5 Things To Do In Taipei
I love the buzz of night markets, especially food ones – nothing is more exciting than bouncing from one stall to another, savouring delectable dishes and desserts until my trousers beg me furiously to stop. I often walk away feeling guilt-free too since the portions are usually bite size, even though I’ve probably demolished food enough for a week. There are several cities that do night markets but Taipei has often come up on top of travel lists for that.
To kick off the new year, Glenn and I decided to head to the Taiwanese metropolis for some R&R and night market overload before we slid back into our 9-5 routine. Like most of the population, we work to pay the bills despite our Instagram fabulousness, so we welcome some new and worthy #lifewelltravelled hash tags and some gustatory delight.
We arrive on a Monday evening into seasonal chill and rain (Taiwan was blanketed with snow a few weeks after we left), and upon checking in at Play Design Hotel, we immediately forget about the gloomy weather when our hosts Daniel and Grace receive us. The Taiwanese are renown to be affable and earnestly obliging, perhaps from the Japanese influence, and this cordial welcome set the tone for our holiday.
We begin the next morning with a visit to Taipei 101. Once the tallest building, the postmodern skyscrapper is a towering sight that stands 101 storeys above ground and combines evolution of technology and Asian tradition. I will admit that while I was awestruck with the architectural aspect and checking out the luxury shops but it isn’t really until we visit DunHua and Xinyi shopping districts that my eyes glow up.
Reminiscent of Daikanyama in Tokyo, the streets and alleyways in these districts are lined with trendy boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants and an unmissable pink Hello Kitty cafe. These precincts are also where you’ll find hip and creative locals sauntering through or just hanging out. Aside from Glenn’s very-white appearance, we pretty much fit in like a glove and fall in love with the area quickly. We also find a few menswear stores where our credit cards get a bit of exercise.
Western influences are prevalent in the city but areas such as Dadaocheng remain a heritage centre that will please those with a penchant for historical experiences. We find ourselves wondering through Dihua Street, one of the oldest in Taipei, checking out dried goods, antique parlours and craft shops. Though they aren’t necessarily places we would shop at, at least I can cross cultural encounters off our to-do list.
Day trips and attractions are easily accessible – jump on the MRT or high speed rail and you’re where you want to be. Tea plantations, mountainous national parks, or heritage museums, Taipei has much to offer all travellers. We go to the public hot springs in Beitou and amuse ourselves when Glenn and I gingerly lower ourselves into the hot spring pool with the lowest temperature while some of the local men and women dip into the hottest 48-degree pool like nonchanlant, literally thick-skinned professionals.
Even though I had been to Taipei years ago as a child, my memories of that trip are of me running around like a fully-charged Duracell Bunny and picking fights with my brother. The bright lights of the night markets and mountainous landscapes bypassed me. The only memory that stands out vividly or shall I say, olfactorily, is the smell of the (in)famous stinky tofu, or as locals call it affectionately, 臭豆腐 (chòu dòufu).
Mum made my brother and I try this beloved dish back then, and we immediately regurgitated what I thought smelt like a hippopotamus sanctuary (given that we had actually just come out from the zoo). Fortunately, I’ve had years of palate maturity since that trip, and stinky tofu is a much pleasant surprise this time round. For you curious lot, chòu dòufu is cooked in brine (the fermentation process can take up to a few months) with a mixture of vegetables, meat and fermented milk. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but YOLO.
Unlike Hong Kong – which Taipei often gets compared with – the city is much calmer and less hectic despite the similarity of food obsessions, shopping and late night ventures (there is a 24-hour bookshop – bookworms, rejoice). It has great infrastructure, and enough man-made and natural attractions to overload your Instagram feed so if you need to satiate your Asian hunger but want to avoid the usual metropolis buzz, Taipei is your go-to.
We’re bumped about not having enough time during this trip to explore the rest of the country but there’s no doubt we’ll be back soon. Meanwhile, here are my top five attractions that you can’t miss on your next trip to Taipei.
1) Jiufen – an hour from central Taipei, this mountain town is filled with tea houses, restaurants and shops, and boasts a vista of the ocean and surrounding mountains.
2) Beitou thermal valley – a volcanic crater where sulphuric hot spring water steam streams up as high as 100 metres into the sky. Down the road is a public hot spring baths where you can enjoy the natural phenomenon with locals.
3) Maokong Gondola – operating between Taipei Zoo and Maokong, this four-station line runs over 4.3 kilometres. Maokong is a suburb in the mountains and is popular for its tea culture and viewing the Taipei skylines.
4) Ning Xia night market – though smaller than the popular Shilin night market, Ning Xia has some of the best food including the famous Liu Yi Zi Taro Ball stall where there is always a queue. Also try the hot mochi with shaved ice. DELISH!
5) United Arrows Taipei – I can’t finish a list without including one menswear boutique. Located in Da’an District, the Japanese brand carries its own house label as well lines such as Off-White, Human Made and Wooster + Lardini