Another early morning start out of Dubai at 4:50am and it was 7 hours and 10 minutes over to Taipei in Taiwan. Last time I was here it was over two and a half years ago, so I was excited to be heading back and exploring more of what Taiwan has to offer.
Landing around 16:30, we made our way over to the hotel and a few crew had arranged to meet at 7pm to go for dinner. I was craving Din Tai Fung but the majority of people wanted to go to the night market at Shihlin which I was happy to go to as I’d not been before.
We jumped in three taxis and wandered into the depths and bright lights of the night market. It was filled with people bartering over goods, picking up items for their dinner or debating over the abundance of food to go items that were readily available.
We weaved in and out of the different side streets picking up different goods. There were major brands such as Nike, Miniso and Adidas slotted in between market stalls which was quite odd but meant you really could get anything and everything here.
The thing with eating out with a large bunch of crew is no one can EVER decide where to eat. In the end myself and two of the girls stumbled across an incredibly busy restaurant compared with the empty ones surrounding which gave me a more safe eating feeling and we joined the queue to get a table and said anyone was more than welcome to join us. I opted for the pork katsu cutlet with rice and vegetables for only $100 Taiwanese dollars (£2.50) what an absolute BARGAIN. This included unlimited cold drinks such as iced green tea which we had a few refreshing glasses of!
It doesn’t look overly appetising but it tastes great and they even offered free extra rice as the kitchen was closing and they had an abundance left.
We then weaved our way throughout the market to the exit and called for a sugar glazed strawberry stick which is a traditional sweet treat eaten around the Chinese New Year which is approaching at the beginning of February.
In the UK around Halloween/Bonfire night we eat toffee apples on a stick which are great and so tasty, and my mum buys me one every year. But the apple always goes a little mushy which ruins it a little for me. But with a strawberry, it doesn’t matter that it’s a little mushy and works really well. Absolute game changer in my eyes, I think the UK needs to catch on!
The only weird thing was is that the last fruit was not actually a strawberry but a tomato?! We had a shock when we bit into the last one expecting the sweetness of the strawberry but experienced the tang of a tomato. Still very enjoyable none the less!
We jumped in a taxi and made our way back to the hotel where I climbed into bed ready for an early start of exploring once more.
I had booked a tour to the tea plantations through the hotel concierge. I’d seen a few crew recommend it on our layover tips facebook page and the timings were great so I could sleep before the flight back to Dubai. I was picked up at 7:40am and we picked up another couple of guys visiting from Singapore from another hotel before we made our way out of Taipei towards New Taipei City.
As we veered up the windy mountain roads and out of the busy city we were welcomed with the most incredible views. With it being mid week and very early we were able to jump out of the car on the road side to take in the breath taking view stood before us.
The early morning mist made me feel like I was in the depths of the jungle, just call me Jungle Jessica from now on? We headed further up the mountain side to a place called a Thousand Island Lakes. The water paired with the lush green back drop of the tea plantations was incredible.
We walked in and out of the spaces in between the tea plants whilst the tour guide told us all about the area and how the young people don’t want to pick tea leaves as did many years ago, and that’s why we’re able to wander in and out of the strips of tea leaves.
Myself and the two guys also on the tour got talking and we discovered he was ex crew for Singapore Airlines and we were chatting away about crew life as we moved across to the tea tasting part of our day (ie what I’d been looking forward to as I drink copious amounts of tea daily).
A local tea producer brought us into his shop for a tasting session of three locally produced teas: Baozhong Oolong Tea, honey black tea and lower altitude green oolong tea.
Each tea we participated in a small ceremony where we poured the tea from different cups and massaged the porcelain to enhance the smell and lower the temperature for optimum drinking before we held the tea in our mouths for five seconds before finally drinking. A different tea drinking experience to when I pop the kettle on, but an enjoyable one albeit! I felt very refreshed.
The teas were delicious and at the end he served us a peanut sugar treat after the slight bitterness of the three different teas which tasted so good I bought myself a bag for $200.
We then moved across to the Pinglin Tea Museum which told us all about the different tea making processes throughout the years and the differences in tea all around the world. I learnt a lot about tea and there was a lot of interactive and virtual reality learning which was very different but also good if you have children with you!
I even learnt this about UK tea drinking which I’ll be able to share on board when I get asked by crew “why are British crew so obsessed with tea?”.
“In the 16th century, tea was introduced into Portugal from China. It was called chà. In the 17th century, Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza was married to the King of England Charles II. Tea was one important item in her dowry, and thus was introduced into the lives of English royalty and nobles as a luxury enjoyed by the upper class. In the 18th century, as tea imports increased, the public began to imitate the nobility to buy tea, and tea drinking became a symbol of affluence and fashion. In the 19th century, Britain began massive tea growth in India and Sri Lanka, and the price of tea declined. During the industrial revolution, factory workers worked long hours, so the employers provided tea to the workers during morning and afternoon breaks to boost work morale, and “tea drinking” became popular and a part of life in Britain.
Around 1840, Anna Maria, Duchess of Bedford would feel hungry in the afternoon because of a small lunch, and the elaborate dinner ritual wouldn’t start until 8pm, so she often invited good friends to have tea together in the afternoon and had delicate refreshments to satisfy the hunger. Surprisingly, such afternoon tea became popular amongst aristocrats and evolved into English afternoon tea culture that is still popular all over the world today” (Pinglin Tea Museum)
From here the tour ended and as it approached lunchtime, we were taken back to our hotels. As I’d not eaten I was so hungry, and when I got to the hotel I googled the location of Din Tai Fung. With it only being a fifteen minute walk away, I put in my headphones and walked through the busy streets of Taipei ready for food.
It was only a twenty minute wait when I got to the restaurant and I sat scouring the menu whilst I waited opting for the pork xaoi long bao, pork and shrimp wonton noodle soup and a side of water spinach.
The food was incredible as always, and I walked back to the hotel feeling full and content ready to crash for five hours before our wake up call to venture back to Dubai.
I had such a fun trip to Taipei and theres a lot more I want to explore here too! Will look forward to seeing it on my roster in the near future. As always, feel free to follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more daily updates: