We dedicated the last days of our Taiwan trip to Taipei – one of the most interesting cities I’ve ever been to. Out of everything, I particularly liked the fusion of different themes and cultures that this city offers. It embodies Chinese culture, some old and modern Japanese culture, night markets, natural landscapes, a vital gay community, and a super-rich vegan culinary scene (of which I will wrote a post just for that).
In total we had roughly three days in the city, after arriving there from the nearby town of Jiufen (which I will also cover in this post). We didn’t rush ourselves, stopping many times to take photos, for coffee breaks, visiting local shops, and just exploring our surroundings. Basically, if you want to see more places than we did – you can definitely do it in three days. I’ll write some more options for things to do at the end of the post.
Where to sleep in Taipei
We stayed at the Tango Hotel Taipei Jiantan which was absolutely awesome. It’s located only a 10 minute walk from Shilin Night Market and has a train and many bus stations conveniently close. We had a mountain view from our room, so although we were staying in the heart of the capital city, from our room it felt like we were in some kind of resort. One last thing about the hotel – my dear partner told the hotel in advance that it was my birthday, and they very sweetly arranged complementary local fruits and sweets attached to a heartwarming birthday card. So nice of them!
Where to go
Now I guess it’s time to get to know the city:
Shilin Night Market
This market is said to be the biggest night market in Taipei. You can find all sorts of interesting Taiwanese street foods there (vegan recommendations will be featured in an upcoming Vegan Taipei post!). There are also many stalls of clothing and fashion items. I especially enjoyed the fair games – fishing plastic fish, shooting targets, bow and arrow, amongst many other games. The whole area has a very lively atmosphere.
A general note for crowded places – take care of your belongings! Don’t put your wallet in your back pocket, and make sure you always know where your phone is. These precautions will prevent very unfortunate ‘incidents’, so you can continue enjoying your trip!
Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall
This was the first place we visited in the city, and it was a great introduction to what was to come. Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall is an important cultural center in the city. After crossing the giant gates (it has a few), you’ll be in an oasis, unaware of the bustling city outside. The area includes beautiful gardens and a few buildings, but the main attraction is the very impressive octagonal hall. This memorial hall was built in memory of the first leader of Taiwan, aka The Republic of China. Without getting into too many historic details, I will just mention that after losing to the communists in 1949, Chiang Kai-Shek was exiled to Taiwan along with his government. If you want to learn more, I highly recommend this video, for a light and casual explanation of the historical process.
The octagonal hall has four stories. On the first floor, there are a few exhibitions and interest-spots. The 3D floor-drawing at the entrance is a great place to take funny pictures. There’s a permanent exhibition dedicated to Chiang Kai-Shek, and a few temporary exhibitions. When we visited, there were three temporary exhibitions: Fishwear- Vibrant Ocean Art (which was free), Garfield’s 40th Anniversary (which we didn’t go to), and the extraordinary Reshaped Reality －50 Years of Hyperrealistic Sculpture exhibition. The last one was one of the most memorable places we went on this trip. I think the pictures below can explain better than words. We did pay to enter. I can’t remember how much but it was affordable. There were also free art exhibitions on the 2nd and the 3rd floors.
On the fourth floor lays a large bronze statue of Chiang Kai-Shek. You can step out onto the balcony to see the beautiful gardens around the main octagonal hall. There’s also an impressive short guard mounting ceremony that takes place at regular intervals.
As we came from Japan, we had the impression that “we’ve seen enough temples for a lifetime”, and that Taiwan’s temples might be similar. Gosh, we were wrong! Although both Japan and Taiwan have Buddhist temples, in Taiwan there are also Taoist and Confucian temples. For someone who is not familiar with these religions, it’s hard to tell which temple belongs to which religion, and some of them are dedicated to gods from various religions. This is the case with Longshan Temple.
This temple combines Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian faiths, and was first built in 1738. However, after suffering from earthquakes and bombings during the war in 1945, it needed to be rebuilt after the war was over. Every corner has extraordinary pieces of art, such as stone carvings, sculptures, and countless details to look at. There’s even a small artificial waterfall at the entrance. You can really absorb some Taiwanese culture here, while quietly observing the locals pray.
Right outside the temple there’s The Herb Lane, where you can see, buy and smell local herbs – from dried plants to tree bark. It’s one of Taipei’s oldest districts, which makes it an interesting place to stroll around.
One of the places I enjoyed the most! Although it is often called ‘The Harajuku of Taipei’, I didn’t quite agree with this definition. Yes, it is home to some subcultures and has gay bars, graffiti decorated streets and kawaii fashion shops, but has its very own unique charm. Except for strolling around the area for fun, here are a few cool spots you can check out:
The Red House
This place was the first government-built public market, constructed by the Japanese back in 1908. It had many uses in the past, as a public market, bookstore, cinema, and theatre. Nowadays it’s home to many creative shops selling artistic goods such as clothing, houseware, games, and more.
This temple was very hard to notice until the moment we were in front of it – since it’s in between so many shops and food stalls. Similarly to other Taiwanese temples, this one was very colorful and artistically impressive too. I really recommend taking a look if you’re around.
Modern Toilet Restaurant
Ever craved diarrhea cocoa or urine mango juice? Neither did I, and still I had to try it out! In this hilarious concept café, you can make your dream of being served food and drinks placed in a mini toilet bowl come true. Yay! We comfortably sat on closed toilet bowls and observed many poo-like dishes and decorations while enjoying our drinks. We didn’t really try any of the food as we weren’t hungry, but just being there was a very amusing experience. Try it out if you want to have something very unusual to tell your friends when you arrive home 😉
The Graffiti Area
Near Taipei Cinema Park (starting from Lane 96, Kunming Street) you can see super artistic graffiti paintings on just about everything. If you like street-art, or if you’re just looking for a cool area to take photos, this is the place for you!
Ximending Night Market
Actually, we didn’t get the chance to visit because of the limited time we had in the city, but if you’re around at night time you definitely should check it out. It’s one of the most recommended night markets in the city!
Taipei 101 Observation Deck
And now it’s time for a confession: I don’t like standing in long lines. I can totally give up doing something or going somewhere if there will be long queues. We read in so many places that there will be about a one-hour queue for the Taipei 101 Observation. I seriously considered waiting that long! It does look like an awesome place, and it was the highest building in the world between 2003-2008, but we gave up going in. Lately we have visited so many observations, like Tokyo Tower, and The World Trade Center in Tokyo, so it’s hard to say we were thrilled to see another observatory (although this one is much higher).
So what did we do?
We went there and spent some time in the area. It’s not very spoken-of, but around the observation there’s a really nice shopping district. We were looking around at shops, enjoying the city night lights, and ate at the amazing restaurant Herbivore. Enjoying the appearance of the building from the outside was good enough for us. However, if you like observatories – try it out! Let me know how it was for you 😃
National Palace Museum
This museum was one of the most impressive museums I’ve seen in terms of historical importance. It holds nearly 700,000 pieces of various items (predominantly artworks) originally owned by the Chinese imperial families. Some of the items are estimated to be 8,000 years old! Actually, the survival of these precious items should not be taken for granted; during the cultural revolution in China, many precious historical items were destroyed. The revolution took place less than 20 years after these items were brought to Taiwan – so luckily they were kept safe. Maybe it’s just the nerd inside of me, but looking at items that were used by people living thousands of years before my time really gives me chills!
A day trip to Jiufen
This beautiful small town is situated on the top of a mountain and views the Northern ocean line of Taiwan. It developed as a gold mining town, but gold mining activity ended during the early 1970s. Now it’s thriving thanks to tourists coming to visit its enchanting scenery. You can visit the old street, and enjoy the narrow alleys, the ocean view, and the little shops in daytime and night time. There is something really magical about this place, with the stairways going up and down, countless tea houses, and red lamps everywhere.
It is most famous for being an inspiration for the Hayao Miyazaki movie Spirited Away (although Miyazaki denied it lol). The teahouse most reminiscent of the movie’s house is A-Mei. You’ll recognize it immediately as many visitors want to take a photo with it in the background.
Jiufen also has a few temples, which are very big and impressive. We were also lucky to see a religious ceremony held in Hà Hải Thành Hoàng Miếu Temple. Clerics prayed while throwing candies and coins, and the crowd then collected them from the floor. Although we saw it by chance, it was a fascinating experience.
After traveling around the east coast of Taiwan, we could only stay in Jiufen for about two hours as we had to give the car back on time. One tip to mention here is – don’t park at the first parking spot you see! Continue up the hill a little – you’ll find significantly cheaper parking (should be around 150 NTD). Regarding the amount of time to spend there, I truly feel that those two hours were enough; we saw pretty much everything we planned. If we had the option, we would have extended our stay an hour or two, to see the sunset and the town in the night lights.
A few more places in Taipei
Taipei is a great city and has so much to offer! We definitely didn’t see everything. More places you can visit that we didn’t get the chance to see:
- Beitou Hot Spring Museum
- Lover’s Bridge
- Maokong Gondola
- Elephant Mountain hike
- and many more places…
There’s also a huge vegan scene there. It was so good and so diverse that I will dedicate a future post just for this!
If you’re planning your trip to Taipei around October, you might find yourselves in East Asia’s biggest gay parade that takes place in the city! In general, the city is known for its LGBT community that encourages acceptance and respect for every person, regardless of their sexual preferences. I can’t tell you how much I support this attitude!