I can’t believe summer is almost over and I haven’t written about my short trip to Taipei, Taiwan I took in January. I had always thought that Taipei was a one-day layover city, but I spent three full days exploring Taipei and it was delightful!
We left San Francisco on a Friday around 2pm flying United Airlines and about 13 hours later, we arrive in Taipei about 7pm on Saturday. Asia trips always seem longer because you lose almost two days in travel time but it’s a great way to get some shut-eye and adjust to the time difference. I recommend compression socks for any long-haul flight over five hours, you don’t want travel cankles when you land. Before going through customs, you can exchange money at one of the national bank kiosks or you can wait until you get through to visit on one of the ATM’s in the arrival hall. Plan to have a lot of cash on hand as many of the food stalls and vendors only take cash.
In the arrival hall, there is a kiosk where you can pick up a Taipei Pass which includes a round trip ride on the MRT train that takes you from the airport to city center plus unlimited rides on the Taipei Metro and bus from one to five days, perfect for the short term traveler. The only caveat is the kiosk only accepts cash but the three day pass I purchased was super affordable at $440 Taiwan Dollars (about $14 US). I was traveling with my mom and aunt, both ladies of age so I made sure to choose a hotel that was close to the MRT airport train and the metro stations to limit how much these Golden Girls had to walk and schlep luggage. The Cesar Park Taipei Hotel was perfectly central, connected to the underground system of tunnels that join the train station to the metro, we didn’t even have to go outside to enter the hotel at 9pm at night. Upon check in, I found that I had free bottle of wine waiting in my upgraded room, a perk of being an Expedia Gold member where I enjoyed restful nights sleep. I highly recommend having the buffet breakfast at the hotel as it’s a nice mix of Taiwanese and Western favorites for a reasonable price, plus its super convenient.
Since I was only in Taipei for a short time and had the Golden Girls with me, I opted to take organized tours for first two days and took the subway to see the sights on our third day. Our first day was an all-day Taipei Tea Culture Day Tour from My Taiwan Tour that picked us up at our hotel. Tea is a very important tradition and staple in Taiwanese culture, plus I love tea so I figured I should try and learn some of the history behind the leaf. We headed to tea fields up in the Maokong mountains and learned how the leaves are grown, harvested and dried into various types of teas and enjoyed full flight of tea tasting. We then took the glass floor Maokong Gondola down the mountain overlooking the lush mountains and views of the city while munching on seaweed potato chips I picked up at the gondola station convenience market. Our tour driver whisked us away to a small town close to the tea fields where we had a traditional Taiwanese family style lunch (with no other tourists in sight) then walked to a traditional tea house and learned the proper Taiwanese way to brew and serve tea to others. Our next stop was the picturesque Bagua Tea Plantation high upon a mountain overlooking the majestic Qiando Thousand Island Lake where we got to pick some tea leaves and taste various tea infused sweets before heading back to out hotel. Our tour was almost private, just myself, my mom, my aunt and a lovely chap named Tim from New Zealand. What made it even more special was our amazing guide, incredibly knowledgeable, friendly and super accommodating for the Golden Girls. My Taiwan Tour had great reviews on TripAdvisor and Expedia and they definitely surpassed my expectations, they are fantastic!
On day two we took a half-day tour to the charming seaside mountain village of Jiufen. Taiwan was Japan’s first overseas colony and you can really feel the Japanese influence as you hike up the town’s Old Street. Unique food vendors, gift shops and many famous tea houses line the Old Street with hundreds of beautiful lanterns adorning the thresholds. Most people know of Jiufen as the real-life inspiration of the town featured in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, so you’ll see lots of souvenirs and crafts featuring No-Face, the Japanese spirit that ingests people to gain their physical appearance and personalities.
The third day we took the subway to the National Palace Museum featuring one of the largest collections of Chinese artifacts in the world, took some pictures outside the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and finally made it to the beautiful but super crowded Longshan Temple. During our time in Taipei, we had foodventures at the Ximending, Raohe and the famous Shilin Night Markets to enjoy the delicious Taiwanese street foods.
Here are some unique Taiwanese street foods you should try while in Taipei:
- Stinky tofu – let your nose guide you to this one, its a super fermented and fried tofu that can come with a beef stew-like or veggie sauce
- Black Pepper Buns – meat filled dough balls covered in pepper and sesame seeds and cooked along the walls of a cylindrical charcoal oven
- Intestine Noodle Soup – I know this sounds scary, but it is a delicious viscous bowl of yum. The most famous street food stall for this dish is Ay-Chung at the Ximending Night Market
- Braised Beef Noodle Soup – the broth tastes strongly of Chinese five spice featuring unctuous pieces of tender beef and chewy noodles
- Fried Chicken Cutlets – pounded out, seasoned and breaded deep-fried boneless chicken thighs. The most well-known street food stall for this fried yummy is Hot Star at various nights markets
There is a ton of other Taiwanese street food but these are the ones that I found to be really unique. There are many night markets in Taipei but I’d say the best ones are Shilin and Raohe if you only have time for one. For the late-night food culture of Taipei, I was surprised how clean the busy night markets were and there was hardly any little litter. It reminded me a lot of the Osaka Dotonbori, food and other shopping open late but extremely clean and safe. Taipei is a foodventurers dream, tasty things are everywhere, anytime and super cheap. I cannot wait to come back!
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Until the next delicious foodventure, get out there an explore you fellow plus size travelers!