Whether for a last minute summer getaway or the upcoming â€œSilver Weekâ€ in September, Taiwanâ€™s capital city, Taipei, is a spectacular destination for those looking to travel outside of Japan. With a rich history including European, Chinese, and Japanese settlement, visitors can experience a unique blend of culture and some fantastic cultural sites.
Where to Stay:
Homey Hostel is centrally located and affordably priced with a spacious common room, sufficient toilets and showers, and friendly staff teeming with great recommendations – I absolutely recommend staying here.
What to Do:
Famous for the picturesque tea house that inspired Hayao Miyazakiâ€™s design for the bathhouse in Spirited Away, this mountain town is a great day trip out of Taipei. Wander through the shops and alleys, enjoy the scenery and atmosphere, and donâ€™t miss the freshly caught fried squid (absolutely mouthwatering) or traditional tea overlooking the countryside.
Taipei is home to many museums and memorials worth visiting. My group visited the 2-28 Peace Park and Museum, the Taipei Contemporary Museum of Art, the National Taiwan Museum, the Chiang-Kai Shek Memorial Hall (the changing of the guards on the hour is well worth a watch, especially if you have seen changing of the guard ceremonies in other countries), and the National Palace Museum, which is home to an absolutely stunning collection of Chinese art and historical objects (thanks to Chiang Kai-Shek, who ordered the collection shipped from the Palace Museum in Beijing to Taiwan during the Chinese civil war).
Iâ€™m normally not too keen on viewing cityscapes from tall towers, but the view of Taipei at night from the Taipei 101 tower was pretty special. Take advantage of the coupon book that accompanies the ticket to try a mango beer float or phenomenal soy cinnamon caramel ice cream. Donâ€™t miss checking out the damper, a steel pendulum designed to offset strong winds, and Damper Baby, the towerâ€™s cute mascot.
Head to one of Taipeiâ€™s many night markets to try cheap local favorites. Watch what the locals are eating and check for cleanliness/hygiene, but donâ€™t be afraid to dive in and eat some unusual dishes! Try stinky tofu (just to say you ate it), oyster omelet, and fresh fruit juice. For the less adventurous (those reeling from a poor food choice), stick to beef noodles: cheap, filling, delicious, and ubiquitous. I enjoyed the Shilin market, but ask your hostel for staff recommendations.
For shits and giggles (pun intended), check out Modern Toilet. This toilet themed restaurant offers surprisingly delicious food amongst bathroom decor – patrons either sit in a giant toilet bowl booth or on individual toilets, and food is served in toilet and urinal shaped bowls.
For a refreshing afternoon snack, head to Snow King Ice Cream for some rather unusual flavor choices. My group chose plum wine, curry, and Taiwan Beer, but you could also try a more traditional fruit ice cream, sample pigâ€™s feet flavor, or choose from the 73 options.
Tips & Tricks
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Get a metro card – you can buy one in a ticket machine on the MRT, top up as needed, and get a refund before you return. This made our travel very easy. Be warned – eating and drinking inside the subway stations is not allowed, and those who violate this heavily enforced rule face a hefty fine.
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Taipei nightlife is tricky, bordering on nonexistent. Finding a bar or patio restaurant with cheap alcohol is easy enough, but finding a club proved more difficult. Many are only open on certain days and at odd times, so check online or with your hostel before heading out. If you go right at opening (for the one we found, 11PM), you might even get in for free with an all-you-can-drink pass (sorry, boys – this seemed like a girls only offer). For something more laid back, check out the restaurants in the Red House Theater, Taipeiâ€™s unofficial gay district and home to excellent drink deals.
A 2013 article by Cherie Pham also inspired this trip. See it here: Travel Taipei