Taipei is the capital of Taiwan, which is officially known as the Republic of China (ROC). There may be some controversy over whether Taiwan is recognized as an independent country or not, but there's no doubt that Taipei is a modern, clean, wacky metropolis with a lively night market scene and friendly people who LOVE a claw machine.
Taipei has the all expected temples, museums and tourist attractions, but there's another side to the city that is quirky and wonderful. Below is a list of what I recommend for things to do and places to eat/drink (some standard, some weird), if you find yourself in Taipei for a few days.
Things to do:
*GREEN CROSSING MAN: I don't know why, but one of the things that tickled me the most was the pedestrian crossing signals. Whilst exploring, note the animated green man at crosswalks. He walks to start, then runs as the time counts down, before turning red and stationary. This gave me a little chuckle at every corner!
*TAIPEI 101: This skyscraper, at a height of 1,667 feet, was once the world’s tallest building (from 2003-2007). From the fifth floor of the 101 building, you can buy tickets to the observation deck. Take the lift up to the 89th floor (which takes only 37-seconds) for 360-degree panoramic views of Taipei. Whilst you're up there, walk down to the 88th floor and have yourself a cocktail at Bar 88.
*LONGSHAN TEMPLE: The most well known temple in Taiwan is the Longshan Temple, built in 1738. It's free to enter, but donations are accepted, to maintain upkeep.
*XIMENDING PEDESTRIAN ZONE: This was the first pedestrian zone in Taiwan and the biggest in the country. Whether you want to shop, eat or people watch, this bustling place is wort a stroll.
*228 PEACE PARK: This park memorializes the victims of the February 28, 1947 incident in which an anti-government uprising in Taiwan was violently suppressed by the Kuomintang-led Republic of China government, killing thousands of civilians (~10,000). The massacre marked the beginning of the White Terror where tens of thousands of subsequent Taiwanese went missing, died or were imprisoned.
*CHIAN KAI-SHECK MEMORIAL HALL AND LIBERTY SQUARE: Chian Kai-Sheck is a national monument, landmark and tourist attraction, erected in memory of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, former President of the Republic of China. It looks out over Liberty Square.
At the top of each hour, from 9am to 5pm, you can see the changing of the guards at Chian Kai-Sheck Memorial Hall. This bizarre ceremony is unlike any other guards changing I have ever seen (video below).
*IMMERSE YOURSELF IN THE HELLO KITTY CRAZE: Despite originating in Japan, Taiwanese adults and children alike have adopted the Hello Kitty cartoon as if it was their own. There is a whole terminal (#2) dedicated to Hello Kitty in Taipei's Taoyuan International Airport, from which you can fly Eva Air's Hello Kitty jet. Taiwan also has a Hello Kitty-inspired tourist train, Hello Kitty-themed accommodations and a maternity hospital with a Hello Kitty motif. And don't forget the specialty souvenir shops and cafes dotted around Taipei that are all centered around this cat.
*JIANGUO HOLIDAY FLOWER AND JADE MARKETS: If you find yourself in Taipei on a weekend, and you want to buy yourself a jade souvenir or some flowers, this is the place. Both markets are located under an overpass and operate from 9am to 6pm. The earlier you go, the less busy it is.
*BEITOU HOT SPRINGS: Just under one-hour's metro journey from Taipei's Main Station, you'll find Beitou Hot Springs. To get there, take the red Tamsui-Xinyi metro line to Beitou Station and then transfer to the pink line, for one stop, to Xinbeitou (the pink line train is super cute and colorful). There are over 20 hotels and bath houses in the area, offering public or private bathing options, but we went to the mixed gender, public Beitou Public Hot Spring (AKA Millennium Hot Spring because it was opened to the public in December 1999). This open-air complex includes three hot pools (ranging from warm to scalding) and two cold ones. It can be quite crowded. The pools are closed at various intervals each day, for cleaning (open times are listed in a photo below). Entrance is 40NT (~$1.30 USD). Towels are not provided. There are coin-operated lockers for your belongings. Other than the public hot springs, most other Beitou attractions are closed on Mondays (we found this out the hard way), so I suggest visiting another day of the week.
Places to Eat/Drink:
*MODERN TOILET: If you can get past the weirdness of sitting on a toilet seat, eating poo-shaped foods and drinking out of mini urinals, then you should go to this restaurant and have a laugh. The food isn't award-winning, but it's certainly a unique experience.
*DIN TAI FUNG - This delicious dumpling institution originated in Taiwan in 1958. The tradition of Din Tai Fung continues today, globally, in the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, and Thailand.
*WET: This rooftop bar is located on the 10th floor of the W Taipei. Head poolside for some skyline views, trendy atmosphere, wine/cocktails and some beats.
*SHILIN NIGHT MARKET: Located about 70 meters from the Jiantan MRT Station, this market is a maze of alleyways, filled with chaos, local cuisine, merchandise and games. Shilin is Taiwan's largest and most popular night market.
*RAKUMENYA XIMEN RESTAURANT: If you're in the Ximending neighborhood and craving ramen, visit Rakumenya. Place your order on a tablet and enjoy.
*MONO MONO: This cocktail bar is off the beaten path and a little hard to find, which gives
it an exclusive feel. Reviews say it is quite busy, but it was fairly empty when I went.
Know Before You Go:
US citizens do not need a visa, but must show proof of an onward journey (bring a printout of your flight departing Taiwan).
A landing card must be completed upon arrival (so bring a pen).
When you go through passport control, your fingerprints will be recorded electronically. When you leave, you simply scan your fingerprints at a machine and you're done. No need to show a passport and no exit stamp is provided.
The MRT is the easiest way to get into the city from Taoyuan Airport. It's about 40-mins to Taipei Main Station and costs 150 Taiwan New Dollars (~$5 USD).
People LOOOVE to queue. If there is a line somewhere, people will join it, with the mentality that whatever is on the other end must be good, even if they don't know what it is.
Taipei did not seem to have a big drinking culture. Beers were available at some places, but people did not seem to be out drinking and wine was nearly impossible to find, outside Western hotel chains.
My mobile (UK Vodafone, on a Worldwide corporate plan) operated for £5/day.
Uber is available in Taipei or there's Find Taxi.
The weather in early October was about 29°C or 84°F. It was humid, but not too sticky, the sun was out, there was a slight breeze, we only had a few sprinkles and there were no bugs.
There are plans for Taiwan to establish English as it's official language, in the upcoming years, along with Mandarin.
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