When you think of vacations, Taipei probably isn’t the first destination that comes to mind, right? Yeah, I didn’t think so either, but we had to pass through Taipei on our way to/from Palau (see post, “Bucket List – Palau!") and the more I read about it, the more interested I became. Since we were gonna be in Taipei anyway, we decided to take a few days and explore. So, here are five reasons why I’m glad I went and why Taipei should be on your list of places to visit!
Did you know….?
Taipei is officially known as Taipei City. It’s the capital city and a special municipality of Taiwan. It's nickname is the "City of Azaleas".
Taipei is located at the northern tip of the island of Taiwan, covering about 105 square miles with a population of 2.7 million people.
The island of Taiwan is part of the Republic of China. That’s different from the People’s Republic of China, which we know as China. While they’re separate states, Taiwan is under the control of China.
Curiously, Taiwan isn’t part of the United Nations, but it’s the largest economy outside of the UN. Wow!
The currency is the Taiwan New Dollar (TWD) and at the time of this writing, there were about $30 Taiwan Dollars to $1 US Dollar.
Mandarin Chinese is the official language of Taiwan.
1. It’s a real foodie destination.
Food is surprisingly inexpensive and unbelievably delicious in Taipei. There options are endless – from inexpensive fare to Michelin-starred establishments. And everything I read while researching Taipei confirmed its foodie reputation.
On our first morning, we ate breakfast at a really local place. And I mean local. Zero in English. I don’t read any Chinese, and I speak like, six phrases of Mandarin, one of them being, “I don’t speak Mandarin.” Thank god the menu had pictures and the owners spoke enough English that I could manage to stumble through placing order! Anyway, we each ate two eggs, toast and tea for only $200 TWD or about $6 USD! It was perfect!
And for even more choices of yummy food, visit the not-to-be-missed Shilin Night Market where vendors are out selling their famous chicken and other delicious-smelling food in the midst of near total chaos!
Dumpling places are affordable, too. While I’m normally opposed to standing in line for food (unless, of course, it’s ice cream), we waited for about 15 minutes at probably the most famous dumpling restaurant – Din Tai Fung. It’s even got a Michelin star for pete’s sake! And, it was worth the wait! I had spinach and mushroom dumplings and peanut noodles, while the hubby had pork dumplings and rice. In the end we were stuffed after our lunch and it was just over $20 – for a Michelin starred restaurant!
There are other high end restaurants that are still (surprisingly) reasonably priced. We ate at one restaurant where my husband had Wagyu beef – and we didn’t have to take out a second mortgage! Wagyu is a high quality beef similar to Kobe. Kobe comes from Wagyu cattle, but the cattle are raised in a specific area of Japan - Kobe (sort of like you can only call it champagne if it comes from the Champagne region of France). I guess the best way to describe it is all Kobe is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu is Kobe! Anyway, that’s what he ate and he loved it, although he had hoped for a bigger portion……
There are also fantastic bakeries and patisseries everywhere, so there’s no shortage of places to go or things to eat!
2. It’s Easy to Get Around.
You’ve got a lot of ways to get around. Taipei’s MRT subway system easy to use and affordable. Still, for such a big city, Taipei is surprisingly pedestrian friendly. If you’re like me, I would rather walk than take public transportation, but that’s not always possible in a big city; however, Taipei was super walkable. Just don’t jaywalk. We saw the police giving people tickets for jaywalking! Yikes!
Obvious Alert!: If people are getting tickets for jaywalking, it’s safe to say that more serious crime is not an issue!
3. It’s Spotless.
There was no trash on the streets. Anywhere. Not even a cigarette butt (and EVERYBODY smokes). With the possible exception of Vienna, Austria, I’ve never been to a place that was so clean, including the bus and subway stations. We actually walked into the bus station and didn’t realize it at first because it was immaculate!
4. It’s Green!
…In more ways than one. Taipei has what seems like a huge number of parks (I counted at least six) and the biggest one, Daan Forest Park (pronounced like “Dah-Ahn”) is akin to New York City’s Central Park. There are people jogging or feeding the birds and it’s hard to believe it’s in the middle of a huge city!
Besides actual green spaces, Taipei has green buildings. Taipei has a designated plan to help reduce its carbon footprint and to promote “green” energy. In addition, its building regulations require a minimum mandatory percentage of eco-friendly materials be used in new construction. And you can see those efforts everywhere, as signs around construction projects tout the green features of the soon-to-be buildings. But probably the most famous “green” building in the world is Taipei 101. At 1,666 feet tall, it’s the tallest green building in the world! In 2009, it became LEED certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) which is a designation buildings receive for energy efficiency and environmental responsibility.
5. The Sights are Awesome!
We took an amazing day tour with MyTaiwanTour just to make sure we didn’t miss anything! While we passed by places like the Presidential Palace (you can’t really visit) and the Grand Hotel (a hotel built by Chiang Kai-shek for his personal use), we visited a number of unforgettable sights!
FYI: we were in Taipei during a holiday weekend, so it was crowded….everywhere.
Taipei 101 tower is definitely worth a visit. It was the tallest building in the world from about 2004 until about 2009, when Dubai’s Burj Khalifa took over that distinction. Not only are the views amazing from the observation decks on the 88th and 91st floors of Taipei 101, but the building is really a marvel of innovation. For example, in addition to being the tallest green building in the world, it’s also got the world's largest and heaviest tuned mass damper. What the heck is that, you may ask? A tuned mass damper stabilizes a building against motion so it doesn’t sway. Typically, the dampers are huge concrete blocks or steel bodies mounted in skyscrapers, but the one in Taipei 101 is a pendulum that has actually become a tourist attraction in and of itself - and it’s super cool!
Tip: If you plan to visit Taipei 101, go as soon as the observations decks open at 9 am. We went early (not with our tour) and there wasn’t a line, but when we came down from the observation decks a short time later, there was a long line.
Longshan Temple was built in Taipei in 1738 by Chinese settlers during Qing dynasty in honor of Guanyin, the deity of mercy. In addition to its Buddhist elements, it includes halls and altars to Chinese deities such as Mazu (goddess of the sea) and Guan Yu (god of war). People were burning incense like crazy when we visited, so it was really smoky even though the temple had recently reduced the number of incense sticks we could burn from five to three. Now, the temple has announced that it will further cut the number of incense each person can burn from three sticks to one, in an effort to curb PM2.5 particulate emissions, which I learned was a huge concern in Taipei. The temple has also reduced the length of each incense stick from 48 centimeters to 39 cm. Who knew burning incense was such a pollutant?
National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall was built after the president’s death to commemorate his leadership from 1928 until his death in 1975. The surprisingly beautiful grounds on Liberty Square, consist of Memorial Hall (houses a seated statue of Chiang Kai-shek), the National Concert Hall and the National Theater. We watched the changing of the guard at the statue in Memorial Hall and it was quite extraordinary, but the ceremony draws a lot of people so it’s quite crowded.
Lin An Tai Historical House was built by a wealthy businessman for his family in the mid to late 18th century and it remained in the family until 1978. It was slated for demolition to make way for a development project and rejected as a historical site, but scholars and experts petitioned to move the mansion to its current location where it was opened as a museum in 2000. It’s a very popular spot. The day we visited, there was a modeling shoot going on, a bridal party getting wedding portraits taken, and Cosplayers on the scene ( Cosplay participants are called Cosplayers. They dress up in costume and role-play in various locations. Lin An House is supposedly one of the most popular spots for it. Hey, whatever makes you happy.).
Yangmingshan National Park is one of nine national parks in Taiwan, It’s between Taipei and New Taipei City. There are tons of hiking trails and the park also includes hot springs.
Beitou Hot Springs are part of Yangmingshan National Park. While Beitou also describes a northern district of Taipei, it’s also the name
of the springs. You see people taking in the restorative sulphur springs. Me, I passed on the opportunity to smell like rotten eggs.
National Palace Museum has a permanent collection of nearly 700,000 pieces of ancient Chinese imperial artifacts and artworks, making it one of the largest of its type in the world. I was most impressed with the amazing jade exhibit. It’s probably the most extensive jade display I’ve ever seen and it made the visit for me. I’d recommend going with a tour. It’ll help you jump some of the long lines for various exhibits.
Bonus: The people are really, really nice, but we were a bit of a curiosity. We are very obviously not Asian - I’m blonde and my husband is big. Little kids and the elderly took a particular interest in us. We noticed them checking us out when they thought we weren’t looking. We found their curiosity to be charming and kind of endearing.
Taipei’s a great place to visit with lots of things to do. I don’t know that you need to spend a week in there, but if you’re passing through, it’s definitely worth making it a stopover for a couple days!