The first trip of the year was a series of unexpected surprises, defined by resplendent architecture, scrumptious street fare, and the world’s friendliest people: hello Taiwan!
Call it what you will: a rogue province or an independent state, Taiwan (台湾) is an island off the southwestern coast of mainland China that receives little to no recognition, save for its unbelievable night market culture. Before living in Korea, I had zero percent interest visiting Taiwan, that is, until friends visiting Taiwan on long holidays would come back with tales of a destination oozing with culinary dynamism, as well as panoramic richness strewn with glittering lakes and polychromatic shorelines. The more and more people would wax poetry of their perfectly crafted bubble teas, the more the appeal grew until finally, the plane ticket to Taipei (台北) was booked. Home to the world’s best night markets according to the Guardian, Taipei lived up to its expectations and then some. Apart from delivering on the food front, I was treated to the most genuine kindness I have ever known, one that would bring cashiers out from behind their kiosks to walk me around the corner just so I wouldn’t get lost. In just six days time, Taipei quickly unseated Seoul as my favorite city in the world, offering a taste of humanity, and of flavors, I will forever relish.
The best scenery in Taiwan is its people.
Mr. Chen (i.e. Tim’s boss) citing a mainland China pamphlet
Mapping Out The Country
Taiwan presents a number of daytripping opportunities and with its phenomenal system of public transportation, including metro lines, a local intercity train and high-speed rail, traveling DIY is not too difficult so long as you do a little research beforehand if you want to go on excursions outside of Taipei proper. I truly underestimated how much there would be to do in Taipei itself so in the end, only one day out of six full days in Taiwan was carved out for a sidetrip to Jiufen that unfortunately was a very wet and cold experience, but still amazing nonetheless.
- Taipei (5 days of sightseeing)
- Jiufen (1 day trip)
Interested in visiting Taipei? Check out the City Guide: Taipei.
Other daytrip options:
- Taichung – This industrial city is home to the Rainbow Village and the ornate Taichung Station. You can access the natural escape of Sun Moon Lake from Taichung or opt to dedicate a full day towards Sun Moon Lake directly from Taipei.
- National Parks – Out of nine national parks, Taroko Gorge and Yanmingshan National Park are the easiest to visit from Taipei. With numerous hiking trails and natural hot springs oases, nature lovers should try their best to prioritize these destinations. Do not try to do Taroko Gorge in one day. This is an overnight trip. Check out Bobo and Chichi’s Taroko Gorge Guide.
ON THE ITINERARY
Eat my heart out at the many night markets
When asked about a favorite pastime and/or hobby, almost all locals are unanimous in their enthusiasm for street markets—that, or eating of course. With two dozen night markets all around Taipei and New Taipei boasting specialty items, chances are you’ll find a new favorite snack sooner or later. Shilin Market is the most popular among tourists but Tim and I loved Raohe Night Market for their immaculately toasted sesame seed flecked pork buns and the chunky buttermilk-battered squid sprinkled with chili flakes.
Ride the world’s fastest elevator in Taipei 101
TAIPEI 101, the eighth largest skyscraper in the world and the world’s 3rd tallest green building, dominates the Taipei skyline. Evoking the architecture of a Chinese pagoda, you can travel up to the 89th floor in 37 seconds flat on the world’s fastest traveling elevator! The observatory deck is spread across four floors and offers a 360-degree bird’s eye view of the city. If you’re not digging the $15 elevator ride, mosey on over to the 34th floor, where the world’s highest, and most elusive Starbucks, is tucked away. Fun fact: it’s actually referred to as the Secret Starbucks!
Melt away stress at Beitou Springs
The large concentration of thermal hot springs are in the Xinbeitou district of Taipei, the last stop on the MRT. More commonly known as Beitou Hot Springs (北投溫泉), it’s a perfect attraction for those visiting Taipei during the blistery cold winter months from December to January. There are a number of hot spring experiences that range from public bath houses to commercialized spas and more high-end private rooms. Places to start your inquiry are Villa 32 ($$$) —our personal recommendation!!!—, Hotel Royal Beitou ($$$), Millennium Hot Spring ($), Sweetme Hotspring Resort ($$) and Spring City Resort ($$).
Take a day trip to Jiufen
Perched high in the misty mountains of northeastern Taiwan, the remote village of Jiufen (九份) is in the throes of a second gold rush. That is, if you equate gold to food. In a past life, Jiufen was a mining town operated by the Japanese. Today, the complex grid of lanes and alleyways is now a favorite hunting ground for foodies, in search of the best taro ball desserts and skewers of piquant sweet sausage. Jiufen also romances Hayao Miyazaki-lovers as a real-life replica of his award-winning anime classic, Spirited Away.
If you’re looking to go around Jiufen, I highly recommend Tripool, a revolutionary way to enable travelers to enjoy the cost-benefit of carpool, but also have the luxury to customize itinerary for the scenic areas chosen (it’s like shared tour except you can customize where you want to go)! The cost for a tour of Jiufen is $30 USD per person. If you opt for an English-speaking driver, then it’s US$70. Both of the costs are still cheaper than hiring a private driver.
Book the trip using the special promo code TheNextSw to get a special discount!
Eat at the original Din Tai Fung
I was first introduced to the wonders of Din Tai Fung in Manila, so upon finding out the dimsum giant originated in Taipei, eating at their original location was high on our priority list. Din Tai Fung is world-renowned for their Michelin-rated xiao long bao 小笼包 aka soup dumplings, and the original restaurant can be found on Xinyi Road, off of Dongmen Station Exit 5. We went at 10:30ish and got seated almost immediately and by the time we left around 11 a.m., the lines were out-of-control so come early!
Did you know that indoor shrimp fishing is a booming recreation in Taipei? Just like normal fishing (except not at all), you park yourself on a plastic chair, bait your own hook, and hope that lady luck is on your side. This activity was first put on my radar by my friend Sonny of The Best Ever Food Review Show, who covered this underground pastime in his Taipei series. This is not a mainstream tourist activity, and thus, is all the more special should you put in the time and energy to find establishments such as this one. You will also be surrounded by a bunch of strangers, who for the large part are all locals and are happy to help without even being asked. The best part? Getting to cook and eat your catch at the do-it-yourself barbecue station.
Interested in shrimp fishing? Check out my “Food Finds” guide to Shrimp Fishing.
Feel inspired at the creative parks
I had NO IDEA how design-forward Taipei was until I started sketching out our itinerary. For a creatively-oriented individual like myself, Taipei’s artistic spirit is one of great beauty. There are a number of sites designated as “creative parks,” multi-purpose spaces with “the objective to nurture creative talents and energy.” Huashan 1914 Creative Park and Songshan Culture and Creative Park are the most well-known of said-“creative hubs” and host limited-engagement exhibitions, as well as commercial enterprises dedicated to design and crafting. There is also a respect for graffiti that can be appreciated in the likes of neighborhoods such as Treasure Hill and Bopilao Historic Block.
Press play for a highlight reel of my time in Taiwan