Oh, Taipei! What took me so long? Having already travelled to China, Hong Kong and Macau, I thought I knew what to expect from my visit to Taipei – perhaps a combination of what I had already seen in various increments – but I have to say, this city completely surprised me.
What I found was a fun and quirky destination that loves its food, has some amazing night markets, feels modern but is not overwhelming, has so many green spaces, and is also slightly fascinated with swirls of poo, but more on that later, right now let me sing Taipei’s praises.
It’s a major foodie destination
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you must already know that food is one of the reasons why I travel. I have an insatiable appetite and I also like to try new things, so this worked out pretty well in Taipei, which shall henceforth be known as foodie heaven.
I knew this was my city when I discovered people love to line up for food no matter the time of day. The one morning I wanted to sample a traditional Taiwanese breakfast, I showed up at a local hotspot at 6:30 in the morning and the line was already wrapping down from the second floor – the place opened its doors at 5:00! And then when I went to try the famed soup dumplings, I found there was already a line before the doors opened at 10 in the morning, and it wasn’t just tourists standing there.
Aside from restaurant hopping around town, I also made time to sample plenty of street food. Taiwan has a lot of unique dishes and what better place to sample them than at the night markets! In total I made it to 3 markets: Shilin, Rauhe and Ningxia (the fourth, Shida, was a bust on a Monday night) and there was enough variety for me to try new things at each place.
I have an entire food post coming out soon so I won’t spoil it, but a few highlights included: bubble tea, cartoon-shaped waffles, chicken steak, pepper pork buns, and molecular ice cream featuring liquid nitrogen!
It takes cute to a whole new level
One of the first things that caught my attention about Taipei is that it is very cute. Cheery pastel colours are a thing and everything that can be turned into a cute mascot is. Don’t believe me?
Din Tai Fung had a cute-as-a-button dumpling mascot, the Taipei Zoo boasted giant swirls of colourful poo, the sushi restaurant I ate at had a character with sashimi on her head, the post office had a plump little bird with a tiny beak and an oversized scarf, and then I also saw a car that looked like a flying cat. And this is just what I photographed! Taipei has mascots everywhere.
But going back to the poo, someone on Instagram tried telling me that these are swirls of ice cream, but no, these swirls were on a wall right across from the bathroom and I think the cow’s rear is a pretty good hint. I’ve also noticed the ‘cute poo’ trend in Korea, where there is such a thing as a Poo Cafe, so there!
It’s a very affordable destination
Taipei is cheap! It may not be Southeast Asia cheap, but you definitely get good value for your money.
Just to give you an idea, we were paying $45 USD per night for an entire apartment in a prime location, a ride on the MRT started out at $0.50 USD, eating street food was about $1-3 USD per dish, and a fancy meal at one of the city’s most highly acclaimed restaurants (I’m looking at you Din Tai Fung!) was less than $10 USD per person including dessert!
And let’s not forget that many of the attractions around Taipei are free or almost free.
It feels close to nature
For one of Taiwan’s biggest cities, Taipei is surprisingly green and it’s very easy to get out in nature. You have places like Da’an Forest Park, the Chih Shan Gardens, and Elephant Mountain Hiking Trail (which offers great views of Taipei), all which are just a short ride from the city centre.
And if you don’t mind a short 30-40 minute commute on the MRT, you can also access places like Guandu Nature Park for birdwatching, the Beitou Hot Springs for a relaxing soak, Maokong for hillside teahouses with city views, or Tamsui for some biking along the waterfront – and these are just the places that I made it to!
There are also plenty of other green spaces within the city that I simply didn’t have enough time for, plus let’s not forget about Yangmingshan National Park, which is close enough to visit on a day trip.
It’s home to helpful and friendly locals
I don’t think I’ve talked to this many strangers in a while, but for some reason in Taipei we kept having all these friendly encounters.
I’ll remember the lady from the bakery who kindly helped us find our address on our first day in the city (we then kept bumping into her outside her shop for the rest of our visit and she always greeted us with a laugh and a smile), the man who started chatting to us about video and YouTube when he saw us walking with our gear around town, the man who asked us if we were lost when we sat down for a break outside the MRT station, the man who gave us instructions when he saw us carrying luggage and looking confused as we tried to find the right bus to the airport, and so many others.
It’s rare to get so much help as a tourist in big cities these days – everyone has somewhere to go and someplace to be – but in Taipei I felt well looked after by its people.
So you’ve heard me rave about all the positives, but now comes the question:
Is there anything to dislike?
I can’t really find a major fault with the city, but if I had to name something, my one complaint would be the rain.
I visited in November, a time of year when it’s meant to be cooler with little rain, and well, it rained for 10 days straight! There were only two days when the clouds momentarily parted and blue skies peeked through, oh the excitement.
That being said, I didn’t let the rain keep me indoors; I just grabbed an umbrella, rolled up my jeans, and off I went to see the city.
Have you visited Taipei?
What are some of your favourite things about the city?
I live in Hong Kong where Taipei is a super common travel destination, and people are always surprised I’ve never been! I’d love to go to try out all the local food markets. And the cute stuff!
I hope you get to visit, Charmaine! There are so many different food markets to visit – you could feast in a different neighbourhood every night of the week.
This is a city that has never really been on my radar , it looks fantastic, especially the food
I’m glad I was able to highlight a new spot! Definitely worth the visit if you find yourself in Asia.
Wow, you did more in a week than I have in five months! I really need to get busy! A soak in a steamy hot spring would feel amazing in this cool weather…
Ahh, isn’t that always the case? 😉 I know for me, the longer I stay in one place, the less I see and do. I’m a bit of a homebody (which sounds like such a contradiction considering I don’t even have a home at the moment), but I find that I can easily settle into a routine and leave the sightseeing for ‘later’.
Great read, Audrey!
I was in Taipei for the first time last year – and still to this day I dream about the street food.
I want to go back!
Taiwan is home to some of the nicest people on the planet. EQ is just as important as IQ there. Don’t forget to explore more than its amazing capital (with all that amazing food and architecture). The East Coast, with its Beautiful Taroko Gorge, and the Central Mountain Range towns and tea farms, and historic Southern city of Tainan, are all more than worthwhile. There is a reason the Portuguese call it Isla Formosa – it is a truly beautiful island, populated by truly beautiful humans! I love it so much!