23 november 2016
It has been some time since my last travel report. I experienced that sometimes it is hard to start writing a new travel report, especially if you become some sort of rhythm here. That rhythm also makes sure that everyday life here becomes normal and that you notice less the different aspects of life here. Therefore I will give you first a travel report of my trip to Taiwan, which was in the end of October right after the midterms. I was actually very lucky to go there, hence also the almost last-minute booking of the trip. Originally there was a home exam planned on the last day of the midterms for which I would have 2 days to make it. However, the professor decided to publish it already in the beginning of the week. This meant that I almost had a week of holiday if I would skip one lecture. Thus the only 4 days before our holiday we booked our trip to Taiwan together with a Frenchman, Pierre, and an Italian guy, Davide! Before I will continue with what we did, I first want to give you the story of one of the weirdest nights of my life which happened right after I came back from Taiwan: the Jimjilbang.
On Sunday the 30th of October we, I and Pierre (Davide went back earlier), had our flight back from Taipei to Seoul with China Airlines in a Boeing 737. What?! A 737 for such a short distance. Yes, we thought that as well. But if the plane is completely full, I guess around 300/400 passengers, who cares? It was a nice flight anyway with the movie Finding Dory and a good dinner. We arrived about 15 minutes later at 21:45, which was still fine since the last bus to Daejeon would leave around 23:00.
The immigration procedure took a little bit longer than expected, so we got outside at 22:30. That was fine, we went to the ticket office to get some tickets for the bus to Daejeon. 없어요 . There are no tickets anymore. Fuck! How do we get back to Daejeon now? There were no trains as well anymore, so we decided to get the subway to Seoul station in the hope that there would still be a train going. We arrived there a little before 12:00am and of course, there are no trains anymore to Daejeon. Since Pierre had some early lecture, we decided to take the high speed train at 05:15am. Only 5 hours of survival seemed doable.
We first went to McDonalds to buy some food and coffee to survive the night since the McDonalds would close at 1am. In the meanwhile we were searching on our mobile phones for a bar that was open late enough to survive the night. It was difficult to find something with the slow internet. At some point Pierre had an idea what we could do. He heard of a 24-hour bathhouse before and said that it could be an option. He found one close to the station, so we went there.
The entrance fee to the Jimjilbang was about 15,000 won (13 euro). We got entrance to the whole building and we got some clothes as well. The bathhouse was gender separated. First we got in the locker room and we were approached by a Korean senior who said that we had to strip down naked to go to the bath area. So we did that, we put all our clothing in the locker and went to the basement.
So here we are at 01:15am in the night, naked, in a bathhouse with other Koreans, some sleeping, some relaxing and some drunk who just came from a party. While just being in my thoughts in one of the baths, I realized how crazy the night turned out to be: What the heck did I just do to end up here? There were several baths and saunas with different temperatures and minerals. I stayed there for about an hour just sinking in my thoughts. But it gets even more weirder.
So after one hour I decided to leave the bath area, put my night clothes on that I got from the people and decided to explore the building. Here again I was baffled what I encountered. There were literally hundreds of people sleeping in building. The building had a total of 6 floors with a sleeping area, a lot of formentation rooms (still no clue what it supposed to be), a computer room, a restaurant, a small bar, a small library, an ice room, message rooms and even a snore room. I realized then that a Jimjilbang is much more than a bathhouse. It also serves as a sleeping/resting place for people who need it for a couple of hours. It took me one hour to discover all of the place and to realize exactly where I am currently at.
There are no beds in the rooms. You can take a small carpet, a towel and a pillow and you make your own bed. So in the end I just took that and made my own bed in one of the floors. It was already 03:00am by that time. So I rested/slept for about an hour until I had to get ready for our early train. Eventually we got home at our dorm at 07:00am where we could finally sleep a bit.
In the end I was actually quite happy that I could experience the Jimjilbang. It is completely weird and almost surrealistic, which was probably exaggerated by the fact we went there at 01:00am, but it is also something to do if you really want to experience the Korean culture. I can recommend anyone to go to a Jimjilbang just for the bathhouse, but as well as for a cheap sleeping place!
Flying late in the evening with Mandarin Airlines, a daughter company of China Airlines, we arrived at the airport at 00:30am. The heat immediately struck us already since it was still 27 degrees instead of the 12/13 degrees back in South Korea. Finally at 02:00am we arrived at Pillow hostel, which was a brand new hostel with good facilities.
The next day we decided to not visit the main attractions since Davide was arriving in the evening. Therefore we visited some smaller, but very nice temples. These Buddhism temples were beautiful. It is much more colorful than temples in South Korea and it is always filled with people. It was quite surprising that people from all ages were coming to visit the temple. I guess that the reason is that Buddhism/Taoism is more a way of living instead of a traditional religion. That is at least what I experienced. These temples were usually filled with incense coming from the small wooden sticks that were lit up. On the other hand there were also many people throwing two small wooden pieces on the ground. This is one of their traditions to forecast the future. The way it works is to ask yourself a yes/no question and depending on how the pieces fall on the ground you will have your answer. Another cultural aspect of Taipei are the night markets. There are plenty of night markets which open around dinner time until 12:00am or later. These markets are a kind of meeting place for locals to have dinner or to go shopping. There are many, many stall of food some with delicious food others with a horrendous smell. We ended the evening with sitting at a 7/11 drinking some beers with an Indian expat since we couldn’t find any bar (which is apparently quite difficult in Taipei). We argued for almost 2 hours if you should start your career at (company related to) the military.
On the Thursday Davide joined us, so we had a full day of sightseeing. I will sum it up what we did:
- National Palace Museum. A museum with beautiful treasures. It is recommended to go there for about 2 or 3 hours.
- Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. A big square with the two huge building on the side, of which I believe are the National Theater and the National Concert Hall. The Memorial Hall stands in the middle and honors former president Chaing Kai-shek of the Republic of China. He must have done great things.
- Visited another temple.
- Went for another night market where we had dinner and drank some beers.
- Went for the National University of Taiwan to look for some bars. However, we concluded that there were almost no bars there. Even some exchange students told us so. Therefore we headed back to the hostel and called it a day.
The Friday we went out of the city center to Jiufen, that will be elaborated in the next paragraph. Therefore I will jump immediately to the Saturday, which was our last full day in Taipei. The day started with a nice McDonald’s morning hamburger. Apparently our hostel has the policy to provide some hangover breakfast on Saturday and Sunday. I can imagine that it can be nice if you’re hungover, but not really as a normal breakfast. In the morning we went to the Xiaomi store, since Pierre wanted some cheap gadgets (Xiaomi is a cheap but decent smartphone brand). After that we went to a temple nearby, which was again crowded. It was fascinating to see what all these people were doing. They stand in line for some ‘cleaning’ of the clerks of the temple. You can be cleaned yourself or your clothing with incense. This symbolizes all the bad experiences you had being cleaned from your body or your clothes.
In the afternoon we ended up in the gay parade of Taipei! The evening before we finally found some bars, but it was apparently in the gay district. It was really crowded there and now we know why. The gay parade was huge. With 82,000 people is was apparently Asia’s biggest gay parade. We even walked a part of the gay parade with them and were interviewed by someone to show our support for the gay community in Taiwan. The gay parade it also a bit different than usually in Europe. In Europe it is one big party and everyone is usually drinking some beers with it. That was not the case here, it was just walking the gay parade mainly. It was really fun to walk with the gay parade, but some people also had some very provocative outfit. Well you almost cannot define it as an outfit. Anyway, it was fun to experience it.
Unfortunately the weather in the late afternoon was really bad, so the view at the Taipei101 tower was too bad to go to. Instead we went to the movie theater and watched Dr. Strange. I can recommend this movie for sure. Especially since Benedict Cumberbatch is just awesome. In evening we went to bar close to our hostel with a lot of foreigners and drank some beers again.
Jiufen & Elephant’s head
Lastly, I want to give a short description of our daytrip to Jiufen. Jiufen is a popular touristic destination, which was also the décor of the popular Anime movie Spirited Away. The city and the area is truly beautiful. The old street in the city center is the place to be. The about 300 meter long street has many little shops, which sell food, souvenirs or other stuff. This sounds a bit cliché, but the atmosphere is great. We ended up going in a popular tea house in one of the side street where I had some special tea. The tea set was delicious and fun as well. I had to make my own little cups of tea after the lady showed me the traditional procedure.
After that we went with the touristic bus to the famous Golden Waterfall. After a picture moment there we hesitated a bit what to do since all the attractions were a bit far away. In the end we went back to the city of the train station and then to a close fisher village. We didn’t expect much, however there was one popular attractions there: The Elephant’s Head. It is a rock structure which resembles an Elephant’s Head, but the view of the mountains is also beautiful. Definitely a recommendation!
Look at all the pictures below in the viewer. My next trip will be to Tokyo tomorrow (Thursday 24th of November)! So keep watching my Facebook for my next trip!