10 Must Do Activities in Taipei
Taiwan is not the most conventional backpacker spot. Okay, okay, some of you may argue, but this is based on what I’ve heard with travelers over there. Typically tourists in Taipei (Taiwan’s capital) find their way to the country due to it being a transit stop to another popular Asia destination and many who turn up there have no idea of what to do in the area. However, under the roof of this little explored city, lies an intricate mix of Japanese kawaii – style, Taiwanese traditions, left-over American culture and Chinese politics to make a truly vibrant, colourful and distinctive experience. Basing myself at Meander Hostel, here is my 10 Must Do Activities Around Taipei. Just be wary of the sudden intruding smells of stinky tofu (real name, no joke) when you explore the city.
1. Make a wish at Pingxi Lantern Festival
This was actually THE reason that I visited Taiwan. Having been listed as one of the top festivals to do around the world, the Lantern Festival at the Pingxi District has historical context and is one of the original lantern festivals. Expect a truly enlightening and breath taking experience as you paint your own wishes and light up the lantern to join the many hundred lanterns that illuminate the night sky. If you can’t make it for the festival itself, people still go and light a lantern at the area anyway!
2. Hike up Elephant Mountain
This was marketed to me as a walk, but thank holy heck I was wearing my shorts and t-shirt (in the middle of winter), as this was more of a very VERY long stair hike (think stair – master with difficulty setting 12). I couldn’t tell you exactly how many steps there were up there, but it is high enough to provide you panoramic views of Taipei including the imposing Taipei 101. There is an even outdoor gym at the top…God knows why you need that after the hike.
3. Eat literally everything in Shilin Night Market
If anything made Taiwan popular, it would be it’s night markets. Starting at early evening till late, the markets are a combination of brick-a-brack, designer brands, fun fair games (the shrimp fishing was a sight) and best of all rows and rows of street food. From fried chicken (yum), to stinky tofu (yuk), ice cream pancakes (yum) and all manner of other foods I couldn’t get the name of, there really is something here for everyone.
Top tip: Shilin Night Market is very touristy and the price represents this, if you want a more cultured affair check out – Gongguan Night Market, Raohe Street Night Market and Ningxia Night Market.
4. Dim Sum at Ding Tai Fun
A popular local franchise, Din Tai Fung served all manner of Dim Sum to share with friends and family including the xinlaobao (dumplings with soup inside) which originated from Shanghai and expanded into Taiwan. The restaurant is becoming so popular that it is opening up franchises around the world, however the original flagship store in DongMen is still the best, serving a wider varied menu. Expect fast and efficient service with expected queues outside the restaurants.
5. Soak in the Natural Springs of Wulai
Originally home to indigenous of Taiwan, Wulai has evolved into a sleepy resort town just outside of Taipei. Easily accessible via gondola. If you want more of a local affair however (which I opted for), you can join in the locals at the hot springs built next to the river. It’s a little rough and ready, however the welcoming locals will walk you through the proper method of bathing and you’ll be soaking among them in no time. Best of all, it’s free!
6. Marvel at the Gondola views at Maokong
If you are looking for more impressive skyline views of Taiwan then a trip to Maokong is a must. The Gondola (with a glass bottom) takes you for 4 km ride up to Maokong station at 300 m above sea level. From here you can still view Taipei 101, (it looks like a rocket ship from this distance) but also try out several hikes, sample different Taiwanese teas and have some cat shaped cakes.
7. Have a Sunset stroll at Tamsui
If you are travelling as a couple a popular trip is to the coastal town of Tamsui. With its kitsch restaurants and coffee bars, the stroll from the station all the way to the end of the pier bridge is filled with young and old romantics alike. Just be sure to time the walk right…we managed to miss the sunset despite the power walk.
8. Pretend to reign over the Kingdom of Chiang Kai-shek
This was one of the most breath-taking memorial halls I have ever visited. Completed in 1980, this national monument was erected in memory of Chiang Kai-shek the former President of the Republic of China. Since that time the area has been used as a place for public gatherings, public rallies and currently is host to students practicing street dance, flag spinning and band practices. What really took my breath away is the sheer size of the buildings and surrounding areas allowing for some epic shots like the ones below!
9. Pay your respects at the Lungshun Temple
Dedicated to the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy and later including aspects of Taoism, Longshun temple is well regarded among those in Taipei due to its past. Typically a very busy temple, on the 8 June 1945 there was a storm which meant that worshipers were unable to access the site. This was also the day that the Longshun temple was completely destroyed by allied crafts, however the statue of the main God of the temple Kuan – in was left intact (spooky) and no one was injured. Due to this series of events, when the temple was rebuilt, it became and is still one of the most popular temples to pay respects to within Taiwan.
10. Sip a Starbucks at Taipei 101
What’s better than sipping a skinny latter whilst taking in the surrounding views of Taipei? Knowing that you are sitting in the HIGHEST Starbucks in the world! I might get stick for this, but I bet that when you travel you want a little something that reminds you of home. For me its a skinny double shot Mocha Frappacino extra cream from Starbucks, I know, I know its commercial, corporate and not even coffee, but it tastes so good! I promise it’s my only vice. Note that there is a 24 hour waiting list, so you have to work up your thirst and there is also a minimum spend. It’s probably the most exclusive Starbucks there is….
What do you think? Is Taipei on your bucket list to explore? Did you realise that it not officially recognised as a country all by itself? Would you wait 24 hours for a Starbucks?? Let me know your thoughts below!
Location: Taipei, Taiwan
Language: Mandarin, Taiwan Hokkien, Some Japanese
How To Get Around: Metro Rail Trains
Currency: TWD, Taiwan Dollars
Best Bits: Making wishes at the Lantern Festival, Eating all the food, Natural Hot Springs
Be Wary: Unsuspecting wafts of Stinky Tofu when you don’t expect it
Visited: Feb 2017