My first venture into the Chinese-speaking part of East Asia! And it was awesome!
Taipei is about a 4 hour flight from Tokyo, but is another world completely. Unlike the rather un-golden days of this Golden Week, Taiwan was gloriously warm and tropical. It was kind of odd not to be able to speak the local language (an unusual case for me), but thanks to its colonized past a combination of Japanese and English (and lots of gestures) seemed to work just fine. We stayed at the Eight Elephants Hostel, which is in a convenient spot and very friendly, and then rode the amazingly cheap subway all over town. So, in no particular order, here are my Taipei stories and recommendations:
* Thanks to a huge Buddhist population, vegetarian food is everywhere, and the faux-meat is unbelievable. We had different versions, but the best was Spring Natural Vegetarian Restaurant near Taiwan University. Food in Taipei is CHEAP, and this was a 'splurge' at 500 TD (under 1500 yen). It is a big favorite of Buddhist nuns from a nearby temple, and the choice was amazing. Vegan sushi and sashimi, tons of different kinds of tofu, gluten meat and veggies, and they even have some unbelievable desserts. Seriously, it is so nice to have so much choice!
* Longshan Temple is a delightful burst of colour, with the roof extravagantly decorated with a Gaudi-esque profusion of statues, tiles and glass. The thick clouds of incense, mixed with the smell of the floral offerings is intoxicating, and the decor gloriously over-the-top. The area nearby is pretty shitamachi-like, but it is definitely an interesting area to stroll around (just watch out for very curious old men).
* Danshui is right near the sea (and quite a ways out of the city) but makes for a lovely walk, and if you go earlier in the day then we did, you can see a lot of colonial architecture. Still, watching the sunset from the boardwalk is a lovely way to conclude a day, especially while eating the wonderous creation that is a rice wrap filled with peanut brittle shavings, cilantro and icecream.
* I went to more places as well (National Palace Art Museum, photo studios etc..), but the last sight to check out before heading back to the airport had to be the Taipei 101 building. It is designed to look like a stalk of bamboo, and incorporates feng shui concepts (such as auspicious numbers and designs) in its construction. Not to mention just looks stunning against the beautiful blue sky!