You have been warned – this post has an unprecedented display of photos of food. Known as the only other place that can satisfy a Singaporean’s food cravings , Taiwan didn’t disappoint in any way. I spent a good 4 days in Taipei, and another day out in Jiufen , to get a more balanced exposure to what Taiwan has to offer and I’m glad to say that among all the cities I’ve visited, I’ve shortlisted Taipei (alongside Berlin) as my top cities to live in. There’s so much to see and do, and the proliferation of street food everywhere adds the cherry to the top. Let’s jump right in.
I don’t really visit museums when traveling, unless it has an interesting exhibit I want to check out. The National Palace Museum in Taipei stands majestic with the hills in the background, and one wouldn’t guess it was a museum till they read the signs. The Museum is easily accessible by bus from Shilin , and once you enter it, you will be taken aback by the quality and diversity of Chinese art pieces. My favorite are the landscape paintings by Fan Kuan, that evoke so much subtlety while projecting magnificence. You’re not allowed to bring cameras into the museum and so in respect I didn’t take any photos – but take my word that the exhibits will make you want to spend your time’s worth there..
You could probably knock out most of the tourist attractions in one day. Most of them are just sights that you can awe at – for example the Taipei 101 tower and the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall park in the title photo. Here you can see the courtyard for the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. While the hall itself is grand and holds a bronze statue of the eponymous man, the courtyard struck me for its calming sense of balance. The courtyard also holds the National Theatre and the National Concert Hall. Take the time to visit the Concert Hall, and you’ll notice groups of youth practicing their Hip-Hop, which is a sight in itself. Youth culture in Taipei is exciting and its presence is felt all through the city.
I don’t really visit temples during my travels, although I like to awe at the architectural styles they possess. I’ve always felt that architecture emotes the feelings of the time and the hopes of the society. Taipei has a strong collection of interesting temples, but the one I remembered the most was the Confucian temple. This collection of buildings and gates translate Confucius’ edicts into physical interactions that you can easily take away a lot from. In this case, the pool represents knowledge, and the fence is in the shape of bamboo thorns to represent the struggle necessary to attain true knowledge. Deep, right?
Now onto my favorite part of the trip. Night Markets. There are almost 8 night markets in Taipei itself, and unfortunately (or fortunately if you think about it differently) , each market actually serves its unique range of snacks and dishes. That means you can actually eat something new at each night market, and the inner explorer in me couldn’t bear that I wasn’t visiting them all. Perhaps it was coincidence or a blessing, but I lived literally adjacent to Shihlin Night Market – the most popular one in Taipei. There’s so much to try, but my top choices are the Sausage in Glutinous Rice buns (in picture) , Oyster Omelette, Pepper Pork Buns, Gua Bao, Scallion Pancakes and the bubble tea (of course). There’s so much more you can try, and I’d recommend shortlisting both Shilin and Shida for visits. Having friends to share snacks with can also be a huge boon.
Beef Noodles are known around the world, but having it in Taipei definitely lets you feel the difference. You could compare it to Pho in Vietnam, but the Taiwanese beef noodles are special because they braise (or stew) the beef, giving it an extra kick in the soup. In fact, Taiwanese love braising everything, which you’ll come to discover as you walk the streets. My friend , Jacky, brought me to this out of sight beef noodle place that definitely knocked the rest of my experiences out of the water. Located near Ximending, on Yanping South Road (張家清真黃牛肉麵館) , the broth for this leaves you wanting more as you devour the dish. The noodles are slightly al dente, as most good soup noodles should be, and the beef melts in your mouth. I actually got myself hungry writing this, wow.
You’d think this is a simple dish, but this is a Taiwanese staple – Lu Ruo Fan, or braised pork rice. It’s so simple, but the flavors are balanced and make the dish easy to be eaten by itself. If possible, I like to get a bowl of this to accompany side dishes, and am always satisfied at the end of the meal. If I’m not wrong, they’re making it into the Taiwanese national dish, and I’d support that all the way.
I’ve always felt Asians do breakfast the best. It’s more complex than just eggs and pancakes, but they set you off on the right food each day. Make the trip to Yonghe Dou Jiang Da Wang, on Fuxing South Road to be treated to aromas of eggs and soy milk. There are so many options, but try the freshly fried You Tiaos (dough sticks), and the Da Bing (in picture) which are thin egg pancakes that you can top with soy sauce for one of the most mouth-gasmic experiences. Wash it all down with a cold soy milk and you’re good for the day.
Let’s not forget about desserts. Mango Shaved Ice take over the streets of Taipei as the best possible dessert around. Similar to Ice Cream, except that there’s more Ice than Cream, this dish is sweet and its texture gives you the sensation you’ve always been looking for in a dessert. Most important to this dish are the fresh Taiwanese mangoes diced for you. I’ve always been in love with fresh fruit, and if you come to Taiwan and don’t try the mangoes fresh I’d feel sorry for you.The sweetness could bring you to another level.
Taiwan’s notoriety isn’t just in its food. The land is filled with mountains and lakes that take your breath away and incite imagination. You’ll come to appreciate the stunning efficiency of Taiwanese public transportation. Buy a refundable EasyPass and use that to get you anywhere around Taipei, including the outskirts. An hour away from the city by bus, you’ll come to Jiufen, the mountain town that reminds you of an Asian Santorini. Climb the mountains to get magnificent views and burn off all those calories you gained from eating at night markets.
In a nearby town, Jinguashi, you’ll see the gold mines that were the main reason for occupation here. There’s a lot of history in the place , including the Japanese and Chinese exploitation of the mines, and you’ll feel transported to a different time in this nicely preserved part of Taiwan. Entrance is free which makes the visit all the more worth it. There’s even the ‘largest gold bar’ ever which people queue up for. I’d avoid it, unless the photo is absolutely necessary. Imagine the germs on that one bar.
Among the numerous hiking paths, one of the ones that I’d recommend is the path to the Japanese Shinto Shrine, built high over the town of Jinguashi. You’ll notice many people drop out from fatigue, but persist and you’ll not only be treated to a stunning view, but a bit of history as well. You’ll be quiet once you reach the place, partially out of solemnity and partially because you’re too tired to say anything anyway.
Another trek worth taking is the one to the Golden Falls. Named after the assumption that this waterfall was pouring liquid gold, you’ll notice quickly it’s the copper in the rocks that are providing this unique color to the waterfall. It’s right next to the Pacific Ocean as well, which in all honesty , is pretty darn cool to look at.
Head back to Jiufen in the evening to walk around the night market on Old Street. Once again, there are many unique dishes for you to try, but the Taro Balls Dessert are famous and for good reason. Chewy and fresh, these balls provide a cool counterbalance to the heat in the area. They’re handmade right in front of you, so you can trust it was made with love.
Taipei ranks as one of my favorite cities for many reasons. Above all, it’s the strong vibrant culture that’s present, without the stress of regular city life. Visiting Shanghai and Hong Kong infects you with the ambition of their societies, but it also passes on the stressful hurry that’s apparent in everyone. In Taipei, that sense of hurry isn’t that common, and that gives you a pace of life you can appreciate. Want to experience nature? Just take a quick bus ride out. Want to eat good food? Just go find a night market. Clubs such as Lava and Elektro give you a good look at the youth culture in the city as well (Lava is by far one of my favorite clubs in my adventures)
I honestly see myself coming to Taiwan a lot more times. With friends and with company, there’s still so much to discover.
Shoutout to Emma, Jacky, Nicole, Kevin, Angela for showing me the haunts of Taipei I wouldn’t have known to go to by myself.
The adventure ends in Hong Kong in my last post.