Taipei Time!: Day 3 – Taipei Zoo and Maokong

After a night full of dreams of being harassed by a stalker named Andrew Miller (how did I know his name? He left his mail in the mud behind the garden fence) I awoke feeling incredibly chipper. No more threats of jetlag or migraines, I’m now on Taiwanese time and the sun was blazing.

Since we, stupidly, practically skipped yesterday’s  breakfast it was time to make amends. A visit to a Yamazaki Cafe in Zhongshan Underground Mall yielded some delicious breads – the puffy pork floss bun was my favourite – and a nice big serving of iced soy milk. There was no way that hunger was going to ruin my time at Taipei Zoo.

If, like us, you primarily use public transport on holiday, then you’d appreciate the driverless rubber tired Brown Line that takes you all the way to Taipei Zoo. The bulk of the journey is overground and you get to see the incredible differences between the various parts of Taipei City. It also afforded me my first view of Taipei 101, a building I hope to become better acquainted with soon.

When reading up on Taipei Zoo, there are a lot of things talking about how it is the biggest zoo in Asia. I can believe this now that I have been and am still perplexed as to how the entrance fee is the equivalent of £1.50 given how incredible this zoo is. If you’ve read my other travelogues you’ll know that I really love zoos and that I probably know what I talk about when I say that Taipei Zoo is exceptional.

Even at 104 years Taipei Zoo is still doing so much to improve the, already large, enclosures of their animals. The downside of this is that some animals were not around or had moved to temporary new housing (for example the hippos had to be moved next to the Asian elephants after their frisky behaviour resulted in the enclosure becoming too small to deal with the increased numbers).

Speaking of getting frisky (and not talking about the fact that we managed to see some rather large land tortoises doing the very loud nasty) Taipei Zoo has so many baby animals to see that it’s pretty incredible. Sadly the baby panda wasn’t out, but there were some really cute baby meerkats, alpaca, tortoises and a very photogenic baby bongo. I guess baby animals are a sign of a good zoo.

Seeing that it was 29 degrees and bright sunshine, a lot of the animals were asleep. This meant that visits to the orangutans, tapirs and sun bears were a bit more lethargic than usual. Also, a few of the animals were hidden in shade (thanks again to the large enclosures) to stay cool. This didn’t seem to stop the siamang for swinging around everywhere and making it impossible to take pictures, but in the end that’s his prerogative.

Since we wanted to see as much as we could, we had a lunch snack of corn dogs about halfway through the visit. 50$ (£1.25) for two in a zoo, which is more than a steal when I think of how much snacks were when we went to Skansen in Stockholm.

It was after this that I parted ways from my ornithophobe husband to visit the free-to-roam bird exhibit… where I was immediately beset by a crowned crane (culprit pictured above) and had to find shelter amongst a crowd of people further up the path. Probably didn’t help that other visitors were taunting him, but that got pretty hairy.

Pretty soon, after visiting the Australian section (with emus and koalas), African section (with rhinos, chimps, giraffes, zebras and a massive gorilla) and penguin house we glanced at our watches to see that time really was marching on. This meant that we ran through the final section (featuring grey wolves, black bears and red pandas) so that we could catch the shuttle bus/mini train to the Maokong gondola service.

The trip from the zoo up to mountains of Maokong appear on so many suggested for itineraries for Taipei, and for good reason. The gondola trip up the mountain was beautiful and, as with everything here in Taipei, lasts a long time for how little you lay. You also get some spectacular views of southern parts of the city (not more as there is a mountain in the way) and of Taipei 101 towering over everything in the distance.

The area of Maokong was historically the big tea growing region in Taiwan, which means that there is no shortage of teahouses or references to the tea-growing past. We knew we had to have tea up here, but first we wanted to to work for our late lunch with a walk along the winding mountain road of Maokong. This lead to some more great views, a peek inside a temple to see a very happy Buddha and something that could well be the high point of the holiday.

Honestly I don’t think I’ve ever seen a rainbow as large, complete or vibrant as this one. Sadly the picture doesn’t do the whole rainbow justice, but it’s something I’ll never forget. What made it all the more special is that we were there for the birth, life and death of this rainbow – which was started due to the fluke of having a sudden slight drizzle start at the same time as the sun was setting. The ending was weirdly beautiful as well, with the rainbow being scrubbed out of existence by a passing cloud – much like how a board eraser can remove a chalk drawing.

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Sea Cucumber
Progress: 759/1001

We eventually settled on a place to eat and drink tea called the Redwood Teahouse. It had a great position on the mountainside and, somewhat miraculously, served a dish containing sea cucumber! The dish was called sea cucumber with pork tendon and it was so good. The sea cucumber itself, much like jellyfish and bird’s nest, is one of those things eaten for texture rather than any inherent taste. It’s slightly gelatinous, tender and takes up the flavour of the sauce it has been stewed in – which meant it tasted really good. Also, I was previously reluctant to try anything that listed ‘tendon’ as a main ingredient – but no more, that stuff is tender and delicious.

I shared my sea cucumber and pork tendon dish with the hub, who shared his gorgeous spicy aubergine and ground pork dish with me. Since this was a bit tourist trappy, the price was on the higher side – but this was still cheaper than what you’d get in London and was probably better tasting. The accompanying caramel iced milk tea wasn’t too shabby either.

The sun had completely set by the time we left the teahouse, so we decided to make our way down as I bemoaned the fact that the beautiful city lights couldn’t be captured on camera. We managed to catch a glass-bottomed gondola down the mountain, which was just the two of us. The glass-bottomed nature was a bit useless in the pitch black, but the view and the privacy made the ride feel incredibly romantic.

A busy metro ride later and we ventured to the Taipei City Mall, which is located underground beneath the main train station. There are so many shop fronts across a number of levels that it is easy to spend a long time here checking out all the different wares. I’ll probably be back here for some souvenirs at some point, maybe something from one of the many capsule machines, but not this night. Tonight was time to browse.

We rounded off the day with a takeaway order from our favourite Japanese chain: Mosburger. For the first time, I actually tried their burger in a rice bun and was really impressed. As usual the burger is delicious and the rice bun adds that little bit extra to make it feel special when compared to a regular burger bun. I wish we had this chain in the UK. Maybe one day?

So that’s a day I’ll never forget – especially the rainbow over Maokong. This trip is already feeling like something truly special. I hope it continues tomorrow.

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