The layover in Taipei was 17 hours on our flight from Brisbane to Vienna, so we were determined to make the most of our time exploring this city.
Transport into the city from Taoyuan International Airport is easy, and the fastest way to get there is on the MRT. It takes only 35 minutes if you take the purple line which has limited stops. It’s very easy to navigate on the MRT and you can really maximise your time to explore the city.
Alternatively the bus no. 1960 takes around an hour depending on traffic, however it’s also a quaint ride as buses in Taipei are draped with curtains and play music which also creates a unique experience as you travel through the countryside and into the city on the motorway.
The bus takes you to Taipei 101 and from there you can explore the city using the MRT.
We visited the Longshan Temple which is in the Wanhua District of Taipei. This temple is special because it’s nearly 300 years old and has been rebuilt many times over the years after having been damaged by war, earthquakes, flood and fire.
Each time the community has gathered together to rebuild the temple. This commitment and resilience is testament to the community spirit that exists in this area, and the other reason I was interested to visit this temple was because it’s rare to find a temple where people of different religions share the same location.
The Longshan Temple is a wonderful mix of the Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian faiths. This living example of tolerance and the common spirit of humanity regardless of belief is a very rare, but much needed quality in the world today. I was delighted to witness a place where such compassion and understanding is on display in everyday life.
For me this neighbourhood of Taipei exudes the most authentic traditional experience and nearby we visited the Guangzhou Street Night Market which sprawls between Wuzhou Street and Huanhe South Road. It reminded me of the old Taipei which I’d seen as a child. The markets sold everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to vendors on the next stall selling inner shoe soles, then the next one selling fresh salmon.
You could find almost anything here from winter gloves and coats, to a leg of pork. I loved the variety and chaotic nature of the busy street market, the sounds of people bargaining and selling, the smells of tasty fresh food wafting in the air and the dynamic old fashioned vibe of these markets. It feels so different to the more modern and well organised areas of Taipei. In addition to this, you could eat all kinds of food, and we had some delicious tender roast pork, and some tasty taiwanese fried pork snacks as well as squid.
My top recommendation of things to do in Taipei is a visit to the National Palace Museum. It had been over 40 years since I visited Taipei, but I could still remember the incredible artefacts I’d witnessed in the museum when I visited Taipei as a teenager.
It made such an impact on me that I still have clear memories of the amazingly beautiful items on display and the incredible craftsmanship from jade screens to exquisitely fine ceramics and artworks. It represents over 8000 years of ancient Chinese cultural items collected by past Emperors. The exhibition contains over 700’000 products and gives visitors the opportunity to get a real insight into the history of Chinese civilisation and the finely detailed artworks that existed in a time gone by.
Our next stop was Taipei 101 in the centre of Taipei in the Xinyi District. This skyscraper is the tallest building in Taiwan with an observatory tower on the uppermost floors and a shopping centre in the lower floors. It’s food centre has many delicious eateries, where you’ll find a variety of cuisines from the highest quality Portuguese tarts, to the one Michelin star Hawker Chan Restaurant chain from Singapore. This food court had almost every cuisine you can imagine presented to the highest of standards.
It’s pretty similar to any upmarket food centre in any first world country and all the well known universal luxury brands command the prime real estate in the shopping mall.
If you venture a few blocks from here you’ll discover an amazing shop. The Eslite Bookstore in Xinyi District is a very special find.
On the lower floors you’ll discover a variety of small designers and department store style goods. Once you go up a few floors the books and music cd’s are introduced in different rooms and settings. If you enjoy books and interesting subjects this shop has to be the best and most frequented bookstore I’ve ever experienced.
Room after room you could find books on all different subjects in Chinese, and some books in English too. Each room I entered was filled with people of all ages either sitting or standing up reading. It was such an unusual but rewarding sight to see, and clear evidence that education and knowledge is still a highly valued aspect of Taiwanese culture.
Must Do’s in Taipei.
The Eslite Bookstore
National Palace Museum
Guangzhou Street Night Market