48 hours in Taipei: Cocktails, dim sum and mountain hikes
Taipei’s eclectic bar scene, vibrant night markets and relaxed vibe has made it one of Asia’s trendiest destinations.
Friday – Cocktails
We touched down in Taipei with one goal for the night – to indulge in world-class cocktails at the city’s notorious speakeasies.
Before embarking on the night’s adventure, we checked into the impressive Renaissance Hotel in Shilin. Built in 2018, this ultra-chic property is a worthy rival to the W Taipei in Xinyi. With its spectacular lobby, shimmering rooftop pool and views of Yangmingshan National Park, we were glad to have opted for a hotel on the outskirts of Taipei’s busy core.
We jumped into a taxi and headed to Da’an, the heart of Taipei’s burgeoning bar scene. We asked our driver to take us to Ounce, one of the city’s most acclaimed speakeasies. As our driver dropped us off at a sleepy cafe, we wondered if he had taken a wrong turn. But with the subtlest mention of our intended destination, a man pressed a button and the wall disappeared revealing a bar jam-packed with people. We elbowed our way to the front of the bar and flagged the attention of the bartender. The New Yorker sized me up with one look and then served up a gin cocktail. It was delicate, balanced and perfect – it made me wonder if she had read my mind.
After a few creative concoctions, we set out across the street and down a dark alleyway looking for our next speakeasy, PUN. We were told to pull the red fire alarm to get in, something I was not keen to try, especially in a foreign country. With some liquid courage, I pulled the alarm and like the words “open sesame”, a door swung open to another lively speakeasy. This city was shaping up to be a drinker’s paradise.
Floating from one bar to the next like two cocktail-crazed zombies, we let the excitement of this new and unusual scene carry us away. Next was Draft Land, a no-fuss bar serving cocktails on tap. After one final nightcap at TigerLily, we took a blurry taxi ride back to our Shilin hotel.
Saturday – Jungle Hike, Dim Sum and Shilin Night Market
After a long lie-in, I opened our curtains. Serene clouds rolled over the lush Yangmingshan Mountains and locals practiced tai chi in a park across the road. Our room’s floor to ceiling windows provided an excellent vantage point for my morning coffee.
Feeling lethargic from the previous night’s activities, we decided to kick-start our day with a rigorous hike up Elephant Mountain. Before setting out, we stopped for a much-needed Taiwanese breakfast of youtiao (Chinese fried churros) and soy milk at a hole-in-the-wall place near the metro station. Getting to the hike was easy enough. We rode the Taipei Metro to Xiangshan Station and then took a short walk to the base of the hike. We climbed for twenty minutes through the dense woodland, enjoying the challenge as we ascended. The view from the lookout was well worth the climb.
No trip to Taipei is complete without lunching at the world-famous Din Tai Fung restaurant. After hiking down, we made the 12-minute walk to Taipei 101 and waited in line for the best dim sum I have ever had. Feasting on pork buns, xiaolongbao and dumplings, we savored the delicious meal while planning our next stop – the observation deck of Taipei 101. Currently the fourth tallest building in the world, its most thrilling feature is the rocket-fast elevator that traverses 84 floors in 37 seconds. The trip up made us dizzy but the view from the top blew our minds.
Come late afternoon, we returned to our hotel to rest up for the night’s feature activity – Shilin Night Market. We took a refreshing dip in the rooftop pool before walking just a few blocks west to foodie heaven. Amidst the chaos of hungry market goers, we found pepper pork buns, grilled prawns, oyster omelets, biscuit crepe wraps and other delectable treats. With hundreds of food vendors to choose from, the trick to finding the best is to look for the longest queues. After all, one could spend a lifetime eating in Taipei’s night markets and still never try everything.
Sunday – Relaxation in Yangmingshan
Sipping my Sunday morning coffee, I kept wondering what lay beyond that lush mountain ridge visible from our hotel. To satisfy my curiosity, we hopped into a taxi and ventured 45-minutes through the heart of Yangmingshan National Park, bound for Taiwan’s mineral hot springs.
As we ventured into the mountains, the sprawling metropolis gave way to dense jungle. The sun disappeared into thick, brooding clouds. After stopping to let monkeys cross the winding road, our driver finally dropped us at Tien Lei Spa. Up in the cool mountain air, we soaked our sore muscles, let the toxins drain from our pores and reminisced about our whirlwind adventure in Taipei. We concluded that this could well become an annual trip.