On a Thursday morning, I decided I would check out the iconic Taipei 101 in Xinyi District. Once considered the tallest skyscraper in the world, it stands at 101 stories. It contains shopping malls, expensive boutiques, businesses, restaurants, a tuned mass damper, and an observatory deck. Before I hurried off to the MRT, I looked up some nearby attractions and Elephant Mountain Hiking Trail piqued my interest.
My venture to Taipei 101 was a bit confusing at first. I read about a number of restaurants at Taipei 101 and decided to dine there for lunch. Little did I know the restaurants were pricey or required reservations.
I settled into Shin Yeh Dining and ordered possibly my most expensive meal to date. But then again, it was a once in a lifetime experience, so why not? I'm a pretty frugal spender so my Taiwan trip is probably the one opportunity I allowed myself to spend. Drinking jasmine tea and looking down at Taipei from the 85th floor of a skyscraper is a stunning experience. I still couldn't believe I was 7,442 miles away from home and backpacking by myself. It hit me pretty hard in that moment.
I was looking down upon what could be my home for the next few years or a lifetime. Once the fog cleared from my thoughts, I focused on my traditional Taiwanese meal. I wasn't expecting so many dishes but they kept coming one after another! I only intended to order dumplings but I ended up with shark fin soup, prawn, rice, unknown vegetables, seafood, and a soup-like dessert. By this time I've become pretty adept with chopsticks. The shark fin soup was my favorite (sorry, Rachel...) I hope it wasn't real sharks! I only meant to order the dumplings!
After paying about $1,500NTD, I decided to walk off my meal and go hiking for the first time in my life.
The hiking trail is essentially several stairs that climb ever higher to Elephant Mountain. There are natural paths as well, but you risk wandering into mosquitos in the dense foliage. I'm drawn to nature so I followed a forest trail that afforded me breathtaking views of Taipei below. I could hardly believe how far away Taipei 101 was. I didn't realize I had ventured so far. Once more, I couldn't believe I was wandering a hiking trail above a foreign city in Southeast Asia. I've been confined to Michigan for the entirety of my life until this sojourn, and it didn't feel real yet. Plus, I was astonished at the beautiful environment around me. Elephant Mountain Hiking Trail feels leagues away from reality. It felt ancient and surreal to me as I walked under gray skies past gnarled trees, my feet echoing over paved stones etched with Chinese characters.
Though there were other travelers, I felt alone. I felt as though I could escape my monontous existence here. Perhaps it is the closest thing I have felt to a spiritual experience. It was otherworldly and beautiful.
I felt as though I stepped back in time.
After the sun set, I left Elephant Mountain Hiking Trail and had no idea where I was. If I didn't have Google maps with me, I would probably have been stranded and wandering in terror for hours. 40 minutes later, I finally reached Taipei 101, alit like a green beacon in the night. Feeling exuberant after my first hike, I decided to visit the observatory at the top of Taipei 101. It seems that no matter what time of the day, there is always a long line to the top of the skyscraper. After going through security and a 37-second elevator ride complete with special lighting effects, I reached the observatory.
Just as the view astounded me from Elephant Mountain, it was amazing to see Taipei so vivid and colorful at night. The city stretched into the distance toward the gray mountains until I could perceive no more. Also, while I was taking pictures of the view, a woman asked to take a picture with me. I was flattered. I'm not used to this kind of attention, nonetheless someone so excited about being in a picture with me. I love the Taiwanese people.
After getting my fill of the view and the tuned mass damper, I ogled the products on display in the souvenir shop. I bought a jade necklace for Mom there before I decided it was time to head back to the hostel.
It was a splendid day.