Drawing the curtains back, it appeared to be a dull morning but thankfully with no rain. The two Japanese ladies we met at breakfast yesterday were around again at the same time this morning so we exchanged pleasantries and wished them a good day.
Our plan for the morning was to visit Taipei 101 which until 2010 was the world’s tallest building, its height being 509.2 metres including its 60 metre spire. The tower also set the Guinness world record for having the fastest lift until 2016 when it was overtaken by the Shanghai Tower. We travelled to the Taipei 101 MRT station and then located the tower entrance on its 5th floor. The iconic tower has a pale green tinted glass exterior over eight tiers of pagoda like shapes, creating the impression of bamboo. The entrance lobby was crowded with tourists but the majority seemed to be in tour groups, independent travellers like ourselves being able to purchase tickets almost immediately. The cost of ascending the tower to the 89th floor is NT$600 per person but a combined ticket with the Royal Palace Museum can be purchased for an additional sum of NT$80. Normal admission to the Palace Museum being NT$250. Please note that the joint ticket is only available from the Taipei 101 counter and not from the Palace Museum but visitors have up to 15 days to visit the museum.
Entering the lift, we travelled up 89 floors at 16.83 m (55.22 feet) per second taking only 37 seconds to ascend 89 floors. Mist was rolling over the top of the building as we entered the indoor viewing deck obscuring our view at times. Yet, at other times we had good views looking down on the city of Taipei but its surrounding ring of mountains were always shrouded in mist.
Spring is a misty time of year here so it would have been doubtful to have been assured a clear day even if we had postponed our visit until later in the week. Having spent time viewing the cityscape from all sides, we took the steps down one floor to inspect the damper which was extremely interesting.
Taiwan straddles the Pacific Ring of Fire, an arc of fault lines occasionally erupting in earthquakes. Typhoons are also common in this region so vibrations to the building are dampened by suspending a massive steel ball weighing 660 metric tonnes from the 92nd floor to reduce lateral vibrations. The damper is connected by pistons which drive oil through small holes damping vibrations.
Returning to the 5th floor we enjoyed coffees using discount vouchers attached to our tickets. A little window shopping followed in the high end mall below Taipei 101 before boarding the MRT to Shilin where we bought some buns for our lunchtime snack. We thought we had bought two custard filled buns but on tasting them discovered they were cheese and lemon! Sweet and savoury combinations seem to be popular here as we had some chocolate and cheese buns a couple of days ago.
From Shilin we caught Red Bus 30 to the Royal Palace Museum, the bus taking us directly to the museum door so we had no problems deciding where to alight.
Needing to pass through a security check to enter the museum we had two sealed bottles of water with us from the hotel which we thought would be fine as similar ones passed through a security screening the previous day at the Presidential Office. Here though things were different and the security officer informed us that they were not permitted. We were prepared to dispose of our water bottles in a bin but the obliging member of staff had other ideas. She led us to a table filled with baskets containing drinks bottles, cans and flasks and pointed to some little scraps of paper and a roll of sellotape for us to add our surname and leave for safekeeping later – this was such a good idea and one I’ve never come across before.
The museum contains a permanent collection of nearly 700,000 pieces of ancient Chinese imperial artefacts and artworks and it would be almost impossible to view everything in one visit. Selecting several galleries we learnt a little about the Qing and Ming dynasties, the Ming vases being absolutely stunning. This museum is very popular with Chinese tour groups and certain areas were particularly crowded on the afternoon of our visit.
The building is surrounded by ornate gardens so please remember to hold on to your tickets for access otherwise a further NT$20 needs to be paid. The gardens include small ponds filled with koi carp, narrow bridges and attractive small pavilions. We found it to be very peaceful strolling along the gravel paths, tour groups seemingly not having time to linger here.
It was then only a few minutes to wait for our bus back to Shilin where we found a small cafe for more tea and cakes – this time selecting what we thought were almond and vanilla buns and for once we were correct!
Feeling refreshed after our afternoon tea stop we hopped on the MRT to Xiangshan back near Taipei 101 where we followed the path to hike up the Xiangshan Trail (also known as Elephant Mountain). Taipei is circled by mountains known as the Four Beasts Mountains, a string of peaks named after the lion, tiger, leopard and elephant they are said to resemble. Rather than a hike, it’s actually a climb up a vertical stone staircase taking approximately 25 minutes to reach the summit.
Nearing the top it started drizzling, obscuring our views of Taipei 101 and dashing our hopes of sunset views from the summit. Sitting in the lookout shelter awhile until darkness fell, we waited patiently for a break in the clouds to enable us to take some photographs.
Finally managing a few photo opportunities we descended the trail and grateful for some street lamps our return down the steep steps posed no challenges.
Finally, returning to our hotel for the first time today at 8.00 p.m. feeling very weary we made ourselves cups of tea and nibbled on chocolate bars, giving us enough energy to head out for something to eat at 9.30 p.m.
Gongguan being on the same MRT line as our hotel was our chosen night market destination. It’s located south of the city and near to the National Taiwan University campus. This night market straggling about four short streets was much smaller than the ones we’ve already visited but spotting a lengthy queue of people waiting at an omelette stall we decided to join them. The vendor had got omelette making to a fine art having several large pans on the go at any one time. Our omelettes arrived chopped into small pieces in a paper bag and served with chopsticks for us to nibble at as we wandered the stalls.
More tasty snacks followed before returning to the hotel with two more vanilla buns to accompany our bedtime drink. Before heading back on the MRT we strolled through the grounds of the National Taiwan University campus located in a park like setting with palm trees and flowering azaleas, but a little difficult to appreciate in the dark.
Back at the hotel we put the kettle on, had our buns and were fast asleep in minutes.