I never thought myself falling in love with a city outside the Philippines. That is, until I set foot in Taiwan. I think it’s safe to say, I left a piece of my heart there.
After a quick peek at Taichung, I spent six days in Taipei, including some of its outskirts. My two days in Taichung was lovely but I would sometimes think I could have spent all nine days in Taipei and still not have enough of the latter.
The common thought that there is not much to do and see in Taipei (and the rest of Taiwan) is baseless. Adventure, arts, culture, history, nature, religion, and FOOD thrive in this little island. My goal is to convince you to include what the Portuguese called, “Il Formosa” in your travel bucket list. Read on and find what interests you the most.
Pro-tip: Just read blog accounts about Taipei and make a quick list of what strikes you most. When you get to the airport and even the main train stations (i.e. Taipei Main, Ximending), you’d find plenty of brochures and maps. Purchase the unlimited day pass for MRT and buses, and you’d get a booklet with customized itineraries for different personalities.
If cities were people, Taipei is an old soul.
It may not have the fanfare of theme parks and glimmer of skylines others have, but it appeals to your sense of wonder. Its streets, filled with small shops, encourage you to find & hone your craft; its landmarks will dwarf your entitled ‘touristy’ tendencies; the convenience of getting from one corner to another will fan your thirst for adventure; its Instagrammable landscapes and structures will give you a lot to smile about even after you’ve left; and a lot more.
Parks are for everyone.
See, they don’t have theme parks there; but parks abound. Parents teach their kids how to play ball games. The elderly play chess on tables surrounded by trees inhabited by birds and squirrels. Groups of students gather to read books, another to paint. And romantic picnic dates!
Best part? There are no fees to enter and stay in these parks. They are also conveniently located beside MRT stations.
Da’an Park, dubbed as the Lungs of Taipei City
History is beyond rich; it is important to the locals that they make sure it is preserved amid advancements and developments.
Old palaces, memorials of people who fought for Taiwan’s freedom, and a whole bunch of art museums can be seen everywhere. The government has even restored old structures so its locals and tourists would see how the Taiwanese lived in the past (Chinese and Japanese regimes). Most museums and memorials have free entrance, too. Yes, for both locals and foreigners!
Bopiliao Old Street
This block was carefully restored to reflect Wanhua District’s rich trading past. Most of the residents are from the line of the exporters who lived here during the Qing Dynasty.
National Palace Museum
Perhaps the largest collection of historical artifacts I have ever seen! The National Palace Museum demands a long attention span. Entrance is not free though but if you book with Klook, you’d get it at 10USD or 500PHP, bundled with a smaller museum, Shung Ye which is focused on Taiwan aborigines. Make sure to visit Shung Ye first as you’d get your National Palace entrance ticket there.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
Located in the Zhongzheng District, this is easily the most known tourist spot and landmark in Taiwan. I’ve read about Chiang Kai-shek from my mom’s history textbooks and lesson plans and it was surreal to walk a memorial erected by a people who credit him for their democracy.
Ri Xing Type Foundry
Before computers, the Taiwanese would print their letters and even BOOKS (!) using the long but beautiful method that embeds traditional Chinese characters using metal type blocks. Ri Xing is the last surviving type foundry in Taiwan; and its tourism office intends to keep it as a heritage site for Chinese typesetting.
There is no entrance fee to this small shop. They’d ask you to leave your bags in the counter, and to not touch the metal blocks. If you want to print a letter or postcard note as souvenir, you may inquire with the staff.
Taipei Zoo is well-kept for all the good reasons.
I am not a fan of zoos. But I could not let pass the chance to see a real panda. Also, Taipei Zoo has a nearby station for the Maokong Gondola and I wanted to give myself an excuse to ride a crystal cable car despite my fear of heights.
To my pleasant surprise, Taipei Zoo takes care of animals that are endangered or nearly endangered, they need protection and constant care from experts.
Maokong Gondola and Maokong Tea District
Riding the cable car to the Maokong District is a major achievement for this girl who has been scared of heights since forever. Luckily, I got boarded with a little family whose little girl loved every bit of the cable car scenery. If she weren’t scared, why would I be, right?
Maokong District is one of the coldest parts in Taipei as it is pretty high up in the mountainous tea district. Make sure to get the best of their tea and pastries.
TRAINS! and sky lanterns.
For all the talk about Taiwan’s efficient MRT and convenient high speed rail, my heart is happiest boarding the old railway system. Although there are buses to New Taipei City, and even packaged day tours with shuttle services going to New Taipei City’s main attractions–Jiufen, Shifen, and Pingxi. These three are famous for sky lanterns but they also abound with waterfalls and colorful houses.
Pro-tip: Best time to visit Taipei is February-March. It’s not rainy season, and spring is in full bloom. You’ll catch the cherry blossoms; and you can time your visit to the Annual Sky Lantern Festival (picture Rapunzel in Tangled)! 😉
To top all these, the locals were warm and friendly. While they are proud of their heritage, they are humble and kind on a personal level. At first, I thought that it’s just their Tourism Department’s effort to attract more tourists.. but when I’d think about it, government mandates and ordinances can only do so much. At the end of the day, it’s really the culture of the people that will prevail. So if you’re still thinking of where to go next without feeling homesick, I encourage you to try Taipei. Only, make sure you’re prepared to leave a piece of you even as you take so many memories from this wonderful, wonderful city.
Check out the rest of my Taiwan stories.
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