Beitou Break, Day 5

Beitou Thermal Valley, Taipei

My trip is winding down, and as tiring as it has been, it also has been better than I imagined!

With only one more full day in Taipei tomorrow before taking an afternoon flight back to Guangzhou on Saturday, I’ll miss this city, but I’m also quite looking forward to everything coming up…more on that later 😉

As for today (actually today, as I’ve given myself more time to just chill tonight and catch up on blogging—for the first time in the hostel common area instead of on my bed), I had the most unbelievably chill morning at none other than Smith & Hsu!

It’s been a serious bummer finding so many places closed due to Chinese New Year, but I figured I would make another attempt at tasting some mouthwatering scones that are so much like biscuits that I’m convinced scones are just the fancy English way to call unhealthy heart attack bombs.

As I approached the same shop from a few days ago, I fully expected the worst—that it would still be closed—and already formulated a back-up plan to return to Yamazaki bakery around the corner.

But a wooden door with “Smith & Hsu” in black block letters replaced the sliding metal door that I had expected. OPEN! I quickly walked in and sheepishly waved hello as I entered literally a minute before 10 a.m., its official opening time. Not unexpected, the place was empty save for two employees at the counter, but they welcomed me to take a seat, soon bringing not only menus but a whole tray of…bottled tea leaves?

Yes, instead of only consulting a long menu of quirkily named tea, you actually got to smell them, too! WHAAAT?! So I spent my sweet time opening some of the jars with more interesting names, such as “Fallin’ in Love Again,” which, if I recall correctly, is the one that smells ridiculously fruity! I also really liked the Black Chocolate Mint Tea, but I ended up choosing one that specifically warned against pregnant women drinking—there was another one with such a note, and I realized the common ingredient was cinnamon. Had no idea.

Instead of ordering the cream set, which is among the two sets that I guess are good for afternoon tea in addition to the actual afternoon tea sets, I decided to choose a lunch special—I can’t believe I didn’t take a picture of the menu to be able to describe this amazing lunch in detail, but I blame it on being too excited?

Anyway, for the next hour, I was completely alone. No one walked in, and the employees mostly stayed in the kitchen. It especially surprised me, because according to the reviews, this place and its other stores in the city are normally packed. It actually wasn’t until British tourists walked in at 11 that I realized I had been happily alone in my own world.

I feel like many of my posts involve bathroom stories, so I feel the need to explain why before I continue with another: Public bathrooms in new places are a necessary part of explorations. Just the journey to the bathrooms can lead to new discoveries. At Smith & Hsu, it taught me that this shop on Hengyang Road has three floors, the tea boxes on display are empty and and taped together for looks only, and that lights are turned off for these floors without customers. I’m also happy to report that all bathrooms so far that I’ve been to in Taipei have never lacked toilet paper, trash cans, soap, or paper towels. Oh how low my standards have fallen…

Anyway, the sky was still looking quite blue as I stepped out of this dream world, a surprise given that the forecast called for rain all day. I took the MRT all the way to Beitou from the NTU Hospital stop right outside the 228 Peace Memorial Park, passing along some cool scenery of Taipei.

Finally, the crowds all bound for Beitou disembarked, quickly made the transfer to the other side of the platform to take the one stop to Xin Beitou, and got out to still sunny skies. Hmm.

Commence crowd dispersing.

Along with the thermal springs, Beitou has quite a few attractions to visit and has much more to explore than expected—as long as you’re up for climbing steep hills and navigating through windy, gassy roads, that is. Within a reasonable walking distance and before the thermal valley are the library, museums, park, and even street food. Past reasonable is where I inevitably found myself huffing and puffing in humid weather.

Seriously, not unlike my Maokong explorations, I went from being suffocated by crowds to being suffocated by lonely confusion. Should I keep going? Am I going the right direction? Where is everyone? How much longer? Is it even worth it? Am I wasting my time? I’ve gone this far, so I might as well keep going…

Well, after an untracked period of time later and #ARTchitecture photos to Instagram later, I finally made it to…the Taiwan Folk Arts Museum. Yeah, I sweated it out and up some smelly hills to a museum that I couldn’t help but think must be empty or not worthy if it requires such a trek. But then again, there’s always that potential for a great view.

What’s worse? There’s a 120 NTD admission fee! AS IF we didn’t already with our tears—OK, exaggerating now, but c’mon. Turns out it’s a museum about tea. Hah…

Unfortunately for me, tea demonstrations are only on weekends, so I basically just went in, took off my shoes, put on some non-slip socks (I’m certain we pay because of these socks), and walked around to take some #ARTsy photos.

There’s supposed to be a temple nearby, too, but again, thanks to inconsistent signage, I gave up and headed back down to the main attraction: thermal valley. (Is there a reason I seem to keep stopping right before temples? Shitty signage and Google and Apple maps failed me both times).

So yeah, selfies galore. By around 3, I Foursquared a spot to take a break, enjoying an iced banana milk tea drink before heading way south to Gongguan for the famous gua bao and milk tea.

BUT DAMN THE HOLIDAYS for the black sugar bubble milk shop 陳三鼎 being closed!! However, a neighboring milk shop clearly took this opportunity to sell identical-looking drinks. Of course I got one, as I saw a presumably Korean female with a selfie stick literally taking non-stop selfies of herself with the boba. Yup, that’s the drink.

I couldn’t for the life of me find the stand for the buns, so I figured it must have been closed for the holidays, as the only lines I saw were for this milk and another stand selling wraps. Sigh.

As for the drink itself, I didn’t realize how they’re terribly unhealthy until now, as I Foursquared the place to recall the name for blogging. I can’t believe I didn’t before, as I only knew about it through a travel guide that didn’t bother mentioning this isn’t milk TEA but full-fat milk with black sugar and pearls. Oh, God. Goes to show how helpful Foursquare can be…

I ended up getting an egg tart and butter bread from a nearby bakery, as I’ve been craving egg tarts since last night for some reason. Ugh, I need to diet after this trip.

Anyway, I think a few hours of blogging are more than enough for tonight. My fingers actually hurt from typing, and it’s about time I get off my laptop, as the night turns from laptopping to people chatting.

Stay tuned.