Experiencing the Nightlife in Taiwan

Since no trip to a foreign country is complete without experiencing its nightlife, I decided to check out a few unique cocktail bars and venues in Taipei and Taichung while I was traveling in Taiwan earlier this year.  Through going to music events in Tokyo, I was fortunate to have met my friend Hojo who not only manages tours and bookings for foreign artists, but also curates in own events in Taiwan with CUSTOMS and DJs music that transcends genres (see Hojo’s SoundCloud for reference).  In Asia it’s generally easy to find bars and spots to socialize, but the scene I found here far exceeded my expectations.

At Taiwan’s venues, particularly at FINAL, the entrance fee is affordable, the cocktails and music are top-notch, and you can actually sit down with people and socialize.  A big issue with some venues in Tokyo is that they are too crowded, and although I am a club enthusiast I sometimes find it hard to relax even when I really enjoy the music.  People in Tokyo have a tendency to seek stimulation (and I am guilty as charged), but it’s very easy to get drained from the steady flow of events.  However, in Taiwan I never had that issue.  Each night I went out I was able to find the perfect atmosphere for whatever mood I was in, meet a lot of new friends, and make awesome memories that make me want to come back here in the future.

The Fucking Place (操場)

The very first bar I went to in Taipei was called The Fucking Place.  This place became a meme when Trekkie Trax toured here because one of their members got legendarily lit, so it’s been on my bucket list for quite a long time.  This bar is close to a lot of clubs in Taipei, so it makes the ideal pregaming spot.  But why the name, you ask?  Hojo explains it all in his Tweet below:

True to its name, Fucking Place’s atmosphere is cozy and welcoming.  They have a large selection of hard liquors and you can ask for your own favorite cocktail combination too.  I drank whiskey mixed with milk and reached the perfect level of drunk among good people.

The upstairs of the bar is also worth checking out because it has a mini gallery that will perhaps expand in the future:

FINAL

By far one of the best venues I’ve experienced in Asia is FINAL in Taipei.  I was at here 3 different nights during my 12 day stay in Taiwan because each night had a diverse variety of music.  This club has always been on my radar because a number of my favorite artists from Japan (including Carpainter and Onjuicy) have performed here, and Hojo also runs his own events here.  Each night I connected with different friends from around the world so I would say the scene here is very international and friendly.

By chance, Night Tempo and Neon City Records were doing a large show here on the first Friday of 2020 during my trip, so I was extremely lucky to see them here.  I have been following Night Tempo since college and attended his first HMV show in Tokyo, but recently haven’t been able to attend his events in Japan because they sell out extremely fast.  Fortunately I was able to get door tickets here and catch his amazing 2 hour performance while catching up with my friends in Taiwan.

Night Tempo’s style has really changed from sampling old Japanese songs to producing Showa era idol music and recently working with famous vocalists like Anri and Mariya Takeuchi.  He played at Fuji Rock last year in addition to touring many Asian countries and America as well.  I have met some of my best friends through his music, so I always try to catch his events whenever I can:

The very next day, Hojo hosted CUSTOMS featuring IVVVO who I met, and other aspiring international artists with a lot of talent.  As I have heard from my friends who previously attended CUSTOMS events in the US, this one was nothing short of amazing.  Each artist played whatever style of music they wanted, and no one could predict what was coming next so it was fun.  One of my favorite moments was captured below:

I would recommend FINAL to everyone because it plays and caters to all tastes of music.  The scene is here is one of the best I’ve come across in Asia and I look forward to seeing who else performs here.

The Cave

While I was in Taiching, I decided to check out this bar called The Cave because it was the other venue in Taiwan where Night Tempo toured.  I came here on a weekday so no live performer was playing, but I really appreciated the ambient atmosphere and the carefully mixed cocktails the bartender crafted for me.  I ordered one that looked like cotton candy and was coated with honey, and another delicious cherry one that was both delicious and high in alcohol content.  This was one of the best bars that I have been to in Taiwan, and I highly recommend it to everyone.  It was very cozy but perfect for the mood that I was in.

Afterwards, I decided to go on a walk to the nearby Taichung Park Pavilion.  I really appreciated the vibe of the neon lights and how bright the pavilion shone at night (I think it looks prettier at night than during the day).  Additionally I ran into so many cute dogs that were being walked here, so it was a real delight.

Round4

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We all know the lyrics to this one.

On my very last night in Taipei, I went to a small lounge called Round4 recommended by Hojo.  Since it was a weeknight it wasn’t very crowded, but the bartenders gave us the best hospitality.  A bartender named Jimmy came out and talked to us, and also made special coffee cocktails that I’ll never forget.  I really like it when the bartenders make an effort to connect with their visitors, so this is a place I’d like to drink at again because it has good vibes.

Which raises the question…

Will I return to Taiwan in the future?

Since it’s right next door to Japan, I would say there is a very high chance that I will return.  I had a phenomenal time both experiencing the night life and spending time with nature in this country.  There will be a music festival held at a temple this year that I am considering coming back for.  Once the dates are decided, I may buy another plane ticket depending on my schedule.  The life of a traveler who also loves clubbing is never complacent.

Exploring the Colorful City of Kaohshiung & Cijin Island (Part 2)

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View from atop the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

After fully exploring Pier 2 and Cijin Island, I decided to spend my 2nd day in Kaohsiung seeing some of the major landmarks.  Since I rented a bike for 24 hours, I biked 8 km from where I was staying at the pier to reach the famed Dragon and Tiger Pagodas.  It was a little scary biking on the highway for the first time in Taiwan, but I managed to survive and catch some neat sights on the way there.  The pagodas are surrounded by a lotus pond and are seven stories high, so visiting them is quite the experience.  Once you climb all the stairs, you will get the perfect view of the Zuoying District of the city:

The symbolism of the dragon and tiger is a bit ambiguous, but they both represent a balance of power although they have contrasting characteristics.  According to Shaozhi, in Chinese culture dragons are said to control water and have great strength, whereas tigers symbolize righteousness and harmony.  I was amazed at how both entrances were designed to fit their appearances.  Here is some footage I took from atop the Dragon Pagoda:

According to a sign outside, if you walk through the dragon’s mouth and walk out the tiger’s, it is said to bring good luck.  So that’s exactly what I did!  It still has yet to come, but it’s only the beginning of the year.  Inside you will find illustrations of various Buddhist and Taoist characters:

Surrounding the pagodas are other temples and Buddhist statues that you can easily reach on foot.  I didn’t stop to see them all, but you could easily spend a few hours in this district of the city seeing them all.  People are very laid-back and friendly too.

Next, I biked to Formosa Boulevard Station so I could see its famous murals.  From what I read online, it’s one of the most beautiful stations in Taiwan.  It did not fall short of my expectations:

The Dome of Light within the station is the largest glass work in the world and was designed by Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata.  I was amazed by how beautiful it was!  Various astrological figures are depicted in this glass (some human-like and some creature-like), as well as very intriguing patterns.  To me it looks like a galaxy riddled with the mysteries of our origin:

Another amazing part of Kaohsiung City is its hyper-realistic dog ice cream:

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I made a separate post on Aesthetic Food Finds in Taiwan, so please check it out if you are interested!  This is my last article in my Taiwan series, but I will be writing a bonus article on the nightlife I experienced here.

From what I’ve experienced, most cities in Taiwan only require 2-3 days of time to see all the major sightseeing spots.  I spent around 5 days total in Taipei doing day trips and other activities, but 2 days of full activity worked for me in all the other areas I visited.  I hope that everyone can visit this beautiful country and have the same wonderful adventures that I did!

Houtong: Home of the Cat Village and Taiwan’s Tastiest Pineapple Cakes

After hiking Elephant Mountain and paying a visit to Laomei Reef, I decided it was time to travel to Houtong━a village in Taiwan renowned for its high population of cats.  Similar to the origin of the rabbit island I visited last month in Japan, this was originally an old mining town that has attracted hundreds of cats (the former was a nuclear testing ground that is now overrun by rabbits).  Fortunately there are a number of residents, volunteers, and tourists that look after these cats every day.  If you are an feline lover, this is simply a day trip that cannot be passed up in Taiwan.

Getting to Houtong from Taipei is quite easy; from Songshan Station you can take a cheap 40 minute train directly to Houtong Station.  When you get off at the station, you will notice there are two exits; one goes up into the hillside of the village where most of the cats lounge around and play, and the other leads to the roadside with nearby souvenir shops and restaurants.  If you are eager to see the cats like I was, I would recommend taking the stairs to the hillside first.  In fact, you may even see some furry friends lounging around in the station!

There are a number of things about this village that really charmed me.  First of all, I loved how the cats acted like they owned the place.  They weren’t afraid of humans at all and some of them were actually very friendly despite having to put up with us invading their space every day.  I also loved the Neko Atsume cookies and pineapple cakes they were selling here.  The shops had so many free samples that I tried every flavor (the chocolate pawprint-shaped pineapple cakes happened to be my favorite).  I was informed by the shop owner that apparently these are the most delicious cakes in Taiwan, so I decided to bring back some souvenirs for my roommate and friends in Japan.  They definitely had the cutest shape out of all of the pineapple cakes that I had seen here!

I also enjoyed the simple decor of the village.  You could tell that the volunteers put effort into making helpful signs and guides for tourists as well.  These adorable cat-like ornaments were hung in the station:

It really doesn’t take that long to explore the village; I spent about an hour and a half doing photography and exploring the shops.  However, cat-watching is definitely something that you could spend all day doing.  You can purchase food for them at any of the shops or cafes (I stopped by one to order a vodka latte for myself so I could warm up).  I enjoyed watching this kitty run across the souvenir table:

Houtong truly reminded me of a mountain town in Japan because it was peaceful and had the same kind of atmosphere.  Other than the cats, there is a river and a number of temples that you can see nearby.  It is considered to be rural but the trains run here pretty frequently.  On the way back to Taipei, I decided to stop by the Golden Waterfall that you can reach by bus from the nearby Ruifang Station.  You could also combine this with a trip to the Jiufen lantern town if you want!

Unfortunately it was pitch dark when I reached the Golden Waterfall, but this is the best picture I managed to take:

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The Golden Waterfall at dusk.

Afterwards, I decided to go back and relax at my hotel.  This is trip is a great way to see the countryside east of Taipei and also see the unforgettable village run by cats.  Since Jiufen inspired Spirited Away, I can’t help but wonder if Houtong inspired The Cat Returns

Climbing Elephant Mountain in Taiwan (and other Intriguing Day Trips)

As someone who loves hiking, photography, and animals, I couldn’t pass up day tripping to Elephant Mountain (像山/Xiangshan Trail) in Taipei.  Although there’s no actual elephants here, you can get some of the best views of Taipei City from the top, and also try delicious elephant butter bread at the base of the mountain for only 30 TWD.  The climb to the elephant-shaped rocks where this mountain gets its name from only takes around 30 minutes max, so I’d rate it as an overall easy climb.  From the rocks you can reach a central viewing platform and get a fantastic view of Taipei 101 and all surrounding buildings.  Perfect for traveling photographers like me!

To reach the start of Xiangshan Trail, you only need to ride the train 20 mins from Taipei Main Station to Xiangshan Station.  It’s pretty straightforward from there–just follow all of the elephant-shaped signs to the mountain path to start climbing.  What I loved about this mountain is that it had an open-air gym that’s free to use at the top.  I saw less tourists and far more Taiwanese locals here going for walks with their dogs and also lifting weights.  What a way to flex!

If you want to keep climbing to reach the other trail head, it takes around 2.5 hours, but the spot with the elephant rocks at the beginning has the best views of the city.  I spent a good hour and a half here taking photos and also exploring the open gym area.  After I was satisfied, I decided to pay a visit to the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall:

This is actually only a 5 minute ride from Taipei Main Station to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (yes, it’s so famous that it has its own station).  This memorial was named after Chiang Kai-shek, the former President of the Republic of China.  It has a number of building complexes to see and a statue as well.  I had a lot of fun climbing the stairs and taking photos from different angles.  Even if you’re not a history buff, this place is still a lot of fun to see.

I’ll be covering my next day trip to Houtong Cat Village in my next article.  Thank you for reading as always!

Standing at the Edge of the World: Laomei Reef & The Alpaca Cafe

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GoProing in the Reef: Laomei Beach still looks as awe-inspiring as ever in the winter.

Situated at the northern tip of Taiwan, Laomei Reef is a well sought-after location for photographers and beach goers alike with its stunning green scenery and relaxing atmosphere.  Though Taiwan isn’t particularly known for its beaches, I still wanted to experience at least one even though I came here during the dead of winter.  Hoping to capture the best lighting with GoPro, I arrived around sunset by taking the train to Tamsui Station from Taipei and then using a local bus (this took around 2.5 hours but was a nice day trip).  Even though it was the first week of January, all I needed to wear was a light jacket because the weather was sunny and mild.  During the summer months, I’ve heard that this beach transforms into quite the lively place.  I’d really like to come back and experience this in the future because beaches are my favorite places in the world.

Because there weren’t that many people around this time of year, I managed to capture some really great photos of the reef:

I love how the shallow water reflected the image of the sky above almost like a mirror.  You can actually get very close to the reef by standing on the trench by the shore.  According to John Ellis (a local photographer who I have been following), the reef was originally formed by a volcanic eruption that occurred over two hundred thousand years ago.  Summer is the best time to see the reef because that is when the most algae grows, but the beautiful shade of green is fortunately see-able in all seasons.  Though it was too cold to go swimming, I enjoyed watching the waves wash over the reef and felt at ease while I was here:

From this video it looks like I’m standing at the edge of the world!  Not wanting the adventure to end here, I decided to take a bus from here to the famous alpaca cafe called OIA Oia Art Cafe.  If you venture all the way out the the reef, you might as well take the time to pet the two lovely alpacas that live here because this cafe is very close:

I ordered a sweet beer and reminisced on all of my crazy encounters with animals while I was here.  Last year I went to the bunny island and miniature pig cafe in Tokyo, and now here I was in another foreign country drinking with animals (which I often prefer to humans).  Life is truly strange and amazing, and I am doing my best to live every minute to the fullest.

In addition to alpacas, they also have cats here.  I have been to many cat cafes already so I didn’t film them, but they were interesting to watch.  I spent most of my time petting the kind alpaca pictured above.  It looked very tired but fortunately well-fed, just like me.  Maybe we aren’t so different after all.

 

Aesthetic Food Finds in Taiwan

As an avid lover of all things that are aesthetic, searching for unique restaurants and trying the most colorful foods around the world is one of my life goals.  Since I spent the majority of my time in Taiwan hiking through national parks and exploring mountain towns, I mostly ate Chinese and aboriginal food because it is healthy and affordable.  However, when I was in the city I managed to find a lot of interesting food which I will list below:

PLANTS

My favorite vegan restaurant that I discovered in Taipei was this beautiful cafe called PLANTS in the heart of the city.  With a rainbow flag hung at its entrance, it has an extremely welcoming atmosphere and the staff can speak almost perfect English.  I was amazed at the large range of food they had!  I tried the Flamingo Acai Bowl and also ordered the Macrobiotic Tempeh Bibimbap.  It was so delicious, I came back here again and tried hummus with pita bread, the Adaptogen Bliss Balls, and gluten free donuts for dessert.  This food definitely gave me the energy I needed to explore the city, and I was extremely grateful for the hospitality of the restaurant.  It was clean and had a lot of space so I could relax and plan out my day.

I wanted to try Miss Green and a few other vegan places (they are all located around this area), but sadly did not have enough time.  I was extremely happy with what I ate here and would come again, however!

J.C.co Art Kitchen

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Today’s Aesthetic Food: Hyper-realistic earl gray milk tea-flavored dog ice cream.

Say hello to my new puppy… before I eat him!  J.C.co Art Kitchen in Kaohsiung serves up the most aesthetic ice cream in Taiwan.  This crazy work of [ice cream] art is fully edible even though it looks almost exactly like a real dog (especially when photos are taken with certain cameras).  The detail put into the fur-like texture of the frozen ice cream is almost unreal.  The taste is pretty refreshing on a warm day as well.  The cafe asks that you make reservations in advance, but fortunately I was lucky enough to walk in without one and be served.  Though some people may have qualms about eating something so realistic, I was actually quite thrilled to eat a work of art.

Giant Avocado Smoothies

You don’t have to walk far around Taiwan to find smoothie and milk bars–they’re literally scattered everywhere, even on beaches and remote places you wouldn’t think they’d be.  I’ve been around many night markets in Asia before, but one thing that caught my eye in Taiwan were the giant Avocados.  I am an avocado freak so I ordered an avocado smoothie here.  It tasted absolutely amazing.  I would highly recommend trying a giant avocado here in any form just for the experience.

Vegetable Buffet Platters

While I was in Kaohsiung, I found the most amazing vegetarian buffet called Double Veggie with a huge variety of wholesome food!  I tried mini sushi rolls, rice, quinoa, olives, an egg-like pancake, and heaps of salad.  These two plates really filled me up and I was satisfied.  I had previously biked all of the way from the port to Cijin Island to the Tiger and Dragon Padogas, so I was grateful to eat at a buffet this day!  The quality of food here definitely makes it worth the price, and you can eat to your heart and stomach’s content!

Congee

Congee is a type of rice soup widely eaten throughout Asia, and is often eaten with other vegetable and meat dishes.  After a wild night out at FINAL, a group of friends and I went to a nearby restaurant and all selected different dishes.  I finally worked up the nerve to try stinky tofu (it actually wasn’t even that bad), century eggs (which I thought were very good), and heaps of vegetables.  I definitely recommend coming to these restaurants as a group because then you will have the chance to try a lot of different food!

Individual Takeout Sushi

One thing I really liked about the sushi in Taiwan is that you can choose your favorites that are individually wrapped at certain takeout places near the stations!  I found this place at Tamsui Station near Laomei Reef and really enjoyed it.  Though I would say it’s not as delicious as the sushi in Japan, it still has a lot of flavor and makes the perfect snack on the go.  I tried crab, squid, and shrimp and really enjoyed them!

I hope you come back to Taiwan later this year and go to Tainan, which is known to be the haven of foods.  Please look forward to my future food articles!

An Epic Journey to Taiwan’s Most Beautiful National Park: Taroko Gorge

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GoProing at the Gorge: Taroko Gorge turns out to not be a tourist trap, but instead an unspoiled private paradise for hikers.

After exploring Yehliu Geopark and Jiufen, I hopped on the last train from Taipei’s Main Station and made my way to Hualien, a beautiful town surrounded by nature and the ocean on the east coast of Taiwan.  My main destination here was Taroko National Park, arguably the most beautiful park in the country with its marble cliffs and gorges.  The gorgeous blue color of the water reminded me a lot of the ocean that surrounds the Phi Phi Islands in Thailand.  Though Taroko Gorge is more of a hiking spot than a place to swim, my tour guide allowed us to go swimming at the base of the Shakadang Trail!  Even in January, the water felt surprisingly warm and refreshing.  This place is truly unlike anywhere else in Taiwan and I definitely recommend people visit.

Due to its massive size Taroko is very difficult to cover in a day, but with a lot of online research, I managed to find The Better Taroko Gorge Tour which not only lets you pay in cash, but also accepts solo travelers (most tours to Taroko are extremely expensive and require group reservations).  It is also one of the few tours that includes lunch, so I was extremely fortunate that I chose it or else I would have been starving!  My excellent tour guide, Alan, took our group of seven people through the Swallow Grotto, two suspension bridges, the newly opened Tunnel Of Nine Turns that was previously closed due to an earthquake, and scenic the Bell Tower Padoga.  We unfortunately were unable to hike up to the Eternal Spring Shrine due to road conditions, but we were able to see all of the highlights of the park on this tour in one day.

The tour started early at 7:30am, but we managed to avoid the crowds and I had a lot of time to capture photos and video with my newly purchased GoPro:

Most articles you read online recommend spending 2-3 days in this park if you are a hiking enthusiast, but one was enough for me because I was planning on seeing all of the major cities in Taiwan and also meeting up with friends.  I was extremely satisfied with the challenge of the hike (it really wasn’t hard at all, minus some stairs) and also with all of the shrines I got to see.  I would DEFINITELY recommend coming here with a tour guide, because riding in a van will save you a lot of time on the roads, and the guides know exactly where all the scenic spots here are.  Coming alone is possible, but I think it would take much longer and be difficult to navigate and know which paths are safe to hike on.  This park is not dangerous, but some of the slopes are affected by the weather so you need to be cautious while climbing them.

The Official Taroko Gorge Website has a list of trails that are currently available.  Shakadang Trail, Changchun Trail, Swallow Grotto, and the Tunnel of Nine Turns are the paths I recommend taking (you can see all in a day if you have a car or skilled tour guide).  We managed to see waterfalls and many temples too!  Throughout the park you will see signs that say you need a permit to enter, but we were informed that such permits do not exist–this is just to warn tourists of potentially dangerous areas so the park does not get sued in case of injury.  Enter these parts at your own risk (I hiked through one part, but it was literally nothing but green forest so I turned around as to not lose my way).  In the middle of the day, we had a delicious course lunch at a restaurant in the mountains, and I had the chance to try Taiwanese mochi too:

At the end of the day, our tour guide took us to a nearby beach in Hualien where we could relax after a successful day of sightseeing.  We were all amazed with the creative rock stacks (called cairns) here.  The beach was literally full of them:

At the end of the day, I was completely exhausted and wanted to return to Taipei, so Alan kindly drove me to my hostel (called Cave) to get my luggage, and then back to the main Hualien Station where I could take the train back.  I made an extremely kind friend on this trip who is currently working in Okinawa, so I was very happy with my experience.  Island Life Taiwan is one of the best local guides for Taroko Gorge, and I would happily book them again if I decided to come back here in the future!  The total cost was only 2000 Taiwan Dollars, which is much cheaper than most advertised tour packages.  This was one of the best days that I had in Taiwan, and I will not forget the beautiful unspoiled paradise that is Taroko Gorge!