Taiwan: Epic Food, Amazing Cities, & Breathtaking Nature
Although some (essentially just China) claim it is not a country but rather a rogue state, the island has built up its own unique culture over the past few decades, with a majority of locals identifying themselves as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.
With a plethora of natural beauty, modern cities, rich cultural heritage, and epic food, Taiwan definitely ranks as one of my favourite destinations in the world.
Flying into Taipei, your option for getting into the city have recently gotten so much easier (and faster). The brand new metro (MRT) line from the airport to the city centre gets you there comfortably in 30 minutes, always traffic-free and very affordable. From the main station, easy access to the intra-city metros and intercity trains make getting to your final destination a breeze.
Culture, Sights, & Food
The birthplace of Michelin Star restaurant Din Tai Fung offers some of the best cuisine in Asia, and that’s saying a lot. From Xiao Long Baos (Meat and Broth Dumplings) to Scallion Pancakes, Beef Noodles to Fried Chicken, you’ll wish you could eat 8 meals a day.
Night markets are something not to be missed. Some of the best food can be found here. Visiting these twilight paradises is a very important part of local culture all over the country. Taipei itself has over 10 night markets. Some of the more popular ones include Raohe, Shilin and Tonghua.
Want the best views of Taipei 101? Try hiking up Elephant Mountain (象山) just before sunset. You’ll be greeted by many stairs, but rewarded with spectacular views of the Taipei skyline, including the iconic skyscraper that was once the tallest building in the world. Simply walk there from Taipei 101 — you can get from the building to the viewing point on Elephant Mountain within 30–45 minutes.
Fancy some history? The Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall and National Palace Museum offer that up in loads. Getting around to sights is also easy with affordable buses, metros, and ubiquitous free public wifi for you to use Google Maps. Take a walk around the Zhongshan district, and be treated to a mix of old school culture and upcoming trends. Weekend markets are a dime a dozen here, and if you need your caffeine fix, cool hipster cafes are waiting to embrace you.
Leaving the capital is easy. You can hop on an affordable intercity train or the ever efficient albeit more expensive High-Speed Rail. If you are up for the challenge, why not be so bold and rent a motorbike for your travels. The ubiquity of bikes on the island means that you’ll fit right in. And if you’re ever confused by the nuances of their traffic rules, just follow what the locals are doing.
For those looking for an escape from the urban environment, Taiwan offers up a plethora of natural beauty for you to relax and unwind, or even push your physical limits. Natural hot springs can be found all over the island, with hot springs in Beitou only an MRT ride away from central Taipei.
For something different, why not try some gorgeous hiking trails. Yangmingshan offers a quick respite from the city. Taroko Gorge also offers many hiking trails of different difficulty levels if you are looking for something further out.
The marble paradise of Taroko Gorge offers breathtaking hikes (at breathtaking heights on some trails), a far cry from the hustle of Taipei. You can hire a tour guide to bring you to the gorge in a car, but perhaps the best way to do it is by renting a scooter. Most rental shops won’t rent motorbikes to you unless you have a local licence but ask around and they will direct you to the shops that do. You can take a day trip, or if you have the time, spend the night in Hualien
Another “must see” day trip is Jiufen. This former mining town is as quaint as quaint can be. Alas, everyone else seems to have figured this out. The town is very popular with tourists from around the world, and even in the offseason, you’re still greeted with throngs of tourists filling the streets snapping selfies.
Despite this, Jiufen definitely still exudes charm like very few other places. I’ve found that most tourists leave by dinner, heading to the Miaokou night market in Keelong 40 minutes away, then back to Taipei for the night. By spending the night in one of the affordable homestays in Jiufen, you essentially get access to the town in almost eerie silence after they leave.
Take a solitary walk through the narrow streets with glowing red lanterns that, only hours before, were bustling with activity. It really is something to behold.