A Travel Guide to Taipei

Only a 3.5-hour flight away, Taipei is a weekend destination that offers amazing (and cheap) Chinese food, big city lights and a few cultural highlights.

To See

There are two must-see exhibitions at the Fine Arts Museum (181 Zhongshan North Rd., Section 3, Zhongshan District, on until May and June this year: Time Games: Contemporary Appropriations of the Past and Journey through Jiangnan: A Pivotal Moment in Chen Cheng-po’s Artistic Quest. Time Games sees the works of 23 Taiwanese contemporary artists who construct their own historical and cultural contexts and individual life experiences. As for Journey, it’s by veteran artist Chen Cheng-Po, who lived from 1895-1947, and was known as a pioneer of the modern art scene in Taiwan. The exhibition focuses on Chen Cheng-po’s masterpieces created during his teaching period in Shanghai, and includes stunning paintings of figures, nudes and landscapes.

A typical tourist attraction, Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (21 Zhongshan South Rd., Zhongzheng District,, and the enormous plaza over which it presides is a top people watching spot. On our last visit, the dozen Taiwanese high-schoolers engaged in an intense break-dancing throwdown on a stage in the middle of the vast square certainly put Siam Square’s b-boys to shame.

There’s an abundance of teahouses in which to sit and take in the view of the foliage-covered hills, with Taipei 101 jutting above it all. We tried the Big Teapot (, where waiters were enthusiastic, the tea was strong and the food was hearty. For its part, Jiufen and its quieter neighbor Jinguashi shot to prominence after a 1989 movie, which documented the life of a village family beset by atrocities at the hands of the Chinese National Party after the Japanese occupation ended. It takes some quick moves to escape the throngs of tourists, vying for fish balls and tacky souvenirs, that clog the area’s main arteries. But once you’ve escaped into the back alleys, it’s easy to enjoy some peace and quiet amid the Japanese-style houses and lanes offering unobstructed views over the water.

Taipei is a great base for short trips around the region. Undeterred by the drizzly weather, one morning, we headed up to the teahouses in Maokong, set on a hillside near the zoo just south of the city; the next day we took the train to Jiufen, a former gold-mining town with narrow streets located along the island’s mountainous northern coast. Maokong is accessible by MRT and an easy bus transfer, but can also be reached by gondola (that bears a strange resemblance to Hong Kong’s Ngong Ping cable car), but it’s closed for maintenance on Mondays—a fact we learned the hard way.

To Eat

For such a small road, Taoyuan Street, located near Ximen and the Presidential Building, has a lot going for it. At number 15 is a famous (and New York Times-recommended) beef noodle joint that serves its signature dish with no frills but a flavorful broth, springy noodles and tender hunks of meat. Just down the road at numbers 5 and 7 is Chao’s Wonton ( At a street-side table, watch the restaurant’s staff churn out the dumplings with mechanical precision. Put up with the lines and do a double-header, because these places are definitely worth it.

No trip to Taipei would be complete without a jaunt (or, more appropriately, several) to the night markets. Ximen is Taipei’s equivalent of Siam—that is, a packed district that serves as the epicenter of youth culture. It isn’t a night market, per se, but at around 4pm around the MRT station, hawkers start dragging in their stalls and selling everything from glutinous rice and corn on sticks to doughy crepes with a freshly cracked egg in the middle to red-bean pancakes. We spent another night at the Linjiang Street Night Market (sometimes called the Tonghua Night Market), scarfing down deep-fried yam sticks, papaya salad (authentically made by a Thai lady) and freshly made dumplings.

The original Din Tai Fung (194 Xinyi Rd., Section 2, Da-an District) is totally worth a trip even though we have a branch right here at CentralWorld. Reason one: the xiaolongbao mascot outside. Reason two: there’s a gift shop selling key chains, magnets, vinegar and oh-so-much more. Reason three: there are dishes not on the menu here, like crunchy, juicy potstickers and a basic chicken soup

To Drink

Taiwan’s café culture is alive and kickin’, so it’s more common to find laid-back bars that double as coffeehouses rather than bump-and-grind, RCA-style clubs. A friend who’s lived in Taipei for a few years took us around Gongguan, a neighborhood where lots of students hang out because of its proximity to National Taiwan University. In addition, to the food and drink stalls and restaurants that dominate the area, Wenzhou Street is also a hub for these lounge-y speakeasies. We ordered some Belgian beers at Shake House (86 Wenzhou St., Da-an District), a dim, atmospheric watering hole whose walls were lined with stacks of CDs and vintage records.

To Shop

Ever the trendy, pseudo-hipster hangout, Taipei has lots of shops and markets featuring items by local artisans and up-and-coming designers. Artsy enclaves like Huashan 1914 Creative Park (1 Bade Rd., Section 1, Zhongzhen District, and at the street fair outside The Red House (10 Chengdu Rd., Wanhua District, offer some great finds. Another favorite is homeware chain Workinghouse (various locations,, which is a cuter, cheaper version of Pottery Barn and a great spot to pick up placemats, pillowcases and teaware. Lastly, the gift shop at the National Palace Museum (221 Zhishan Rd., Section 2, Shilin District, is almost as impressive as its vast collection of Chinese art. It boasts affordable, exquisite gifts from ink painting prints (just B99 each) to very affordable cloisonné (enamel) earrings.

To Come Back

The inevitable frustration as a short trip comes to a close is that we know we missed out on more than a few things. Next time we plan to catch a performance at the grand National Theater, take a day trip to the seaside suburb of Tamsui and eat more street food at the Raohe Night Market and beyond.

To Get There

Thai nationals require a visa to get into Taiwan. Apply for a visa at Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, 20/F, Empire Tower, Sathon Rd., 02-670-0200. Visa fee B1,500.

China Airlines (, EVA Air ( and THAI Airways ( operate direct flights from Bangkok to Taipei. Prices are around B11,650-17,750 for all the aforementioned airlines.

Why Not?

Circle Taipei on a Bicycle

Taipei has numerous riverside bike trails. But starting this year, the city has just finished a 58.8km path that circles the entire city. The “Taipei Circle Trail” begins on the east side of the city, at the intersection of Xizhi and Nangang. After running alongside Taipei Zoo to the south (Daonan Riverside Park), it brings you to the banks of the Keelung, Tamsui, Xindian and Jingmei rivers. Finally, it cuts through the city’s rolling hills to the Southeast, offering a bit more of a challenge to more advanced cyclists.

To rent a bike, you use the city’s U-bike system. There are some 192 bikes at Exit 3 of Taipei City Hall MRT Station, and the service center there is staffed, as opposed to some fully automated drop-off points. You’ll need a credit card and it’s best to bring some ID, too.

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Address: A Travel Guide to Taipei, Taipei, Taiwan
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