Oh hi! It's been just over a week since I left Bangkok and arrived in Taipei and I'm loving it here. It's amazing how a change in both pace and climate have reenergised me and reignited my passion for exploring. Whilst I loved the time I spent in SE Asia this past year, 8 fun-packed months in total, I've definitely learnt that hot weather is just not for me in the long term. Good to know! Relentless heat seems to sap my energy in a way that even the darkest winter days don't manage to do and there's only so much exploring I can get done in the heat before I just want to curl up and hide in an air conditioned room or, when I reach breaking point, in another country with much milder weather. This weekend's cold snap aside January in Taipei is very similar to March or April in the south of England, drizzly and around 17°. I find it so much easier to explore a new city wrapped in a few layers and with an umbrella to hand than I do when the mercury is hitting 30° plus every day.
I'm going to be spending a month in Taipei and this marks the start of a slightly different style of travel for me. Over the next 6 months I'll be spending longer in each place I visit, a month here, a month in Tokyo, a couple of months volunteering at a cat sanctuary, some travel in-between and an open month in South Korea at the end... maybe by then I'll want to be moving constantly again? For now though I've definitely been missing some of the great things that come with being settled somewhere more long term - making friends, cooking breakfast at home, having the occasional chilled day, getting to know somewhere properly, actually unpacking my backpack. And on top of all of that Air B&B style accommodation is cheaper if you stop somewhere for a month or more.
This is my new street, I love it! I'm definitely still in that stage of being somewhere new where literally every single sign and doorway and shop front is fascinating. I love that feeling!
It's sometimes hard to know where to base yourself when you've never been somewhere before so a good bet is to pick something within walking distance of a couple of different MRT / metro / tube stations, that way you can get almost anywhere in your new city easily.The MRT here is a really cheap way to get around if you aren't in the mood for walking long distances and one of the first things Nick and I did is sort ourselves out with shiny new Easy Cards. It wasn't as easy as Lonely Planet made it out to be as you can only buy a new Easy Card at stations on the blue line... it took us exploring a couple of red and green line stations before we worked that out though!
I'm obviously going to write some more in depth posts about being vegan in Taipei but so far so good. Being vegan here is super easy and there are dining options for most budgets. I've also been surprised and totally delighted by how much variation there is in the vegan cuisine here. So far I've enjoyed bubbling, flavourful hot pots, delicate risottos, French macarons, ice cream cakes, huge bowls of ramen heaped with veggies and mock meats, ridiculous sandwiches, great bread, Taiwanese pineapple cake, tiramisu, and some of the best Japanese food I've ever tasted. There's even an all vegan supermarket here and thanks to Instagram I went out last night and met a whole bunch of local vegans who I'm hoping to spend more time with over the coming weeks.
I'm also loving having a tiny but totally perfectly sized kitchen. It has one electric hob, perfect for all of my tofu scramble needs, as well as a microwave and a toaster oven that just fits in two slices of bread. As you can imagine my toast game has been pretty strong this week! There's even a weekend farmer's market just a short walk from my apartment and whilst I don't see myself cooking up anything fancy and veggie-full it's a great place to get some fruit, fresh juice and sweet potatoes which I have grown to love since I've been in Asia.
Another of my favourite things about Taiwan so far is that the people here are so friendly. The Taiwanese people I've met are seriously rivalling Albanians for the much coveted most hospitable people ever crown. It seems like everywhere I go people want to give me free food, advice about where to eat and their telephone numbers just in case I get lost or have a question about Taipei. My Air B&B host even sent her friend round with a rug to cover the tiled floor in the apartment prior to the weekend as the temperatures were set to drop down to 3° and she was worried that we'd have cold feet! Taipei also seems to be a very dog friendly city - everywhere I go I see cute dogs dressed in their winter jackets hanging out with their humans who clearly love them. Best!
Nick and I have a whole spreadsheet of day trips to go on and sights to see but one spot that needed to be ticked off early was Houtong, often known as Houtong cat village! Yeah you read that right, cat village! Houtong is situated about an hour and 20 minutes from Taipei by train. You catch one train from Taipei main station to Ruifang and then change trains and catch another train to Houtong. Obviously it was super cute and as well as actual cats there were cat statues, cat signs, cat shrines, cat based artwork and shops selling cat things. I bought some adorable kitty socks! I think that pictures can do this place more justice than words can...
Im not 100% sure how Houtong became a cat town. It seems like it used to be a mining town but after that industry collapsed a cat loving villager got some volunteers together to look after the abandoned cats and now Houtong has become a whole village of cat lovers as well as a much visited tourist destination. It was such a cute place for a day out! I didn't find any vegan food there though, there isn't even a convenience store, so don't forget to pack some snacks.