In my opinion, Taiwan is an underrated and easily overlooked Asian travel destination. Not only does this island nation have a lot to offer, but it is affordable and ideally located a short flight away from many neighboring countries. While well worth it’s own trip, it also makes an ideal side trip or a great place for a weekend getaway if you are already in Asia like I am. We spent a weekend in Taipei trying to cram as much as possible into the short time.
Where to Stay
We had a private room at a fantastic hostel (Taipei City Home or Taipei CT House) located down this only slightly sketchy looking alley near Taipei Main Station.
The owner of the hostel was a guy named Chunky (who, for the record, was actually quite slim). Chunky spoke impeccable English and was very helpful. After we’d arrived and he’d showed us around the hostel, he pulled out a map and showed us exactly where to go and what to do.
The Taipei subway system is excellent, very cheap, and very easy to use, so getting around was a breeze, even with no Mandarin skills.
After breakfast at our hostel, we headed to the Longshan Temple. Longshan Temple was built in 1738 and is one of the oldest temples in Taiwan. I really enjoy the architecture of Chinese/Taiwanese temples with all the ornate dragons and the eaves that turn up at the corners of the buildings.
From there we visited the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial. Part of the memorial was being renovated and was covered with scaffolding when we were there, but we were able to enter this part which reminded me of a cross between the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington D.C. We were also able to witness the changing of the guard at the memorial, an elaborate ceremony that occurs once every hour. All I can say is if anyone actually wanted to attack the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, the changing of the guard would be the perfect time to do it since it took about 15 minutes for the guards to actually change places.
From the memorial we stopped for lunch at the famous Din Tai Fung restaurant where we had their world famous dumplings. There are Din Tai Fung restaurants all over Asia now (including in Hong Kong), but it originated in Taiwan, so we had to go! These dumplings (Xiao long bao) have a very thin skin and are filled with broth, meat and veggies. You have to use your spoon when eating them to catch all the yummy juices dripping out. They were amaze-balls. And even though this is a Michelin starred restaurant, our whole meal cost about $18 USD.
Taiwan is famous for their food, so I tried to get as much of it in as possible in our few days there. I drank approximately 52 bubble teas and they were the best. (OK, I think I had 3 actually). Again, so cheap. Each one cost about $1.25 USD.
After eating we headed out to hike the Elephant Trail, which gave us a terrific view of the city. Unfortunately, it was raining off and on through our whole hike, so our view wasn’t as clear as it could have been, but we still enjoyed getting a little past the city and being able to look down on it along with the view of the Taipei 101 Building.
That evening we went to the Shilin Night Market. There are many Night Markets in Taipei, but unlike in some other countries we’ve visited, these markets are not really aimed at tourists. Instead, they are a place for locals to shop, hang out, and eat lots and lots of street food. The Shilin market is known for having lots of cheap shoe stores. I obviously had to buy a pair. These cuties were only about $11 USD and there were plenty of shoes for even cheaper than that.
On our second day in Taiwan, the forecast predicted 100% chance of rain with some severe thunderstorms. We spent a long time debating what we should do. We didn’t want to go too far away or to somewhere like the zoo or the mountain gondalas, which would be ruined by a thunderstorm. Eventually we decided to head out to see the Beitou Hot Springs which we could reach from the subway’s red line.
As it turned out, the forecast was completely wrong. It sprinkled once or twice, but there was certainly no heavy rain or severe thunderstorms. We were still glad we chose to check out the hot springs.
After checking out the hot springs we stopped for lunch at a small shop in the area where we had Taiwan’s most famous dish, beef noodle soup. It was delicious.
After our scrumptious lunch we headed on to another temple. This one is particularly well-known for being the place to go if you need matchmaking services. When we arrived there were lines of people waiting for their turn to receive some sort of blessing from what appeared to be some lay people who were equipped to do blessings using incense.
After checking out this temple (but trying not to interrupt the locals who were there) we decided to head to Taipei 101, the tallest building in Taipei and the tallest building in the world until the Burj Khalifa was finished in 2010 (and now the Shanghai Tower). It started to rain right as we arrived at the base of the building, but luckily the first few floors are a fancy shopping mall, so we popped inside and took a short break at the food court.
A lot of other people seemed to have the same idea because the food court was very crowded. We eventually found a table, but soon after we sat down an elderly Chinese couple came up and asked if we could share the table with them. (At least, I assume that’s what they asked. I only speak two words of Mandarin). Of course we said yes and then proceeded to have the most awkward snack of all time when the elderly couple pulled out a giant bag of chicken feet and started digging in. Even though chicken feet are a popular food in Asia and I see them a lot, I still don’t particularly like looking at them. I hardcore stared into my seaweed chips instead.
After the rain let up, we headed back to our hostel to regroup before heading out to the Raohe Street Night Market. This night market had a really cool temple at the front of it that was all lit up for the evening and lots of fascinating foods inside of it.
We also inadvertently stumbled upon something called the Rainbow Bridge which was picturesque in the dark, though it’s possible that the water is all brown and murky in daylight.
Day Two in Taiwan concluded with another junk food success, the discovery of these Coconut Oreos at the local 7/11. If you like coconut, these are simply phenomenal. I can’t believe we don’t have these everywhere. Oh the things you learn by traveling!
I hope to go back to Taiwan in the future to explore other places, but our two days in Taipei were a big success!