Thanks to Tripoto and the Taiwan Tourism Board, I got to visit Taiwan in May 2017. An independent state in the far east, Taiwan is a highly underrated destination which is not on the radar for most people visiting Asia. So here is an article featuring 10 things you can do in Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan, which might encourage you to plan a trip for yourselves!
1. Visit a Taiwanese night market
The Taipei experience is incomplete without a visit to one of its numerous night markets. Here, you can sample Taiwanese snacks, buy funky accessories and stylish clothes in line with East Asian fashion trends, enjoy a live performance from an upcoming local band, or just enjoy the hustle and bustle of the market.
These markets typically open around dusk and go on till late night. Some of the most famous night markets in Taipei are the Shilin night market, Huaxi/Huahsi night market, Raohe Street Night Market and Ningxia Night Market.
Special mention: Do visit the Ximending market if you have time (it isn’t a night market per se, though it remains open at night). Besides the usual food, clothes and accessories, it also has a section where local artisans put up stalls to showcase their products.
2. Eat the world’s best dumplings at Din Tai Fung
Din Tai Fung (DTF) is a Taiwanese chain of restaurants serving delicious Chinese food. Though it has outlets in over 12 countries today, nothing beats eating some insanely good pork/chicken steamed dumplings and noodles at the original outlet in the Xinyi district. If you’re lucky enough, you could sit at the same table where Tom Cruise once sat and enjoyed the DTF delicacies on offer.
Vegetarians – fear not! The restaurant has several tasty options available that would be suitable for your palette too.
For my article on vegetarian snacks of Taiwan, click here.
3. Have a bird’s eye view of Taipei from the Taipei 101 observatory
At a height of 509m, the Taipei 101 building was the tallest building in the world until 2010 and is still one of Taiwan’s most iconic structures. It houses offices, shops and restaurants (including DTF) on the lower floors and there is a special lift for visitors, which goes up to the indoor observatory on the 89th floor in only 37 seconds!
Here, you can get a 360 degree view of the city and learn about the building, its history and structure through info boxes located around the observatory. You can also climb the stairs to the 91st floor (that’s the highest you can go). Also don’t miss the mass damper located on the 88th floor, a giant pendulum that makes the building earthquake proof.
4. See nature’s wonderful creations at the Yehliu Geopark
Yehliu is a beautiful area located along the coast, and is a popular tourist attraction. The drive from the main city to this geo-park is simply fantastic – wide roads with the hills on one side and the sea on the other. The geopark is split into 3 areas, and has unique rock formations formed over the years due to erosion (shapes include a queen’s head, an ice cream, a fairy shoe, a mushroom etc). While walking, you’ll also come across fossils in the ground.
If you are a nature enthusiast, do make it a point to visit Yehliu, especially for the drive and the sea-view from the geo-park.
Also, there is an Ocean World right opposite the park, which has dolphin shows for visitors.
5. Soak your worries away in a private thermal bath at Beitou
Thermal hot springs are said to reduce stress, increase energy levels and even treat arthritis and eczema. Now imagine – your very own sulphur spa, straight from the tap into your bathtub, in the hotel room you have booked for yourself for an overnight stay. All this for only INR 5000 (starting range for a double room with breakfast included). This is exactly what you will get at Beitou and it is one of the best ways to relax after an exhausting day. Highly recommended.
If you, however, don’t want to book the room for an overnight stay, then you can book the room for a few hours, use the public hot springs or pay to use the rooftop sulphur pool of the Spa Spring Resort (not private, but great view).
6. Meet the Pandas at the Taipei Zoo
A visit to the Taipei Zoo was a last minute plan for me, and I wasn’t let down! The zoo is extremely well maintained and has a great variety of animals to observe. I watched Yuan Yuan and Tuan Tuan, the pandas, lazily walking around their enclosures and chewing on bamboo shoots, Flynn the koala, hugging a tree and sleeping all afternoon, penguins waddling and flapping their wings, giraffes nuzzling, red pandas playfully fighting for a bowl of food, and zebras wagging their tails, amongst many others.
So try and make your way to the zoo for an exciting morning/afternoon. And before you visit, do check the zoo website to ensure that the display areas you are interested in are open.
7. Walk through the ancient streets of Jiufen
Jiufen is an old mining town that is now well known for its street food and tea houses (it was the setting of a few famous movies in the recent past). Lined with traditional red lanterns, its streets are filled with food vendors selling taro balls, pineapple and mochi cakes, ice creams rolls, ginger tea, pork jerky, mushrooms, nougat… the list is never-ending.
As the town is located on a hill, its tea houses lie perched up on the cliffside, with gorgeous views of the sea and horizon. This town transports you back in time, and visiting it is a great way to see what old Taiwan might have been like.
8. Make your own sky lantern at Shifen
Sky lanterns are synonymous with the feeling of festivity and hope in Taiwanese culture. And a great way to experience it is by creating your own personalised lantern at Shifen!
Shifen is located in the Pingxi district, which is also where the famed ‘Taiwan Lantern Festival’ is held annually. Once you reach Shifen Old Street, you’ll find vendors selling paper and bamboo lanterns in a variety of colours for you to choose from.
Once you have chosen yours, you can paint your wishes on it, before sending it off into the sky. The sight of the colourful and brightly lit lanterns rising up is something that can never be forgotten. And to top it off, you get to do all this while standing in the middle of an active railway track! (there is a guard who blows his whistle vigorously each time a train is approaching)
9. Learn about Taiwan’s history and culture at its national monuments and temples
Any country with a rich heritage would have numerous monuments, museums, and religious sites that would showcase its history and culture. Taiwan is no different. However, two sites that are not to be missed would be the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial and Longshan Temple in Taipei.
The Chiang Kai Shek Memorial is one of Taiwan’s most important national monuments, which was built in honor and memory of Chiang Kai Shek, the country’s leader for over 25 years. This monument is extraordinary, not only because of its grandeur and architecture, but also because its museum serves as an important lesson in Taiwanese history and politics.
Also, ensure that you don’t miss the changing of the guards ceremony at the memorial hall – it takes place almost every hour.
Similarly, the Longshan Temple is one of the oldest and most popular temples of Taiwan, where people come to pay their respects to God, make a wish, find an answer to a question that is bothering them, or simply to make an offering. It is also a perfect place to immerse yourself in Taiwanese culture.
10. Cycle by the river at Tamsui
Tamsui, also known as Danshui, is named after the Tamsui River near which it is located. Here, you can rent a cycle for the day (or even a few hours) and cycle around town –through the old streets, by the riverside and along the Fisherman’s Wharf.
Cycling trail suggestion– start near Tamsui Old Street where you also have the chance to try local Taiwanese delicacies and buy souvenirs. Stop over at Fort San Domingo along the way, to explore the old fortress built by the Spaniards in the 1600s. Then continue cycling by the river, all the way to the Lover’s Bridge at Fisherman’s Wharf. If you decide to take a break, you can always go to one of the numerous cafes and restaurants along the riverfront (particularly famous for fresh seafood).