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Trip Notes: 2 Nights in Taipei

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Old Jan 7, 18, 11:02 pm
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Trip Notes: 2 Nights in Taipei

Trip Notes: 2 Nights in Taipei

We did a 2 night (about 48 hours on the ground) stopover in Taipei. Here are "trip notes" to help people who may be planning a future trip.

OVERALL THOUGHTS:

We chose Taipei for a brief stopover before we went on to Vietnam & Laos. It was a fun, relaxing and pleasant stopover. The food is great. The people are friendly and adorable. There are a variety of interesting sites to visit and things to do.

Taiwan lacks the top-tier “sites” that are found elsewhere in Asia and probably isn’t the best choice for a first-time trip to Asia. But it’s definitely an underrated destination that should be on everyone’s Asia list.

BASIC ITINERARY:

Day 1: 11am arrival at TPE. Ximending, Longshan Temple, Huaxi St Night Market

Day 2: National Palace Museum, Chaing Kai Shek Memorial, Maokong, Raohe St Night Market

Day 3: 2-28 Peace Park, Taipei 101, Sun Yat Sen Memorial. 7pm departure at TPE.

SITES:

- National Palace Museum: It’s the most famous site in TW. The collection is obviously impressive – jade, bronzes, paintings, gold, etc. Our visit was 2-3 hours. That was sufficient to get an overview of the major collections. It’s a fairly big museum, but not some labyrinthine museum (like the NYC Met or British Museum) where you can’t get a good overview in 2-3 hours. But one could easily spend a full day there or more. Unfortunately, the museum is full of unclouth PRC tour groups. Thankfully, the museum does a good job at crowd control and policing their behavior. Everyone was obsessed with the “jade cabbage” and the “meat stone” – apparently the two most famous works. It was amusing to see everyone swarm these pieces. We happened to arrive when the English tour started and decided to join; we found it really boring and didn’t much of the guide, so we ditched the group and went out on our own.

- Chaing Kai Shek Memorial & Sun Yat Sen Memorial: We saw both. The surroundings are pretty at both memorials. It’s probably not necessary to see both if you’re pressed for time and/or don’t have a keen interest in 20th century Chinese historical figures. The changing of the guards ceremony (on the hour) was pretty cool. It’s pretty similar to any other changing of the guards ceremony anywhere else, but why not see another one while you can? Lots of PRC tour groups stop at both memorials (shoving selfie sticks in your face and all). They a bunch of them showed for the changing of the guards, with plenty of pushing and shoving.

- Maokong Gondola & Tea Plantations: One of the highlights of our short time in TW. It’s off the beaten path and less mentioned in the tourbooks/forums/blogs. The gondola leaves from the Taipei Zoo and it’s a beautiful ~30 minute ride all the way up to Maokong. The ride is part of the MRT system and is dirt cheap at NT$125 (US $4), too. When you arrive, you can walk around the various trails and see the tea plantations and have tea/dessert one of the many spots. We wandered around the trails for a little bit, went into the tea shops, and then stopped for some tea and tea ice scream. We didn’t see a single other foreign tourist; this seems to be a quick city getaway for the locals. Definitely an underrated experience.

- Night Markets: We went to the Huaxi St and Raohe St markets on our two nights. Both had tons of amazing food. The most famous night market is apparently Shi Lin; we read that it’s too touristy and skipped it. To us, the night markets we visited were fairly similar. If you want the night market experience, it probably makes sense to go to whichever is most convenient for you.

- Taipei 101: We didn’t go up. The weather was cloudy, the price to the top seemed overly expensive for what it’s worth, and that’s not really our thing. But we wanted to stop by and see the building up close.

- 2-28 Peace Park: Very pretty and relaxing. There are several interesting points of interest in the park – a pagoda in the middle of a lake, a fish pond, various sculptures, etc. If you have the time, it’s a nice place for a stroll.

- Longshan Temple: It’s very pretty, but if you’ve seen a lot of Buddhist temples in Asia, it’s just another one. It’s a top attraction in the guidebooks, but it didn’t wow us.

- Ximending: Good people watching. Lots of fun shops to check out and see the locals just hanging out.

In our short time (1 full day and 2 half days), I think we comfortably covered the tourist highlights in the city of Taipei itself. If we had more time, we would have wanted to visit the Yangminshan hot springs area or the Yehliu rock formations.

One on a short stopover can easily see the highlights of Taipei in one full day. 2 full days in Taipei would leave plenty of time to see everything at a relaxed pace and even add in something off the beaten path like Maokong. With more than 2 full days, I think you’d want to start looking at day trips outside the city.

FOOD:

The food is obviously a highlight of Taiwan. Great food, snacks, dessert, bubble tea, etc. is everywhere. Street food seemed very clean.

We tried the stinky tofu. I kind of liked the flavor. Wife was repulsed.

We didn’t ever sit down at a restaurant for a full meal. We shared a bunch of little food items throughout the day. That way, we’d get more variety in our short time in TW.

We didn’t wait an hour for Din Tai Fung. They’re all over the world, and I suspect the ones in Taipei are no better than the one in LA.

We stopped by the “Modern Toilet” restaurant but didn’t eat there. It’s very amusing, and worth stopping by for a photo.

THE PEOPLE:

We thought the Taiwanese people were a big highlight of visiting TW. It’s a very “cute” culture – Hello Kitty stuff everywhere, signs with pandas or other animals on them, etc. It’s a bit similar to Japan in that respect.

Almost everyone we encountered was cheery, happy and helpful. No touts trying to hassle or rip tourists off. It’s a very polite, clean and pleasant city. We absolutely never saw any of the spitting and other nastiness that’s so commonplace across the strait.

The overall level of English was pretty good. Most young people speak English, and most restaurants / boba places have English menus. A little gesturing and pointing might be needed for street food.

ACCOMODATIONS:

We stayed in an AirBnB in Ximending. Ximending is a great area to be in. Tons of food options in both the day and night. Lots of locals around. Good people watching. Easy to get everywhere on the MRT from Ximending.

Our AirBnB was 2-3 minutes from the MRT. Try to be near an MRT station, wherever you book.

GETTING AROUND:

The MRT is a breeze. We each purchased an Easy Card. Each person needs his/her own; no sharing because you need to scan in and out each time you ride. It was a bit confusing and the internet seemed to have a lot of outdated info. For us, the initial purchase was NT$500, which gives you a card loaded with NT$400. So, the card itself comes out to a non-refundable NT$100. Any extra money you put on the card that you don’t use can apparently be refunded.

We took the Airport MRT to/from the airport for NT$160. It’s fast, easy, clean and comfortable.

We took taxis only from the Airport MRT station to/from the AirBnB. The drivers were professional and the metered fare was what locals told us it should be; no shenanigans. We paid NT$90-100 for a ride from the Airport MRT station to Ximending; no extras for luggage etc.

MONEY:

ATMs are everywhere. ATMs never charged “fees.” And credit cards can probably be used for most things other than street food.

The only site with an admission fee was the National Palace Museum. Food was surprisingly cheap. Food prices seemed much closer to, say, SE Asia prices than Japan prices.

If you have extra NT$ left over and try to change money back to USD/etc at the airport, you’ll have to pay a flat transaction fee of about US $3-4. We didn’t have much NT$ left and wanted to cash it out into $$, and this flat rate fee was rather annoying. Wish we knew about it beforehand.
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Old Jan 8, 18, 1:56 am
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Looks like a great few days. How does it compare overall with similar places in Asia, i.e. Hong Kong and Singapore?
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Old Jan 8, 18, 5:03 am
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Absolutely agree with your comment about Taiwanese people being a big highlight of visiting. I recently spent a month there and that trip confirmed the positive impression two previous short trips had made.

Seems you got a lot done in only two days. The Maokong gondola trip provides great views as well as being surprisingly inexpensive, as you pointed out. Did you go in one of the glass bottomed gondolas?

I think 101 is best appreciated from Xiangshan, though given the humidity climbing the path up requires a certain amount of stamina.

Taking the red metro line to the final stop at Tamsui is another possibility if you want to get out of the city.

Thank you for sharing. Your trip notes are a great guide for people thinking of a short visit to Taipei.
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Old Jan 8, 18, 4:02 pm
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Originally Posted by DanielW View Post
Looks like a great few days. How does it compare overall with similar places in Asia, i.e. Hong Kong and Singapore?
Thanks DanielW. You'd definitely enjoy TPE for one of your short, action-packed trips.

Never been to SIN. We actually stopped in HKG on this same trip for a one day layover, and I went to HKG for a few days 10 years ago. HKG and TPE are similar in that there are a few cool tourist highlights but not a ton of famous sites. It's personal preference and I know some people love visiting HKG, but I find it a bit sterile and boring and lacking character. I realize I'm generalizing entire countries based on a few days in each, but my impression is that the TWese are more fun and friendly and the HKese are more serious and businesslike. To me, HKG just seems like a bland place with a bunch of expensive luxury brand shops everywhere, and TPE has much more character. Though, if we were ever expats, we'd probably enjoy life in HKG much better than TPE for the much bigger expat/Anglo community.

Originally Posted by michlflyer View Post
Absolutely agree with your comment about Taiwanese people being a big highlight of visiting. I recently spent a month there and that trip confirmed the positive impression two previous short trips had made.

Seems you got a lot done in only two days. The Maokong gondola trip provides great views as well as being surprisingly inexpensive, as you pointed out. Did you go in one of the glass bottomed gondolas?

I think 101 is best appreciated from Xiangshan, though given the humidity climbing the path up requires a certain amount of stamina.

Taking the red metro line to the final stop at Tamsui is another possibility if you want to get out of the city.

Thank you for sharing. Your trip notes are a great guide for people thinking of a short visit to Taipei.
Thanks michlflyer. We didn't want to wait maybe an extra 10-15 minutes for the glass bottomed cable car, and it made us a little nervous anyway. The views were beautiful, even in the covered bottom car.

Yeah, the view of 101 from Xiangshan does look great. It would have been nice to get there for sunset or at night to take some photos, but with 2 nights in TPE and cloudy/rainy December weather most of the time, the timing seemed too difficult.
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Old Jan 10, 18, 3:40 pm
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This is a great list, and perfect to help my own initiatory when I visit Taipei in a few months. Did you face any issues with your Airbnb? I found a place not too far from the Taipei Main Station but I have seen reports of some hosts asking visiting to be friends or something similar to avoid getting in trouble.
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Old Jan 10, 18, 6:57 pm
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Originally Posted by AUCLABruin View Post
This is a great list, and perfect to help my own initiatory when I visit Taipei in a few months. Did you face any issues with your Airbnb? I found a place not too far from the Taipei Main Station but I have seen reports of some hosts asking visiting to be friends or something similar to avoid getting in trouble.
We didn't have that kind of issue, but our Airbnb was a bit sleazy in another respect. When we arrived, the guy who gave us the keys wanted to charge us for towels. I'd never heard of such a thing with Airbnb. I looked back at the listing on Airbnb, which said that "essentials" (defined as towels, toilet paper, etc.) were indeed included. (I'd never even thought to check an Airbnb listing to make sure towels were included... I've always assumed they were included, and never had a problem.) I showed the listing to the guy, and he claims that in his instruction email to us, it says there's a charge for towels. I told him that I don't care what you emailed me after I booked; your listing says that towels are included. He called someone (presumably the host himself) and then they decided to give us towels after all -- which were ragged and stained. This was a surprising rare bad experience in TW. And a rare bad AirBnb experience as well; this place had lots of good reviews.
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Old Jan 13, 18, 11:09 pm
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Additional Taipei Thoughts

Just returned from 5 nights in Taipei. My wife and I have been to Hong Kong (2 x), Thailand (6 x), Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Shanghai and Japan (3 x) so wanted to explore a new place. Absolutely agree...the people in Taipei are the friendliest in all of Asia. On our first walk to the subway a guy came over to us and said, "Welcome to Taipei." Truly lovely people.

Additional activities to consider:
We loved the Songsham Cultural and Creative Park - Old cigarette factory converted into artist workshops/stores. Really interesting stuff and fun to walk around.
Addiction Aquatic Development - Great food options...we loved the sushi! And the ability to grab food and go from the marketplace area.

We did go to Din Tai Fung and can say it is absolutely 100% better than the Din Tai Fung(s) here in LA. I've been to at least three of them in SoCal (and one in Singapore) and the one in Taipei is just better. Lighter comes to mind. And the menu has much more than the normal menus we see here in LA.

We did go up the Taipei 101. Normally that's not our thing, but it was a perfectly clear day and the views were fantastic. I also found the exposed tuned mass damper fascinating and worth the effort.

We went to two night markets (Raohe and Shilin). They were both packed with people. Shilin was a bit easier to navigate because it's bigger. But I liked the food at Raohe more.

If you want a unique (not cheap) dinner, Mume is a great experience.

Honestly, we had the best time just exploring different neighborhoods, shopping and eating.

Last edited by spinner3; Jan 14, 18 at 1:04 am
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Old Jan 14, 18, 7:10 am
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My best friend moved to Taipei so I spent a week there last year visiting him. The two obvious Asian cities to compare it to are Hong Kong and Shanghai. Its obviously a bit smaller than these cities but the biggest difference was that it just seems a lot more relaxed. The pace is slower, the people more chilled. Its still a big, sprawling city though. There's endless food options but Taiwanese people seem to have one of the unhealthiest diets of any country in the world - everything is deep fried, or packed with sugar, or salt, or oil or heavily processed. Its tastes great but I do not know how the locals survive with a diet like that!
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Old Jan 15, 18, 10:45 am
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TPE

taiwan is really nice, the people are very nice to outsiders.

it also is not too expensive compared to HKG or SIN.

flights to TPE are also very affordable.
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