It was a spur-of-the-moment trip that turned out really well; a next visit becomes a must. Taipei turned out to be a gem; a very budget traveler-friendly, culture-rich, foodie paradise. One long weekend spent there would have been enough, but you’ll definitely go for more.
We were supposed to just visit Japan for the 1st time this year, but news of visa suspension in Taipei starting June and promo fares from different airlines for this destination got me curious and gave me itchy feet. So we booked a 3-day weekend trip around mid-July for my birthday. Unfortunately, the visa suspension was moved to September of this year while they’re working out the whole process. We still went anyway; applied for an e-visa online and got them in a couple of days. Kudos to Taiwan embassy for a quick and efficient visa application process.
While there, we tried AirBnB for the first time abroad after the first day at a hotel near the airport. As an AirBnB host myself, I fully support this community and was not disappointed. The listing we booked was a fully-equipped studio minus a kitchen, with basic essentials provided. Having a loosely set itinerary, we were lucky enough to find a room in a hotel the first night in Zhongzheng District, one of the recommended spots where many landmarks like National Museum, Library, Book street are walking distance to. Walking aimlessly, we saw and sampled food stops where the locals flocked; had traditional breakfast at an intersection near Chongqing South Road aka book street before checking out the museums, libraries, stores and parks. If you’re a fan of milk tea, lots of good shops abound and the drinks are really good (and cheap!).
After the morning stroll and breakfast, we checked out of the hotel to transfer to our Airbnb booking in Zhongshan district; It would have been easy with the train but we opted to get a cab first what with baggage and all, plus the place is relatively near so it won’t put a dent on our budget. Before hailing a taxi though, we tried if we can successfully ride the train armed with just waze and some guidance from several google searches. We stumbled upon a mall called SYNTREND and some IT shops nearby. Woah, were we tempted to buy some tech stuff. Turns out Taipei can be a good source for your tech/gadget/PC needs (NAS, Hard drive, VR, etc.) if you’re into those (like me!).
After exploring this trendy mall and IT hub, we sampled some snacks, more milk tea, juice tea and hailed a cab to rest a bit in our room before exploring the night markets. If you’re new to this, Nighxia night market is a good place to start; not as overwhelmingly large as Shilin yet food quality and variety is pretty good.
The street food scene in Taipei is just amazing! At first I wondered why all my search results of Taipei including any other keyword i.e. culture, nature still bring up food recommendations. Will it not be a culture trip as well? But sampling the street food from almost anywhere and in night markets, I eventually understood; Taipei food game is so strong, you can’t mention it enough.
This almond tofu dessert is a light and refreshing treat.
This peanut roll with ice cream is so flavorful. The peanut shavings are just right, but added with the flavored ice cream scoops and coriander, it becomes something strangely delightful.
We tried so much more like the giant deep fried seafood wontons, seafood/oyster omelette, fritters, mochi, skewers, we didn’t have room anymore for the other good stuff. We didn’t stuff ourselves silly, and somehow the food, though mostly fried, were not too heavy yet satisfying.
This Hello Kitty Kitchen/Café was a welcome surprise we stumbled into while finding our way around the city.
By the 2nd day, we were feeling more comfortable, surprisingly settled in and adhering less to the just-in-case itinerary I drafted (I prefer to not be touristy and do as the locals do when I travel). We decided to revisit some places we saw on the first day and explore a bit more around them. I couldn’t help but admire the simplicity yet advancement I was seeing — most of the building were old yet functional in terms of architecture and interior; big commercial buildings coexist with small businesses/shops and do not seem to threaten the other’s existence; bikes, motorcycles abound and share the same roads and lanes with cars and other motorists (no dedicated bike lanes needed) and are highly safe, they can park without locking the wheels and some even leave their bags and helmets on their bikes.
Taipei’s transit system is probably one of the best I’ve tried; it was well-connected and user-friendly, you can reach any place in Taipei (haven’t explored outside the city) and even the airport by it. The city seems big but no wonder there were more people using bikes, motorcycles and the MRT than cars. They say this is a sign of advancement and I couldn’t agree more. The traffic volume (cars) seems more or less the same on the weekends and the weekday we were there.
Lastly, there was a modesty about the city, in the age, design and look of their buildings, the cars on the road, the prices of their products and the bustling food (especially street food) scene. There are not many western brands as well as the local businesses seem to thrive and are not ousted by big brands. It seems this is a city that is properly developed, not given in to over commercialization or gentrification. It maintains its cultural identity. Quiet revolutionary comes to mind.
Now before I geek out and overthink, I’ll just go back to vacation mode, enjoying a milktea.