Taipei Travel Guide
Almost everybody has heard the expression “Made in Taiwan”; that’s for sure. But not many people really know where Taiwan is and what this little country can offer.
Taiwan is an island in the west of the Pacific Ocean directly in front of the Chinese mainland (PRC). It’s not very big – about 36.000 km2 – and most of the residents live in the capital Taipei (2.6 million) in the north of the island and in the industrial cities along the west coast. The east coast and the south are significantly more rural and have a beautiful landscape.
Therefore, we started our trip in Taipei (the only international airport is there) and traveled via east coast with destinations in the Taroko National Park and Taitung to Kenting in the south. There the high-speed train took us back to Taipei within 90 minutes. By the way, train is a good keyword, because we only used the train or the bus for all our trips. The train and bus network there is very well developed, very modern and also much more inexpensive than in Germany. If you want to rent a car, an international driving license is required.
Within our two weeks in Taiwan we experienced incredibly much so that one single post would not be enough. Thus, we want to begin with its capital Taipei today and then in the next couple of days and weeks we will write about our impressions of the Shangri La Hotel in Taipei, the Taroko National Park with our stay in the hotel Silks Palace, as well as about Taitung and Kenting.
We landed at Taiwan Taoyuan Airport. It is a bit outside Taipei, but is has been connected with the capital by the Airport MRT (MRT is the name of the metro there) since 2017. As the airport MRT ends at Taipei main station we booked our first hotel there.
Datong District is the district north of main station. It is one of the oldest districts in Taipei with its heyday between the middle and the end of the 19th century, and you can see that from most of the buildings. They are not built high – you won’t find any skyscrapers there – and inside there is mostly a small shop, a handicraft business or a small restaurant or bistro.
The historical buildings are mainly located around Dihua Street, which perhaps is symbolic for that whole district. One teahouse follows another, followed by small traditional pharmacies with fresh and dried mangos, papayas, pineapples, and also nuts and mushrooms in their shop windows.
In the middle there is also a temple (dedicated to the lovers) that is in particular visited by people who search for the deep love. The people throw burning incense sticks into the open fire while mumbling prayers in the hope of finding the right lover or by saying prayers so that their son or daughter can find one.
The many fabric shops are worth seeing and especially the fabric hypermarket Yong Le Market where you could spend a week inside, because there you can find so many different types of modern and traditional fabrics.
The district around the MRT station City Hall is exactly the opposite. The buildings there try to outdo each other in terms of height and modern appearance. Not a few of them have got 50 floors or even more. They are all overtopped by Taipei 101, the former tallest building of the world with its 101 floors. Its architecture reminds of a bamboo.
Instead of taking the lift to the viewing platform of Taipei 101 (from there you have a stunning view over the town) we decided to go into one of the neighbouring skyscrapers from where we had a very good view both over the town and of Taipei 101 whilst enjoying a delicious meal.
Though, in most of the skyscrapers you can find offices (as well as in 101), but this district has much more to offer than tall skyscrapers with offices inside. There are, for example, such a lot of exclusive malls directly next to each other so that you don’t know where one mall ends and the other one begins. The architecture is thoroughly modern and breathtaking, the shops are in no way inferior to the malls in London, Paris and New York (we counted 4 Chanel stores) and especially in the evening hours you can meet lots of street musicians, art workers and artists in the pedestrian area performing their programmes.
You can also see the inhabitants of Taipei having their dinner there. You can find several first class restaurants in every single mall serving dishes from all over the world. We went there twice and had a meal at SHIN YEH once, a restaurant offering classical Taiwanese cuisine. After that we had a couple of cocktails at Brown Sugar, which is a very relaxing bar with live music.
The highlight, however, was our lunch at the Yen restaurant of W TAIPEI. The Yen restaurant is located on the 31st floor of the hotel and for hotel guests only. They serve Chinese and Taiwanese food. We deliberately went there at noon and not in the evening, because they also serve homemade Dim Sum only at lunchtime.
From the restaurant you have a good view towards the west of Taipei. But it’s different from the Yen Bar, which is right next to the restaurant where we had two cocktails after the meal, because from there you have a perfect view on the nearby Taipei 101.
The visit of the Yen Bar should be ‘a must’ during your stay, in case you want to enjoy a drink together with a terrific view.
The district around the MRT station Ximen is by far the busiest one that we saw in an otherwise relaxed Taipei. When you leave that MRT station, you reach a square that reminds you of Times Square in New York or Piccadilly Circus in London for a moment. Even at night it is as bright as day, because there are large advertising screens on all walls. Just after two minutes you will know about which movies will be shown in cinemas, what the new smartphone by Samsung is capable of doing and which K-pop band will soon perform in Taipei.
Ximen is the main meeting point for the younger generation. You get the feeling that all young people of Taipeh meet on the square and in the narrow lanes of Ximen, because it is so crowded there. Besides affordable restaurants, bars, snack bars and little kitchens on the street you will find countless clothing stores like Adidas, H&M and small boutiques and even more multiplex cinemas than they have in Munich. You can also watch young juggling, singing or dancing people there. Don’t forget to have a Bubble Tea there. Our friends from Taiwan told us that you find the world’s best Bubble Teas there!
CULTURAL AND CREATIVE PARK
One parallel street north of the MRT station Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall is the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. Old factory buildings were transformed into rooms for art exhibitions, co-working spaces for creative people and into salesrooms for local artists and craftspeople. We even created two bracelets for ourselves under the instruction of a kind goldsmith from Hong Kong.
Jiufen is a small mountain village outside Taipei. But as the distances in Taiwan are not so big, you can make a day excursion to it. Just get on the local train to Ruifang and from there take the bus to Jiufen (You will find the bus stop, when you walk along main street for about 50 meters).
In former times Jiufen was a gold digger village, but these times are long gone. Today it can only exist because of the tourists who make their way through the narrow Old Street leaving their money in the many teahouses and restaurants. That sounds more critical than it is, because the view is amazing and the village has its special flair. Please note that you don’t go to Old Street in little Jiufen on Sundays (unfortunately we made this mistake), because it is overcrowded with people from Taipei.
But what you should do there is: eating JiuFen Yu Yuan!! It is a must!! This is a typical local sweet dish in this region. It consists of beaten egg white with sweet beans, Taro balls and small balls made of sweet potatoes . It tastes simply delicious!
THINGS WE DIDN’T HAVE TIME FOR
Da’an District. Our friends and followers from Taipei recommended us countless bars and restaurants in the Da’an District. Unfortunately, the day we wanted to go there was completely rainy, so we stayed in our hotel. But next time we come to Taipei we will visit Da’an District. That’s for sure!
Taking the MRT to the station Zoo and then the cable car up the mountains. From there you should have a fantastic view over Taipei while being in the heart of nature surrounded by tea plantations.
Visiting a hot spring. Throughout Taiwan you can find hot springs, even around Taipei there are some. Especially the hot springs in Beitou should be very beautiful and easily be reached.
Yangmingshan National Park. It is located next to Taipei and should be wonderful, too. Just google it!
Spend more time with my family.