13 Sep A Photo Essay: Taipei, Taiwan
Taiwan has always intrigued me. When I was little, I only knew of the country because of the “Made in Taiwan” imprint on my toys. I always wondered where this place called Taiwan was. As I grew older, I slowly learned more about the fascinating little island that had only flitted in and out of my imagination over the years. Rather than being filled with only factories, I learned that Taiwan is home to beautiful landscapes and national parks. I read about its complicated relationship with China and whether or not Taiwan should be considered an independent country. And, get this…the garbage trucks play Beethoven in the streets to alert residents that it’s time to take out their trash. Each new fact I learned gave me a greater desire to visit the tiny island nation. So, when I found extremely cheap airfare to Taipei (for around $400 per person roundtrip from our home airport in Minnesota), I couldn’t resist snagging a couple of tickets.
On our way to Taiwan, we ended up with a 24 layover in Vancouver due to a flight schedule change. And due to the layover combined with long flights and crossing the international date line, what we expected to be 1.5 weeks in the country shrunk to just 8 full days. We had planned to check out different parts of the country, but in the end, we decided to base ourselves in Taipei and take a couple of day trips outside the city. We didn’t have the best weather during our visit…aka lots and lots of cloudy skies, but we still had a blast and loved our time in Taiwan.
One of our favorite pastimes in Taipei was just wandering around the streets and absorbing our surroundings. There is something about Asian cities that I just love—maybe it’s the energy and the fascinating mix of ancient temples and modern skyscrapers—but whatever the case, Taipei won me over. I’ve heard from many people that Taipei is an ugly city and not worth your time, but we thoroughly enjoyed everything about it.
Our base for the trip was at the Bee House Hotel located less than a 10-minute walk from both the Taipei Main Station and the Zhongshan Station. We liked the central location and found it very easy to get everywhere we wanted to go in the city. The hotel itself was adorable and the staff were wonderful. Our room was small and simple but still cute and comfortable. The only thing we didn’t like was that our room lacked a window, but no windows seemed common at hotels in Taipei from what I found when browsing online. Breakfast was included in our reservation, so every morning we were able to order a fresh breakfast from the café and in the afternoon, we received a discount on any coffee, tea or baked goods. It was a nice place to stay, but I would definitely recommend a room with a window if you don’t mind the extra cost of upgrading!
When we arrived in Taipei, we couldn’t help but return to one of our favorite restaurants from our trip to Japan: Ichiran Ramen. Yes, it’s a chain and serves Japanese food, but a new location opened up in Taipei a few months before our visit, and we couldn’t wait to return. We were jet lagged, hungry and craving ramen, and it was the perfect way to warm up on a chilly, rainy day.
Plus, that evening, we were going on a night market food tour, so we knew we’d be sampling plenty of local snacks in no time at all. I love taking food tours in a new destination—it is a great way to learn about a cuisine and sample a variety of dishes. I always end up trying a few foods that I would have overlooked on my own. In this case, one of those items was stinky tofu. I’ll be honest, I probably would have chickened out if I had to order it myself, but when our guide insisted we try it, I did and ended up loving it! Micah wasn’t a fan though, haha! You win some, you lose some, am I right? Throughout the tour at the Ningxia Night Market we sampled pork rice bowls, oyster omelets, fried chicken, and more. It was a tasty night indeed.
We went to several other night markets during our time in Taipei, as well. Shilin Night Market, Raohe Night Market, Ximending Night Market, Shida Night Market are a few that we visited. Each one was filled with a unique array of food stalls, shops, massage parlors and more, and we loved finding the similarities and differences between the markets.
Throughout our trip, we tried so many amazing dishes. We will write a full post about our favorite meals soon, but in the meantime, here are photos of some of our favorites. We tried the GIANT Hot-Star Large Fried Chicken, bubble tea, hot pot, a mountain of pineapple shaved ice, beef noodle soup, soup dumplings (and more!) at the famous Din Tai Fung, and we even ate at a toilet themed restaurant.
On our last morning in town, we made our way to Coffee Planet for a cup of joe. We loved that you could pick the type of coffee and how you wanted it brewed. There were so many options to choose from. Micah and I both decided on the same coffee, but we got it brewed in a different way. I had mine made with the siphon brewing method (which looked like a science experiment!), and Micah had his drip brewed. It was interesting to taste the difference between the two when they were finished…even if it did cost us an arm and a leg for our coffee!
We unintentionally timed our visit to Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall just right—we arrived minutes before the changing of the guards ceremony started. The memorial hall was under construction during our visit, but the rest of the grounds were still beautiful to explore.
The National Palace Museum is home to one of the largest collections of ancient Chinese imperial artwork and artifacts in the world. We stopped in one of the cafes for an afternoon dessert and coffee pick-me-up. I loved my iced bubble coffee (even though I’m not 100% sure what I ordered), and the cheesecake was a nice treat. Then, we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the museum. A couple of our favorite collections were the painting and calligraphy galleries, and we also got a kick out of the cabbage and pork belly that were carved from jadeite.
We also popped into several temples throughout our time in Taipei, as well. I love the ornate and colorful detail of the structures and it was neat to get a peek inside. Some of the temples we visited were the Longshan Temple, the Baoan Temple, the Confucius Temple, and the Ciyou Temple.
When we were driving back from the National Palace Museum, we passed an immense, towering structure—it almost looked like a monument of some sort. We later learned that it was actually an extravagant hotel called the Grand Hotel. When we were in the area later on during our trip, we decided to go in for a look around. And, wow…it was stunning!
I always enjoy seeking out locally made art when we travel, so we couldn’t resist doing some shopping at Huashan 1914 Creative Park and Songshan Cultural Creative Park. There are several creative parks throughout Taipei and basically they are art and design venues with design stores, galleries, museums, cafes, workshops, and more. They are often located in abandoned industrial buildings and filled to the brim with beautiful pieces of art. I could have spent a couple of days wandering through all the creative spaces we found, and I couldn’t resist purchasing a few items to take home with us, as well.
Urban hiking trails are right up our alley, so one morning we took the short hike up to the top of Elephant Mountain. Once you reach the top, you have a great view of Taipei 101, one of the tallest buildings in the world.
After looking at Taipei 101 from the top of Elephant Mountian, we decided it was time to go inside to the observation tower near the top of the building. We arrived just after the observation deck opened, so we were able to spend a good hour peering out the windows in peace before the masses started to descend. The weather wasn’t great during our visit, but it was one of the least foggy days of our entire trip. We were just glad the entire building wasn’t shrouded in clouds when we were there!
To get away from the city, we rode the Maokong Gondola to spend a quiet day visiting a tea house in the mountains. Once again, we lucked out with no lines and had one of the Crystal Cabin gondolas to ourselves! The cabin has a glass floor and expansive windows in all directions—it was so fun to ride over the hills and mountains with the city far off in the distance.
After reaching the end of our gondola ride, we walked around 30 minutes to a peaceful teahouse called Yao Yue Teahouse. We sat on the terrace with views overlooking the tea fields in the distance and brewed our tea in the traditional way by following the very detailed instructions that were provided. It was a great way to warm up on a misty, chilly afternoon.
Another stop on our itinerary was the Beitou District located roughly 30 minutes from the center of Taipei. This region is famous for its healing hot spring waters. We visited the steaming Thermal Valley, the beautiful public library, the Beitou Museum, the Xinbeitou Historic Station, and went for a soak in our own private hot spring bath at the Beitou Hot Springs Resort. The resort we went to wasn’t our first choice, but the ones we were hoping to visit had long wait times of 3-4 hours for a room. We still had a nice time relaxing, but next time I’d definitely pick a different spot for a soak.
For a day trip outside of Taipei, we ended up making our way to Yehliu Geopark. We had mixed feelings about visiting due to the weather and what we had read about crowds, but we decided to give it a go anyways. We didn’t want to go on a large tour, so we took a bus to a stop in the nearby town and walked over to the park. The crowds were absolutely insane whenever a tour bus group descended, but we still enjoyed checking out all of the strange rock formations. We also hiked a trail that led out to an overlook at the end of the cape, and we only saw a couple of other people the entire time. It was an extremely peaceful escape from both the city and the crowds throughout the rest of the park.
Even though we didn’t get to explore much of Taiwan outside of Taipei, our visit left us with a deep desire to return one day. We’d love to explore more of the nature and smaller towns that the country has to offer, in addition to seeing even more of Taipei. It was a wonderful trip and except for the weather, we couldn’t have asked for a better time!
Have you ever been to Taiwan?