Japan is perhaps one of the most intriguing travel destinations the world has to offer. However after living here for nearly two years I can safely say that once youâ€™ve done the major tourist rounds and found your own handful of hidden gems, you begin to look across the water. As an Australian who is used to paying ridiculous amounts of cash just to leave the country, in the most basic sense coming to Japan and encountering the utter majesty that is Peach airlines sales was hands down one of the greatest moments my travel bug has ever experienced.
With discount airlines galore, the whole of Asia becomes your playground: heading to Seoul, Hong Kong or Taipei can be done for less than 20,000 yen round trip if you book in advance. Often these tickets can be booked for even cheaper if itâ€™s done during one of the numerous sales that happen every few months. In addition, each of the surrounding countries have cheap hostels, hotels and homestays on offer, meaning that you can do a very comfortable long weekend away for less than 50,000 yen. In particular, I recommend Meander Hostel in Ximen: cheap, clean and rooms for up to eight people right near the center of the city.
Of all the places that one can go on a budget weekend away, the one highest on my list of recommendations is Taipei City. While travelling the whole of Taipei itself may take a little longer than three days, the city can easily be done in this time. The flight itself is around three hours, so if you take an afternoonâ€™s nenkyuu you can make the 4pm Peach flight and be in the city by 9pm which isnâ€™t bad considering that Taipei s literally a 24 hour city. Most shops donâ€™t close until at least 10pm, with some staying open as late as 12am and even then, Taipeiâ€™s most famous attractionâ€“ the night marketsâ€“ last the rest of the night. Like their Japanese neighbors, the Taiwanese are big on combini too, so youâ€™ll never go more than 500m before you see a Family Mart or 7/11 in your peripheral.
So whatâ€™s there to do in Taipei? As mentioned above, the night markets are a must. They sell everything from tourist trinkets to heavenly street food to high fashion. They are also everywhere, like actually. Every district has a night market, the biggest being Shilin, so you never have to walk far to find one. For the most magical market experience, try the Juifen markets, tucked away in the coastal mountains; it should certainly be on your list. Itâ€™s about an hour from the main city and stated to be the inspiration behind Hayao Miyazakiâ€™s classic Spirited Away. Once you see the red lanterns light up at nightfall, you will definitely understand why.
For the more historically inclined, thereâ€™s the National Museum, Sunyatsen Memorial for the changing of the guards every hour on the hour, the military museum and more art galleries than you can wave a stick at. Most are either free of charge or less than one thousand yen entry. For the most part, the locations can be found on any tourist map that can be found at the metro stations and tourist information desks around the city.
If youâ€™re looking for a more traditional experience, you can catch the gondola up to Maokong in the mountains. You feel like youâ€™re in the middle of the jungle but in reality youâ€™re less than an hour from the city center. Itâ€™s a scenic wonderland full of street side restaurants and tea houses, especially nice for a relaxing afternoon away from the hectic ways of the main city.
And of course the main and perhaps most essential reason for visiting Taipeiâ€“ the food. It is the stuff of legends, the flesh of the gods, the holy ambrosia among we mere mortals. ALL. OF. IT. Their hotpot is glorious, the street food magnificent (cheap too), the milk tea delightful and the spices to die for. A right cornucopia of flavours and styles to choose from: if you want it, Taipei has it. There was no food I did not like in Taipei; everything, and I mean everything, was delicious, even the overpriced sandwich I bought at the airport on the way home.
So if youâ€™re looking for a decadent but affordable long weekend away, or a brief jetset over the summer holidays, then Taipei should definitely be on your list. I assure you, you wonâ€™t be disappointed.