What Not to Miss Out on When in Taipei

What Not to Miss Out on When in Taipei

I feel like Taipei is steadily picking up as a choice destination in the Southeast/East Asian region, after being overshadowed by the more popular Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam or Singapore for a long time. I came here expecting to fall in love with Taiwanese cuisine (sure did!), but nothing much else. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to find out how much there is to see in this small city, that you can easily spend five days packed with activities and sightseeing. Here is a humble list of my top must-visit attractions and must-try activities while in Taipei!

 

1. Lin Dong Fang Beef Noodles

Pro-tip: If a local eatery is so local that you don’t see a single english translation of its menu and signage, then it’s probably going to be authentic, good food. Lin Dong Fang Beef Noodles is one of those unassuming places but packs up a long line even before it opens for breakfast. In our case, it wasn’t a very long wait at around 20 minutes. While in line, anticipation is building to extreme excitement as the bubbling cauldrons of pork and beef innards greet people by the entrance in full display. Ah, the aroma.

It was my first real Taiwanese beef noodle experience and it was amazing! The noodles are very fresh; you can tell that it was hand-pulled. The broth has a rich and deep flavor, the kind that needs a full day to develop. The beef is insanely soft and marbled that while it holds its form, you almost do not need teeth to sink into it and enjoy. So, so good! The eatery has a variety of side dishes to accompany the main meal. Pickled vegetables, tofu, wheat gluten and ox tripe, were the ones available when we visited. Lin Dong Fang is an absolute must-try!

 

2. Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall

As the former President of the Republic of China in the mid 1900s, Chiang Kai Shek is a widely-respected figure in Taiwan that a massive national memorial is erected to commemorate his life and times. It is impossible to miss this landmark.

The upper floor of the main memorial houses a larger-than-life statue of a sitting Chiang Kai Shek, protected round-the-clock by ceremonial guards. As with other national memorials of Taiwan, the changing of the guards ceremony is a tourist magnet in itself. You can catch it daily at hourly intervals. It is a real treat to witness!

The lower level of the main memorial hall is a museum featuring the life and career of Generalissimo Chiang. The galleries are filled with photos and relics that were instrumental in his rise to power. It even houses real life replicas of himself in his office room and presidential car, among others.

 

3. Huaxi Street Night Market

Taipei is awfully famous for its street night markets offering a huge variety of local street food treats, catering mostly to tourists. The most popular ones are Raohe Night Market and Shilin Night Market, mainly due to their massive size. Expect a huge crowd when visiting these night markets (the type where you get literally swayed in all directions by the crowd, not needing to move your feet at will). On our first night in taipei, we went to Huaxi Street Night Market, also known as the Snake Alley. It is known to sell not only your regular street food, but also a variety of snake and other reptile delicacies- famous for their supposed aphrodisiac properties. We did not get the chance to try them, though! Instead, we stuck with the good old Taiwanese street snacks.

Bonus: Lung Shan Temple

Just beside Huaxin Street Night Market is the local Lung Shan Temple, where a steady stream of locals can be seen visiting and praying, regardless that it was a particularly rainy evening. It had a very solemn feel to it despite being in the middle of the city’s hustle.

 

4. Xiangshan Hiking Trail (Elephant Trail)

The Xiangshan Hiking Trail is another classic activity to do when in Taipei. Many prefer to do it upon sunrise for great views of the Taipei 101 from specific vantage points. The trail is very touristic- it’s impossible to lose your way as hundreds of other tourists are in the same trail at any point in time. While it is not the most difficult touristic hike, it could still be physically challenging for the elderly, so definitely consider this before engaging in this climb. For my mother in her mid-50’s, it was not much of an issue.

Because it had been rainy in the several days that we were there, the Taipei 101 was a bit shy and was partially covered by clouds at the time. The hiking experience in itself was very fulfilling and we didn’t feel like we missed out at all!

 

5. Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen is another widely revered personality in Taiwan. He is often referred to as Republic of China’s National Father, as he became the first president of the Republic of China after his instrumental role in overthrowing the Qing Dynasty, marking the end of the dynasty era in China. Not too far from Taipei 101, a huge multi-purpose hall is dedicated to him, with a memorial as its centerpiece.

As in the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, visitors are greeted by a huge statue of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen upon entry to the main hall. An hourly interval of the changing of the guards ceremony is held, which a sight that throngs of tourists anticipate.

At the sides of the main hall are a variety of halls and galleries highlighting the life and contributions of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen to the history of China and Taiwan. It includes a performance hall, an exhibition center of about 1,000 square meters, a multimedia theater, an audio-visual center, lecture halls and a library with over 300,000 books.

 

6. National Palace Museum of Taiwan

If you are to visit just one museum in Taipei, make it the National Museum of Taiwan. It is located off center, so it takes a bit of time to reach it- but so worth it! It is also one of the more expensive museums in Taiwan (at NTD 350 for regular paying guests) for its huge collection of over 700,000 artifacts, mostly imported from the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City in Beijing. I would recommend roaming the museum for at least half a day to fully immerse in its educational value. Pro tip: Sign up for a free English guided tour of the museum to ensure that you won’t miss out on its highlight pieces. Look it up at the official museum website!

You will find out that the two most interesting pieces housed in this museum are the Jade Cabbage and the Meat-shaped Stone, mostly for their craftsmanship and artistic value- where else can you find a very realistic carving of a cabbage and cooked pork from precious stones? Expect to fight through a crowd in order to take a good look at these pieces up close.

 

7. Shilin Night Market

Shilin Night Market is relatively close to the National Palace Museum, so it would be great to stroll this market during dinnertime after exploring the museum perhaps all afternoon. This night market not only sells food items but also every imaginable merchandise and souvenir for tourists. It is very huge, and it was where I had my first and most memorable stinky tofu experience!

Stinky tofu is fermented tofu that has a very pungent smell (I honestly think it smells so good!). It is accompanied by a sweet soy-based sauce and fermented cabbage or assorted vegetables. Seriously, this is enough reason for me to fly back to Taipei. It is THAT amazing. I’ve had stinky tofu many a time in Hong Kong, but it just doesn’t compare.

 

8. Ximending District

Ximending is the shopping district of Taipei. Ximending is to Taipei as Myeongdong and Insadong are to Seoul. The area is most lively (and lovely!) at night, when it turns into a pedestrian district full of people exploring the food, shopping and overall night scene of the place. In here are where people buy souvenirs, play arcade, dive into street food and shop for clothes, cosmetics and shoes. It is also peppered with ambulant stinky tofu vendors, which are always hunted down by the police as the appear to be operating illegally. How I feel for these vendors!

It is always a good option to take base in Ximending in terms of accommodation (as we did!) as it’s always close to all the action in the city. Close to major train and bus stations, too!

 

9. Beitou Hot Spring

Beitou is an area north of Taipei that is a rich source of hot springs, about an hour away from Taipei by local train. We went to see the main hot spring source, and what a sight it was!

You can barely see the spring water as much of the air is filled with thick geothermal steam. It was a cold day in Taipei and rain continuously trickled down throughout the day, but it we definitely had a warm time in Beitou. We were supposed to take try one of the public hot springs in the area but it was particularly closed during our visit. Maybe next time!

 

10. Maokong Gondola

Definitely not miss out on the Maokong Gondola ride to the famous tea-producing mountainous region of Maokong. I’m so thrilled to know that this activity may be enjoyed right in Taipei! It was a gloomy weather but it didn’t bother us one bit. The views were still fantastic, and we even got to ride a crystal cabin, adding to the thrill and enjoyment in the journey uphill. The ride took about 30 minutes to complete per way.

 

A quick trip to Taipei is always a good plan. It is a very charming city that has a passion for food and art, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s a budget-friendly destination, too.

If you are planning to go to Taipei any time soon, and are still curious about what else there is to see, send me a message at norma@bluhentravel.com

Keep traveling!

- Norma