Taipei, capital city of the small island nation of Taiwan in East Asia, a modern metropolis reminiscent of Hong Kong, Tokyo and Shanghai. Crowded streets, rowdy night markets and bustling nightlife – everything a nocturnal being like myself could possibly crave for is right here in Taipei.
Taipei is often a stopover for backpackers and travelers who wish to explore smaller but similarly scenic and nature-oriented regions in Taiwan such as Tainan, Taichung, Alishan … I had a weekend to spare in the sprawling city of Taipei, and here’s what I got up to:
Taipei 101 boasts the tallest skyscraper in Taiwan, and was once the tallest building in the world until the Burj Khalifa in Dubai surpassed it in 2009. Regardless, it contains an observation deck and offers a magnificent, panoramic view of Taipei’s cityscape for NT$500 per adult. Not to mention, a shopping mall is located inside and underground of Taipei 101 that screams luxury and opulence – however, this might not be of interest to those on a tight budget.
How to get there: Take MRT to Taipei 101 Station
Ximending Shopping District
We headed to Ximending, which is what I found to be the epitome of Taiwanese youth culture. As you stroll along the streets of Ximending, you will notice nuances of Japanese subculture which is popular among the local youth as well. Ximending is an extensive shopping district just one station away from Taipei Main Station; within its vicinity you will find a large variety of Taiwanese and international restaurants and shopping that caters to every demographic imaginable. Come dawn and the quiet side alleys transform into vibrant street stalls, bars and clubs.
How to get there: Take MRT to Ximen Station
Night Markets in Taipei
Taipei’s overwhelming love for night markets does not disappoint. Head down to Shilin Night Market or Raohe Night Market and discover an abundance of scrumptious street food. Additionally, you will find everything and anything at night markets in Taipei; from clothes to souvenirs to electronics, the list is endless. Unfortunately, bargaining here is not as easy as most backpackers are typically used to in Southeast Asia!
How to get there: Take MRT to JianTan station for Shilin Night Market. Take MRT to Song Shan Station for Raohe Night Market.
Bonus – Quintessential Taiwanese street foods you must try:
- Oyster omelet
- Oyster vermicelli
- Stinky tofu
- Fried chicken
- Taiwanese sausage
- Pork blood cake
Escape the city and catch a train to Beitou, the northernmost of Taipei city’s twelve districts. Renowned for its natural lush greenery, historical and cultural significance and hot springs, it offers an array of activities for a convenient day trip out of Taipei city.
How to get there: Take MRT at Taipei Main Station on the Tamshui-xinyi Line marked in red, heading towards Tamshui. Transfer lines at Beitou station to Xinbeitou station. The entire duration of the journey should take 30 minutes.
Beitou Geothermal Valley
Beitou Geothermal Valley is a natural, volcanic crater containing jade-coloured, sulfuric hot spring water blanketed with a cloudy white steam. The water itself reaches temperatures of up to 80 – 100 degrees Celsius.
How to get there: Exit Xinbeitou MRT station and make your way up Zhongshan Road which will take you straight to Beitou Thermal Valley, a landmark that is indubitably a must-go when in Beitou.
Along the way, you will encounter various smaller landmarks and museums that are have free admission and are worth having a look:
- Beitou Park
- Ketagalan Culture Center
- Beitou Hot Spring Museum
- Plum Garden
Beitou Garden Spa
You will come across Beitou Garden Spa on your walk to the Beitou Geothermal Valley, a public bath house hidden in the beautiful, thriving greens. These natural hot springs contain sulfur and is said to bring about numerous health benefits. Maximise your day trip by indulging in this relaxing experience. The admission fee NT $40 and it is a mixed public bath house, therefore you must bring a bathing suit with you.
Alternatively, if you are uncomfortable with the idea of a mixed-gender public bath, you may opt to stay at one of the local hotels that provide private, gender-separated hot springs, which are free for hotel residents or for a fee for non-residents.
We stayed at Beitou Hot Spring Resort for NT$5080 per room, a 4-star hotel which provided us with unlimited access to their private, indoor hot spring.
Famous Ramen in Beitou
Anytime you’re famished from exploring Beitou, Man Lai Hot Spring Ramen is a popular local ramen shop to drop by. It gets busy during regular meal times, particularly on weekends, so do anticipate some time spent waiting in line, but I can assure you that it is worth the wait!
Taiwan being a former Japanese colony, has retained a significant amount of Japanese culture, architecture and cuisine. This local establishment is an embodiment of that – they really do cook up a tasty, affordable bowl of ramen!
Address: No. 110, Wenquan Rd, Beitou District, Taipei City, Taiwan
Hours: 11:30-14:00 & 17:00-21:30
Price: NT$120 per bowl of ramen
National Palace Museum
If you’re interested in having more insight into ancient Chinese history, kickstart your day with a peaceful morning strolling the National Palace Museum which carries an extensive display of Chinese art and artifacts.
How to get there: Take the MRT to Shilin Station followed by bus R30
Price: NT$250 for general admission
Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall
Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall is a historical monument built in memory of Chiang Kai-Shek himself, the former president of China. It is absolutely worth visiting to witness the impressive architecture. Not to mention, the National Concert Hall and National Theater are conveniently adjacent to the memorial hall.
How to get there: MRT to CKS Memorial Hall Station
Other notable points of interests:
- Mengjia Longshan Temple
- Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall
Famous Taiwanese Beef Noodles
In a midst of hunger and panic I googled “best beef noodles in Taipei” and the first result popped up: Yong Kang Street Beef Noodles. It was an effort to arrive at the destination, but this was immediately forgotten when I took my first bite of their flavourful, succulent and tender chunks of beef.
Address: No. 17, Lane 31, Section 2, Jinshan S Rd, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106
Price: NT$220 for one small bowl
Hours: 1100 – 1530, 1630 – 2100