The Ultimate Guide to Taipei: Must-Do’s and Can’t Misses

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO TAIPEI

Taiwan was one of the best impulse travel decisions I’ve ever made.

Articulating how I feel about this country is tough, because I loved it so much.

Clean, orderly streets.
Seemingly limitless ace street food.
Kindness toward Westerners I really haven’t experienced anywhere else- which, really is saying a lot because so few Westerners visit Taiwan. In my nine days there, I saw fewer than 10.
Refreshing and fun bubble tea.
Quirky cultural obsessions, enter the arcades.
And, an obvious respect for the world (and environment) we live in.

Already scheming a return trip.

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In only a few days, Taipei become one of my favorite cities in Asia, and I’d rank Taiwan one of my favorite places in the world.

With comparisons oft drawn to cultural aspects of Japan and China, Taipei is clean, affordable and easy to navigate.

My only regret was purchasing non-refundable onward travel before I arrived, making it impossible for me to extend my stay and see even more of the country.

Whether you have a few days in Taipei or a few weeks to see more of Taiwan, you won’t have a hard time filling your days with rich, interesting things to do and see in the country’s capital.

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO TAIPEI: WHAT TO DO

See Longshan Temple

Built in 1738 by settlers from Fujian, it’s one of the country’s oldest temples. Inside, there are hundreds of Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian status, reflecting Taiwan’s varied religious heritage. The temple has survived many natural disasters, including damage from WWII.

Although Taiwan is a country packed with temples, this is one worth seeing because of its historical and cultural significance. It’s served as the spiritual center for immigrants to Taiwan since 1738, and its gorgeous temple features, including a waterfall, make your visit serene and worthwhile.

Just around the corner from Longshan Temple, you’ll find Herb Lane. As its name implies, it’s packed with herb stores selling soups, teas, and soaps. Also, nearby Longshan, you can see beautiful examples of old Taiwanese architecture on Bopiliao Historical Block.

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Check Out Colorful Ximending, the “Harajuku of Taipei” 

Ximending was once inhabited by the Japanese, which is why this area is so reminiscent of parts of Japan, especially harajuku in Tokyo.

Think tons of colourful, buzzing cafes, flashy arcades, bubble tea left and right, and all the tech stores you could dream of. Such a cool, fun area to wander.

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Visit a New Night Market Each Night

Taiwan’s night markets turned out to be my favourite in all of Asia.

Going to Taiwan and not eating at a street market is like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower, or heading to the big apple for the first time and skipping Times Square or the Empire State Building.

Some things are just iconic. Calling night markets iconic may seem like a reach, but it’s absolutely the truth.

The night markets of Taiwan are so far ingrained in Taiwanese culture, you’d be seriously missing out on understanding an essential part of Taiwan if you didn’t visit at least one.

Night markets go back over 1,000 years to the Tang Dynasty in ancient China. Some of the ones in Taiwan date back to the 1950s.

Today, the eats you’ll find at a Taiwanese night market are known as xiaochi, loosely translated in Chinese to ‘snacks’. Think: Tapas. Items are meant to serve one person, and usually meant for take-away.

The three I visited were Shilin, Rahoe and Tonghua.

Of the ones I skipped, Ningxia is the only one I wished I’d made it to. It’s said to be two rows of stalls running alongside Ningxia road, and rumour has it, it’s where you’ll find some of the best mochi in Taiwan.

SHILIN: Easily, the most recognised night market in Taipei, Shilin is the largest. Beginning in 1899 with only a few vendors selling seafood, meat, fruit and vegetables, the market has expanded to hundreds of food stalls.

RAHOE: Adored for being big, but smaller and more manageable than Shilin, I immediately understood why others raved about the Rahoe night market. With one main drag, there are vendors on both sides, and even a few in the alleyways leading away from the market.

TONGHUA: Saving the best for last, always. If you only have time to visit one night market in Taiwan, I’d make it this one. Controversial opinion, since so many people love Shilin, but I liked that Tonghua was smaller. It felt more local- I didn’t see any other Westerners (although, that probably changes depending the time of year you visit). Even if there are other tourists there when you visit, the food is still hailed as the most traditional of all the night markets in Taipei.

For more about each night market and my lists of can’t miss eats at each one, click here.

Learn Taiwan’s History at Liberty (Freedom) Square 

Here, you’ll see four of Taipei’s most iconic monuments, all in one place.

Located in the beautiful Liberty Square, Chiang Kai-shek (CKS) Memorial Hall is an iconic place to visit in Taipei. Chiang Kai-shek was a political and military leader of the Chinese Nationalist Party, who ruled Taiwan as President of the Republic of China.

Chiang may be one of the most controversial figures in Taiwan’s history, but there’s no denying the beauty of the marble-white memorial hall.

In addition to the Memorial Hall, you’ll also find the National Concert Hall and National Theatre, both covered with traditional Chinese architecture.

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Hike to the Top of Elephant Mountain 

For the best view of the Taipei skyline, including the 101 Tower, climb to the top of Elephant Mountain. The path is well marked, easy to find the entrance with Google Maps, and you’ll likely see loads of other people making the climb. Pending your level of fitness and the weather, it should only take you 20-30 minutes to make the climb up, and 10-15 to head back down.

I went at sunset on a very humid night, and while I didn’t find it overly challenging, the steep stairs definitely weren’t easy. Give yourself extra time if it’s hot and you’re hoping to be at the top for a certain time (sunset or sunrise).

And, pro tip: Everyone heads to the tippy top for a view from one of the higher up rocks. While this view is great, I much preferred the one ~20 steps down, which offered a nice panoramic view of the city without the insane crowds.

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Relax for a Half Day at Hot Springs 

With Taiwan being a volcanic island, it should be no surprise it’s also home to some excellent hot springs, which are ideal for relaxing after a busy few days of sightseeing.

Searching what to do during my time in Taipei, I came across oodles of recommendations to visit Beitou hot springs.

North of the city, they’re considered to be within city limits, and thus, reachable by public transit. No need to take an expensive day tour or hail a taxi- just hop on the MRT.

There’s plenty to do in Beitou. Many visitors actually spend a night or two to take full advantage of what the hot springs have to offer.

Since I had decided to base myself in Taipei, I chose activities in Beitou that would be easy enough to accomplish in a single afternoon.

Really, there were only two things on the agenda- visit the thermal valley and unwind at one of the public bath houses. I also wanted to wander the town a bit, but saw that as more of an informal activity.

And, on my way back to the city, I timed my visit to stop at the Shilin Night Market since it’s a stop on the MRT line that runs to Beitou.

Brush up on Taipei’s History at The National Palace Museum 

I didn’t make it here, but I’ve heard the museum, home to a permanent collection of 700,000 Chinese artifacts, is a great place to spend a few hours ogling national treasures.

Legend has it the treasures were moved from Beijing’s Forbidden City when the Chinese Nationalist Party retrieved to Taiwan during the Chinese Cival War. After the war, they were hidden in a mountain to prevent them from being taken back to mainland China.

Day Trip to See The Majestic Mountain Town of Juifen and Historic Shiufen 

This trip could easily be a few days, or a highlights only version if you’re short on time or basing yourself in Taipei. I opted to visit both in the same day, using a shuttle service from Klook to making this easy to navigate on day day with heavy rainstorms.

Beautiful Jiufen, oft referred to as the Santorini of Taiwan. A mountain town that almost seems stuck in time- red lanterns sway overhead, visitors amble the narrow alleyways, and vistas of mountains and the sea beyond stun from all directions.

Jiufen’s history is interesting. Formerly a gold mining town, walking through Jiufen is like looking into Taiwan’s past.

As with many places, the old street has become commercialised for tourism, but there are still reminders of Taiwan’s heritage, mainly in the food you’ll find.

Jiufen’s sloping old street is highly regarded as a place for great eats throughout Taiwan. There are even food tours you can book if you’re staying in Jiufen for longer than a few hours.

Don’t leave without trying taro ball soup, peanut ice cream rolls, rice cakes, mochi and bubble milk tea. If you’re really hungry, there’s also ice cream puffs and stinky tofu to be had.

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If you book a Klook shuttle like I did, you’ll have a few hours in Juifen, and then it’ll be time to head to Shifen.

Shifen feels like stepping back in time.

World famous for an old train that passes down the middle of its main street and for its Sky Lantern Festival, visitors to Taiwan flock to Shifen in hope of decorating and releasing their own lantern into the sky for good luck.

The town itself isn’t very big, and reminded me of Hanoi’s train street. Small, narrow shops crowded together on either side of train tracks.

It seems the train in Shifen runs much more often than the train street in Hanoi- it came through twice while I was in the town.

The main reason many people are drawn to Shifen though, is to release a lantern.

I loved watching families, friends and couples choose their paper lanterns, paint their good wishes onto the sides and them release them into the air.

I chose not to participate because I’m not wild about the impact the hundreds of lanterns that must be released daily has on the environment. Burning aside, I was told the Taiwanese government pays locals to collect the lanterns, but I’m certain there’s no way of getting every one.

After spending about an hour wandering old town and watching people set their lanterns free to the sky, it was time to head over to Shifen waterfall.

Shifen waterfall is often described as the most beautiful in all of Taiwan. 40 meters tall, and free to visit, to get to the falls, you walk through a gorge and along a river. The scenery sets the tone for being awestruck by the magnificence of the falls.

Nicknamed Little Niagra for its horseshoe shape, the falls are insanely beautiful.

There are a few well kept trails around the falls, making it easy to work in a bit of hiking, and see the falls from different angles.

Try Different Tea Varieties

There are a few places to sample tea within the city (Google to find top ranked ones), but if you’ve got the time, I’d take the gondola near the Taipei Zoo to the top of the lush Maokong hills.

There are various tours that run here, but I’ve heard the trip is just as easy to make on your own as most tea plantations are walking distance. I’d planned on spending an afternoon here, but found out en-route to the gondola that it was closed for annual maintenance.

In addition to a tasting house or two, I’d hoped to visit the Bagua Tea Plantation at Thousand Island Lake, which looks spectacular.

Instead, I tried local tea varieties at cafes around the city.

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Keen to See More of Taiwan? 

Consider purchasing a High Speed Rail Pass, the most efficient way to travel to other major cities. 3-Day THSR Unlimited Passes are available, or you can purchase one-way tickets. Be sure to buy in advance though- prices increase closer to travel date.

And, if time isn’t an issue for you, then you may prefer the more budget friendly older railways or intercity buses. Some tickets can be purchased online, others must be bought from the central station in Taipei, pending where you’re heading.

Taichung, Kaohsiung and Taroko National Park: are at the tippy top of my ‘return to Taiwan’ visit list.

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO TAIPEI: WHERE TO EAT

In Taiwan, it’s common for people to ask you if you’ve eaten, before they ask you how you are.

Most days, I picked up breakfast from a bakery and had dinner at a night market, which means I don’t have very many ‘restaurant’ recommendations.

But, when I did pause for a sit down meal, I wasn’t disappointed.

NOTEWORTHY RESTAURANTS 

  • Din Tai Fung: Legendary soup dumplings, and I’m a big fan of their vegetable dumplings, as well as the taro and red bean buns
  • Tamed Fox: Mentioned in my coffee spot round-up below, but beautiful for a Western-inspired brunch
  • Sanhoyan: Come for the animal-shaped dim sum, and stay for the fried rice pyramids and milk tea served in teddy-bear shaped glasses. What I loved the most here was that you could order any amount of dim sum per flavour, making it easy to sample different kinds. I especially enjoyed the taro, black sesame, red bean and custard buns
  • Fuhang Soy Milk: If you only make it to one place on this list, it needs to be this. A Michelin star food court eatery, the line for Fuhang often wraps around the court and snakes down the stairs to the first floor. And, for good reason. The soy milk served here is delicious in its own right- I tried it both hot and iced, and prefered it cold. But, the breakfast sandwich is the real star. Egg and scallion on the fluffiest, crunchiest sesame bread. A top five breakfast of all time, it was unreal. I came here several times, it was that good
  • Yang Shin: A fabulous vegetarian dim sum spot. Prepare for it to be busy, but for prices to be affordable
  • Addiction Aquatic Center: If you’ve got time and are a huge sushi fan, head to the aquatic center for some truly excellent sushi
  • Ooh Cha Cha: Best for leafy, green eats with tons of vegan and gluten-free bowls or salads
  • Alleycats: Pizza and beer, great for your Western food fix

CAN’T MISS TAIWANESE TREATS

  • Snacks on Dongman/Yongkan Streets: Hailed as one of the best foodie destinations in the world, you can’t miss snacking on this street. Two places I especially loved-
    • Tian Jin is legendary in Taipei for having the best onion and scallion pancake. People I spoke to regarded this pancake as a ‘can’t miss’, so I was intrigued, to put it lightly. One bite, and I understood the hype. Savoury, crispy, doughy, buttery- easily one of the best pancakes I’ve ever eaten
    • Shaved Ice: Look no further than Smoothie House to try this Taiwanese dessert speciality. The shaved ice served here is heaping, a literal mountain of refreshment. Order it to share, it’s enough sugar to set anyone over the edge. I tried the classic mango flavour, and would highly recommend
  • Pineapple Cakes: While not a specific place, don’t miss trying this Taiwanese delicacy while in the country. You’ll find them at any bakery in the city
  • Filled, Hot Cakes: Twice, I had these mini cakes, once at Mister Wheel and another time at Catpaw, where they were adorably, shaped like baby cat paws. Fluffy cake wrapped around gooey fillings? It’s a winning combination. I was particularly fond of the egg, custard and chocolate varieties
  • Taro Buns: I’m a big fan of taro flavour, but if you’ve never had it, you should definitely try it in Taiwan. My favourite taro bun was sold at Sunmerry, a pastry and bread shop that has locations all over the city
  • Ice Cream: Specifically, Yongfu ice cream. When you order a cup here, it comes with three small scoops. I tried the taro, red bean and plum flavours. They also have fruit flavours (passion fruit, strawberry) and more interesting options (chicken egg) on the rotating menu. This ice cream was so good, I wish I’d gone back a second time. The texture is creamy and ice, and flavours are prominent without being overbearing
  • Mushrooms: I know what you’re likely thinking- mushrooms, really? I was skeptical as well. Even as a vegetarian, I’m not a huge fan of mushrooms- they’re one of my least favourite vegetables. But, at the Shilin night market, when I saw a 15 minute queue for seasoned and grilled mushrooms, I knew I had to get in line to see what the hype was about. After one bite, I was ready to take back every bad thing I’ve ever said about mushrooms. These were coated in a special sauce, grilled, coated again, grilled a bit more and then sprinkled with two seasonings of your choice. I went with lemon pepper and rosemary seasonings and could not believe how incredible the mushrooms tasted
  • Papaya Milk: You can find this sweet, smooth, creamy beverage at any of Taiwan’s night markets
  • Stinky Tofu: You’ll smell this before you even get close to the stall. Found at night markets all over Taiwan, locals can’t get enough of this smelly, savoury treat. I held off on trying it until I found myself at the Michelin starred stall at the Tonghua night market. Here, the tofu was slightly less stinky than other varieties I’d come across. I found the taste interesting- sour, tart, and oddly smooth. I don’t think it’s something I’d eat regularly, but didn’t necessarily dislike it
  • Egg Tarts: I was skeptical of having this treat in Taiwan, mainly because I’ve had egg tarts in Portugal and Hong Kong, so I know what the real deal tastes like. But, I was pleasantly surprised by how good these were- the eggs were fluffy and creamy, and the outer graham shell was toasted to perfection
  • Muah Chee: Think of muah chee as the Taiwanese version of mochi. It’s soft dough wrapped around different flavours (usually black seasme, red bean, taro or peanut butter) and then grilled and rolled in crushed peanuts

And, if you’re after a tipple or two, check out Taipei’s Mikkeller outpost. I wasn’t drinking while in Taipei, but I’ve been a longtime fan of Mikkeller for their excellent craft brews.

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO TAIPEI: WHERE TO DRINK BUBBLE TEA

Bubble tea, one of my longtime favourite beverage treats.

Something I think you either love or hate. Longtime a fan, my obsession with bubble tea entered new heights when I visited Taipei.

I’d always thought of bubble tea as generally Asian, but it turns out it’s from Taiwan, originating as milk tea with bubbles.

Bubble tea is to Taiwan what pizza and pasta are to Italy, what wine and cheese are to France.

To call it the national drink wouldn’t be wrong.

If you’re in Taiwan, you must try bubble tea. Even if you hate it, it’s just something you have to do. And, with how cheap it is, there’s no reason not to.

Five Bubble Tea Spots I Loved: 

  • Chun Shui Tang: Hailed as the first man to invent bubble tea, you must stop at one of Chun’s 90 branches. There are lots of options on the menu, but I’d go with the Original Pearl Milk Tea. It’s creamy, cool and the bubbles are on the smaller side
  • 50 Lan: Quickly becoming my favourite place for bubble tea, in part because there was one below my Airbnb, and in part, because there were locations all over the city, I could not get enough of the bubble tea from this chain. Some of their options are quite playful- definitely a departure from your standard bubble tea offerings
  • Chen San Ding: The best brown sugar bubble tea I’ve ever had, full stop. Interestingly enough, there’s not even tea in it. Their tapioca pearls are what give the tea it’s excellent, sweet taste. When you visit, chances are you won’t be able to miss this street stall
  • Yi Fang Fruit Tea: In the mood for something more refreshing than milky or decadent? Yi Fang has dozens of different fruit teas, including one with actual passion fruit in it
  • Sharetea: A top chain across Asia, Sharetea stands out in Taiwan because of the quality of tea leaves they use

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO TAIPEI: WHERE TO DRINK COFFEE

Before visiting Taipei, I was curious what the coffee situation would be like. I’d heard many people draw comparisons between Taipei and Japan. And while I loved Tokyo and Kyoto, when I visited both two years prior, I’d had a tough time finding third wave coffee- it seemed to be a concept that was just starting to take off.

I needn’t have worried though, Taipei was full of excellent cafes. There were so many great places, I only made it to a small fraction of what the city has to offer.

Eight of the Best Cafes in Taipei:

  • Cafe N: My first official stop in Taipei didn’t disappoint. Stumbling in here immediately after I dropped my luggage post-early morning flight, I asked for an iced coffee. What I got in return may have been small in size, but sure packed a serious punch
  • Impct Coffee: Taipei is home to the cutest walk up cafes. This rainbow one caught my eye from across the street. If you’re looking for a literal latte on the go, Impct’s got you covered
  • Cuiqu Co: Looking for a cafe with lots of seating and good wifi to work for a bit, I found Cuiqu. Boasting communal work tables and a lively vibe, it was the perfect place to pass a few hours catching up on work. Here also, I was delighted to find two kinds of cold brew, plus lots of other coffee drinks, teas and smoothies. In the end, I went with a Hawaii Volcano Hula Pie cold brew, which was incredible. Slightly sweet (even with no added sugar), but by no means saccharine
  • Paper Street Coffee: Hearing this place was a hipster haven for cold brew and artisanal coffee, I sought out this cafe, tucked underneath an overpass one afternoon, in need of an energy boost. A good place to come for a low conversation, or if you’re the kind of person (like me) who likes to drink cold brew and read a book
  • Fomo: My first thought upon entering, is this Brooklyn or Taipei? A stark white interior with crisp black details could easily pass for any third wave coffee shop in New York City. The cold brew I had here was flat out excellent. Crisp, slightly bitter and refreshing
  • Congrats Cafe: Colorful and filled with a mix of modern and antiques, it’s a cool place to hang out. Overlooking one of Taipei’s busiest roads, sitting on the upstairs balcony still feels calming. Here, I ordered a pot of oolong tea and watched rush hour traffic whizz past
  • Tamed Fox: Hailed as one of the best brunch spots in Taipei, Tamed Fox didn’t disappoint. The food was good, but the coffee was even more impressive. Cold brew infused with blueberries? Yes, pls
  • Louisa Coffee: With locations all over the city, think Starbucks but make it Taiwanese, Louisa is an excellent place for lively catch-ups with friends, working (strong wifi), or just sipping one of their many coffee and tea drinks

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EXTRA TRAVEL TIPS

  • Language: The official language spoken in Taiwan is Mandarin Chinese. The language has two dialects, the Taiwanese Mandarin (Hokkien) and standard Mandarin. Transactional English is often spoken for simple things like ordering or payment, especially in Old Quarter and among younger Taiwanese. If you find someone who doesn’t speak English or need to translate a menu, you’ll likely be fine getting by with gestures and Google translate
  • Currency: Taiwan’s currency is the New Taiwan dollar (NT$)
    • I withdrew from a bank ATM. Look for Visa and Mastercard images on an ATM- that means it’s global, and only withdraw from a bank one (there’s less of a chance your card will be skimmed). I’d advise carrying cash on you- many purchases are so small, you won’t meet the card minimum if the place you’re at even takes cards. Carrying cash is especially important for street markets
  • Budget: Way more affordable than Japan, which is worth comparing because of the similarities between countries, but more expensive than SE Asia. For Asia overall, I’d regard it as a destination you can do on a budget (as I did) or spend a bit more money to have a more ‘premium’ and ‘polished’ experience 
  • Getting There: 
    • Flying: Taipei’s airport is a major international one, and the metro is easy (and affordable) to grab from the airport to city centre 
    • Cruise: There are also cruises from Japan, which stop at a few ports throughout the country
  • Visa: No visa is needed for tourism or short-term stays (less than 90 days) for US citizens. No extensions are permitted, so if you want to stay longer, you’ll need to leave and re-enter. Also, you may be asked for proof of onward travel by border agents- I wasn’t, but I’ve heard of this happening to friends in Taiwan
  • Getting Around: Walk when distances aren’t too long, Taipei’s streets are clean and well marked. When you need to go across the city, hop on a bus or the city’s metro- in my opinion, it’s one of the best in the world. I used Google Maps to get around, which made navigating public transit a cinch 
  • Where to Stay: I stayed in a good budget Airbnb in New Taipei city off the Xingpu metro stop. Getting downtown usually took 15-20 minutes, but often, I found myself heading to different areas of the city, so I’m not sure any place that’s truly ‘centrally located’. I enjoyed staying in New Taipei- my metro stop had loads of restaurants, coffee shops, convenience stores and bakeries, and was 50-60% less per night than staying ‘downtown’ would have been 
  • When to Visit: I visited in late May, and would recommend going earlier in the year (March-early May) to avoid the beginning of the rainy season. As with elsewhere in Asia, the rainy season is no joke- I had a few days in Taiwan that were seemingly endless monsoon-esque rain. My plans were flexible enough to work around the rain, but if you’re only there for a few days, best to visit when the weather is likely better
  • Tipping: Tipping is not common practice in Taipei, with the exception of luxury hotels and service
  • WiFi Access: WiFi was hit or miss for the most part in Taipei, so I was glad I had a SIM with data. Local markets, where I usually ate, didn’t have WiFi. And, while some cafes did, others didn’t 
  • SIM Card Options: I bought a 10 day SIM upon arrival at Taipei’s airport, which I believe was around ~$15 USD for a few GB of data. If your phone is locked, there are also portable hotspots available to rent

Have you ever visited Taiwan? Would you add anything to this guide to Taipei? 

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3 Places in Taiwan I Still Want to Visit

Taiwan is the kind of country that flies a bit under the radar.

It wasn’t even on my original spring Asia trip itinerary, mostly because it’s a touch more expensive than other places in SE Asia.

Yet, in Vietnam, when I found myself with a few weeks before I wanted to arrive in Bali, I started Googling flight routes and destinations in Asia to see what may be doable.

At the top of my intrigue radar were Taiwan and South Korea. When I realised flights between the two were relatively inexpensive, and that I could easily get to Taiwan from Vietnam, I made the impulse decision to spend 8 days in Taiwan.

Initially, upon starting to plan, I thought I’d travel around the country a bit in that time. But, my time in Taiwan overlapped with teaching certifications I was doing, and I realised it’d be difficult to bop around as much as I would have liked to.

So, instead, I decided to make Taipei my home base and booked a day trip to Shifin and Jiufen. I’d considered another day trip to Kaohsiung, but waited too long to purchase my tickets. By the time I went to book the high speed train, it was a day that would cost me several hundred pounds.

Lesson: Book high speed rail in advance, or give yourself more time and take the slow (read: cheaper) train.

Taipei was incredible. I have no regrets about spending most of my time exploring the city’s attractions.

In fact I loved Taiwan so much, I’m contemplating a return to see more of this incredible country. When I return, I’m hoping to spend more time in Taipei, and make my way around the country.

Where else is high on my Taiwanese ‘to visit’ list?

Three Places I’m Hoping to See on a Return Visit to Taiwan

Taichung: Taichung is easy enough to see in a day from Taipei. I didn’t realise how much there was to do there until closer to the end of my time in Taiwan, but if I’d known there was a gorgeous rainbow village, killer street markets, an incredible flower market, banging street art (hello, Animation Alley), a beautiful park, serene river walk, and a mushroom village (yes, a mushroom village), I would have definitely figured out a way to make it there on my first trip. Since I didn’t, it’s high on the list of places I’d like to see when I return.

Oh, and the rainbow village isn’t just Instagrammable, the nature of the gesture is also swoon worthy- it was painted by a grandfather for his grandchildren.

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Kaohsiung: When I realised I wouldn’t be able to make it to Kaohsiung, I was pretty disappointed. If I planned my trip again, I would have given myself one or two days longer in Taiwan, and split my time between Taipei and Kaohsiung. It’s easy to get between the cities, and a few nights in each would have made it a cinch for me to also work on my certifications.

Alas, on my return to Taiwan, Kaohsiung is the place I’m most looking forward to seeing.

Incredible temples and pagodas, a tranquil island (Cijin) off the coast with quirky art, cool metro stations, insanely good night markets and top notch street art (so good, the city is referred to as the street art capital of Taiwan)? Here for it, in every way.

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Image credit: Link

Taroko National Park: Regarded as one of the most beautiful places in Taiwan, visitors flock to Taroko to hike its beautiful trails.

The landscapes are breathtaking, from coast to steep gorge walls, to waterfalls inside of caves, to dense, rolling tropical hills.

And, a bonus, most people recommend using public transit to get around the park. Which, I’m a huge fan of.

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Image credit: link

Have you ever been to Taiwan? Is it on your list of places to visit?

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A Dreamy Afternoon Soaking in Taiwanese Hot Springs

HOW TO VISIT BEITOU HOT SPRINGS IN TAIWAN

With Taiwan being a volcanic island, it should be no surprise it’s also home to some excellent hot springs, which are ideal for relaxing after a busy few days of sightseeing.

Searching what to do during my time in Taipei, I came across oodles of recommendations to visit Beitou hot springs.

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How to Visit Beitou Hot Springs on a Day Trip from Taipei

North of the city, they’re considered to be within city limits, and thus, reachable by public transit.

No need to take an expensive day tour or hail a taxi- just hop on the MRT. The metro system in Taiwan is one of the best I’ve seen in the world- clean, orderly, timely and cheap.

You’ll have to transfer at least once (pending which line you get on first), but the stop is well marked in English, and easy to figure out. If you’re not sure, just ask one the help desks in the station- the attendants usually speak at least conversational English.

From city centre, it takes 25-40 minutes usually to reach the Beitou area.

Once there, walk out of the metro station, and head toward the park in town. You can’t miss it- there’s a huge steaming circle, which people are often huddled around. This is a good starting point, regardless of what your next activity is.

And, good news, there’s plenty to do in Beitou. Many visitors actually spend a night or two to take full advantage of what the hot springs have to offer.

Since I had decided to base myself in Taipei, I chose activities in Beitou that would be easy enough to accomplish in a single afternoon.

Really, there were only two things on the agenda- visit the thermal valley and unwind at one of the public bath houses. I also wanted to wander the town a bit, but saw that as more of an informal activity.

If I was staying longer in Beitou longer, I would have booked myself in one of the hotels that uses the spring water in its bathtubs for the ultimate indulgence.

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Once I had a good sense of how the town was laid out, I walked uphill to the thermal valley.

When locals first discovered the valley, they were afraid of it. I’m told the name ‘Beitou’ roughly translates to witch, reflecting the belief the valley was a mystical place.

It actually wasn’t until the Japanese were introduced to the area that it became a popular place for holiday goers.

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The Japanese recognised the blue sulphur springs because they’re also present in Japan. There, the springs are celebrated for their therapeutic properties.

In Beitou, the hot springs contain the rare element radium. In all of Asia, hot springs like these only exist in Beitou and one place in Japan.

During Japanese rule, they built bath houses, which were a holiday retreat for wealthy men to be entertained by geishas.

Some of these bath houses are still present today, but most of them are more modern.

Swimming isn’t possible in the thermal valley itself. The water is between 80-100 degrees Celsius, which is why the aquamarine water appears to be shrouded in steam at all times.

When I visited the thermal valley, it was mid-afternoon on a Friday and only a few other people were around.

This meant an exceptionally serene experience.

Sitting on a bench, and watching the steam rise and twist off the water, evaporating in the air felt purifying.

There’s a small waterfall nearby, which lends the sound of trickling water. Calming in every sense.

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I sat at the thermal valley for close to an hour, just relaxing in nature. Before heading back to the city, I stopped at one of the area’s public bath houses.

I chose to visit the Millennium hot springs because they were on my walking path, and I was interested in the four levels of varying temperature.

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The bath houses are open to both genders, so everyone wears a swimsuit at all times. Taiwanese tend to be conservative, so you won’t find small bikinis here- many wear long sleeves or even pants to lounge in the pools.

Here, I spent just over an hour, trying out a few of the different pools- one was extremely hot, others were tamer and more suitable to relaxing.

No photos are allowed in the springs, which I actually liked because I felt it added to the chill vibe of the experience.

With evening nearing, I walked back to the station, meandering through a forest, stopping at the old train station and the fountain outside of it, which spring water pulls through and many people stop at to soak their hands and wish for good fortune.

I didn’t eat while in the Beitou area because my next stop was the Shilin night market, which is a stop on the metro line up to Beitou.

If you are hungry while visiting, there are plenty of restaurants- even a Starbucks. And, you’ll see a lot of locals selling food they claim was boiled in spring water- corn and eggs are especially popular.

Interesting to note that between Japanese rule and today’s tourism, locals actually boiled eggs in the thermal valley. This practice stopped though after the area became contaminated.

All in all, a dreamy way to spend an afternoon after sightseeing in morning showers. Whether you go for a few hours or a few days, don’t miss seeing Beitou when you’re in Taipei.

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Have you ever visited hot springs? What did you enjoy about your visit? Would you add anything to this guide on how to visit Beitou hot springs from Taipei? 

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Admiring Glowing Lanterns and Roaring Waterfalls in Shifen, Taiwan

A GUIDE TO ONE DAY IN SHIFEN, TAIWAN

Shifen feels like stepping back in time.

World famous for an old train that passes down the middle of its main street and for its Sky Lantern Festival, visitors to Taiwan flock to Shifen in hope of decorating and releasing their own lantern into the sky for good luck.

When I saw photos of lanterns floating up to the sky, and the cascading force of Taiwan’s biggest waterfall, I knew I had to see both for myself.

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You can get to Jiufen and Shifen by train, which requires making a few transfers, but I opted to take a Klook shuttle.

It wasn’t very expensive (under $20 USD), and meant I didn’t have to do any planning. The shuttle isn’t a guided tour- just a van that takes you from Taipei to Juifen, and then onward to Shifen before returning you to the city.

Once you arrive in each destination, you’re told a time to be back at the van and then given a few hours to explore. The best part of the shuttle in the rainy season means you don’t have to spend time wading through heavy downpours to find a train station or bus stop.

To say I was sold would be an understatement.

The other reason I opted to take the shuttle was I’d heard the return train ride to Ruifang from Shiufen could be packed with tales from people who said they weren’t able to board their trains, and found themselves stuck in Shifen with an expensive taxi as their only transport option.

I also know people who haven’t had any issue taking the train, but with the forecasted downpours, and knowing I needed to be back in Taipei that evening, I decided to spend a bit more than I would if I took public transit, and booked a shuttle.

Our first stop of the day was Jiufen, a misty mountain town with some seriously good eats.

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After a few hours exploring Jiufen’s winding, cobbled alleyways, and sipping hot tea while watching rain hover sway over mountains, it was time to head to Shifen.

This part of Taiwan is definitely an area you could spend several days exploring if you have the time. Pingxi rail tickets allow you to stop at different towns and villages. The only thing to note: Trains don’t run regularly, so be sure to note departure times at the stations.

If you decide to go by train, I’d also recommend going on a weekday. I visited on a weekday, and can’t even fathom the kind of crowds towns in this region, like Jiufen and Shifen, must experience on a weekend.

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A GUIDE TO ONE DAY IN SHIFEN

Arriving in Shifen, our shuttle dropped us below the old town.

The town itself isn’t very big, and reminded me of Hanoi’s train street. Small, narrow shops crowded together on either side of train tracks.

It seems the train in Shifen runs much more often than the train street in Hanoi- it came through twice while I was in the town.

When the train approaches, its horn sounds and everyone jumps back from the tracks. Only then, does the train proceed to creak its way down the tracks

The main reason many people are drawn to Shifen though, is to release a lantern.

I loved watching families, friends and couples choose their paper lanterns, paint their good wishes onto the sides and them release them into the air.

The colour you choose is associated with particular things you want to wish for (love, health, wealth), which I found interesting.

The practice of releasing lanterns is an interesting one.

Legend has it, when Shifen was a gold mining town, it was a target for robbers. With men away at work, women and children would hide in the nearby mountain caves when the robbers came to attack.

Eventually, someone would check to see if it was safe to return to town. If it was, they lit a lantern and set it loose so others, still in the caves would see it.

Today, the practice of lighting lanterns for prosperity continues.

I chose not to participate because I’m not wild about the impact the hundreds of lanterns that must be released daily has on the environment. Burning aside, I was told the Taiwanese government pays locals to collect the lanterns, but I’m certain there’s no way of getting every one.

One other word of caution- be careful if you decide to set a lantern loose or even watch nearby. If the lanterns don’t have enough hot air in them when they try to set them loose to float, they fall back down. I witnessed a fair amount of flaming lanterns flipping over, coming dangerously close to falling directly on people and buildings.

There’s also great food to be found on Shifen’s old street. Having just come from Jiufen, I wasn’t particularly hungry but couldn’t deny how great the dumplings and peanut ice cream rolls looked.

I didn’t see any signs for toilets while in Shifen, but also didn’t go into any cafes or restaurants, which I’m sure have them.

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After spending about an hour wandering old town and watching people set their lanterns free to the sky, it was time to head over to Shifen waterfall.

Close to town, the waterfall is a five minute drive or 20-30 minute walk.

The shuttle I took dropped us off near the entrance, then it was a 10 minute walk to the falls.

Shifen waterfall is often described as the most beautiful in all of Taiwan. 40 meters tall, and free to visit, to get to the falls, you walk through a gorge and along a river. The scenery sets the tone for being awestruck by the magnificence of the falls.

Nicknamed Little Niagra for its horseshoe shape, the falls are insanely beautiful.

We had an hour to wander the falls, but I wish we had more time.

There are a few well kept trails around the falls, making it easy to work in a bit of hiking, and see the falls from different angles.

If you’re hungry while visiting, there are your typical tourist-esque food vendors- I’d much rather eat in Jiufen or Shifen. And, there are toilet facilities along the trail to the falls (squat potties only). If you need a Western-style toilet, you’ll find one in the restaurant near the start of the path to the falls.

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It’s hard to spend one day in Shifen and not feel moved by the magic of it.

An ancient ritual of lantern releasing still in practice today, and gorgeous, thundering falls, reminding us of the beauty and power of nature?

A perfect escape from the busyness of Taipei to see another part of Taiwan, and understand a bit more about Taiwanese culture.

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Have you ever dreamt of visiting Taiwan or been interested in planning a trip to this tiny, yet gorgeous island? Would you spend one day in Shifen?

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3 Can’t Miss Night Markets in Taipei

A GUIDE TO NIGHT MARKETS IN TAIPEI

Going to Taiwan and not eating at a street market is like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower, or heading to the big apple for the first time and skipping Times Square or the Empire State Building.

Some things are just iconic. Calling night markets iconic may seem like a reach, but it’s absolutely the truth.

The night markets of Taiwan are so far ingrained in Taiwanese culture, you’d be seriously missing out on understanding an essential part of Taiwan if you didn’t visit at least one.

That said, I didn’t have high food expectations before visiting Taiwan- I knew bubble tea was a big deal, but hadn’t given much thought to the night markets everyone raved about. I  assumed (incorrectly) vegetarian eats at the markets would be sparse, and I’d be left eating at cafes and the likes of Din Tai Fung, which is phenomenal and can not be missed.

I planned on visiting a few night markets, but assumed I’d need to find things to eat and drink elsewhere.

Oh, how wrong I was.

In most of Asia, vegetarian means starchy or fried food, and Taipei is no different. Reaching Bali with its abundance of fresh fruit and veg was a welcome reprieve.

But on a short trip to Taiwan (eight days), I was just excited to find so much affordable vegetarian food. The fact that it was pretty much all unhealthy mattered less to me, because I knew eating that way would be short lived.

Finding a night market to check out will be easy in Taiwan, the hard part will be deciding on one. 

Night markets go back over 1,000 years to the Tang Dynasty in ancient China. Some of the ones in Taiwan date back to the 1950s.

Back then, night markets usually developed little by little. They’d start as a small collection of vendors, usually situated on street corners, near universities or in front of temples. Over time, they’d grow and begin to take over entire streets or neighborhoods.

Today, the eats you’ll find at a Taiwanese night market are known as xiaochi, loosely translated in Chinese to ‘snacks’.

Think: Tapas. Items are meant to serve one person, and usually meant for take-away.

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Nervous to eat street food?

You shouldn’t worry in Taiwan. Food safety laws are enforced, sanitation is some of the best I’ve seen in Asia.

If you want to be extra careful, only buy from vendors with lines of locals or tourists. A queue is a good sign the food is top-notch.

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I’ve  heard in Taipei, there are over 30 night markets. And, in all of Taiwan? Over 70.

During my eight days in Taipei, I visited three night markets. I’d meant to make it to one or two others, but ended up returning to some street food spots I loved instead.

The three I visited were Shilin, Rahoe and Tonghua. Of the ones I skipped, Ningxia is the only one I wished I’d made it to. It’s said to be two rows of stalls running alongside Ningxia road, and rumour has it, it’s where you’ll find some of the best mochi in Taiwan.

A guide to night markets in Taipei: If you’re a first time visitor to Taipei, don’t miss checking out these three night markets

SHILIN: Easily, the most recognised night market in Taipei, Shilin is the largest. Beginning in 1899 with only a few vendors selling seafood, meat, fruit and vegetables, the market has expanded to hundreds of food stalls.

You’ll find the food section opposite the Jintan Metro Station. And, if you fancy a browse of homewares and clothing, that part of the market begins next to Yang Ming Cinema on Anping Street.

Can’t miss eats at Shilin-

  • Mushrooms: I know what you’re likely thinking- mushrooms, really? I was skeptical as well. Even as a vegetarian, I’m not a huge fan of mushrooms- they’re one of my least favourite vegetables. But, at the Shilin night market, when I saw a 15 minute queue for seasoned and grilled mushrooms, I knew I had to get in line to see what the hype was about. After one bite, I was ready to take back every bad thing I’ve ever said about mushrooms. These were coated in a special sauce, grilled, coated again, grilled a bit more and then sprinkled with two seasonings of your choice. I went with lemon pepper and rosemary seasonings and could not believe how incredible the mushrooms tasted. You’ll find similar stalls at other night markets, but the one at Shilin is said to be one of the best
  • Papaya milk: You can find this sweet, smooth, creamy beverage at any of Taiwan’s night markets. Papaya milk is to Taiwan what sugarcane juice is to Vietnam- a must try, refreshing treat.
  • Sugarcane juice: Especially great if you’re visiting on a hot, humid day.
  • Fried cheese hot dogs
  • Fried oyster omelet: Almost every night market in Taiwan sells them, each market has its own unique variation. It’s usually eggs, oysters, vegetables and sauces as an accompaniment.
  • Fried chicken: Being a vegetarian, I didn’t try this, but it was hard to miss people wandering around with enormous deep-fried chicken cutlets. A friend who visited Taiwan right before I did raved about them, saying the meat was tender and the spices were just enough flavouring

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RAHOE: Adored for being big, but smaller and more manageable than Shilin, I immediately understood why others raved about the Rahoe night market.

With one main drag, there are vendors on both sides, and even a few in the alleyways leading away from the market.

Can’t miss eats at Rahoe-

  • Fried Milk: Not a big dairy consumer, I was skeptical of trying this fried treat when I spotted the stall right outside the front gates at the Rahoe night market. Upon biting into one of the small balls, I realised it was condensed milk. Immediately, I decided it was too sweet for my liking. But, I can see why others rave about the dessert- the fried shell lends a savoury element to the sweetness of the milk. Worth trying, for sure.
  • Muah Chee: Think of muah chee as the Taiwanese version of mochi. It’s soft dough wrapped around different flavours (usually black seasme, red bean, taro or peanut butter) and then grilled and rolled in crushed peanuts. Hella delicious.
  • Pig Buns: Known as the market’s most famous stall, Fuzhou Shizu Black Pepper Buns is impossible to miss at the entrance. I didn’t try these because, vegetarian but everyone I know who has had them absolutely raves about the taste.
  • Ribs Stewed in Herbs: Another famed stall, Chen Dong Ribs are stewed in medicinal herbs. There’s usually a line here, but the crowds say the wait is worth it.
  • Grilled squid or octopus: You can find these stands at most night markets, but the queues for the ones at Rahoe were the longest I’d seen, which is always a good thing.
  • Other classic night market eats to be on the lookout for here- watermelon juice, papaya milk, onion pancakes and oyster omelets

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TONGHUA: Saving the best for last, always. If you only have time to visit one night market in Taiwan, I’d make it this one.

Controversial opinion, since so many people love Shilin, but I liked that Tonghua was smaller.

It felt more local- I didn’t see any other Westerners (although, that probably changes depending the time of year you visit- I was in Taiwan during the rainy season). Even if there are other tourists there when you visit, the food is still hailed as the most traditional of all the night markets in Taipei.

It’s less touristy with more authentic food. That’s my kind of market experience.

Can’t miss eats at Tonghua-

  • Stinky Tofu: You’ll smell this before you even get close to the stall. Found at night markets all over Taiwan, locals can’t get enough of this smelly, savoury treat. I held off on trying it until I found myself at the Michelin starred stall at the Tonghua night market. Here, the tofu was slightly less stinky than other varieties I’d come across. I found the taste interesting- sour, tart, and oddly smooth. I don’t think it’s something I’d eat regularly, but didn’t necessarily dislike it. Truly, I think the best way I’d describe the taste of stinky tofu is confusing. Something you need need to try for yourself.
  • Egg Tarts: Another street food eat that came highly recommend to try at the Tonghua market. I was skeptical, mainly because I’ve had egg tarts in Portugal and Hong Kong, so I know what the real deal tastes like. But, I was pleasantly surprised by how good these were- the eggs were fluffy and creamy, and the outer graham shell was toasted to perfection.
  • ‘Dumbass’ Noodles: If you’re not a vegetarian, you need to suss out the best beef noodles. But, for my vegetarian friends, you’ll find incredible noodles at the Tonghua night market. Look for the Sha Gua Mian stand. Here, order your noodles plain. When they’re brought to you, piping hot, you’ll be directed to a variety of sauces and chilis to add flavour. The name of this stall translates from Chinese to English as ‘dumbass’ noodles. That translation isn’t the official name, but is more so meant to reflect that the noodles you order here are simple- you customise them however you want. They may be served plain, but the noodles are so delicious, you don’t really need anything else. They’re chewy, but firm with a garlicky flavour. Absolutely excellent.
  • Purple rice milk:
  • Filled, Hot Cakes: Don’t miss popping in Catpaw, where these hot cakes are adorably, shaped like baby cat paws. Fluffy cake wrapped around gooey fillings? It’s a winning combination. I was particularly fond of the egg, custard and chocolate varieties, but there are usually several different types on offer. Places like Catpaw in Tonghua Market make it easy to try several with tiny buns. There are also a few vendors selling these cakes in different animal shapes throughout the market, but I liked Catpaw’s appeal to cuteness.
  • Here too, you can find other classic Taiwanese eats like green onion pancakes, pineapple cakes, papaya milk, fried chicken, bubble milk tea and oyster omelets

Convinced to visit a night market in Taiwan? Great!

A few other tips to keep in mind

  • Most night markets are very close to MRT stops, making them easy to get to
  • Many open at 4 or 5 pm, but the show really gets going until 7 pm. Come 9/10 pm, the vendors start to shut down their stalls
  • Every night market has a unique flow of traffic- watch which way people walk and follow suit
  • Keep your money somewhere easy to reach- you don’t want to be digging around your bag when it’s your turn in line
  • Don’t haggle for food- if a price is posted, that means it’s fixed cost
  • Use the toilet before you leave the MRT- most night markets don’t have one. And, if they do, as is the case at Tonghua, it’s going to be a pretty unkempt squatty potty

Final bit of advice: Don’t just come to eat. Beyond the goods for sale, night markets in Taiwan are a serious source of entertainment. There are game booths, arcades and sometimes even street performers.

Don’t rush your time at any of the markets. Soak it all in. You’ll leave full and happy, and likely eager to do it all again.

The good news? Taipei’s got more night markets than anyone could possibly fit into a single trip.

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Have you ever been to one of Taiwan’s night markets, or a night market in another Asian country you loved? Would you add any night markets in Taipei to this round-up of my favourites? 

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Does Taiwan Have One of the World’s Best Metro Systems?

It’s no secret I’m a fan of Taiwan.
Huge, actually.

It wasn’t just one thing, or a few things, I liked about my first visit to the country. It was everything.

Granted I really only saw Tapiei, with a few day trips to Beitou, Jiufen and Shifen, I fell hard for the city, and by extension, the country.

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One of my favourite things about Taipei?
It’s metro system.

If you’re thinking, that’s kind of an odd thing to rave about- I’ve lived in cities, taking public transit daily for over ten years.

In New York, I appreciated how expansive the subway and bus systems were, but they’re also outdated and filthy. And in London, the metro may have seemed more efficient in comparison to New York, but there’s no arguing many of the train carriages and buses are run down.

Plus, there’s only air-con on a few lines, and presently, not on any of the buses. If you’ve ever spent time in London during an English heat wave, you know how brutal the Underground is.

And having travelled to over 50 countries on a budget travel ethos, I’m always checking out (and usually reliant on) a destination’s public transit options.

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Enter: Taipei.

I didn’t have any expectations for the metro, other than I would need to use it to get around. I understood Taipei would be a modern city, and from what I’d planned to do, knew I’d need to use the metro and bus systems to traverse one end to the other.

I wasn’t expecting such an excellent metro system though.

In fact, I think it’s the best I’ve seen anywhere in the world.

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It’s clean, efficient, orderly, accessible and affordable.

Not to mention, a breeze to navigate. If you’re visiting Taipei, all you need to do is use Google Maps for directions- so simple.

Clean: Never once did I see trash in the Taipei metro. You’ll be hard pressed to find street trash cans anywhere you go in Taiwan – they’re limited to encourage people to be mindful about waste – and, in a subway system, this could be a recipe for disaster. But, everyone is respectful- holding onto their trash until they have access to a trash can. It helps eating and drinking in public isn’t really socially acceptable in Taiwan.

No trash, and the platforms, stairs and floors all felt clean. I never saw anyone mopping, but I’m certain it happens since you won’t even find evidence of footprints in some of Taipei’s most trafficked stations.

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Orderly: One of my biggest frustrations living in NYC and London, and commuting during rush hour was always how chaotic the subway and buses were. Although Taipei’s metro is definitely busier during morning and early evening hours, it’s not really a burden.

Before you even board the metro, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Most stations have boxes drawn on the platform, which are meant to encourage people to line up. If the box closes to you is full, walk down the platform to the next one. This concept, while so simple, blew my mind. There’s zero pushing or shoving to get on the metro, and it’s simple for people to get off before passengers start trying to board. I’ve encountered so many delays at the sake of people getting on trains before allowing others off, I’m positive this measure helps Taiwan’s metro system run far more efficiently.

The metro is also stunningly quiet. People are respectful of each other. Conversations, if held, are done so at a low volume, and no one is bouncing around with portable speakers, blasting the latest hits.

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Accessible: Signs are displayed in English and Chinese, and announcements are usually made in both as well. Every station I encountered had options for escalators, lifts or steps- which means it’s easy for those with physical restrictions or disabilities to use the metro.

Speaking of accessible, most stations have bathrooms, which have both Western toilets and squat potties, and are seriously clean. Bigger stations also have breastfeeding rooms, which was surprising, but great to see.

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Affordable: With an average ride costing between $15-30 NTD, using the metro in Taipei should save you oodles over taking a taxi.  With an Easy Card, you’ll save even more travelling between metro lines or transferring from metro to bus.

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Sold on using the metro while in Taipei?

5 Tips to Keep in Mind for Using Taipei’s Metro System (MRT)

Operating hours for the metro are from early morning (most lines start around 5 am) and run late (usually midnight).

Metro lines are colour coded, and easy enough to understand. The bus system is a bit tricker, but just ask your driver as a way to double check destination before you get on if you’re unsure about which direction you need to head.

Both metro stations and bus shelters have down-to-the-minute time updates. And, both forms of transit are known for being punctual.

When using escalators, stand on the right and move on the left. This is followed so widely, it feels like it must be a law.

Priority seats are truly for the elderly, pregnant and handicapped. Do not sit in them. Even if there isn’t anyone on the train who needs them at the moment- you’ll be stared at if you sit in them, trust me.

When using the public buses, ask or gesture to the driver to figure out if you pay getting on and off, or only when getting off. Rules are different for each bus. It’s also helpful to watch anyone else getting on with you to figure this bit out. In metro stations, you’ll pay to enter and exit at turnstiles, so keep your card handy.

Visitors have a few options available to them for using the MRT- single ride tickets, a 72-hour pass or purchasing an Easy Card. I was in Taipei for over a week, so I purchased an Easy Card at Main Station after dropping my luggage.

Easy Cards cost $100 NTD, and then you need to add money to them to use them. Topping them up is easy at any subway station, and you can use them in many convenience stores to buy items as well. You can buy them at the info counter in metro stations, or from convenience stores, like 7-Eleven, Hi-Life and FamilyMart.

Also, Easy Cards don’t expire. So if you’re going to potentially visit Taiwan again, hold onto yours. If you want to get your money off it before leaving, take it to the info desk in a station. You won’t get the deposit back, but they will give you any remaining fare money.

Take the MRT into the city from the airport. Chances are you’ll be flying into Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (TPE). If that’s the case, you can buy a single ride token (plastic, purple coins) or an Easy Pass and hop on the MRT into the city.

There are two services available, Express and Commuter. Both cost $150 NTD, but the Express service is 12-15 minutes faster than the Commuter one, so take that if it comes first.

Late night arrivals, no need to worry- there’s a bus that runs after midnight into Taipei’s main station.

When I left Taiwan, I headed to Seoul. And while, the metro there was okay to use (clean, affordable), it was nowhere near as great as the metro system in Taiwan.

Have you ever visited a city where you were surprised by something you never thought you’d care so much about, like a metro system? 

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A Misty Morning in a Beautiful Mountain Town: Visiting Jiufen, Taiwan

A ONE DAY GUIDE TO JIUFEN, TAIWAN

Beautiful Jiufen, oft referred to as the Santorini of Taiwan. A mountain town that almost seems stuck in time- red lanterns sway overhead, visitors amble the narrow alleyways, and vistas of mountains and the sea beyond stun from all directions.

In May, when I visited Taiwan at the start of the rainy season, I decided to get out of Taipei’s city centre for a day to visit the small towns of Jiufen and Shifen.

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You can get to Jiufen and Shifen by train, which requires making a few transfers, but I opted to take a Klook shuttle.

It wasn’t very expensive (under $20 USD), and meant I didn’t have to do any planning. The shuttle isn’t a guided tour- just a van that takes you from Taipei to Juifen, and then onward to Shifen before returning you to the city.

Once you arrive in each destination, you’re told a time to be back at the van and then given a few hours to explore. The best part of the shuttle in the rainy season means you don’t have to spend time wading through heavy downpours to find a train station or bus stop.

To say I was sold would be an understatement.

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A ONE DAY GUIDE TO JIUFEN

Jiufen was the first stop of the day for us. As we drove through winding mountain roads, the rain was relentless.

Even when we reached Jiufen, it wouldn’t let up. Taiwan even issued a rain warning, because of the volume of rain and how quickly it fell. I ended up buying one of those highlighter yellow coloured full-body ponchos in the hope of staying some degree of dry.

And then, I set off to wander.

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Our guide had given us just over two hours to see Jiufen. It was enough time to not feel like I missed anything, but I would have loved a half day or even longer to really observe the pace of life in this small, mountain town.

From the lower parking lot, I shared a taxi to the top of the old street with other van passengers. The heavy rain discouraged us from walking 300 steps to the top.

If you don’t know much about Jiufen, you’ll find it an easy place to explore.

The small, winding streets are straightforward- there’s a old street with a few smaller ones branching off of it.

While you should wander the streets that branch off, going the full length of the old street will only take you 10-15 minutes each way. Which meant I had plenty of time to grab a few things to eat, sip tea in one of Jiufen’s historic teahouses, and just generally, enjoy the town.

Jiufen’s history is interesting. Formerly a gold mining town, walking through Jiufen is like looking into Taiwan’s past.

As with many places, the old street has become commercialised for tourism, but there are still reminders of Taiwan’s heritage, mainly in the food you’ll find.

Jiufen’s sloping old street is highly regarded as a place for great eats throughout Taiwan. There are even food tours you can book if you’re staying in Jiufen for longer than a few hours.

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Don’t leave without trying taro ball soup, peanut ice cream rolls, rice cakes, mochi and bubble milk tea. If you’re really hungry, there’s also ice cream puffs and stinky tofu to be had.

You’ll spot great eats by walking around the old street- as a rule of thumb, always follow crowds. But, you can’t miss the taro balls at Grandma Lai’s. You can have yours hot or iced- I did hot because it was a cool day with the rain, and found the taro ball soup so comforting. Tasty, too.

And, the peanut ice cream rolls (think a burrito with crushed peanuts and a lump of ice cream) are the best at Ah Zhu Peanut Ice Cream.

I loved watching the people at restaurant stalls cook.
Some of the recipes have been passed down generations.

Finally, right before it was time to leave for Shifen, the rain started to dwindle. I meandered down one of the side walkways in search of the popular view you always see in photos of Jiufen.

You can see it for yourself outside of the A-Mei teahouse.

With just under an hour to go, I found a teahouse with a good view of the misty mountains and ordered a cup to sip. The absolutely best way to warm up from the rain before heading to Shifen.

With Taiwan being known as a major tea producer, you’d be remiss to not take every opportunity to try one of the country’s blends. I’m partial to oolong, and green tea.

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Before I knew it, it was time to head to Shifen. My morning in Jiufen ended up being one of my favourite parts of my visit to Taiwan. Truly, a can’t miss activity if you’re planning a trip to this incredible country.

A Few More Tips for Visiting Jiufen

  • I visited on a day trip because I needed to work while in Taipei, and thus, didn’t have a lot of flexibility to move around Taiwan freely. However, I’d read that visiting Jiufen overnight was the best way to experience the town without as many crowds. Many people recommend arriving late afternoon, right before sunset (which, is said to be spectacular on a clear day). Seeing Jiufen at night, when all of the lanterns are lit up and swaying in the night sounds straight up dreamy. Then, in the morning, you should have a few hours in Jiufen before the crowds begin to descend
  • If you follow my tip for an overnight visit, before you head back to Taipei, I’d head to Shifen. Why Shifen? Impressive waterfalls and a historic old town, where thousands of people come from around the world to make a wish and set a lantern free
  • Both Shifen and Jiufen are connected to the train station, Ruifang, which is what you’d need to take if coming by train from Taipei
    • Jiufen doesn’t have its own train station- you take the train to Ruifang, then a bus to town
    • I’ve heard Ruifang station has cheap luggage storage available (in case you need to use it)
  • Take out cash in Taipei before you visit. I didn’t notice ATMs (I’m sure there’s at least one in town), but best if you have cash.
  • There’s a convenience store at the beginning of the old street, in case you need anything (medicine, drinks, etc.) during your stay

Have you ever been to Taiwan? Is it somewhere you’d like to venture to one day? Would you spend one day in Jiufen?

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8 Cafes for Ace Coffee in Taipei

A GUIDE TO THE BEST COFFEE IN TAIPEI

Finding the cutest cafes and best cold brew in any place I visit?
On brand.

Taipei was no exception.
Although I only had a week in the city, and unquestionably, drank way more bubble tea than coffee while there, I also managed to fit in plenty of visits to great coffee shops.

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Before visiting Taipei, I was curious what the coffee situation would be like. I’d heard many people draw comparisons between Taipei and Japan. And while I loved Tokyo and Kyoto, when I visited both two years prior, I’d had a tough time finding third wave coffee- it seemed to be a concept that was just starting to take off.

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I needn’t have worried though, Taipei was full of excellent cafes. There were so many great places, I only made it to a small fraction of what the city has to offer.

If you’re visiting Taipei and find yourself in need of a caffeine pick-me up, you can’t go wrong at these places.

Eight of the Best Spots for Coffee in Taipei

Cafe N: My first official stop in Taipei didn’t disappoint. Stumbling in here immediately after I dropped my luggage post-early morning flight, I asked for an iced coffee.

What I got in return may have been small in size, but sure packed a serious punch. Strong and smooth, it was exactly what I needed to recharge for a bit of wandering.

Impct Coffee: Taipei is home to the cutest walk up cafes. This rainbow one caught my eye from across the street, and of course, I had to meander over to see what kind of coffee they had.

If you’re looking for a literal latte on the go, Impct’s got you covered. There are a few window benches inside, but it’s not the kind of place most people linger.

Cuiqu Co: Looking for a cafe with lots of seating and good wifi to work for a bit (waiting to check into my Airbnb), I found Cuiqu. Boasting communal work tables and a lively vibe, it was the perfect place to pass a few hours catching up on life admin work.

First order of business: Assessing the cold brew situation. Delighted to find two kinds of cold brew, plus lots of other coffee drinks, teas and smoothies. The dessert menu also looked killer. In the end, I went with a Hawaii Volcano Hula Pie cold brew, which was incredible. Slightly sweet (even with no added sugar), but by no means saccharine. My only regret: Not making it back here for another one.

Paper Street Coffee: Hearing this place was a hipster haven for cold brew and artisanal coffee, I sought out this cafe, tucked underneath an overpass one afternoon, in need of an energy boost. Despite a few people milling about, Paper Street felt calm and quiet.

A good place to come for a low conversation, or if you’re the kind of person (like me) who likes to drink cold brew and read a book. There’s not wifi, but if you ask nicely, the owners may let you use their personal network.

Fomo: My first thought upon entering, is this Brooklyn or Taipei? A stark white interior with crisp black details could easily pass for any third wave coffee shop in New York City.

Fortunately, the coffee lived up to the hype as well. The cold brew I had here was flat out excellent. Crisp, slightly bitter and refreshing.

Congrats Cafe: Eclectic would be the word I’d use to describe Congrats. Colorful and filled with a mix of modern and antiques, it’s a cool place to hang out.

Overlooking one of Taipei’s busiest roads, sitting on the upstairs balcony still feels calming. Here, I ordered a pot of oolong tea and watched rush hour traffic whizz past.

Tamed Fox: Hailed as one of the best brunch spots in Taipei, Tamed Fox didn’t disappoint. The food was good, but the coffee was even more impressive. Cold brew infused with blueberries? Yes, pls and thank you.

The decor of this place was also right up my alley- bright neutrals, tons of plants, and a fur baby running around with a stuffed animal almost as big as she was. Into it would be an understatement.

Louisa Coffee: With locations all over the city, think Starbucks but make it Taiwanese, Louisa is an excellent place for lively catch-ups with friends, working (strong wifi), or just sipping one of their many coffee and tea drinks. There was a location underneath the Airbnb I stayed in, which I quickly became a regular at to work.

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Bonus recommendation: Coffee and Couple in Shilin- Just outside of Taipei’s city centre, Coffee and Couple oozes cool. Downstairs, you’ll find the coffee bar shourd in neon decor. And upstairs, air conditioning for anyone looking to escape the heat.

If you’re heading to the Shilin night market and tried from a day of exploring, pop in here for either a sugar rush (they have great doughnuts) or a cuppa before you hit the market.

Have you ever visited Taipei? Did you pop into any cafes while you were there?  Would you add any spots to this list of the best spots for coffee in Taipei?

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