Taipei is often overlooked as a destination in Asia, maybe due to it’s location where many foreigners must obtain a visa prior to entry. You don’t actually need a visa (if you’re American or European and some Asian countries) to enter Taiwan. However, I think this is rather a shame because Taipei has quite a lot to offer everyone. I particularly enjoyed Taipei for the food, Taiwan is known in Asia has having amazing street food and should be a real, off the beaten track mecca for foodies. My husband and I spend two days in Taipei sandwiched by killer red eye flights round trip from Japan (for an insanely cheap $125 each) and we had an awesome time.
Taipei Comes Alive at Night
Taipei is an all night city, most flights seem to come in and out in the middle of the night, case in point, our flight arrived at 01:00 am! By the time we made it to the frustratingly long immigration line there were hundreds of people waiting to enter the country. Like I stated earlier, in Taiwan, many countries, the US included, do not require a visa to enter, in fact all you need is proof that you plan on leaving the country within 90 days and a valid Passport for the duration of your trip. However, all we were asked for was our passports and off we went. Now, because our arrival time was in the wee hours of the morning there was no available bus service to Taipei (about a 40 minute drive from the airport) so we had arranged a car to pick us up for $1200 NTD (about $40 us). And I am very glad we did. It took almost two full hours to get through immigration and customs so by the time we finally exited the airport it was almost 03:00 am. Our driver was waiting with a sign with my name on it and I couldn’t be more happy to see him. After a harrowing ride to Taipei we arrived, very confused at a building in the center of Taipei that did not in any way look like a hotel. But our driver informed us that the hotel was on floor 12 and low and behold, it was…very strange.
Thankfully we booked a very cheap hotel and opted for a room with no windows; the bed was comfortable, the room was pitch black and we zonked out! About 6 hours later we were up, showered and were in a cab to the very famous, “Din Tai Fung”, 鼎泰豐 dumpling restaurant. Din Tai Fung restaurants have locations all over the world, but the original is this one in Taipei. Famous for it’s xialongbao, 小籠包, which are Pork soup dumplings, tasty explosions in one perfect bite. I will write an entire post on Din Tai Fung later because it really is an amazing restaurant.
It’s All About the Dumplings!
After walking around the downtown area around Din Tai Fung we hopped on the subway to the closest station in proximity to the National Palace Museum. We had a quick and fresh Apple and Kiwi juice right after getting off of the train. A quick and somewhat confusing bus ride brought us to the foot of the steps to the National Palace Museum.
The National Palace Museum is one of the world’s great museums and it is for a very interesting and somewhat controversial reason. The extensive museum has artifacts that were taken from the Forbidden City in Beijing (about 700,000 articles in fact), and brought to Taipei for safe keeping while China figured out where to put them. Well after about 15 years of the artifacts sitting in Taipei they decided to build a museum for them and there they have stayed. Many “mainlanders” think the artifacts should be returned to mainland China, but alas they remain in Taipei in this grand museum. The mainlanders don’t seem to be too upset, though, because the museum was chock full of Chinese tourists. The museum had some very interesting exhibits, a couple of which we thought were kind of funny, like the Pork belly and cabbage made out of Jade. It took as a good few hours to walk around and see as much as we could.
You simply can not go to Taipei and not go to Taipei 101, especially since travel in Taipei is just so darn easy and convenient. After exiting the subway station that is literally at the base of Taipei 101, we walked past another Din Tai Fung branch and into the iconic building that for a brief moment was the tallest building in the world. I had already been to the top the first time I went to Taipei about nine years ago, when it actually was the tallest building in the world, but my husband, not this biggest fan of heights, didn’t want to ride the expensive yet fast elevator to the top. Instead of going to the top we wandered the famous food court and tried some pineapple cake from the stores. We had a couple more fresh fruit juices (loved Taipei for the fruit juice) and used up some free wifi.
After a couple hours rest at our hotel we headed for the famous Taipei night markets. Because we are huge foodies we opted for the less touristy, more food-centric Raohe Night Market. It was definitely full of locals and Asian tourists, and it smelled…ripe! Now I’m not being mean, it’s supposed to smell, it’s famous for it’s “stinky tofu”, and it was everywhere. Oh my gosh did it stink…I really don’t think I’ll ever smell anything again quite like it, and I kind of hope I never do. We ate the famous pepper buns which were also…interesting. We walked up and down the market, breathing out of our mouths, tried some pepper buns, viewed the offerings and got the heck out of there. It was a surreal and a bit overwhelming experience.
Our second and last day in Taipei consisted of many temple visits. We left our bag at the hotel after checking out, got some authentic New York style pizza down the street at “Fat Boyz” and boy was it good! Then we headed to the Confucius and Baoan Temples. There was a small farmers market at the subway station so after a quick mosey through the stalls we walked to the temples. The Confucius temple was orderly, quiet and serene. There were no other tourists and barely any people, it was a nice calm visit. Catty corner to the Confucius temple is UNESCO world heritage site, Baoan Temple. Baoan Temple was a stark contrast to the Confucius Temple, it was full of people meditation and praying, giving up beautiful offerings, burning incense and ornate murals depicting ancient battles and so on. Once again, we were the only tourists and we really enjoyed our visit.
We decided to take a cab to the Dihua Shopping district to see what was on offer. Now, unlike what most westerners think of as a shopping district, Dihua is full of herbs, dried mushrooms, shaved deer antlers and ginseng as opposed to handbags, shoes and electronics. Walking through Dihua street was like stepping back in time to the magical orient of 1930s movies. It was enchanting and mysterious and we absolutely loved it, beware however, there are Stinky Tofu stalls! (We just couldn’t seem to get away from them.)
We also couldn’t go to Taipei and not check out the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall and grounds. It was my husband’s first experience with such amazing architecture and it didn’t disappoint. Much of it was under renovations and covered in scaffolding, but thankfully the front was not and we were able to see the Hall in all its glory.
The last stop of the day was the very busy and overcrowded Longshun Temple. This is the temple that is in all the guidebooks and low and behold, we found all the tourists in Taipei, all in the same place. We weren’t huge fans. There was a lot of selling of cheap souvenirs, begging for the first time that we experienced, and general unpleasantness. The one tip I would give to prospective travelers to Taipei is to skip Longhun temple and head to Baoan!
By this time is was night and time to head to the airport. Thankfully we were able to take the much cheaper bus, about $125 NTD ($5 usd) each. The ride was smooth and took about an hour. Our flight didn’t leave until 03:30 am so we had time to kill in the airport.
All in all Taipei was a great a two day trip, we did everything we wanted to do and more. It’s a very popular destination for long term travelers hoping to renew their tourists visas in the nearby countries like Japan and South Korea. It’s known for its excellent food and friendly hospitality. It’s like China-light, the people are friendly, the food is delicious and for the most part everything is relatively cheap. I would definitely recommend this destination for those who want to experience something new and less traveled in Asia.
Have you been to Taipei? Do you have any tips to share?