“I never thought that it was easy to explore Taipei!”
Those were my exact words after a six-day tour in Taiwan. I booked my EVA Air flight from Manila to Taipei via Traveloka since it got the best schedule and price, which was around US$220, round-trip. It already included travel tax, 30-kg baggage allowance, meals, and seat selection. A promo code from Traveloka gave me an additional 10% discount. That was an unbeatable deal.
I arrived at 6 am at Taoyuan International Airport, and proceeded directly to the train station. You have various options for getting out of the airport. You can take a taxi, bus, normal train or express train.
One thing to remember before going around is purchasing an EasyCard. It will make your travel easier. It’s a reloadable card that you can pay with when riding the bus or the train, buying goods at 7-Eleven, Family Mart, and other convenience stores, supermarkets, or when eating out at restaurants. It’s a no-no to go around Taiwan without an EasyCard.
After I got my passport stamped at the immigration, I followed the arrow leading to the airport train station. If you’re not in hurry, you can take the normal train. Since I was excited to see Taiwan, I took the express train which cost NTD 160 or PHP272 (US$5.5). My travel time from the airport to the Taipei Main Station was 30 minutes.
Where to stay
My friends recommend staying in Ximen area, which is one station away from Taipei Main Station. If you’re looking for a lively place that’s full of happenings from day till night, I recommend this place. Everything you might be looking for is here: shopping centers, restaurants, and nightlife.
My friends who had been to Japan, Korea, and Taiwan said Ximen is the Shibuya (Japan) and Myeongdong (Korea) of Taipei. It’s the beating heart of the city where people are walking toward different directions. It’s vibrant, lively and busy.
I stayed at Holiday Fun Hostel and got a standard double room that I booked via Traveloka for only PHP2,100 or US$42usd per night, good for two. The hostel is located near Lux Cinema and next to Cheers Hotel. It’s approximately 10-15-minute walk from MRT Ximen.
I actually expected to meet fellow travelers since it’s a hostel, but surprisingly, all rooms were private and there was no common area.
The female receptionist was accommodating and always cheerful. The room and the entire hotel was clean. I expected to get a smaller room, but I was amazed that my room had a bathtub. I loved it! The bed was comfortable, and everything worked fine–from the air-conditioning unit, television, to the fridge and the hot and cold shower. They have toiletries, too.
If you’re looking for an affordable private room in Ximen area, I recommend staying at Holiday Fun Hostel.
If you’re looking for an upscale place to stay. I recommend hotels near Taipei 101 area, the business district of Taipei. I spent my last three days at Grand Hyatt Taipei (review will be in a separate article). I loved that area of Taipei, because it’s more organized. And of course, I got to see the breathtaking Taipei 101 up close.
Another area that’s also interesting is near Taiwan University, specifically, the area adjacent to Yongkang Street. It’s a hipster place complete with Instagramable minimalist cafes, restaurants, and other shops. It became my go-to place whenever I wanted to chill and write. I loved the university feel of that area.
What to do in Taipei
There are numerous things to do in Taipei. A day or two is not enough to visit all of the attractions in the city. But it’s easy to get around because of their world class train system. On my first day, I attended a free walking tour hosted by TourMeAway. I signed up for Taipei Chill Out Tour that started on Daan Park. The tour featured architectural designs and hippie places to chill out at in Taipei.
Here’s a sample one-day itinerary around Taipei in case you can’t join a free walking tour:
8 am – Get up and prepare for breakfast.
10 am – Walk around near your hotel to familiarize yourself with the area. Take note of interesting landmarks, restaurants, cafes, etc.
12 noon – Lunch
1 pm – Go to Daan Park, the largest and probably the best park in Taipei. If you can’t think of anything to do when you arrive in Taipei, I suggest strolling around the park. It spans 26 hectares and serves as the “lungs of Taipei.” Tall trees stand everywhere. You will see people from all ages walking around with family or friends.
2 pm – Explore Qingtian Neighborhood. Want to know where some of the elite Taiwanese people live? Well, walking around Qingtian Neighborhood is like walking back to past. It’s a quiet place surrounded by lots of old trees and old houses. Japanese architecture dominates the area. Its tranquility and great rustic ambiance is a respite from the busy life of Taipei. It’s located a few minutes away from the busy Daan Park. I was surprised to find a neighborhood like that.
3 pm – Stroll down Yongkang Street, the Taiwanese Cuisine Mecca and the best place for people who appreciate minimalism. Most of the cafes and stalls are tastefully designed. Everything looks picture perfect. There’s a wide array of food choices. And since it’s close to Taiwan University, the vibe is hipster and young. You can easily find budget meals, too.
5 pm – Visit Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. Your trip to Taiwan will never be complete without visiting the most prominent historical landmark in Taiwan. The large complex includes Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Park, National Concert Hall, and National Theater.
7 pm – Devour your dinner and go for some night shopping at Shilin Night Market, one of the largest and most popular night markets in Taipei. I recommend starting your tour at Jiantan MRT station. Many traditional Taiwanese street foods can be found there like Taiwanese sausage, giant fried chicken, bubble tea, fried buns, and of course, the notorious Taiwanese stinky tofu. My favorite, though, is fried mushroom. That is something you shouldn’t miss.
10 pm – Get ready for some nightlife. Since I was always tired during the day, I didn’t have the chance to explore Taipei’s nightlife. But according to my research, Xinyi area is where you can find the best bars in Taipei. I actually checked the bars surrounding the red house theater, which is known for its LGBT community, but I didn’t find it that lively on a Friday night. Maybe, I came too early. It was 10 pm.
Other things to do in Taipei
Shop at Wufenpu Shopping Complex. Taipei may not be a shopping haven like Bangkok or even Manila, but if you want to shop, I suggest visiting Wufenpu. It’s a big shopping area that feature numerous choices (especially for women), and prices are cheaper compared with those found at famous night markets in Taiwan. It’s a 5-10-minute walk from Houshanpi MRT station.
Go Taipei Zoo and Maokong Gondola. Traveling with kids, or kids at heart? Don’t forget to visit the Largest Zoo in Asia. Entrance fee is NTD60 for Adults and NTD30 for kids. You will surely love it. Please note that the Gondola is closed every Monday except for the first Monday of the month. It’s one of the best places to catch the sunset in Taipei.
Enjoy the view from Elephant Mountain. If it’s not raining or foggy, go to the Elephant Mountain to stare at the city lights. We went there at around 10 pm just to drink beer while enjoying the beautiful view of the city. The best thing is, it’s free.
Taipei easily climbed up the ladder as one of my favorite cities. It’s organized. And things aren’t that expensive. The train system is world class, street food is yummy, people are helpful, parks are everywhere, walks are easy going. It offers convenience. It thinks about and provides what the people need. Best example is bikes for rent that you can find practically everywhere.