Taipei's Scenic Spots
Xinbeitou – Yangming Moutain Hotsprings Area (MRT Tamsui Line)
Living in Xinbeitou, I am fortunate enough to have one of Taipei’s most prominent natural scenic points right in my backyard: Yangmingshan National Park. Overlooking Beitou, the park consists of several wooded mountain peaks, populated with hiking trails, historical sites, and of course, hot-spring spa resorts. In terms of hiking, the highlight is climbing Mount Qixing, the park’s highest peak; this route takes about two hours to hike. The top offers a spectacular view of the Taipei basin to the south and the sea to the north. A historical highlight of the park is Yangmingshuwu, one of Chiang Kai-shek’s official residences, which is open to tours. Built in 1970, it became Chiang’s last residence as his health deteriorated.
A short 20-minute walk from Yangmingshuwu is Yangming Park, a popular site that features Yangmingshan’s famed flower gardens; in particular, springtime’s cherry blossoms attract countless tourists to admire the park’s natural beauty. Other highlights in the park are the Juansi Waterfall and the Lengshuikeng natural hot springs.
The latter are free, but bathers are expected to be naked. If you plan to splurge, Yangmingshan Park also offers luxury hot spring resorts like the Landis Resort, where one can either spend an evening or even just rent a private room for a few hours. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money, you can always return to Xinbeitou, which features outdoor public hot springs, known as the Millennium Hot Springs, for only 40 NTD per person. After a day of hiking, relaxing in the soothing waters is a welcome experience.
Muja Maokong Gandola (MRT Brown Line)
Maokong, a looming valley at the southeastern edge of Taipei, is another site well worth visiting. Maokong is well-known for its tea houses and picturesque views of the Taipei night skyline. The Maokong Gondola cable car allows visitors to travel between Maokong, Zhinan Temple, and Taipei Zoo.
Zhinan Temple is a religious complex that brings together elements of Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist traditions, and it features an eclectic pantheon of deities and saints. Some of the most significant parts of Zhinan are the Lingxiao Shrine (the first one encounters after entering), the Chunyang Shrine (the complex’s original place of worship), and the Daxiong Hall, the largest stupa which features golden statues of the Buddhas. Maokong Valley itself is sprinkled with charming traditional tea houses.
Yuanxuyuan and the Yaoyue Teahouse are two of the best ones. These days, Maokong’s tea industry is more tourism-driven than production-driven, but sitting with a steaming pot of Tieguanyin or Baozhong oolong tea and admiring the Taipei basin below is an indelible experience of Taiwan.
New Taipei City
New Taipei City also offers several day trip possibilities for hiking enthusiasts. My personal favorite is Chahu (Teapot) Mountain nearby the old gold-mining towns of Jinguashi and Jiufen. The towns themselves are interesting historically—Jinguashi features the Gold Ecological Park, a complex that includes several Japanese occupation-era gold mining buildings and museums.
Visitors can even touch the world’s largest bar of gold, which weighs 220 kg. But the highlight is the hike up Chahushan, offering a breathtaking view of the area’s twisting hills opening up onto the Pacific Ocean. Due to the area’s past mining operations, the bay is sprinkled with rock sediments that appears in golden brown streaks across the water’s surface, a beautiful (albeit polluting) sight that distracts somewhat from the peak’s otherwise natural appeal. Still, between the gold mining historical sights and the relatively easy hike, Jiufen and the surrounding area deserves a place on your itinerary.
1. Huashan Cultural Park
One of my favorite places to go in Taipei is the Huashan Cultural Park. Every weekend, there seems to be a brand new exhibit there. Moreover, there’s a bunch of little coffee shops as well as souvenir shops that are fun to peek in to.
2. Tourist Spots
Of course, you have the go-to tourist destinations like Taipei 101 (it’s hard to find a better view of the layout of Taipei), the National Palace Museum, and Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall (be sure to catch the changing of the guard. And if you haven’t brushed up on your history relating to Taiwan/CKS, do so before coming here).
One place that might not be in your sights is the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. The museum's exhibits change periodically, and each one brings its own character to the museum. If you like it the first time, try checking the website to see when they have new exhibits.
I think my favorite temple that I have seen in Taiwan has got to be the one near my school, Longshan Temple. This was bombed out during the Second World War and rebuilt (renovated?) thereafter. It is a really cool place with a neat fountain. The surrounding area is interesting to see because there are a bunch of cheap clothes sold in the area, and there is a large community of older Taiwanese people who go there to play Chinese chess or try their luck at the lotto. It’s worth seeing, if only to walk through it. A very interesting cultural sight.
Eating in Taipei
Taipei has a plethora of delicious night markets, big and small. Most travel guides recommend Shilin (士林), and I think it’s a must-see because it’s so huge. Besides food, there are also a lot of fun games there, and prawn fishing, which is definitely something I would recommend (you fish for the shrimp and they will cook the ones you catch immediately after – yum!). To get there, go to Shilin or Yuanshan on the Tamsui (red) MRT line.
Shida (師大), located near Taiwan Normal University (hence the name), is also well known, although apparently it isn’t as good as it was in the past. That being said, it’s very close to the university’s main gate and Mandarin Center, so it’s great for dinner after Chinese class, and they have some good basics (green onion pancakes, sausages, noodles, crepes, bubble tea).
Raohe (饒河) is an excellent, if smaller venue. Located about 1 km from Houshanpi stop on the Bannan (blue) line, it apparently has some of the best 雞排(jipai, fried chicken) in the city (this is based off of something a friend told me, couldn’t say if it’s true). It’s also located next to a beautiful Daoist temple.
Qingguang (晴光), near Exit 3 of Zhongshan Elementary School stop on the Zhonghe-Xinlu (gold) line, is also small, but most of the stands are also open during the day which is nice for a late lunch. They have a very well-known stand there that sells 紅豆餅 (red bean cakes, although they also have butter and radish varieties that are pretty tasty).
Lehua (樂華) is excellent and possibly my favorite. Located near Dingxi on the Zhonghe-Xinlu (gold) line, it has mostly food stands. The sausages (香腸) there are supposed to be particularly good, but I also had some excellent shaved ice, fruit, and fish ball soup. I also found that it was not as crowded as the other night markets, although I’ve only been during the week.
How to even begin discussing restaurants in Taipei？ There are so many good ones! I have to mention Din Tai Feng, famed for its soup dumplings. There are three branches throughout the city, but I’ve only been to the one near Zhongxiao Dunhua on the Bannan (blue) line. That being said, I think the soup dumplings at Jin Din Rou near the intersection of Linsen North Rd and Changchun Road could give them a run for their money, and this restaurant has better 蛋花湯 (egg drop soup).
Xiao Nan Men (小南門) has several branches around the city (including a conveniently located store on the second floor of the Taipei Main Station). They serve reasonably priced Chinese food. Their beef rolls are particularly good, and if you’re craving 宮保雞丁or 魚香茄子, it’s a good place in a pinch!
For beef noodles, Chef Hung (洪師傅), also on Changchun Road, has won a lot of awards. A big bowl of their award-winning beef noodles goes for around 250 NTD or more, which is a bit pricey, but there’s a lot of meat and noodles in one, so it’s pretty good deal.
For sushi, I would recommend either NCIS (North California Inspired Sushi) near Zhongxiao Dunhua or A-Plus Sushi near Xinyi Anhe (on the new Xiangshan line). Both do fusion-style sushi and although a bit on the pricier side, are well worth the money. Too many good dishes at both of these to recommend one, but if I recall, both places do really good tuna rolls. If you want to eat there on the weekends, you should recommendations a few days in advance (particularly NCIS, since it has limited seating).
For good Xinjiang food, Pamir (帕米爾), located near Dongmen on the Zhonghe-Xinlu (gold) line is excellent! Lamb kebabs are excellent, as is the bread. Also be sure to order the yogurt dessert with honey.
Shao Shao Ke (勺勺客)on Ren’ai Road serves delicious Shaanxi food, although the restaurant itself can be a little difficult to find.
Jinjiang (晉江茶堂) has delicious Hakka food, and is located in a beautiful old building near Guting MRT stop on the Zhonghe-Xinlu (gold) Line. The location is small, so get there early if you don’t want to wait.
Also, for people craving salads, Dressed (a couple of branches, the biggest is near Exit 2 of Xinyi Anhe on the Xiangshan Line) is a somewhat expensive but delicious salad and sandwich shop. I recommend the California salad and the seared tuna salad.
If you’re just looking for a good restaurant, but aren’t sure what you want to eat, the Dongmen and Gongguan neighborhoods are both good choices, and easily accessible by MRT. There are lots of hole-in-the-wall restaurants and food stands in these areas, and Gongguan in particular tends to be cheaper because it’s a student neighborhood (National Taiwan University is located there).