Taipei Tour Guide

Posted on Dec 8, 2008 in Opinion, Travel

Originally I was supposed to go to Taiwan for business in December, but I had to postpone my trip subsequently until I finally didn’t have time anymore to embark on a flight to the South China Sea. In recent months, I was reminded of my years in Taiwan time and time again, as a few friends asked me for tourist tips when traveling to Formosa.

Taipei 101’s Shadow

Not being able to visit my “second home” this time, I went on a little “virtual tour” through my own personal tourist guide for the visitor of Taipei and compiled a pretty comprehensive list that I want to post here, grouped by different sorts of activities.

General Information

The Taiwan Tourism Bureau gives a good amount of general information, while the  website is exactly what the name suggests. One shouldn’t visit Taipei without knowing about the MRT system – a fast, cheap and bilingual (!!!) means of transportation to explore the city.

Obvious tourist attractions are the Taipei 101, (one of) the tallest buildings in the world, the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall and the Office of the President.

Wining and Dining

Taipei is an absolute paradise when it comes to food and also offers lots of bars. As the locations are ever changing, I will here just refer to Taiwanfun, which is a pretty good source for all sorts of restaurants, pubs and clubs.

Gong Bao Chicken

My absolute favorite restaurant is Kiki – veeeery spicy Sichuan style food at a few different locations. Order some – or all – of these dishes:

  • 宮保雞丁 (“gongbao chicken” – spicy)
  • 麻婆豆腐 (“mapo tofu” – spicy)
  • 蒼蠅頭 (“fly heads” – no insects are harmed in the preparation of this dish… it’s just minced meat… veeeery spicy! Order enough rice!)
  • 老皮嫩肉 (”old skin, tender meat” – contrary to what the name suggests, a very mild vegetarian dish, made from tofu)

Even more popular, but serving food a lot more mild is the Din Tai Fung restaurant. Go to their original store on XinYi road and enjoy the best dumplings in the world!

Above the rooftops of DanShui, you’ll find the “Red Castle restaurant“… this restaurant is not inside the castle itself, but five minutes down the road and then up the hill… nice view, good coffee, good food.

If you’re craving some Italian food, go to Diamond Tony in Tian Mu, right next to Häagen Dazs. German bread? Sauerkraut? Biergarten? Go to Wendel’s Bakery & Bistro in Tian Mu!

For a real Taiwanese experience check out one of the night markets – most favorably ShiLin Night Market, close to the MRT’s red line JianTan station! As a guideline, order at least three kinds of food of which you have no clue what they actually are.

Museums

The National Palace Museum holds treasures of over 3,000 years of Chinese culture… great for a rainy day. The Taipei Fine Arts Museum always features a good mixture of Eastern and Western exhibitions. While ticket prices are low anyway, entrance is free on Saturday evenings between 5:30 and 8:30… a great way to start your evening!

Taipei Fine Arts Museum

I really like the building that Moca Taipei is located in – a former Japanese school, about 10 minutes walk away from Zhong Shan MRT station (red line). Exhibitions are often more on the local side, but I have never been disappointed. As the museum is rather small, it’s suited if you just have 1-2 hours to spend.

The Juming Museum is about an hour north of Taipei and great in the autumn, when it’s not too hot, as the most interesting sculptures are located outside.

On the opposite side of Dan Shui at the mouth of the Dan Shui River one finds the Shisanhang Museum of Archeology… it’s interesting, but a little far out and resembles more an entertainment park on the weekends with thousands of kids visiting and a night-market like atmosphere around the building.

Performances

Taipei Eye is a show that is sponsored by he CEO of Taiwan’s National Cement and Construction Company, whose passion is to promote Chinese performing arts. Chinese opera, Taiwanese aboriginal performances and puppet shows are performed and explained with English and Japanese sub(side)titles. While the ambiente is a bit cheesy and far from “authentic Chinese” Taipei Eye offers a great introduction to performing arts in the Far East. It’s a 10 minute walk north east from Shuang Lian MRT station (red line) at the corner of Zhong Shan North Road and Jinzhou Street.

National Taiwan Concert Hall has program that probably cannot compare with European cities, but offers a great mix of local Taiwanese, Asian and international performances… check out their program – I never regretted a visit!

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre is an internationally acclaimed dance group that blends Eastern and Western culture in a truly beautiful way… I’ve seen about half a dozen of their performances over the past years and never left without being deeply impressed.

U-Theatre has amazing performances that combine martial arts, dance, traditional Chinese music and confucianism into one amazing new experience… performances are rare, though.

Visit Red House for a taste of Japanese colonial architecture and some smaller shows.

Movies

If you’re up for your major Hollywood entertainment, you can go to Vieshow (formerly Warner Village) in the Xin Yi district, Living Mall Theatres (in a mall that is shaped like a giant sphere) or  Miramar Cinemas in Tian Mu / Da Zhi. Unfortunately it seems that Taipei is getting less accessible to foreigners, as some of the theaters don’t have an English website anymore.

I like the Spot movie theater (Taipei Film House) close to Zhong Shan MRT station. It is located in the former US Embassy on Zhong Shan North Road, has a nice coffee shop and a good selection of foreign non-Hollywood movies. Make sure to check with the staff whether non-English movies come with English subtitles. If you happen to be in town during the Golden Horse Film Festival, make sure to catch some arthouse films, and if not,

Live Music

The Wall is one of my favorite places in Taipei for Live Music. Riverside has a rather small stage, with mostly lesser known bands, but the quality of performances is usually very good. Even smaller is the German-owned Witchhouse that also offers an okay dinner before or during the performances.

Hiking

The Yang Ming Shan National Park is just a 20-minute bus ride away from Taipei City. Take bus “Red 5”, that leaves Jian Tan MRT station every 20 minutes or so for the Park Entrance. You can ask in any hotel for maps or download relatively good bilingual ones here.

Yang Ming Shan National Park

There are really easy trails like Qing Tian Gang… essentially just a few meadows that offer a nice view on Taipei City or more difficult ones for example to Mt Qi Xing, where you’ll have to climb more than 500m… I loved it up there in Yang Ming Shan, no matter if biking or hiking.

Souvenirs

I always found it difficult to bring something “truly Taiwanese” back home… below are four places where you might find what you’re looking for.

The Jade Market (and Flower Market) are whimsically located underneath an overpass at the intersection of RenAi Road and JianGuo Road (sometimes romanized as ChienKuo or similar).

What they are offering might be a bit on the cheesy side – check out this website for an overview.

At the Wu Fen Pu Garment District you can buy all sorts of crazy clothes for veeeery little money. Here is a good English introduction (that also talks about Shi Lin Night Market), this is an “how to get there” guide and also a brief intro to Xi Men Ding Shopping Area (西門町商圈) below. Some pictures of Wu Fen Pu here.

The Xi Men Ding Shopping Area is where the kids hang out. It reminds very much of Tokyo’s Harajuku district and has lots of “KTV’s” (karaoke clubs), eateries, fashion, music and toy stores. It’s best to get there by taking the MRT – Xi Men Station is right after Taipei Main Station.

Xi Men Ding Shopping Area

Shi Lin Night Market is the biggest and best-known night market in Taipei – see some photos here. If you decide to go there, look out for “$10 Stores” (10元)… they’ve always got crazy shit in there… take the MRT to Dan Shui, exit at Jian Tan Station and follow the signs or ask the kids…

Shi Lin Night Market

Well… this list could obviously be a lot longer and maybe one day I’ll get around to extending it!

So, what do you think?