I have found that when people think about traveling to or within Asia for a vacation, Taiwan doesn’t often come up. There are the usual suspects…Hong Kong, Bali, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand…but Taiwan often gets overlooked. It’s only because my husband got to know Taiwan a bit from a number of business trips there that he suggested we visit Taiwan for a family vacation.
Geographically, thanks to Google Maps, here is where Taiwan is located relative to Hong Kong and other parts of Asia:
Located a short 1.5 hour flight away from Hong Kong, Taipei, Taiwan is one of my favorite places to visit. It’s easy enough to get to and yet it’s also a different enough culture to step away from the usual.
The most obvious place to visit in Taiwan is the country’s capital city, Taipei, where there is a wealth of things to see and do. However, Taiwan also has its own high-speed rail (like the Bullet Train in Japan), allowing you to visit other parts of the island easily for a day out of the capital. We have taken the high speed rail train to Kaohsiung at the southern end of Taiwan, and we have also gone to Taichung and visited the beautiful Sun Moon Lake. There is also the eastern side of Taiwan that we have yet to visit, but that also has much to see.
However, I’m going to focus on Taipei in this post because there is plenty to share just for this one city alone! Let’s get started!
Pictured above, the Taipei 101 Tower is perhaps Taipei’s most famous landmark. It’s easy to spot — it stands 101 storeys tall, and has no other skyscrapers within close proximity to interfere with it! It is built to withstand typhoons and earthquakes The tower, itself, mainly houses offices, and just next to the base of the tower is a large shopping mall with many shops and restaurants. If you want to get views of Taipei from the tower, you can pay to go up to the Observation Decks (88th and 89th floors).
Claiming to be the highest Starbucks in the world, this exclusive “secret Starbucks” is located on the 35th floor in the Taipei 101 tower. It’s actually not much of a secret…it’s just that you cannot simply ride up to the 35th floor and stroll in. You have to make reservations (over a week in advance!) and whatever time they give you, you take. You can’t be picky because there are other people chomping at the bit to get in!
Arrive in the office lobby at your designated time and you will be met by a Starbucks employee who will confirm your reservation. Once everything is on the up and up, you get escorted through security and up the elevator you go to the 35th floor!
The reason why this is such an exclusive Starbucks is because it is located amidst offices in Taipei 101 and they do not want it flooded with tourists when there are office employees who also want to eat and drink there. Keeping that in mind, your visit to this Starbucks is limited to one hour and you must purchase about $10USD worth of food and/or drink per person. In other words, you can’t visit here for free!
If you’re lucky enough, you can snag seating right by the windows and enjoy the view while you sip on a beverage and have a snack and chill for an hour. Once your time is up, a Starbucks employee will announce that it’s time to leave and you will be escorted to the elevator to go back down to the ground floor. They then have a few minutes before preparing to bring up the next lot of people for the next booking time!
So remember that if you want to try and get into this Starbucks, you have to plan well in advance and try to book your visit before you even arrive in Taipei!
Oh, and by the way, if you need to use the restroom while you’re at this Starbucks, you can actually get views of Taipei from other vantage points on the same floor because you have to walk through the halls to get to the restroom! You won’t get in trouble or be bothered by anyone as long as you are discreet and are not disruptive of the businesses, offices, and employees.
If you interested in getting a taste of nature in Taipei, go hike up Elephant Hill where you can get great views of the city.
Located not far from Taipei 101, Elephant Hill is a popular hike amongst locals and tourists, and is a great way to step outside the city, while actually still being in the city!
The entire path is paved or has steps, so it isn’t a difficult climb.
And once you get high enough, you get some great views of Taipei!
Depending on how quickly you hike to the top and come back down, this outing might take a couple of hours roundtrip. It’s a great way to get some exercise and a taste of nature, all while still being in Taipei.
Tamsui is a small waterfront town on the north coast of Taiwan. One highlight of Tamsui is strolling down the Old Street there is street food galore! You can get a sampling of all sorts of foods, a bit of this, a bit of that. In other words, make sure you go to Tamsui hungry so you can try as many foods as you can!
On a nice day, the waterfront park area is quite crowded with people, enjoy their street food and the view of the water. You can also rent bikes and ride the trail that takes you alongside the river.
If you walk away from the waterfront, you will encounter a main drag that runs parallel to the Old Street. This is a busy traffic street, most of the traffic being motorbikes. Take caution crossing the street as pedestrians don’t have the right-of-way!
Once you’ve mastered your Frogger skills crossing the main drag, you will be in the throes of a big wet market where you will find fresh meats, fish, and produce for sale, all amongst a web of lanes.
If you keep exploring around the Tamsui area, you’ll find a myriad of shops selling clothing, shoes, housewares, and random odds and ends. It is worth the journey to visit this bustling seaside town.
Known for its nightlife, Ximending is a must-visit. It’s an area full of energy, bright lights, and people-watching opportunities.
If shopping is your thing, there are several shops with various goods to peruse. If you’re hungry, there are several restaurants to choose from. Alternatively, check out the local street vendors who wheel their food carts from place to place, selling their tasty bites.
One thing I really enjoy about visiting destinations in Southeast Asia is that you can be out in neighborhoods likes this at 10pm or 11pm at night and there are still loads of people out, all enjoying the sights and atmosphere, and it feels very safe. It’s definitely something to be experienced!
Shilin Night Market
And speaking of night life, Taipei has a number of night markets you have to visit. The largest and probably the most well-known is the Shilin Night Market.
Night markets are just that…markets selling anything and everything at night. People flock to these night markets to shop, eat, walk, and just soak up the atmosphere.
The Shilin Night Market is no exception. It is a huge market, made up of criss-crossing streets and alleyways, full of things to see.
One great feature of the night market is the FOOD. Food stalls abound with plenty of street food options. You can literally eat your way through the night market, sampling foods from different stalls as you walk. It’s a great way to try a variety of different foods without much damage to your wallet.
Wu Fen Pu
If you’re interested in clothes for cheap, look no further than the Wu Fen Pu Garment Wholesale Area. This is a large area filled with over a hundred (or two!) of shops selling clothing at cheap prices.
Clothes are displayed on hangers or mannequins, and if you’re interested in buying, the merchant retrieve a new one from one of the bags on the shop floor!
Multiple lanes weave in and around, making it a bit of a challenge remembering where you have or haven’t been! And the amazing thing? Style repeats are rare…so if you see something you like, it’s good to snatch it up! A few things – don’t expect to be allowed to try clothing on. Many shops don’t allow it.
So much to see…
As I’ve mentioned before, I really enjoy visiting Taipei. There are so many places to visit, including other parts of Taiwan, but this is just a small sampling of Taipei itself. Here are a few other suggestions of places to visit on your trip there.
Chiang Sha Kek Memorial Hall
The Chiang Sha Kek Memorial is a hall dedicated to the former President of the Republic of China.
Raohe Night Market
Smaller in scale than the Shilin Night Market but no less popular or crowded, the Raohe Street Night Market has a greater emphasis on street food than goods. You should definitely visit on an empty stomach!
Yes, Taipei has a zoo! In fact, it’s the largest zoo in all of Asia! Llamas, elephants, tortoises, bears, penguins, monkeys, zebras, giraffes, pandas…oh my! It is a great place to spend the day.
Start your journey right near the Taipei Zoo and ride a gondola up the mountain to the peak. The 30+ minute ride gives you great views of Taipei as you make you way up to Maokong. Once in Maokong, there are several coffee and tea shops, some street food vendors, and nature trails to enjoy.
I hope you get to visit Taipei one day, and when you do, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Be sure to check out What To Eat In Taipei, Taiwan, where I write about some must-eats! Happy travels!