Memory #3 from my first trip to Asia.
Though I didn’t expect climbing Mount Fuji to slow me down to appreciate the present moment, I did expect it from another aspect of Asian culture–tea.
So I made sure time on both the Japan and Taiwan itineraries went towards exploring tea culture.
2) Maokong Tea Plantations
When my mom first showed me ink + adventure and this post on the top 8 sights/activities in Taiwan, I had the number one priority set for my first visit to Taipei: the Maokong gondolas and tea plantations.
I didn’t care if it would require a day trip, I wanted to see where tea was made.
I’ve had my own tin of Taiwanese oolong tea, the region’s speciality, since last December. My first souvenir my parents acquired on their scouting trip before they decided to embark on the Taipei expat adventure.
We thought it would be either way out of the way or a simple ten minute ride up and down, no big deal. In reality, our trip landed somewhere in between.
At one end of the Wenhu MRT line, we walked past the entrance to the Taipei zoo and up stairs to the gondola lift-off deck, past pandas and cartoons representing the different characters of the Maokong region. Two options: a gondola with an opaque bottom or a clear glass one. We chose the first, allegedly because of the much longer wait for the glass-bottomed variety.
I love Asia’s animated advertising campaigns.
The ride took us up and over more mountains than we expected. We glided past views of temples and shrines hidden around them, the other end of the Zoo my parents have yet to explore, and even better views of Taipei 101, urban sprawl, and the cemeteries like shelves on the mountains above the buildings. So peaceful we didn’t talk much on the way up. We could have handled the glass bottom. Maybe.
At the top, more breathtaking views of the city and a whole world we had nowhere near enough time to explore. Long nature hikes, endless tea shops of all variety–shacks, storerooms, cafes, fancy restaurants, street food stalls, and hippy-dippy outposts built into the flora of the plantations–plenty of cats (the Maokong’s symbol), outdoor art installations, and metal fermentation barrels everywhere containing the leaves and buds of future oolong blends.
I hated rushing past so much, leaving the maps in my purse as souvenirs and “for next time” reminders. But all that disappeared as my mom found the perfect artsy cafe and we treated ourselves. To an oolong tea flavored ice cream sundae and tea fresh from the plantations at our feet.
[Side note: It’s a wonder that I didn’t gain back all the weight I’d lost through training for Mount Fuji–except that hiking and biking and exploring with my mom and her expat friends kept the incredible exposure to food from catching up with me too much.]
Our afternoon above Taipei felt less exotic in many ways than I expected: sitting in a posh cafe to eat fancy ice cream and drink tea from tiny cups… except for the view I could have been back in North America. And yet, it was still worth the trip because it did take a trip up the gondola and then another tranquil 45 minute journey back down to reach that fancy sundae and local oolong tea. We did see tea being picked, fermented, brewed, and sold from the source.
In my book, that still counts as one of the top sights/activities in Taipei.