I recently spent a week in Taipei, my first visit in 3 years and my first without the crutch of my parents as local guides. I speak very basic mandarin so I was a bit nervous about visiting with my boyfriend, who speaks even less than I do, but we were able to get around pretty well!
We started off the trip doing a food tour called Taipei Eats. I had never done a food tour before, but absolutely fell in love with the concept after participating in this one. The tour was a 4 hour trek (and ~15,000 steps) around Taipei's Xinyi district, where we tried every imaginable Taiwanese delicacy from stinky tofu, gluttonous rice, and even the notorious betel nut.
The tour featured a mix of local mom and pop shops to established chain restaurants. We ate a lot of food. Here's everything we ate (in order): Waxed apple, pineapple, peanut mochi, green onion layer pancake, Taiwanese "Burger" - with braised pork and mustard greens, betel nut, stinky tofu - fried and raw, boba milk tea, Shanghai dumpling two ways, egg tart, pineapple cake, gluttonous rice, and Taiwanese ice cream.
The next day we kept up the pace by hiking Elephant Mountain, which promised one of the best views of the city. The reason this mountain is called "Elephant" is because of the elephant shape you can see from the highest point. You can see it quite clearly in the picture below:
After the hike we grabbed some boba milk tea and joined an afternoon tour of Northeast Taiwan. Our tour bus drove along the eastern coast of Taiwan, where we saw some beautiful rock formations called the Nanya Rocks. The rain was pouring when we visited, but that didn't stop us from going down and taking some photos.
Later we headed to the town of Jiufen, a small mining town which became famous after it was featured by Miyazaki in the film Spirited Away. Jiufen was absolutely packed with tourists, but we still had a great time eating street food and admiring the lanterned streets. We finished the day by eating at the world famous Din Tai Fung restaurant.
In the four days that followed we explored all around Taipei. On Monday we went to the famous Yong Kang street, which is known for its food (then again, almost all parts of Taipei are!). We ate at one of the best beef noodle soup restaurants in Taiwan, and then followed up with shaved ice from a place called Smoothie House. After a morning of great food we took a trip to the National Palace Museum, home to some of Taiwan's most prized national treasures.
Funny anecdote about the National Palace Museum: My parents had visited the museum last year when they came to Taiwan. When we met up afterwards, they gave my boyfriend Lee a small keychain which they purchased from the Museum. The keychain was of a green cabbage which glows in the dark after it's exposed to sun. For whatever reason I really love this keychain, and it became a running joke between Lee and I that my parents must love him more than me for getting him such a cool gift from Taiwan.
So naturally, I was really excited to visit the National Palace Museum to get my own keychain. And I was even more excited to find out the significance of this keychain-- why is it a green cabbage? What does it mean!
Turns out that the cabbage is the most famous artwork on display at the museum, made out of a perfectly carved piece of jade. Unfortunately for us, the Jadeite Cabbage was being featured at a different museum in South Taiwan while we were visiting, so we weren't able to see it in person. That still didn't stop me from buying my own cabbage keychain!
The following day we went to Taipei's seaside town of Tamshui. We visited my grandma who lives there, and also explored around the pier. It was great seeing my grandma after so many years. While she's been technologically averse her whole life, I gifted her an iPad and showed her how she can use it to video chat with my parents and I. Seeing her was undoubtedly the highlight of my trip.
After that there were only two days left on the trip. On Wednesday we woke up to news that there would be a huge thunderstorm in the afternoon. We decided to take advantage of the dry morning and visit Taipei's most famous traditional Taiwanese breakfast spot called Fuhang Doujiang. This was the first restaurant we visited that had absolutely no English menus, so I had to place the order by pointing at various dishes around me. Thankfully it turned out well and we ended up with a hefty tray of Chinese donuts, egg pancakes, and soy milk.
When we finished breakfast the weather was still surprisingly dry, though dark clouds loomed ahead. We decided to test our luck by taking a gondola to Maokong mountain. There are two options for the Maokong Gondola- a traditional gondola and another "crystal cabin" gondola where you could see through the ground. We opted for the crystal floor gondola despite the longer wait.
About halfway through the gondola ride the rain started to pour. We wandered around the Maokong mountain for a bit and had some fresh juice before heading back down the mountain. Then we went to Ximending, a shopping district in Taipei akin to Tokyo's Harajuku. We explored the Red House Theater, which is a historical theater in Ximen which has been converted into mini museum with local designer shops. Lee bought himself a T-shirt from a local brand called Taiwanize, and I bought a necklace from local jeweler.
The next day was our last in Taipei. We decided to embark on our own "food tour" of Taipei by revisiting some of our favorite spots. We also finally went to Taipei 101, the 4th tallest building in the world. While we went on a hazy day, we benefited from less crowds, and the view was spectacular nonetheless.
And that covers the highlights of my week in Taipei! The time absolutely flew by. I had an amazing time, and I can't wait to be back soon.