Day 4 in Taiwan began with rain and ended with rain. With ponchos and more new umbrellas, we set out for Tamsui to see the Taiwanese coast and visit the Tien Yuan temple. Upon arriving in Tamsui, we grabbed some coffee and started up a Venice Beach-like boardwalk in search of lunch. There were countless vendors selling fruit, meat-on-stick, and sausages the size of my forearm.
Wanting a more substantial meal, we decided to forgo these stalls and we eventually found the most random restaurant option that either of us have ever experienced. Being in Taiwan, we found it funny to come across a Norwegian restaurant and knew that we had found the correct establishment in which to eat and avoid rain. We ordered curry that came with kimchi on the side. Strangest meal and restaurant we could have imagined.
After lunch we went to the correct bus-bay in order to make our way to the Tien Yuan Temple. A kind Taiwanese woman informed us that the bus would not be arriving for another 40-50 minutes. Not willing to wait, we jumped in a taxi and showed the driver a picture of the temple. He nodded and sped off in a direction that we hoped would lead to the correct location. This driver knew exactly what he was doing and showed us one hell of a ride. Cutting into oncoming traffic to pass slower cars, accelerating wildly around hairpin turns, and only slightly avoiding pedestrians, we raced to the temple in ten minutes and departed our Gran Turismo-esque experience.
Standing at the base of Tien Yuan’s upper staircase, we were immediately rendered speechless by the building’s sheer size.With 5 levels of 20-foot ceilings, its round shape is a truly beautiful sight. Even more stunning is the detail work inside this temple. Every inch of this place is intricately painted and adorned with statues and pictures of deities. It was truly beautiful.
After exploring the first level we went up a staircase that followed the curve of the exterior walls and came upon another beautiful alter and shrine. Then we went up another level to find a new room. And again, and again. Every floor had a new and interesting set of statues and every level provided increasingly astounding views of the temple grounds and mountainous landscape. The wind rattled through the 360-degree windows to create an eerily beautiful auditory effect as we marched up and down the stairs, making sure that we had seen it all.
Eventually we hiked back down past Tien Yuan towards the main road looking for a taxi. The rain started to pour and we took refuge at another temple down the hill. We had been stunned to find Tien Yuan so empty but came to realize that the downpour and easier-to-access temple on the lower hill may have attributed to this. This temple was beautiful as well and had a great number of people lighting incense and praying with the downpour of rain just on the edge of their consciousness. We took shelter at this temple for a while, waiting for the rains to lessen before hailing another taxi to be driven back to the station.
That night, after a long and wet day, we ventured out once more to see the famous Shilin Night Market. We made the mistake of not taking many photos as we explored the icon alleys of Taipei’s most famous Night Market but we did enjoy ourselves. Having spent a great deal of time in Korea’s markets and shopping districts, we were less impressed by Shilin than we hoped to be. If we could do it again, we would have gone to one of the more traditional Night Markets instead of the famous tourist-version. We explored the tight alleys, bought some funny pastries, and plugged our noses as the putrid smells of stinky tofu wafted from each and every food vendor’s stall.
We attempted to eat in the underground food court but encountered endless lines and really REALLY stinky tofu and opted, instead, for a couple of vendors on the street level. Most notably, we ate at Prince Cheese: a take-out fried baked potato vendor that loads every imaginable topping onto your spud. Broccoli, pineapple, sour cream, ham, bacon, corn, and chives were smothered in nacho cheese and served to us in a plastic container that could barely contain the liquid cheese. As artery-clogging as it it sounds (and was), this freak of nature potato was fantastic. 10/10 would buy again. Disappointed that we had only bought one potato and unwilling to get back into the growing line, we departed Shilin for the Kevin Business hotel where we could find some much needed rest and dry clothes.