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Welcome to Day 5 of Janet and Randy's Taipei Adventure 2018

Thursday, April 5th, 2018

Woke up just before 6:00am.  We got showered and ready and headed up for breakfast right at 7:00am.  We didn't linger this morning as the plan was to go to the Maokong Gondola today and we wanted to get there before the crowds.  It was another national holiday today, so we were expecting it to get busy.

We left our hotel just after 7:30am and walked over to the MRT station.  This time we just had to stay on the same MRT line - all the way to the last station - which is the Taipei Zoo station.  Even though it was fairly early in the morning, the train was quite busy.  There seemed to be a lot of families heading to the zoo or gondola.  There are limited seats on the train.  I ended up giving my seat up and stood most of the ride to the zoo.

Dennis was already at the zoo station when we arrived, and then we walked down the street to the Maokong Gondola, getting there just after 8:30am (which is the opening time for a national holiday).  There were already some people already there, so it wasn't dead like when we went to Taipei 101.  A person had to buy a ticket from a ticket machine, and you had to use cash.  Dennis had purchased an EasyPass that can be used on the MRT and apparently can be used for the gondola as well.  Randy and I had purchased an iPass for the MRT, but it could NOT be used on the gondola, so we had to purchase our tickets using cash.  It's definitely difficult to tell what card can be used when.

We were a little confused as to what line to get into.  Apparently there are some gondola cabins that have a glass floor (called a Crystal Cabin).  They don't cost any extra, but there are not a lot of these cabins, so you have to wait in line longer.  We initially got in the line for the Crystal Cabin before realizing that the line for the regular cabins was much shorter (and we didn't really care if we got a glass floor or not).   Effectively you look down at the trees... really it's not that exciting to have the glass floor.

So, it didn't take too long to get onto the gondola and head up the mountain.  The gondola has 3 stations - the Taipei Zoo South station, the Zhinan Temple station, and the final Maokong station.  You pay less if you get off at one of the lower stations.  Even though it wasn't even 9:00am yet, it was quite warm out, and these cabins were not air conditioned, so they were a little on the stuffy side.

About half an hour later, we arrived at the top station.  At the top, there are a number of different tea houses spread along a windy road.  I had also heard that there is a Tea Promotion Center, where I thought you could learn about the different types of tea that are grown in Taiwan.  So, I suggested we head there first.  It was about a kilometer away on a narrow road that was also used by vehicles and scooters.  Sometimes there was a bit of shoulder to walk on, and sometimes there was not.  The good thing was that we were up there early, so there wasn't also hordes of other tourists walking down the road as well.

We finally made it to the Tea Promotion Center, and there didn't seem to be much there.  There was one room that had a display of various machines used in the drying and roasting of tea.  There was also some different types of tea behind glass on a wall, but there was no English to explain what the different types were.  It looked like there was TV to show a film about tea, but I didn't know how to start the film and there wasn't anyone else around to ask.  There was an outdoor garden area, that according to the map, had a tea garden.  But the garden wasn't open until 10:30am (we were there around 9:45am).  There were also a couple of levels of seating.  But other than that, there didn't seem to be much to do there (or at least not that early in the morning).  We did manage to see a dispenser of free tea, so we had a mug of that, then headed back towards the gondola.  Tea was hot and good... not really worth the walk over to get a mug of free tea and a closed off garden.

On the way back, we stopped at a beverage cart with a fabulous view.  I had an iced cocoa, Randy had an iced milk tea, and Dennis had a matcha smoothie.  The drinks went down well after walking around in the hot sun.  After we finished our drinks, we continued on to the gondola.  We noticed that there were a lot more people walking along the road now, and the food vendors were now out selling food at the side of the road.  We even saw one lady sitting under some trees selling grilled sausages.  Grilling unknown meat in the brush...hmmmm.

There were lots of people pouring off the gondola now, but there was no line up for us to head back down.  We even got a cabin all to ourselves.  On the way down, we did get a bit of a breeze coming in the small windows that can be opened, so it was a comfortable ride.

Once at the bottom, we hopped back on the MRT and headed to the National Cultural and Creative Gift Center.  This is a place that sells locally made items and souvenirs.  There are 4 floors, and the staff does speak English, which is helpful.  There are actually a lot of really nice items there, and we picked up a few souvenirs.  However, it was interesting in that for any items on the main or basement floors, you had to pay for on the main floor.  For anything on the second or third floor, you had to pay for them on the second floor.  So, you can't take any unpaid items from the basement or main floor up to the second or third floor.  I had a basket of items from the main floor, so I just left it with the cashier on the main floor when I went up to the second floor (and paid for the items when I got back down).

After we finished our shopping, Dennis decided to head back to his hotel, because the client he had visited on the Tuesday wanted him to provide them with some more information.  It was lunch time by now, so Randy and I decided to go grab some food.  We checked out ideas on Yelp, and headed towards the train station to check out some of the options.

However, as it being a national holiday, a lot of shops and restaurants near the main train station were closed.  So, we decided to head down into the train station to look for places to eat.  Luckily, all the shops and restaurants in the station were open, and we came across a small food court.  After looking at the options, we decided to get food from a place called TKK Chicken - which serves a type of Taiwanese fried chicken.  We ordered a dinner for two, which included 2 chicken legs with the original coating, a chicken breast with the spicy coating, a deep fried ball of rice, fries and 2 drinks.  The original coating chicken was just okay, but the spicy piece was much better.  The fries were actually sweet potato fries, and they were a little soggy.  And the fried rice ball wasn't my favourite either.  But, it did the job and now we can say we've had Taiwanese fast food.  In the same food court was a Krispy Kreme.  We figured - what the hell - and ended up getting donuts for dessert.  Randy had a cookies and cream donut (which was strangely quite flavourless), and I had a strawberry glaze donut (which had overpowering strawberry flavour).  However, that didn't stop us from eating both donuts.  So the flavours sort of balanced each other out... overly flavourful and lightly flavoured.

After our meal, we decided to head back to our hotel.  We started walking through the train station to find the train line we needed.  On the way, we came across a Taipei Train Station souvenir store. It was a small store, but actually had some nice things there.  So, we ended up buying a couple of souvenirs.  We continued to the Blue line, then transferred to the Brown line to get back to our hotel.  Once back at the hotel, it was nice to just be off our feet and out of the heat.  Then we grabbed our laptops and went up to the club lounge to catch up on the travel journal and download photos from the day before. 

Around 6:00pm, Randy and I decided to go check out one of the night markets - the Raohe Street Market.  It was fairly simple to get to - we just took the Brown line to the Green line and got off at Songshan station (which was the end of the Green line).  We left the station via exit #5, and the night market was just across the street.  There was quite a crowd at the entrance to the street, and that should've been our first clue that it was going to be busy.  After taking some photos of the entrance, we headed over to check it out.  We ended up being part of a wall of people slowly walking down the right side of the market.  The market itself is in the middle of the street, and there is a small walkway between the market stands and the regular shops.  If you want to stop to purchase something, or even to just to stop walking, you and to push yourself to one side or the other, otherwise you would continue to be swept along with the tide of humanity.  In this picture, it shows a rare gap in the people - otherwise it was like one continuous crowd.  It was way busier than what we anticipated.  Really it was unfortunate as we were looking forward to trying a few of the Taiwanese foods.

Now, I'm not sure, but I believe that it isn't normally this crowded, and that the massive amount of people were due to the national holiday.  Or at least I hope that is the case - because otherwise this market would not be worth the hassle of visiting if it is like this all the time.

We did manage to stop at one vendor and got some shrimp tempura.  It was okay - but not anything overly special.  We continued walking along the market, but due to the crowds, we couldn't even tell where the market actually ended.  We were debating as to how far we should continue when we came across a rather foul smell.  At first I thought that it was some sort of sewer gas, but it got worse as we continued walking.  It was a rank smell and it was making both Randy and I nauseous.  So, we figured this was a going spot to turn around, and Randy noticed that the smell was from a dish called stinky tofu.  It is a delicacy here, but I can't imagine eating it if the smell (from a distance) makes me want to throw up.  So, we turned around and headed back down the other side of the market.  That smell was permeating my clothing !

I had remembered reading about the Rainbow Bridge that was near this market, and as we were heading back, I noticed a sign for this bridge.  So, we pushed our way through the crowd to a side street to check out the bridge.  It was just a block away, and looked quite pretty.  It also got us away from the crowds.  Rather than heading back into the crowded market, we found that we could just follow the street along the river for a bit, and then head down another side street that would take us back to the MRT station.  So, we did that.

We hopped back on the train and headed back to our hotel.  As we had only had a couple of shrimp tempura for our supper, we decided to stop at the shopping mall near our hotel for something to eat.  There was a large food court in the basement of the shopping centre, so Randy ordered some Indian food.  I wasn't overly hungry, so I just ate a bit of his food.

We got back to our hotel around 9:00pm.  It had been a long day, so I was in bed and asleep by 9:30pm.

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