BY SUSAN WANG
While Tokyo, Beijing or Shanghai may be conventional vacation choices, Taipei should be your next travel destination. Though Taipei may be small and not the most aesthetically pleasing city in the world, it’s Asia’s hidden gem. As a culinary and cultural melting pot, Taipei should not be overlooked.
Arriving in Taipei
Most visitors fly into Taoyuan International Airport (TPE), but occasionally you may fly to the older Songshan International (TSA). Irrespective of which you airport you land in, Taipei Metro or MRT, high speed rail, a bus or taxi will get you to Taipei quickly.
On a budget? Book a hotel, hostel or Airbnb near a Metro line. Most travelers stay within walking distance of the night markets.
Where to go in Taipei
Beitou Hot Springs (MRT Xinbeitou)
Taipei is known for its wonderful hot springs. They are located north of the city and can be easily accessed via MRT. Take the MRT then take a cab to your hot springs resort.
I would highly recommend that you pamper yourself and go to the Grand View Resort Beitou. This hotel resort is a relaxing oasis right outside of Taipei city. Enjoy the comforts of your own private hot springs, a breathtaking view of the mountains, and the public hot spring baths (gender separate). Not only does the resort offer relaxation as you soak in the hot sulfur water, the meals are not to be missed. A choice of Western or Chinese style breakfast is offered in the morning with a breathtaking view of rolling green hills.
Bonus tip: Book during the weekday if possible as the weekends fill up with reservations, making it impossible to visit.
Chiang Kai Shek Memorial (MRT C.K.S.)
Similar to the Lincoln Memorial in size, the C.K.S. Memorial is dedicated to Taiwan’s KMT leader Chiang Kai Shek and home to the National Performance Center. The scale of this memorial square is comparable to Tiananmen. It is walking distance to Guting and Shida night markets.
Elephant Mountain (MRT Xiangshan)
For nature lovers and avid photographers, the 40-minute hike to the top will give you a breathtaking view of Taipei and the Taipei 101 skyscraper.
Muzha Tea Plantations (Closed on Mondays, MRT Taipei Zoo—Maokong Gondola Station)
Take the Maokong gondola ride and spend a day away from the city. Visitors can sample tea and enjoy a walk around the tea plantations. Trailheads and maps are marked clearly. You can also enjoy a good cup of kung fu tea at any tea house around the area.
National Palace Museum (MRT Shilin and then Taxi or Bus)
Home to a vast collection of ancient Chinese artifacts, bronze, jades, calligraphy, paintings and more, the National Palace Museum is a museum and history buff’s paradise. Check online for rotating exhibitions. The museum has extended hours on Friday and Saturday. Head there during the evening to avoid large tourist groups.
To fully experience the culinary culture of Taiwan, be sure to stop at the many night markets around Taipei. Try the cold tahini noodles, fried tempura, oyster omelette, pineapple buns, fried pot stickers, the pork belly “gua bao” buns and the famous mango shaved ice.
- Keelung (train ride outside Taipei city)
Yongkang Street (MRT Dongmen Exit #5)
Home to the original Ding Tai Feng restaurant and Yong Kang Noodle House, this area is a gourmand’s paradise. From Japanese cuisine to street food or traditional Taiwanese cooking, this area will satiate your hunger and be easy on the wallet. Be sure to order the truffle dumplings at Ding Tai Feng.
Taipei 101 Observatory Tower (MRT Taipei 101)
Have a fear of heights? You may want to skip this. Otherwise, take the fastest elevator in the world and enjoy a breathtaking view of Taiwan. Avoid rainy days as cloud cover will block your view of the city. While there, I recommend the mango ice cream beer floats, they are quite tasty.
Tips for the traveler
- Have an unlocked phone? Purchase a data SIM card at the airport. Taoyuan offers different data packages and the staff is incredibly helpful. Data packages are affordable even on a budget. Don’t want data? Free Wi-FI is available all over Taipei, but it can be spotty.
- You can purchase MRT passes at any MRT station (one day, two days or even five days). These passes are good for the MRT and buses, which can take you all over Taipei.
- Family Mart and 7-11 will be your best friends while you travel. They are your one-stop shops for toiletries, snacks, umbrellas, and socks. I say socks because when it rains, it pours. You can even pick up your high speed rail tickets there.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for directions! Taiwanese people are friendly and incredibly hospitable.
- Download the Taipei MRT metro app or email me at email@example.com for more tips and ideas.