Taiwan’s capital has never ceased to grow on me. Caught somewhere between China and Japan, this city and in fact the majority of the country, is a great place to soak up culture, good food and great company. For a capital city, I find it pretty slow paced, which I actually think is a great thing. It’s busy but there are only a few places where people really seem like they are in a rush. It isn’t too big a place, but you could spend a lot of time jus wandering around exploring.
Upon arriving in Taiwan International, make your way to the bus terminus and find the kiosk for KwoKuang Motor Transport Company. Take bus 1819 to Taipei Main Station- it will set you back 125 Taiwanese dollars, which is less than 30HKD (if we’re talking home currency then it’s about 2.50). Absolutely nothing. It will take you about 45 minutes to get into the city and once you’re at the main station go straight for the MRT.
Before you really get going, grab yourself an easycard – the name is exceptionally apt and you can get your deposit back at the end of your trip or, if you’re like me and intend on making a return, add it to the stupid amount of vaguely useful things you already have in your purse or wallet. You can pick it up at the information areas at the station and in some grocery, 7/11 style shops. It works just the same as an Octopus or Oyster card on the buses and MRT except the barriers make much more melodic sounds when you pass through them. MRT is definitely the most efficient and straightforward way to travel around Taipei but all the bus drivers will tell you when to get off if you show them the location you are trying to reach. Taxis here are also relatively cheap but very few of the drivers can speak anything but Mandarin, so either be readily prepared with the name of where you want to get to, get someone else to write it down or alternatively just wow them with your fluent command of Chinese.
Otherwise, just use your legs, it’s not that big.
Grab some breakfast.. obviously.
Taipei is full of little hole in the wall places for you to grab breakfasts so there is really very little need for you to resort to Starbucks. I like to grab reakfast down Bei-an Road, which is on the way to the Martyrs’ Shrine. There are lots of little holes in the walls and markets hidden around where all the locals seem to flock. Ask a local for the traditional stuff, they’ll be more than happy to help you, and perch in between the fruit sellers watching Taipei kickstart its’ morning.
Hop on bus 208 to get to the Shrine but not before you’ve wandered through a couple of the little markets where everyone will say hello to you and try to make you eat questionable pieces of meat.
National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine
This beautiful shrine honours those that were lost in the Chinese Civil War and the Sino-Japanese war. The architecture mirrors that of the Hall of Supreme Harmony in Beijing. If you happen to pass by it, as you should, ensure that it is timed for the hourly changing of the guard as it’s quite a spectacle and will lead to conversation starters such as: ‘what do you think they do when they need to pee?’ or ‘ do you think they have challenges to see if they can make each other laugh?’ – the guards themselves will not respond to these questions.
No. 139, Bei-an Rd., Zhongshan District
Just down the road from the Martyrs’ Shrine, about a ten minute walk or so, is the impressive Grand Hotel built under President Chiang Kai-Shek in the style of a Chinese Palace in order to try and attract people into staying in Taiwan – I personally did not need to be convinced with a five star hotel but I wouldn’t have said no had it been offered to me. It has hosted the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton. Prices, obviously, are substantially more expensive up there so I’d say just go for an explore inside and possibly peak in at a Chinese wedding if one happens to be occurring. Do get a lady to make you Mountain Oolong tea properly. It’s yummy and it’s an art form in itself.
1 Chung Shan N.Rd., Section 4, Zhongshan District
Beitou Hot Springs
This whole valley is filled with luxury spas and resorts taking advantage of the thermal valley that Taipei is built upon. Most of the resorts were created during the Japanese occupation. Don’t bother paying for any of the luxury as you can wander into some for free but do be aware that a lot of these will require you to be completely naked. The one we wandered into was on the right after the park and cost about 40 dollars, again absolutely nothing, and was equipped with lockers and showers. You can stay in there as long as you want and I’d highly recommend spending a few hours going from freezing cold to boiling hot water whilst chatting with the incredibly lovely people. This particular set of pools was one used more by the locals than tourists which is always a great thing. It’s culturally important that you wash your feet with the buckets outside each pool before you enter every time.
Do bring water. Those springs are really hot. It’s super easy to find on the MRT, take the train to Beitou and transfer to the train to XinBeitou (New Beitou) which you will no doubt assume you can run faster than once you’ve embarked.
Zhongshan Road, XinBeitou
Shillin Night Market
Taipei is famous for its nightmarkets and the streets of its most famous one, Shillin Nightmarket, are well worth meandering through. Prepare to be offered a lot of food and fight through the crowds caught in equal awe. I’d be sure to get lost in this one. Try the local Beef Noodle Soup, coffin bread and Taiwanese milk tea. You will also get fed pineapple cake a lot. Take it. Every time.
Get off the MRT at Shillin or Jiantan to find this hustle and bustle.
Taipei also boasts some pretty exceptional nightlife beyond the nightmarkets, so I’d suggest heading out if you’re in the mood. It’s another city that doesn’t have time for sleep.
The streets around here resemble something closer to New York than East Asia and there are lots of little diners for you to grab a coffee.
This is pretty much your most iconic item in Taiwan and by far the building that soars the highest. Head up to the observatory at the top, up the fastest elevator in the world, your ears will pop, to great a great 360 degree view of the whole city. Whilst it’s a great view, you don’t need to dedicate any large amount of time to do this, I mean it only takes a few minutes to do a lap. In an evening, the area around Taipei 1o1 is an excellent place to party.
No. 7, Section 5, Xinyi Rd, Xinyi District
Take a hike up Elephant Mountain
You’ll get further great views of Taipei and it won’t tire you out as it’s only about 20 minutes to reach the top. From Taipei 101 you can walk to Xiangshan Station and then from there you just need to follow signs for the hiking trail – perfect if you are blessed with a clear day.
Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall
This place has its own MRT stop so it’s pretty easy to find. Saying that, it will still absolutely blow you away as you stumble upon it because it’s pretty damn big. This monument commemorates the passing of the President Chiang Kai-Shek in 1975 and is a white marble building inspired by the architecture of Tiantan, The Temple of Heaven, in Beijing. It is surrounded by beautiful Chinese gardens where my buddy seized the opportunity to feed the fish and is a highly liberating activity should you wish to try it, and is foregrounded by the further beautiful buildings of the National Theatre and The Royal Concert Hall.
No.21, Zhongshan S. Rd., Zhongzheng District
This was a temple recommended to me as it’s the one where all the locals go. Temples like this never cease to amaze me and I’m always in awe of the Chinese customs that go on, I am always in the process of learning more about them. Longshan Temple is dedicated to Guan Yin, a Bodhisattva of mercy and compassion and a direct translation of the Mahayana bodhissatva Avalokitasvara. (Anyone who I went to college with will know how much I love this stuff so this was a massive throwback for me to dig up some of my old knowledge). Bodhisattvas are beings that help others to attain enlightenment and reach Nirvana. Whilst Guan Yin is the focus of this temple there are many other figures being worshiped throughout for various reasons: The God of War, the God of Literature and the matchmaking God to name a few. Watching these figures being worshiped is a spectacle in itself. Longshan temple has been destroyed and rebuilt many times but was founded in 1738 by Han immigrants.
No. 211, Guangzhou St, Wanhua District
Hello Kitty Cafe
Under regular circumstances, this isn’t the sort of place I’d be recommending that you get to, but the thing is, it’s just so over the top Hello Kitty that it should not be missed. We’re talking everything pink and shaped like Kitty, from sofa to cake, waitresses dressed in tiny pink Hello Kitty dresses and hair dyed pink – no expense has been spared. I don’t know how Hello Kitty is so big here, but I thoroughly enjoyed eating her face on a cake.
No. 90, Section 1, Da’an Rd, Da’an District
From Taipei Zoo station, it’s about a five minute walk to this gondola. It will take you up and away and over the hills up to the village of Maokong in the mountains, whilst giving you an excellent view of Taipei along the way. Up in Maokong, you can do some hikes, wander through tea plantations or just sit and take in the view over lunch.
I very hesitantly suggest for you to go to a zoo seeing as though animals tend to be badly kept. This one is absolutely no exception – most enclosures are tiny. They do however, have pandas, which I’m always for.
This area of Taipei is the one that threw me back to Japan the most. I thought I was back wandering around parts of Tokyo. Here you’ll find a lot of narrow streets heaving with people. It’s good for shopping, food and partying.
Make sure you munch on:
Pan -Fried Fragrant Turnip Omelette (菜脯蛋）
Peanut boiled with pig’s feet (花生滷豬腳)
Didn’t think I’d ever say that I love pig’s feet but there you go, life surprises you all the time.
Lu Rou Fan – (滷肉饭)
Taiwanese pork and rice – probably will come with some form of tea egg. King of comfort food – super duper yummy.
Pineapple Shrimp (鳳梨蝦球）
I don’t have any words but ‘wow’.
Mapo Tofu (麻婆豆腐）
This is essentially just tofu with a bit of a kick – I’d definitely classify it as the good kind of kick.
Pineapple Cake – (鳳梨酥)
Honestly, you won’t miss it.
King Oyster Mushrooms with Soysauce Wine and Sesame Oil (三杯杏鮑菇）
A personal favourite – I do really like mushrooms though.
Niu Rou Mian – (牛肉麵)
Beef Noodle Soup – grab this one off the street, it’s Taiwan’s delicacy and super yummy. All of them are a little different so I guess you’ll have to try it a couple of times.
Go to Shin Yeh Restaurant if you’re willing to spend on your meal, and I still wouldn’t class it as anywhere near expensive. There are a couple of them around Taipei, and if you’re a late eater you could go after a whizz up Taipei 101 in the evening as there is one located there.