A Guide to Taipei
Itching to venture out to East Asia? Look no further than Taiwan. This little island captures all of the charm and beauty that the region has to offer: serene landscapes, bustling city life, rich culture, and some of the best food that you’ll ever taste.
Leave the skinny jeans at home, and head over to Taiwan to feed your soul, as well as your stomach.
Where to Stay in Taipei
This bright and area apartment is the perfect home base for your trip to Taipei. Located near the MRT and stylishly designed you are sure to love this Airbnb.
This Airbnb is located near many restaurants and scores high on design. This centrally located loft is reasonably priced and close to public transportation.
Things YOu Must See in Taipei
You cannot leave Taiwan until you visit a night market. Located in cities across Taiwan, these markets offer a diverse selection of food, shopping, and entertainment. Every market serves up its own assortment of delicacies, so try to visit a few.
If you’re in Taipei, take the MRT to Jiantan Station. Shilin Night Market is conveniently located nearby. While there, I recommend cracking open a crisp Taiwan Beer, people watching, bargaining with the vendors, and living out your own Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations fantasy. Stinky tofu? Check. Century egg? Why not. Penis popsicles? That’s where I draw the line.
However, if you’re looking for something to eat that’s a little less adventurous, there’s always mango shaved ice.
If you’re looking to escape the city for the day, make your way to the Pingxi Railway Line. This single-track railway runs through the Ruifang and Pingxi Districts in New Taipei City. For around $10 US, you can purchase an all-day pass, which allows you to step on and off the train as you wish. Along the way, you can explore the Houtong Cat Village, hike out to the Shifen Waterfalls, and even set your own paper lantern into the sky in Pingxi.
To truly understand Taiwan’s tumultuous political history with Mainland China, take a short flight to Kinmen, a small group of islands just off the coast of China that are controlled by Taiwan. There you will find numerous military sites and museums, such as Shisan (Mt. Lion) Howitzer Front, that showcase Taiwan’s persistent efforts to hold on to the territory. On a clear day, you can even see Mainland China from the shores of Kinmen.
Where to Eat & Drink in Taipei
Beef Noodle Soup (Yue Hsiang Ting)
Like Ramen in Japan, Beef Noodle Soup is a part of Taiwan’s food identity. Comprised of braised beef, pulled noodles, five-spice powder, and a rich umami broth, this dish is the ultimate comfort food.
Your food journey starts when you land at Taoyuan International Airport. Before you leave, make a stop at Yue Hsiang Ting—located between Terminals 2 and 3—and order its rendition of Beef Noodle Soup. Don’t let the food court deceive you. Even after three weeks of sampling variations of Beef Noodle Soup around Taiwan, I couldn’t stop thinking about the satisfying bowl of soup that I had at 7:00 am in Taoyuan.
Soup Dumplings (Din Tai Fung)
You have not lived until you’ve tried soup dumplings, otherwise known as Xiǎolóngbāo. Din Tai Fung is famous for turning this classical Chinese dish into an international sensation. Although Din Tai Fung has made its mark around the world—with locations in the United States, Japan, and even Australia—nothing compares to the OGs that have been cranking out these little bundles of joy since 1972 at the chain’s first branch on Xinyi Road in Taipei.
Unfortunately, Din Tai Fung typically does not take reservations. If you come during the lunch or dinner rush, expect a 1-2 hour wait—trust me, it’s worth it. However, the wait may be shorter if you come on a weekday or after the noontime rush. My friends and I visited the Xinyi location on a Wednesday afternoon, and we were seated immediately. Perhaps the soup dumpling gods were on our side that day.
Bubble Tea (Chun Shui Tang)
Taiwan is also famous for its creation of bubble tea, a drink and snack all in one. Prior to visiting Taiwan, I wasn’t completely sold on the idea of tapioca pearls in my beverage. However, Taiwan made me a true believer.
Chun Shui Tang is recognized as the birthplace of bubble tea and is famous for its Pearl Milk Tea. However, chains like 50 Lan have made bubble tea extremely customizable. Choose your flavor. Add in tapioca pearls, herbal jelly, or pudding. Adjust the amount of sugar and ice. The possibilities are endless.
If you are a fan of single malts, you would be a fool not to visit the King Car Whisky Distillery, located in Yilan. In 2015, The World Whiskies Awards declared Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique, produced by King Car, as the best single malt in the world. Sorry, Scotland, but it looks like Taiwan has you beat.
If sipping whisky isn’t your style or maybe you’re just feeling homesick, head on over to Pregame in Taipei for some old-fashioned college fun. Although the drink selection isn’t anything to brag about, the pièce de résistance awaits you in the basement: a room full of beer pong tables. Grab a pitcher and show your Taiwanese opponents how the game is played. From the college pennants hung along the walls to a menu filled with everything from buffalo wings to burgers, this bar is sure to make you feel like you’re right at home in the U.S. of A.
Dim Sum (CityStar)
It’s 3:00 am, and you’re just about to leave one of the many clubs surrounding Taipei 101. Before you make your way back to the hotel, there’s just one more thing to do: late-night eats. Although McDonald’s may be tempting, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you pass by one of Taipei’s 24-hour dim sum restaurants.
CityStar serves up Hong Kong-style dim sum at a very affordable price. As one blogger writes, CityStar is like “the Denny’s of dim sum restaurants.” While it may not be the best dim sum I’ve ever had, believe me when I say that it will definitely exceed your expectations for those post-bar munchies.
General Words of Advice
Dress accordingly: During the summer months, Taiwan is very hot and humid. Unless you’re there for business, ditch the dress clothes (with the exception of a few nice outfits) and pack light, breathable clothing.
Use public transportation: Although the taxi fare around Taipei is relatively cheap ($5-10 US), public transportation (namely, the MRT) is a quick and surprisingly clean alternative.
Talk with the locals: Unlike some parts of Asia, I was happy to find that the majority of Taiwanese people—especially in Taipei—are proficient in English, and they are very willing to chat with you and entertain your questions.
Try everything: Within reason, of course. See a long line for a food stand at the night market? Go for it. You probably won’t regret it (except for maybe the stinky tofu).
Keep an open mind: This is true for traveling just about anywhere. Don’t try to understand why there’s a restaurant that serves food in toilets or why you’re breaking the Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people wearing wooden clogs. Just go with it.