My paradise: Take a tour and taste Taipei
When we decided to move to Tokyo for a couple of years, one of the big draws to the big move, was the ability to travel around the Pacific - a part of the world we’d likely never see otherwise.
We’d heard a lot about Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Seoul. “You definitely have to go to [insert city],” many friends and coworkers told us. Well, I’m sure they’re right, and I’m sure we’ll get to a few of them eventually, but in the end, it was a personal recommendation from a friend living abroad that led us to our first stop on the tour of the Pacific – Taiwan. Taipei to be more specific.
For those unfamiliar with the area, Taiwan is an island located just east of China and just north of the Philippines. And officially, it is a state in East Asia called the Republic of China.
After a quick four-hour flight from Tokyo (everything seems quick compared to 13 hours from Tokyo to Chicago), we landed in Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan.
On the ground, we quickly purchased a three-day train pass, which was perfect for our long weekend there, and were on our way.
Once outside of the airport, the heat hit us like a brick wall. It was toasty. If a sub-tropical climate and multiple showers a day is your thing, then Taiwan is perfect.
The biggest thing we wanted to do during our time in Taiwan, was to see as many of the historical monuments as we could. And a great way to see the city, and free yourself of the time spent planning a trek from point A to B to C, D and E, is a guided tour. To begin with, we weren’t 100% sure of exactly everything we should be visiting as tourists in the city. So, a guided tour took the decision making out of it. It made life easy and much more relaxing. If it was important, they took us there.
On a recommendation from my friend, we booked the all-day tour (7 a.m.-6 p.m.) through mytaiwantour.com. The tip could not have been more spot on. The tour was excellent. Our host, and her van driver, took us and about eight other tourists to 10 must-see locations in Taipei for just under $100. At $10 a place, and no transportation costs, you can’t beat that.
Among the highlights of the tour were: Longshan Temple, Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, Taipei 101, lunch (we’ll get to this later), Beitou Hot Springs and the National Palace Museum.
Along with the picturesque views of the city, our highly-knowledgeable tour guide was great. She knew just about everything there is to know about the history and culture of Taiwan. I can’t speak for all of the guides, but if you enjoy a good learning experience while on vacation, I would highly recommend this tour.
The excellent tour finished up at the Shilin Night Market, one of many night markets Taipei is known for. Here, people pack the narrow walkways lined with souvenir shops and food stands. And we’re not talking a couple of food stands you see at a carnival. This particular market had countless stands, many with some random Taiwanese dish you’ve never had, but it looks odd and smells amazing. If you’re a person that enjoys trying new and random foods, this is your heaven.
Our night-market dinner ended up being just a respite from the thing that I will likely remember the most from the trip – Din Tai Fung.
For lunch on the tour, we ate at the immensely popular restaurant, Din Tai Fung, which has many locations throughout the country (Locations also include Korea, Japan and the U.S.). We ate at the Taipei 101 location, and it was love at first taste. My buddy also said we must try this place, and that he still craves the pork dumplings (xiaolongbao), despite now being a vegetarian. His statement was strong, but the food lived up to the hype. After eating a special tourist sampler lunch, we proceeded to eat Din Tai Fung two more times within 24 hours. Thankfully, we’ve since learned that we live five minutes from a Tokyo location.
Overall, Taipei provides a quick and fun weekend trip. If you find a place to stay within Taipei city, all you need is a rail pass, and you can get just about anywhere you need to go. Avoid getting hit by one of the countless mopeds that roam the streets and be sure not to forget that deodorant. If nothing else, take a weekend to enjoy the historical sites and stuff your face with the tasty local fare.
The ultimate Taipei experience
• Longshan Temple
• Presidential Office Building
• Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall
• Taipei 101
• Lin An Tai Historical House
• Pass by The Grand Hotel
• Yangmingshan National Park
• Beitou Hot Spring Area
• National Palace Museum
• Shilin Night Market