Living in Korea has allowed an interesting perk of celebrating New Year’s not once, but twice. Seollal is Korea’s New Year’s Day and generally falls just about a month past the traditional date of January first. This means that right after our Christmas and New Year’s break we get an extra long weekend, perfect for a nearby getaway. Last year some friends from home and I ventured to Tokyo. This year however I was more excited to try to experience the holiday in China as Lunar New Year is Chinese New Year as well.
The weekend started off with a great flight from Korea to Taiwan and an easy bus ride from the airport to the hostel that my friend and I would be staying at for the weekend. After arriving in the center of town we ventured off for a quick dinner and explored our new surroundings into the evening. Something that Taiwan and Hong Kong seemed to have in common was the meeting of modern industrialization and traditional culture. We would be walking through beautiful cityscapes and then suddenly meet a gorgeous temple decorated with hundreds of red paper lanterns for the holidays. The blending of old and new is always amazing.
On our first full day we wanted to visit Liberty Square and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. I’d seen photos of the alluring white and blue structures, but this place was so much more beautiful in person. Large buildings on each side of the impeccably landscaped courtyard behind the a gorgeous blue and white entrance gate. We spent over an hour soaking in the setting and the 70 degree weather in January.
Once we had our fill of the square we decided it was time for lunch. Something we weren’t expecting about traveling during the main weekend of the Lunar New Year was that most of the city had gone back to their hometowns to be with their family. This meant that the city was unimaginably peaceful, but it also meant that a lot of storefronts and restaurants were closed for the week. Luckily for us we found an incredible restaurant tucked away on a little side street that served absolutely delicious dim sum.
We unapologetically over-ordered and overindulged before deciding to walk off our lunch by climbing Elephant Mountain. It was a relatively gentle hike set right inside of the city and offering unmatched views of Taipei. After a busy morning it was nice to relax for a bit at the top and appreciate where we were for a minute.
As the evening of day two was approaching we wanted to explore one of the markets that we’d researched. A lovely taxi driver dropped us off at Raohe Night Market which was supposed to be where any locals were likely to be on New Year’s. In theme with the weekend, we were surprised to see just how calm the market was. Nonetheless, we did a bit of shopping and grabbed some street food as we started to find our way to the subway to head home.
Upon exiting the market there were some flashes of lights that we couldn’t ignore and decided to walk towards. As we made our way down the street the illumination became brighter and brighter. We started to see colored lanterns and hear festive music. Unbeknownst to us we had stumbled right into the Lunar New Year celebrations that I’d been desperate to find. This is where everyone was celebrating with their families.
We walked under the seemingly endless strings of brightly colored paper lanterns, past the gigantic lantern roosters, and right towards an immense ornately decorated gold temple.
Temples have become one of my favorite places to visit when traveling to new countries. They offer such an interesting glimpse into the culture and are so different from my experiences growing up. That said, this temple was like nothing I’d encountered in the past. It was as if everyone had gone to that exact temple at the same time to celebrate the New Year. Hundreds of people chaotically filled the three-story building performing their rituals and making their offerings, yet naturally flowing through the various rooms one after another. It felt like being in a different world and is something I’m so grateful to have experienced.
As we exited the temple we found ourselves moving with the crowd into the main strip of the Raohe Night Market. We crawled along with the thousands of other visitors slowly taking in all of the shops and stalls along the market until we found a crêpe stand that we couldn’t pass up. We hopped out of the shuffle where we were handed our strawberry Nutella crepes and reluctantly decided it was time to head back home for the night. in preparation for the following day.
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