I arrived at Taipei at the dead of night, a timing I am used to as there seems to be a correlation between cheap airfares and late night arrivals . I got some money out of the cash machine, made sure I had the Chinese Characters of the hotel, grabbed a cab and showed the driver my destination. Less than hour later, I am in front of my hotel, on an empty street in the city of New Taipei.
I stayed at Lion Hotel, which at 5 minutes walk to Fuhzong subway station makes it practical despite its distance from Taipei city centre. The subway trains in Taipei are spacious and clean, and to me its comfort level even at rush-hour is still acceptable. You can take 1–day, 2–day, 3–days and 5–days ticket from any station, explaining this to the ticket vendor is half the adventure :). Some English and sign language will do!
Later on, I visited Taipei 101, the tallest structure in the world for around four years. It still boasts of having the fastest elevator in the world(60.7 kph).
I would suggest reserving your ticket in the morning on site to get access to the observatory at sunset. This is something that I didn’t do judging from the looks of the picture I have taken from the observatory. From Zhongshan park you can get a nice view of Taipei 101 with its reflection on a large pond. Another viewpoint is from Elephant Mountain (I wish I had known this when I there).
One of the nice surprises of Taipei is the greeneries around the city. Take a look at this website for some day tour and hiking ideas.
Nearby Taipei101, is Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall, the other major Taipei landmark. The memorial is adjacent to the National Theater and National Concert Hall which are huge modern buildings designed with the old Chinese palace architecture in mind.
Maokong , a tea growing area on the hilly side of Taipei, is a good idea for a day trip. You can combine that trip with a visit to Taipei Zoo, which has an extensive collection of species in a rather vast area. Taipei Zoo is at the end of Line 1 , and there is a Gondola that leads you to to both Maokong and Zhinan temple. In Summer avoid the Gondola at Mid day as it can be really quite hot in there. Make sure that you also stop at Zinan temple(Also transcribed as Chi Nan) as this Taoist offers a lovely view of the city and the temple ambience can make you feel… Zen.
Back to Taipei City Centre , make sure you visit Longshan temple. It is one of the oldest structures in Taipei. It is quite an experience to simply observe the practices of the devout people who visit this place.
Near Longshan temple is a night market where you can try street food which I would really recommend. Taipei is reputed to have one of the best street food market around.
With Taiwan, sitting on the ring of fire, you can imagine that hot springs are quite popular there. In Taipei you don’t have to go far to reach a hot spring resort. North of Taipei is Beitou, and you can reach it by subway: Line 2, stop at Beitou and take a connection to XinBeitou where all the action is. Arriving at XinBeitou, you can already smell the scent of Sulphur. You really should’t miss bathing in the springs if you visit Taipei!
At the end of Line 2 is Tamsui… It’s a wonderful place to end the day and watch the sunset as well as testing the local dishes which are quite unique. You can try Iron egg or A-gei (“fried tofu, stuffed with cooked Cellophane noodles, and sealed with surimi”) for example. Both are specialties of Tamsui.
Also out North is the National Palace Museum… now there are some people who would go to Taipei just to see their collection of ancient Chinese imperial artefacts. When Chiang Kai-Shek left mainland China, he made sure he got the better part of the Chinese imperial artefacts and heritage. To get there, use Line 2 and stop at Shilin Station, and then either take a bus(R30) or taxi towards National Palace Museum.
To get a feel of the energy of this city, stop by at Ximen station at night. I really like the place, and for some reasons it reminds of Akihabara district in Tokyo.
To conclude this, I really did like Taipei ! I like its bustling city feel and the proximity of mountains and hot steam resorts. The food is great and the cost of living is not high(More expensive than Manila or Bangkok but much cheaper than most European/American cities). I’m telling myself that I have to go back to Taiwan and visit their country side!