The most relaxed and safest big city I have ever been to I actually found it hard to leave and continue with the rest of my trip in Taiwan. A densely populated metropolis, it mixes ultra-modern skyscrapers with 18th century temples in a way that feels vibrant and less chaotic than nearby Asian capitals like Manila.
Often a place that is passed through on the way to more popular areas of Taiwan, Taipei is worth at least a few days. With something for everyone from a rich history, great places to eat and drink and surprisingly isolated hiking trails I would recommend stopping off in my favourite Asian city.
My Taipei itinerary was extended every day for over a week until finally I had to call time and make my way southeast towards Taroko gorge.
I like to explore the culture, food and nightlife often just walking the streets getting lost and see where it takes me. This is where it took me in Taipei.
Hiking One of the first things I did when I got to Taipei was almost leave, or take public transport to the edge of the city and go hiking in Yangmingshan national park. The park contains the highest mountain in the area. At 1120m above sea level Qixing is only one highlight in a park that also boasts hot springs, great views over the valleys below and foul smelling steam rich in sulphur escaping from the earths crust. Some of the trails feel so isolated that it is hard to believe that millions of people live just few kilometres away. This is particularly true on a day when low cloud envelopes the park and gives the whole place a darker atmospheric feel. Maybe this was one of the reasons I found it so hard to leave Taipei as I returned to the park twice more to explore the trails and delight at having such a lovely place on the doorstep of a big city.
There are other hikes in the city like Elephant mountain which has views of Taipei 101, or just get lost in the streets opposite Taipei train station where you can pick up a tasty snack from any number of food vendors along the way.
Night markets and food If food is your thing then Taipei has you covered from early in the morning to late at night. I like to keep my early morning meals simple so was attracted to the night markets for a taste adventure, and that’s exactly what I got.
I visited Shilin market, the largest in the city which is easily accessible from Jiantan metro station. The older section houses the food court with over 500 food stalls and the newer part has shops where you can wander around after eating your fill. For maximum atmosphere don’t get here before 9pm as it is still only warming up at that stage. You might not want to indulge too much in the food court as there are lots of little side streets with hidden gems selling things like the famous stinky tofu. As the name suggests it’s smelly but quite tasty. It can be prepared in a number of ways but I had mine fried with some pickled cabbage and I can describe the taste as good but with a texture I found unusual. Even if you don’t eat anything this market is a great place to come to just wander around the action packed streets taking in the pungent colourful stalls and the lively atmosphere.
Cultural Landmarks This is a long list and I have picked out my two favourites.
Longshan temple is a place of worship for Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian and typifies Taiwan’s inclusivity when it comes to religion. Located in the Wanhua district it was originally built in 1738 it was been rebuilt numerous times due to wars and earthquakes. What stands here today is a wonderfully charismatic building open to tourists and non-believers with anybody free to enter and wander around the various altars while worship takes place. Inside the atmosphere is busy yet serene with a background in one of the most colourful and ornate temples I have ever been to.
My other favourite cultural landmark is Liberty Square. Built in the 1970s as a memorial to Chiang Kai-shek, the former president of China it has become a place of national importance for modern Taiwan. During the 1980s and 1990s Taiwan was moving closer to democracy and mass gatherings in this square reflected the mood of the nation. Political reforms followed and the importance of the square on the path to democracy was acknowledged when it was renamed Liberty Square in 2007. It had originally been called Memorial Square. I would recommend a visit here, not only to learn about its history but to take in the general feeling of this beautiful square.
Unusual Nightlife Taipei, being as relaxed and safe at it is has one of the most unusual night time experiences I have ever had. They have the same mix of bars and clubs that any other city has but they also have convenience store drinking. You can go to 7-eleven, buy bottles of beer and stand outside the shop drinking them. And you definitely won’t be on your own, on a weekend night there will be lots of others having a beer outside too. A mix of locals and foreigners like to do this either before going to the pub or as way to have a cheap night out. I went to one in the Da’an district for a few bottles and loved the way you could chat to people without loud music thumping. Definitely a pleasant surprise in Taipei.
My Taipei travel itinerary may be a little left of centre in some respects but if you have time spend a week here. With loads to see and do I’m certainly glad I did.