Back in January, I was fortunate enough to take part in a trip to Taiwan, as part of a team presenting projects at an event at the Taiwan National Science Education Center. Most of the activities that we joined during the week were organized for us, although we had a lot of free time in the evening to visit on our own. We also had 3 extra days that we used to visit additional spots, including a one day excursion that I organized as I really wanted to get some hiking in.
We arrived very early in Taipei, which meant we couldn’t check-in in our hotel right away. We had an entire day open and I’d figure the best way to get to know our way around town was to eat in a local breakfast restaurant and walk around. The food in Taipei, if you eat local in small restaurants, is really cheap. You can really find for many budgets, but you might have to be a bit adventurous if you want to save money. We chose the places where there was basically no English anywhere, and just pointed at the items we felt looked good, hoping our eyes would not be deceiving!
Next, we joined a free walking tour with Like it Formosa, which was about 3h30 long. We visited the Longshan Temple with the group and then walked to the Memorial Hall where we finished the tour.
We spent most of our week at the Science Center, in Shilin, which allowed us to visit the Astronomy Center as well as the Taipei Children Amusement Park right next door. Our entrance was free for these 2 attractions, but I don’t think I would recommend these otherwise (unless you are travelling with younger kids).
On one of our tour day, I had the chance to tour the National Taiwan Museum as well as the Dadoacheng district. I have never been a huge fan of museums, but our guides were very knowledgeable and I enjoyed learning more about the history of the country and how Taiwan came to be what it is today. The Dadoacheng district was really nice and I wish we had more time to explore – you can rent a bike and ride along the waterfront, and there are tons of local day markets that are worth just walking through if you are short on time. The locals were using it to prepare for Chinese New Year, and it was overwhelming and amazing at the same time.
When in Taipei, you can’t avoid spending a few evenings at the night market. There are a few of them, and we spent most of our time in the Shilin Night Market, which is one of the big ones in town. Here again, adventure is your friend when choosing something to eat. The memorable meal for me was this massive piece of boneless fried chicken that was really cheap (although we had to wait in a very long line), and some fried cheese sweet balls that I forgot the name of! The prices once again are very reasonable if you are travelling on a budget, compared to what you would pay in a restaurant for a sit-down meal.
The next day, we took a day trip to Yi-Lan. It was meant for us to discover Taiwanese culture and to share our own culture with the other teams. We started by driving about 1h30 to Yi-Lan, on the coast of the island, to visit the National Taiwan Traditional Art Museum. We were able to buy some hand-made souvenirs and to visit the grounds of the museum. There was also a short parade for the Chinese New Year happening while we were there.
Most shops also have a do-it-yourself workshop section for those who would like to try and learn the local arts. After spending the morning relaxing, shopping and discovering the museum, we headed to a local traditional restaurant. Their speciality is steamed chicken, but we were able to try many other plates and the amount of food was impressive. One of our ambassadors had the honours of preparing the chicken for our table, and we were a bit unsure what to think about having the chicken head and feet in our plates!
After lunch, we made our way next door to the Ilan Cookie Museum. They make a lot of goodies in Taiwan and we had a chance to sample many of their sweets and treats, as well as to make our own in a DIY bakery workshop. The company makes the thinnest cookies (0.1cm, actually quite impressive!) and we could bring our own cookies back home afterwards.
Back in Taipei, I found that the city is just booming at night. We visited the Ximen district in the evening for some shopping. Our group was very eager to try this famous particular “theme” restaurant… And so we went! This restaurant is an all toilet-themed restaurant, where you literally sit on a toilet seat and eat out of toilet-like dishes! Don’t ask… it’s all about the experience, isn’t it?
One thing that I have found about Taipei is that I found myself in a constant sensory overload mode. The smells are strong and different, the noise level is loud, in the evening the streets are crowded and cars and scooters are everywhere, the food has a different taste and texture, and there is so many lights and ads and things to look at… a getaway out of the craziness of it was needed.
For one of our extra days, we chose to head to the outskirt of the city to get some ‘fresh air’ (if at all possible with all the smog in Taipei). We headed to Elephant Mountain for a little hike/walk around. I was happy (not) to see that the trail consisted of billions of stairs (more stairs!). It was about 30 degrees outside that day and it was also quite humid. The forecast had been predicting rain a few times that week, without actually raining at all – humidity had been high. The hike to Elephant Mountain itself isn’t very long – maybe about 45min depending on your speed and the number of breaks you take. You can extend this much more if you decide to check out other trails in the area, as this is part of a larger park in Taipei.
After our little hike, we headed to Taipei 101 tower to visit the Observatory. Taipei 101 is the 8th tallest building in the world. It used to be the tallest when it was built back in 2004, but it lost its title several years after when other towers started being built. It also has the fastest elevator in the world, which goes up 83 floors in 37sec (1010m/min). It is also the only place in the world where the public can observe the massive damper built to lower the building vibrations up to 40%! Quite an engineering accomplishment!
A trip to Taipei wouldn’t be complete unless you take the time to have a proper Hot Pot dinner. Or lunch. Or whatever. Just find any restaurant that offers Hot Pot (double up with the Korean BBQ like we did if you want!) and eat as much as you can!
On our last day in town, we headed to the National Palace Museum to do a short visit (it was free for visitors under 18! How convenient!) and walk around the area. The palace has many treasures from various dynasties in the history of Taiwan. We were all a bit tired, so touring the museum at our own pace was a great way to spend the afternoon.
We then headed to the Grand Hotel to look around. I was told that this hotel was very popular (lots of celebrities stay there when they come to Taipei!) and that the decor is great! We were not disappointed!
Because February 4th was technically the Chinese New Year’s Eve, a lot of stores and shops were closed. It was a bit difficult to find a good restaurant to have dinner before we left for the airport, but we managed to find a small sitting restaurant near the hotel. I found that the food was delicious everywhere in Taipei, although I must say, I was craving a fresh salad by the end of the trip. Our stomach enjoyed the food, but it was much heavier than what I am used to eat.
After about 7 full days in Taipei, I have to say that I was ready to move to something different. I loved the city and I was happy I got to experience it in many ways. As I was part of a larger team, I didn’t really get a chance to experience the nightlife (although, to be fair, even when I travel solo, I tend to raincheck on the late evenings, unless it is to go out dancing tango!). When I travel on my own, I tend to spend a short amount of time in large cities, because I quickly get tired of the shopping centres, the loud noise, the expensive prices, and I tend to connect and enjoy smaller local spots more. I organized a day trip out of the city on the coast for a hike, and I will be writing my post about it very shortly… Stay tuned!
Enjoy 🙂 !