Travel to Taiwan and what to do besides see Taipei 101?
I had a month off before starting my new (still nomadic) job at GitHub. With a month off, I was going to be bored and while I was going to back to Hawaii to spend some time, I still had an itch…to go somewhere else. Being in California, heading to Asia made sense. So after a random and rapid-fire convo with my friend Rob, we decided to head to…Taipei!
I spent almost two weeks in Taipei and was able to visit some of the surrounding areas. Taipei is wonderful. It’s an island, clean and modern and most of the western world has not fully discovered it yet – just the way I like it. Young people speak English but don’t expect the ease of traveling like in Thailand or Vietnam.
Things to do or not miss:
+ Visit Taipei 101: It’s only $15 USD to go to the top. Definitely go AT 9 am when it’s open. Otherwise, it gets more crowded and just generally not as fun and you have to wait longer to get down the elevators. Then afterwards, go eat soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung at bottom of the building. The building is seriously an amazing feat of engineering.
+ Hike Elephant Mountain: It’s a short easy hike in the city that allows you this fantastic view of the 101. The hike is mostly old stone steps and it was wet when we went so be careful with your footing. I went after visiting the 101 itself. When we got to the top, there was still slight fog but after 5-10 minutes, the fog lifted and we got stunning clear shots of the view. If you go around the corner of the lookout, there’s another look out point with huge boulders you can climb on to take pictures as well.
+Night Markets: There’s a lot of them in Taiwan. You’ve got the well known and popular Shilin Night Market but there’s other smaller night markets all around the city. The one I was living in the middle of was Tonghua which was walking distance from the 101 building (or two MRT stops). Be prepared to stand and walk all while eating!
+ Taroko National Park: It’s a 3 hour train ride (one way with 11 stops) so count on six hours of travel time if you’re doing a day trip. I recommend 2-3 days though. The gorge is vast and beautiful. Try to go on some good hikes when it’s a little more clear and less foggy out. It rained a bit so be sure to bring a rain jacket in your day pack along with water.
+ Pingxi: An older former mining town on the outskirts of Taipei. Go hike the crags (there’s a few good trails) and also where the annual lantern festival happens every year. You can also light your own wish lantern on the railroad tracks if you go anytime. There’s also a Taoist temple and some caves/former bomb shelters from World War II you can explore as well. This was one of my favorite days in Taiwan! We went with My Taiwan Tour and I highly recommend them for a personalized & fun day!
+ Shuifen Waterfalls: Not too far from Pingxi so visit if you’re already there. It’s a pretty nice waterfall even if it’s cloudy or rainy. Wear sneakers and be prepared to get a little wet. It’s like the mini Niagara Falls…I guess. haha.
+ Foot massage: Get a foot massage. It’s the bees knees in Taiwan. Just lay and get your feet rubbed for an hour. It does cost more compared to Thailand but Taipei is moving on up in the world. There’s also regular full body massage places but the foot ones are the quickest and easiest way to relax and then keep moving around.
+ Nightlight: Most of the clubs & bars are around the Taipei 101 building! Everything’s concentrated there so grab a cab and then walk and explore the different venues. There’s a great view OF the building if you go to the bar at the W hotel as well.
Eat & Drink:
Soup Dumplings + Beef noodle soup + Bubble Tea (Boba) + Pork Belly Buns + Oyster pancake + Haiwanese chicken + Fishball/porkball soup + Shrimp Balls + Pineapple pastries from Chie Te Bakery + Shaved Ice (with mango or other fruit) + Noodles in thick soup (can’t remember the name) + Taiwan beer + Grab a drink at Ounce (a speakeasy)
+ You will most likely doing a lot of eating while standing or walking so get used to it and bring a bag to keep your belongings in to free up your hands while you eat.
Cultural guidelines and etiquette:
+ When you are waving or beckoning to someone, do so with your palm facing down waving towards the ground. Do this with cabs as well. It’s crude to beckon someone the other way.
+ Don’t lose your temper
+ Stand up and offer your seat if there’s a monk, elderly, or pregnant women on the train/subway. (Although this goes for anywhere, I still feel like I have to mention it).
Travel Tips & Tricks
+ Get your metro card and you can pay for things at places like 7-11 as well. It’s easy to do it while at the station since English is an option at the machine.
+Taiwan is mostly a cash-only place unless you’re in a fancy restaurant. Just get cash at the ATM when you land at the airport. There’s also 7-11s and banks everywhere.
+ Bring a rain jacket and/or umbrella. Everybody has umbrellas and it’s raining on/off constantly in Taipei.
+ Watch your voice volume (and headphones) when you’re on public transportation
+ Screenshot directions and addresses in Chinese so you can give them to the cab driver if necessary. Another alternative is download your destinations on Google Maps beforehand.
+ Accommodations: I stayed at two AirBnB apartments as well as the W Hotel.