tea & temples

I spent one of my days in Taiwan walking around the city before visiting the Maokong tea plantations. After this and my visit to Tamsui, I was really impressed by how easy it was to escape the bustle of Taipei for incredibly tranquil and beautiful natural landscapes. Not that Taipei is that stressful in the first place - it feels really laid-back and open compared to Tokyo.

In the morning, I walked along the Tamsui river down from the hostel towards the Lungshan temple in the Wanhua district. On my walk, I came across some playful stray dogs.

I spent a long while walking around the Lungshan temple grounds. It was really pretty and lively, full of people praying, burning incense, making offerings or just resting in the corridors.

From Lungshan temple, I walked to the nearby Bopiliao Historical Block, which is a series of old buildings mostly open to visitors. It's kind of a musem/art space with various exhibitions. I enjoyed walking around for a while, looking at both the architecture and the exhibitions.

I love old places - I know it's a cliché and not always true, but it just feels like shiny new buildings have less of a 'soul', because there's less life and fewer memories attached to them. I'm glad I stayed in Beimen and spent most of my time in Taipei exploring these 'old town' districts to the West of the city centre.

It was also interesting to see the glitzy parts, and of course neighbourhoods always have layers and layers of old stuff interspersed with the new (particularly in East Asia), but I just think places where the history is so tangible are intrinsically fascinating.

From the Bopiliao Historic Block, I walked through the 2/28 Peace Park towards Zhongshan District. I wanted to go visit a vegan restaurant called Bella Vita just off the busy Nanjing East road.

It was definitely worth the walk - the tempeh lunch set was amazing and made me want to come back later to try out some other dishes. I then had coffee for dessert at the nearby Fika Fika café, which was exceedingly trendy. Café culture is definitely booming in Taiwan. There are plenty of affordable coffeeshops mixed with specialised cafés like this, and overall, the average quality of coffee is really good. When it comes to food and drink, Taiwan is basically heaven for someone like me.

With my stomach full, I walked to the Nanjing Fuxing subway stop and took the Wenhu line to its terminus, Taipei Zoo at the eastern end of the city. I wasn't interested in the zoo, but right alongside it is a gondola system taking visitors up to the Maokong tea plantations. There are two types of gondolas - regular ones and ones with a glass floor. Despite my fear of heights, I decided to go for the latter. It was scary but also incredibly pretty to look at the green blur of forests below my feet.

Maokong is a suburb of Taipei located on a hill high above the city. It's one of the most famous tea-growing regions of Taiwan, specialising in tieguanyin tea. I was excited to try and buy some tea in Taiwan, because some of the best oolong tea in the world is grown there, and oolong is one of my favourite tea varieties. The most famous oolong-growing place is probably Alishan, where I couldn't visit this time, but walking around Maokong was exciting enough for me - I'd never seen tea plantations before.

I ended up following a trail from the gondola stop to a temple that had amazing views over the city. Dusk was falling as I got there, and I thought it's one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen.