The thing I was probably most excited about doing in Taipei was a series of free walking tours I’d found out about online, organised by Tour Me Away. It seemed like the perfect way to meet locals, as well as fellow tourists, plus I absolutely love learning about other countries’ history and culture.
Spolier alert: I did 3 of their tours and they were all absolutely amazing and run by THE friendliest bunch of people. (The lovely Cindy and I swapped Facebook details and later that week she helped me find a bus route to Jiufen!). Although all their tours are technically free, they do rely on donations to keep them running. It’s all done by passing around envelopes at the end of each tour so you can donate whatever amount you like without the pressure!
On my second full day in Taipei, I went on their ‘Taipei Chill Out Tour‘. It was just under 3 hours long and it took us around Da’an Park, through the backstreets (and some mainstreets), through an amazing foodie courtyard-type-thing and ended up by the magnificent Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall (more on this in a later post). Unfortunately I was having too much fun to take lots of photos throughout 😦
Thanks to Tour Me Away, I discovered bubble tea and mango shaved ice and life hasn’t been the same since!! Bubble tea (or boba tea, boba milk tea) is a Taiwanese drink first ‘discovered’ in the 1980s and traditionally consists of iced milk tea with chewy tapioca balls at the bottom. These days, you can get a whole plethora of flavours and topping combinations. I first tried strawberry green tea which had real strawberry bits in it. Bubble tea is generally a sweet drink but you can customise how much sugar and ice you want, if any. My favourite branch in Taipei was Coco. (I was super excited to have found a one-off branch of this in Hong Kong a month later!! And in London there’s a couple of places that do good bubble tea – my favourite is Biju – but so far nowhere is as good as Coco).
Mango shaved ice is like a giant mango-meal all in one. On recommendation from one of our tour guides, I got mine from Smoothie House. (And I was weirdly delighted with the spring-y string bag they give you to carry it in!). Basically, you get mango ice cream and chunks of mango on a bed of mango-flavoured shaved ice. It’s the best treat on a hot humid day. I also recommend you share a bowl with someone else! I couldn’t finish it all and after this on top of my bubble tea, I was ready to burst (and we still had more walking to do).
This particular walking tour was also where I met the lovely Nina! She’s also British and had been in Taiwan for the summer teaching at a children’s camp. Once our tour ended, we both went to see the changing of the guard at Chiang Kai-Shek memorial and then just ended up wandering around together for the rest of the evening (including drinking more bubble tea) which was wonderful! You know when you meet someone and you feel like you’ve met before or you’ve known each other much longer than you really have? Well Nina was one of those. We went on another tour together later in the week and also went to a night market. And we’re planning to meet up in London this June! 🙂
Basically, 100% make sure you go on at least one Tour We Away tour if you come to Taipei. You will have a tonne of fun, meet friendly people (both guides and fellow tourists) and see and learn lots of interesting things!