the hotel, and then went the long way round. I was puzzled by the prohibition signs: No Smoking (naturally), No Food and Drink (OK), No Sexual Harassment (well, good – but does having a sign make any difference?), No Birds (?!?). The girl at check in didn’t ask for an onward ticket, so we had plenty of time to get some lunch and some provisions for dinner on the plane. We had planned to change our remaining NT$ into Thai Baht, but the money changers all charged a disproportionate fee of NT$100 per transaction, so we decided to leave it until we arrived in Bangkok.
English is widely spoken – more widely than in Japan it seemed, or perhaps people are less reserved and so more willing to use it. Food (in Taipei at least) is whatever you want – Chinese, Korean, Italian and Japanese restaurants are plentiful. But music, religion and decoration – that’s all definitely Chinese. The people of Taiwan seem to have had the knack of taking what they want from their developed neighbours without losing any of their identity in the process. I just hope they have taken Japan’s building codes though, since their seismic risk is almost as great.