Travel Guide: Taipei, Taiwan
What's a trip to Taipei without Taipei 101? Even if you don't go into Taipei 101, you're bound to spy this 101 floor (aptly named) building. If you're hunting down a good view of Taipei 101, hiking up the Nangang District Hiking trail takes around 20 minutes to trek up to the top to a gorgeous skyline view of the city and Taipei 101.
Ximending is vibrant, edgy, and eccentric, and never seems to sleep. It houses a slew of amazing trendy shops and is a great place for people watching with the eclectic crowd it draws. It's easy to get lost in the infinite alleyways that hide street art and boutiques away from the main areas.
A colorful and busy seaside wharf, Tamsui is a place to feel like a kid again. Along the water, there are long narrow streets with food stalls, quirky gift shops, and arcade games that people of all ages play. Among the weirder things you'll find in Tamsui: a Turkish ice cream man who dances as he scoops ice cream, foot long soft serve ice cream for less than half a dollar, and iron eggs, a common Tamsui snack of an egg recooked in soy sauce and dried.
In stark contrast to the bustling city areas in Taipei, in the southeast edge of what Taipei's MRT station reaches, you can find the Maokong Gondolas that will take you through hills and mountains. The ride itself yields elevated views of Taipei in one direction and lush greenery in the other. At the top is a tranquil town with hillside traditional tea shops and paths to hike around and explore.
Another mountain village about an hour north of Taipei, Jiufen is known for it's steep and winding alleyways that go through traditional and old-style shops and tea houses. The area becomes busy on weekends during the day, but my favorite thing to do in Jiufen is to watch the sunset at a tea house overlooking the water and watch as the lanterns and yellow lights start to glow all over Jiufen as night falls.
Yongkang, which is located in the Daan district in east Taipei City, is known for a its plethora of corner cafes and small restaurants. While Yongkang street has plenty of foot traffic, the quieter side streets and alleyways allow for lots of surprises of cute boutiques and shops if you choose to wander off.
To eat & shop:
Tao Yuan Street Beef Noodle Shop
Inconspicuously tucked behind an alleyway tucked in Ximen, this corner restaurant churns out incredible niu rou mian (beef noodle soup) that is almost always packed with locals. Like most of Taipei's small street eateries, it doesn't look like much, but these bowls speak for themselves and have all the makings of a good bowl of niu rou mian- tender beef and amazing broth.
Miaokou Night Market
While Shilin night market gets the most tourist traffic and sells more clothes and plastic cell phone cases than anything else, Miaokou night market in East Keelung is lined with food stall after food stall of the best night market street food. While both are cramped and chaotic (as any night market tends to be), Miaokou's food selection is unbeatable with seafood, soup, and dessert stalls galore.
Hip and minimal, Glasense is a primarily an eyewear store, but also sells accessories and clothing. With its industrial decor of task lamps and reclaimed wood, it's no wonder that a consistent stream of customers flow into the store after peeking through the long windows. Glasense offers a selection of well-made glasses and sunglasses, from vintage and retro styles to simple, minimalistic frames. Prices start at around $50 USD, and getting prescription lenses into them back in the US was no problem. (Facebook)
Taipei has some serious shaved ice eateries, and Ice Monster ranks highly amongst the competitors. If the sleepy/apathetic looking ice cube mascot wasn't cool enough, their menu definitely is. The shaved ice is super soft as it should be, the fruits are fresh, and the varieties are endless. (Website)
鳥家 Bird House Izakaya
(Side note: this restaurant was a tough one to track down even the name of. I was taken here by a local, and after attempts to find it online, I found that no English blog has reviewed this place, probably because it isn't a tourist location.)
Coming to 鳥家 was seriously a treat, and is my favorite secret. It's a tiny Izakaya with Japanese curtains, open grill for yakitori, and of course, Asahi on tap. No more than 20 customers can really fit in this restaurant, which gets filed quickly with a crowd of 20-something hipster locals. While all izakayas tend to be warm and fun, 鳥家 feels even more original with their unique dishes and handwritten Japanese menus. (Google+)
度小月(Tu Hsiao Yueh)
Tu Hsiao Yueh originated from Tainan; what was once a street vendor selling "slack season" noodles, evolved into famous restaurants a century later, using the same recipes and ingredients. True to their roots, you'll find that a part of the restaurant is dedicated to having the same street vendor set-up as an homage to their origins, with a cook making the same dishes.