My friend V, who isn’t going with us, was more excited than we were when he heard that we’re going to Taipei, taking advantage of the new Taiwan visa exemptions for the Philippines. We rode on his enthusiasm, asking him what we could do there. “A whole lot!” He exclaimed, stamping both his hands down the table. He told us of hiking a mountain within Taipei for a panoramic evening view of the city, about night markets where the best street food can be found, and a lot of things we could hardly remember. His passion and liking for Taiwan seems to have no bounds. And by the end of our trip, ours too. We became instant converts.
|TAIPEI’S CHIANG KAI-SHEK MEMORIAL HALL|
And so it was that a few days before our flight, I listed down a rough list of places we would visit in Taipei, knowing full well that the itinerary wouldn’t really be followed; knowing my friends’ waking habits and our very own haphazard way of traveling. It was quite a surprise then that we almost ticked off all the tourist spots I listed down. A miracle!
GETTING AROUND TAIPEI VIA MRT
The Taipei Metro or the MRT is the best way to explore the city. It has a total of 108 stations, five main color-coded routes (brown, red, green, orange and blue) running on 131 kilometers of rail. Train day passes are cheap, convenient and readily available at train stations in Taipei. An unlimited one-day pass only costs TWD150.00 (PHP233.45), but for us, we bought their three-day Taipei Metro Pass which sells for TWD380.00 (PHP591.44). Both of these are super worth it, especially if you’re gonna tour around Taipei all day. Trains run from six in the morning up to twelve midnight.
Traversing Taipei’s subway is easier and less confusing compared to those I tried in Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Their subways are uber organized, very prompt, has easy to understand maps, has charging stations for gadgets, free umbrellas in case it rains (you just bring them back to any station after using) and polite, rule-abiding citizens. I absolutely love it!
|TYPICAL SUBWAY TRAIN IN TAIPEI|
|TAIPEI’S MRT LINES ARE ALL BELOW GROUND|
MOON BRIDGE AT DAHU PARK
TRAIN STOP: BROWN LINE, DAHU PARK STATION, EXIT 2 • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 25.081086, 121.603503
When I said almost, this is what I meant. The first place on our Taipei day tour itinerary was the Moon Bridge. And we weren’t able to visit it, lol!
The famous bridge, with a moon-like opening when reflected on the water, is located inside the Dahu Park. It is at the Neihu District in Taipei, relatively far from the center of the city. The best time to visit it is before sunrise, just as when the waters are placid and covered with mists. The only problem is going there cheaply, since the MRT only start at six in the morning. Plus, there’s the oversleeping part, see my Grand Hyatt Taipei review, lol.
DADAOCHENG WHARF & THE OLD TAIPEI DISTRICT
TRAIN STOP: GREEN LINE, BEIMEN STATION • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 25.057599, 121.509732
This is the real first place we visited in Taipei. I asked a friend if he knows an area where we can see the old part of the city and he told me of Dadaocheng. It is located in the Datong District and features narrow streets replete with shops selling all sorts of things and outdoor food stalls specializing in Taiwanese food.
Dadaocheng is where you would find Dihua Street, the oldest thoroughfare in the whole of Taipei. Walk around and you’d also pass Xia Hai, a Buddhist temple within the area, the Chien-Cheng Cirlce, and lots of graceful old buildings. Along the east side, across the Huanhenanbei Expressway, we visited the Dadaocheng Wharf to rest a bit while taking in the view of the New Taipei City across the Tamsui River.
|DIHUA STREET, THE OLDEST STREET IN TAIPEI|
|SIDEWALKS ARE REPLETE WITH ALL SORTS OF WARES|
|THE XIA HAI BUDDHIST TEMPLE|
|RESTED A BIT AT DADAOCHENG WHARF|
THE NORTH GATE & THE CAMERA STREET
TRAIN STOP: GREEN LINE, BEIMEN STATION • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 25.047935, 121.511110
Before proceeding for lunch, we accidentally passed a massive gate near the Beimen Train Station. Apparently, this is one of the three remaining of the five old city gates serving as the entrance of the Taipei City Walls. The wall was built in 1884 for protection against warring settlements within the city. Of those remaining gates, only the North Gate retains the original design of the old fortress.
I found my joy not at the gate though, but right behind it at Boa'ai Road, Taipei’s Camera Street! Along these area, camera shops abound! It was heaven! Prices are a bit lower than mall prices in Manila, but are about on par or a tad lower with camera shops at Quiapo’s Hidalgo Street.
|TAIPEI’S NORTH GATE OR BREIMEN|
|THE CAMERA STREET AT TAIPEI|
XIMENDING, SHOPPING & FOOD TRIP
TRAIN STOP: BLUE OR GREEN LINE, XIMEN STATION, EXIT 6 • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 25.042514, 121.507858
With our stomachs protesting, we headed over to Ximending for a round of food trip and shopping. The area is the first pedestrianized street in Taipei and is hailed as the Harajuku and Shibuya of Taipei. And indeed, I can see why they dub it as such, I can definitely feel the Tokyo vibe of this place.
While a couple of my friends went shopping at the newly opened five-storey H&M building, said to be the biggest of its kind in Asia, we traversed the length of Hanzhong Street, dodging tourists and locals alike as we bought ourselves cheap Taiwanese street food while shopping along the numerous curious shops fronting the road. My friend V was definitely right, Taipei has the best street food!
|XIMENDING SHOPPING DISTRICT|
|A STINKY TOFU HAWKER|
|XIMENDING WALKING STREET|
CHIANG KAI SHEK MEMORIAL HALL & SQUARE
TRAIN STOP: RED OR GREEN LINE, CHIANG KAI-SHEK MEMORIAL HALL STATION, EXIT 5 • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 25.036149, 121.518703
We nearly wrote off the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall from our list. We thought it would be just another park with Taiwanese structures within it. Well, it is a park with Taiwanese structures within it, but on a massive scale. The memorial was built in 1980 to commemorate, who else, but Chiang Kai-shek, China’s celebrated former president.
The complex is composed of the Freedom Square Memorial Arch gate, Taipei’s National Concert Hall, the National Theater, and finally the Memorial Hall. Elevated on 89 steps representing Chiang Kai-shek’s age at the time of his death, the structure is even more gargantuan when viewed up close. All four structures are colossal in size, even the square itself is huge!
The best time to visit the square is right before sunset, see it with the light of the day still on and watch it glow with lights as evening descends. We actually planned to go there right after visiting Ximending, but our friends took a while in shopping so we relegated it for a sunset vist during our final day. A blessing in disguise.
|FREEDOM SQUARE MEMORIAL ARCH|
|GOING UP THE MEMORIAL HALL|
|IMPRESSIVE HALL, INDEED|
|TAIPEI’S NATIONAL THEATER AND THE FREEDOM ARCH|
HIKE TO ELEPHANT MOUNTAIN
TRAIN STOP: RED LINE, XIANSHAN STATION • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 25.027349, 121.570851
Already panting from exhaustion, we still pushed ahead with the final plan for the day, a hike to Taipei’s Elephant Mountain to see the city 375 meters above sea level. We started off a bit early, about 3:30PM, since we knew we’d be slow in walking, our energy almost depleted from walking all day around Taipei. Plus, the sun sets quite early, around 5:00PM, in this part of the world.
The hiking trail starts from the end of the Red Line MRT Station, a twenty minute walk around a quiet neighborhood then the limitless steps to the Elephant Mountain view deck. A red structure, the Ling Yun Temple, would let you know you’re at the Elephant steps.
From the signs we saw, it says that it would take about twenty minutes to reach the top of the steps. But we more than doubled the time, pausing numerous times to catch our breath and the view of the city from up high. We passed two view decks before finally reaching the top one.
Was it worth the arduous climb up? The sunset, even though not directly in line with the urban sprawl of Taipei, was breathtakingly beautiful. But it even gets better as evening fell, the buildings all lighted up and glimmering against the night sky.
|STEPS UP TO ELEPHANT MOUNTAIN VIEW DECK|
|TAIPEI CITY AWASH IN SUNSET COLORS|
|THE TAIPEI URBAN SPRAWL|
|THE BEST PLACE TO SEE TAIPEI 101 AT NIGHT|
TRAIN STOP: RED LINE, TAIPEI 101 WORLD TRADE CENTER STATION • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 25.034054, 121.564507
Before going back for dinner, we
should’ve dropped by the city’s icon, the Taipei 101. It ruled the Earth as the tallest building back in 2004, stealing Kuala Lumpur Petronas Towers’ thunder, but it has now been ousted by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. No matter, it is still magnificent, especially at night. The building is just one stop by train from the Elephant Mountain. Don’t be like us, drop by for a few minutes, your dinner can wait.
|THE SECOND TALLEST BUILDING IN THE WORLD, THE TAIPEI 101|
TAIPEI SHILIN NIGHT MARKET, DINNER & MORE SHOPPING
TRAIN STOP: RED LINE, JIANTAN STATION , EXIT 1 • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 25.088148, 121.525260
To reward ourselves for a job well done, we decided to pig out at one the many night markets in Taipei. The city has at least twenty night markets that I know of, and during our entire stay, we were able to visit only three! One of the most famous of these is the Shilin Night Market. We were told this is one of the most affordable night markets, and we definitely agree! Our rice meal only cost us about TWD90.00 (PHP140.00), enough spare cash to go around shopping and a spree of street food binging! And oh yeah, Taiwan Beer until midnight!
|WEEKEND CROWD AT SHILIN NIGHT MARKET|
|FOOD IS RELATIVELY CHEAP AT NIGHT MARKETS|
|FINALLY, AFTER ALL THAT WALKING, IT’S TIME FOR BEER|