Travel Notes on Taipei
One of the most unsuspecting cities when it comes to fun and food, Taipei holds a dear place in my heart. For all those looking for food and fun, the city offers it both no matter how much your wallet holds. From street food, to restaurants, to high end night life you won’t be bored here. It’s one of the easiest place to visit in Asia knowing only English, but Mandarin Chinese is the main language. Stay within the city and the tourist spots and you’ll be fine. Venture anywhere else, then you’ll need to have some grasp of the language. But don’t fret, the people here are generally kind and helpful.
Flying into Taipei, you’re most likely landing in Taoyuan International Airport 46km west of downtown. To get into the city, you can take a airport taxi which can come around to about $1500NTD. It’ll get you to town within 45 minutes. If you have more time on your hands and staying in the core parts of the city, you can take the bus. You can read up on this option on http://thehungryox.com/2014/12/13/seven-sushi/.
Getting around the city is pretty easy. You have plenty of options where getting lost is nearly impossible. Everything transit related is well organized and runs like clockwork. It’s night and day if you compare it to Hong Kong’s MTR (not misspelled). I want to say it’s the Japanese influence, but really, it’s all about Taiwan.
The subway system is very extensive and you can get to all the night markets, shopping centers, and tourist spots with ease. Most stations will have overhead displays telling you when the next train will arrive. You’ll barely wait 5 minutes for the next one. So no need to rush, unless of course, it’s off hours. Also a good thing to note is that the main stations will have free public wifi. Very good option if you’re in need. And like other major railways, you can get the EasyCard and top up with funds. You can use it for the subway and at the local convenient stores. Not as expansive as the Octopus card in Hong Kong, but still very useful.
You can find out more and the latest at http://english.metro.taipei/.
Always a good idea, especially if you’re trying to avoid the heat. Uber has been a recent addition but it’s not like it’s expensive to get a taxi here. And if you’re worried about drivers trying to cheat you out of an extra dollar, it’s pretty rare here. Almost all the drivers I’ve dealt with were polite and better yet, there were a surprising number that spoke English.
That’s right, you can join the thousands of two wheeled vehicles weaving through traffic. It’s a bit scary if you don’t know the street etiquette here and tons more dangerous if you don’t know the rules, like how you make left turns or even on which areas scooters aren’t allowed. But if you don’t mind riding in the exhaust filled air, you can look to get a scooter for around $350-400NTD a day. They are usually offered in 50cc to 125cc which is more than enough puttering around the city. Outside the city limits, you may want the 125cc to make it up the hills.
If you’re looking for a longer term rental, check out http://bikefarm.net/. Jeremy, the owner, has a huge selection of bikes and keeps his fleet in top shape. I’d highly recommend going this route if you’re looking for English speaking foreigner guidance. He’ll teach you all you need to know about the roads.
Really. Taiwan has been focused on the bicycling culture for some years now. There are well kept bicycles alongside the river. And occasionally you’ll find tables set up setting bike gear. And get this, the sidewalks have lanes for bicycles. Sidewalks, not the road. They even have a citywide bike share, YouBike, that’s very handy. You can use your EasyCard though you’ll have to register your card, which should be fine. Unless of course, you had my luck which results in calling customer support. A painful experience if you’re in a rush to get somewhere. You can read more about the program on https://taipei.youbike.com.tw/en/. If you’d rather bike, this city makes it pretty easy.
Eating on a Dime
Taiwan has so much to try when it comes to food. And although you may have had some of these dishes stateside, here the food is held to high standards. Even the cheap foods taste phenomenal. It’s almost as if the competition with affordable eats is greater than the finer dining establishments. But guess what, we benefit from it! Well that is if you can put up with the lines.
Beef Noodle Soup
Probably my favorite noodle soup dish in Taiwan, a bowl niu rou mian sure can satisfy even if you’re sweating up a storm. Just get a side order of the lightly pickled cucumber to cool you down. Okay, no. It won’t help.
Yong Kang Beef Noodle map
A well known establishment that’s been serving this wonderful bowl of goodness for years. Expect a line and make sure you try out some of their wonderful side dishes. Their bowls are hearty and the spice levels can be quite high. Careful what you order.
Yu Kee Noodle House (餘記麵館) map
This place is a little more expensive but what I like is the home feel. I mean who else leaves sides, and there’s lots, laying around for you to help yourself. But yeah, you pay for each helping. It’s not some all you can eat place. But a nice find tucked away from the busy streets.
Similar to the Japanese version, these lunch boxes are served in a wooden container packed with an assortment of goodies. You’ll hardly care that things aren’t sectioned off as you scarf down your food. It’s a great portable lunch at a very affordable price. You can find these shops scattered around town.
Chi-Shang (池上木片便當) map
My favorite chain to pick up one of these boxes. They are a little more expensive than others but they are, in my opinion, the best tasting. And the one around Guting station makes the best fried chicken. Second place would be the deep fried pork chop. Seriously, it’s fantastic the way they fry stuff here. Then add in the pickled daikon, assorted veggies, and egg on top of that rice and you got me giggling while I eat.
Tai Tie Lunchbox map
If you happen to be at the Taipei Main Station you can grab a box for your train ride out at this place. Pretty decent prices and tasty selections. Don’t worry, you can eat it on the train. Actually, I’ll advise you to do so as others will may be torturing you with their meals. For long train rides you’ll be glad you had picked on up.
Street Food at the Night Markets
So one of the misconceptions of night markets are that they only exist at night. Not all, in fact, most are open in the afternoon and well into the evening. Most people who grew up in Taiwan have a special spot in their heart for these areas where they would stop by after school. It’s very affordable and a great place to meet up with friends. And the food selection varies from place to place in terms of “what food is a must try.” Here are some of my highlights.
Shilin Night Market map
An overly advertised tourist destination, especially for mainland Chinese. Expect huge crowds and a relatively more expensive line of food. However, if you’re willing to endure the madness for a bit of taste adventures, this would be the place to try stinky tofu. Yeah, as the name points suggests, the stuff isn’t easy on the nose. You’ve been warned.
Gongguan Night Market map
This is the go to night market for students attending National Taiwan University, not only because its cheap eats, but it’s right across the street from the school. You’ll find the usual suspects when it comes to night market food with one major headliner, gua bao. The ones they have here are huge. And while I like to think of these as snacks, having one of these will not leave too much room left for anything else.
Tamsui Old Street map
Want to stroll along the river while eating your favorite foods? I do. And when I’m in Taipei and want to get away from the city, head North to the last stop on the MTR. In Tamsui you’ll be greeted by tons of street vendors. Among them you can find one of my favorite street foods in Taiwan, the “hot dog in a hot dog.” That’s at least what I call it. There’s a real name for it and it’s actually available at many night markets. But here is where I’d like to chow down on one and watch the waves roll by.
If you want more suggestions, check out these pages:
Where to Stay
Anywhere central to the city around the MTR line would do. As you move further away from the center, your commuting time increases. However, if you do plan on staying for an extended period, say over two weeks, within the city offers you daily conveniences like grocery stores and my favorite, laundromats.
- Taipei Main Station – a busy area offering all sorts of transportation. In addition to being a major subway hub, the high speed railways depart from here taking you to all parts of Taiwan. And as a bonus, it’s close to Ximending, a local area for shopping, eating, and entertainment. Similar to Taipei 101 but aimed toward a younger crowd.
- Taipei 101 – an upscale area known for it’s nightlife. The pricing around here is on the high side. Some would say it’s worth the price. I’d definitely agree based on all the nights I find myself staggering around drunk waiting for an available cab.
Things You Should Know
Mosquitos. Yes, even in the city you can come across these pests. And if you’re going to protect yourself, use the local stuff. The sprays from the states don’t work. In fact, it seemed to attract them more. I had one incident where within an hour of applying I had about twenty bites. Yikes right? I went right to a convenient store to get a local brand and can happily report I was bite free during my whole stay.
Bring a pack of tissues around. Not all restaurants have napkins. And if you’re eating at a street vendor or dining around a night market, you’ll want them. You can buy a small portable pack at the convenience store. If you’re staying long, get a bulk pack and always keep one pack in your pocket.
Overall though, you won’t have too much of a problem in this city. And if you find more eats, let me know. I’ll keep this page updated.
I’m sure to be back here.
If you’re looking for even more ideas, here’s some things I’ve done in Taiwan.