Places to visit – Taipei

Taipei is a great place to visit from Hong Kong. It’s pretty quick to get to and has a much more laid back feel. I’ve heard that it’s also a lot nicer than it was 10 years ago! We really liked it and definitely want to go back and see more of Taiwan so I thought I’d share some of the things we did and saw and maybe encourage you to go too?

Another advantage of Taipei is that it’s really easy to get around, and the MTR (subway) extends beyond the borders of the city, making it very easy to get out of the city into the surrounding area. However, this doesn’t extend to the airport which is a long way outside Taipei and takes about an hour by taxi (there isn’t a train or subway) to get from the airport to the centre of the city.

We stayed at Hotel 73 which was very close to Dongmen Station on Xinyi Road. We had no complaints about our hotel room, although we thought that the breakfast (which was included in the price) was fairly average and we had to wait for some time in the lobby before we were seated as there wasn’t enough room for everyone in the restaurant. On our second day we grabbed breakfast elsewhere.

The hotel was in a really nice district: it was right next to a market, and the area on the other side of Xinyi Road was a maze of small boutiques, restaurants and shops. It was a really nice area to walk round and we happily ate at random places there a couple of times. Also the original branch of Din Tai Fung was nearby on Xinyi Road so we went there to taste the ‘original’ food of this Taiwanese restaurant chain which also has several outlets in Hong Kong.

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall

Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall Taipei

This was our first port of call as it was within walking distance of our hotel (but it also has its own MTR station). The memorial hall is situated in some nice gardens, which were lovely to walk around but the weather quickly forced us inside! We went in with almost no knowledge of who Chiang Kai-Shek was and why there was a memorial hall to him, and came out thinking he was a great man who founded modern Taiwan. Unfortunately, there are two sides to every story and whilst he did do great things for Taiwan, he perhaps wasn’t quite as nice as the memorial hall made him out to be! The hall is worth a visit though, even if it is just to see the massive statue of Chiang Kai-Shek.

Chiang Kai-Shek statue

Beitou

This is an area on the north side of the city which is famous for its hot springs. Many of the hotels there have private baths where you can bathe in the waters, but we headed to the outdoor public baths on Zhongshan Road. Once we were able to gain entrance to the public baths (they are only open for fixed sessions every day: 8.30-11.15am, noon-2.45pm, 3.30-6.16pm, 7.00-9.45pm), we had a lovely time there. These baths had 3 hot pools, each progressively hotter than the last (we couldn’t spend much time in the second one and didn’t even attempt the hottest!) and 2 cold pools which were briefly pleasant after spending a while in the hot pools. It was a great place, and obviously pretty full of locals as well as some tourists. The locals seemed pretty friendly and one old guy started chatting to me about where I was from and what I should see while I was in Taipei. There was also a very militant attendant who told you off if you were only partly submerged in the water!

The nearby Di-re Valley (a 5 minute walk) is also worth a visit is the source of most of the hot waters in Beitou. As you can see it was pretty hot and very steamy! There was also quite an unpleasant sulphuric smell but it was a pretty cool sight. Although at 90°C, you probably wouldn’t want to go in…

Di-re valley Beitou

Di-re valley Taipei

Slightly confusingly, to get to this area, take the MTR to Beitou station and then change to the shuttle line to Xinbeitou. It takes a while but I’d really recommend it!

Longshan Temple

Longshan temple

I don’t have much to say about this temple, other than it’s pretty attractive and a popular spot for worshippers and tourists alike. Definitely worth a visit if you like temples!

Longshan temple columns

National Palace Museum

This is pretty much a must-do when visiting Taipei due to its enormous collection of Chinese art. I believe that much of it was brought to Taiwan by people fleeing the civil war in China. It’s a massive museum and you could spend hours in there. There is so much to see, including ceramics, calligraphy and ancient artefacts. I think that we spent a couple of hours looking round and by then we were pretty tired! I’d recommend that you don’t go on a weekend if at all possible, as it gets very busy. As it is, it is never exactly quiet.

The best way to get to the museum is to go to Shilin station and take the exit to the north side of Zhongzhen Road and catch bus 304, 255 or red 30.

Raohe Street Night Market

Raohe night market

This was one of our most fun evenings in Taipei. We had heard that there were lots of snack vendors in the night market so we purposely didn’t have dinner before going but instead bought a range of random snacks (most were good, some were average, none were bad) whilst working our way round the market. There was a really high quality of vendors at the market too. There was some of the usual tourist tat but there were also real craftspeople, selling everything from handbags and animal shaped leather purses to this guy who was creating the most amazing glass works right in front of our eyes!

Glassmaker Raohe night market

A great place to buy presents and maybe a little something or two for yourself ;)

Taipei 101

Again, another must-do when in Taipei. We’ve been in a number of observation decks in tall towers now, and this was definitely one of the best experiences. We turned up at about 10am and it was very busy, and when we bought our tickets we were told that we’d have to wait for about an hour to go up. We decided to kill time by going outside and taking photos of the tower from a nearby park, and when we got back we’d missed our slot! But they let us join the queue straight away instead.

Taipei 101

You were taken up to the top of the tower in groups and each group had a fixed period of time in each area, although the amount of time seemed pretty generous and we never felt rushed. The main observation deck was spacious with lots of information to read and things to look at as well as the view, of course. Luckily, we were blessed with good weather that day.

View from Taipei 101

Tom got very nerdy and enjoyed looking at the massive damper which helps to keep the tower stable and steady in high winds. It has been turned into a bit of a tourist attraction in itself, with a little cartoon version of it!

Taipei 101 damper

You could also go out onto the roof and enjoy the view in the fresh air, which made for better photos.

Hills from Taipei 101

Maokong

This area sits up in the hills to the south-east side of Taipei and is definitely worth a visit if you’d like to get out of the built-up areas. Take the MTR to Taipei Zoo station (we didn’t visit the zoo but apparently it’s quite good) and a couple of minutes walk away is the gondola (cable car) station which will take you up into the hills. We went on a weekend and had to queue for about 45 minutes to get into a gondola so it might be worth picking a less busy time if possible. The gondola ride gives great views across Taipei.

View from Maokong gondola

Maokong is famous for its tea houses, of which there are plenty. We plumped for one that was pretty near the gondola station and were given a little booth with cushions to sit on and the necessary tools for making tea the ‘proper’ Chinese way. Luckily, we had both seen Chinese tea ceremonies before and could just about figure out what we should be doing (although I’m sure that you could get someone to show you if you needed).

Drinking tea

It’s a really nice, quiet area up there and we really enjoyed wandering around (until it got dark) and then had dinner at a restaurant there overlooking the city. Nice!

Maokong tea houses

So those were the highlights of our trip to Taipei. It was a really nice mix of city and relaxing activities. It was easy to get around, all the attractions were either reasonably priced or free and the people were very friendly. My only criticisms as a tourist were that in some areas there wasn’t a lot of written English around (although a lot of people spoke English), and a lot of the restaurants seemed to shut pretty early so don’t leave it too late to go for dinner. However, if you’re looking for somewhere to go for the weekend, I think you could do a lot worse!

Thanks for reading!

Rachel

Hong Kong likes & dislikes – part 2

So after being a little negative about Hong Kong last week, let me tell you about some of my favourite things about this place. So with no further ado…

1. Climate

Whilst I will admit it is ridiculously hot here in summer, I am one of those people who would rather be too warm than too cold, so I have been very much enjoying the warm climate here! Even now, whilst the weather has turned a bit grey and wet, it’s still in the mid-teens so a jumper and a jacket is sufficient to keep me toasty. (This photo is of me in warmer times after climbing Jardine’s Lookout!)

2. I am tall here

In the UK, at 5’4″ I am pretty much bang-on average height for a woman (ref), and I generally feel quite short. However, here sometimes I feel like a giant! I especially notice it when queuing behind a line of little old Chinese ladies for the toilet. Maybe this means I will be able to see more at concerts now?

3. Chinese tea

Those of you who know me will know that I don’t like tea or coffee. However, in a lot of Chinese restaurants here (especially the smaller ones), they plonk a glass of Chinese tea in front of you as soon as you sit down, and often they don’t charge you for it. So I’ve started drinking it! It’s actually quite refreshing, with a much weaker taste than the tea back home. The Chinese have a very specific procedure that they go through when making tea, which involves tiny teacups, a tiny teapot, a larger kettle, a jug and a strainer – we had a go ourselves in Taipei recently, with mixed success!

4. Views

Hong Kong is such a vertical city that there are amazing views wherever you go. Whether it’s looking up…

…or across…

…or down

5. City and countryside

I think a lot of people don’t realise that the city of Hong Kong makes up only a small proportion of Hong Kong SAR. It is amazingly easy to get out of the city into the amazing hills, forests, islands and beaches that surround. I can be on Repulse Bay beach or on top of a hill overlooking the city in less than 15 minutes from the heart of Wanchai. There are so many places to explore around Hong Kong, and Tom and I have only just scratched the surface. I’ll be telling you all about some of the places to go in future posts.

So, that’s almost it for my favourite things about Hong Kong. However, Tom will berate me if I don’t mention the food! There is every kind of food available here, especially Asian food (as you would expect) and most of it is very yummy indeed. I’ll talk about this in more detail in a future post!

What are your best and worst things about Hong Kong? I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading!
Rachel