Taipei

Taipei (台北 or 臺北; Táiběi) is the national capital of the Republic of China, otherwise known as Taiwan. Sitting in the northern part of the island in a basin between the Yangming Mountains and the Central Mountains, Taipei serves as the island's financial, cultural, and governmental center. The city is a tantalizing mix of Chinese, Japanese and Western influences, vibrant in its own right yet unhurried by global standards. Besides the architectural and cultural landmarks like Taipei 101 and Longshan Temple, the xiaochi (small snacks) in bustling night markets are an experience not to be forgotten by your stomach. The capital is also a great jumping off point for day trips to hot springs, old mining towns and national parks around the Northern Taiwan area.

Districts

Taipei is mostly built up and in various phases of growth and disrepair, though a park is never far away, especially in the more suburban areas. The downtown area is culturally divided into East and West. The west side, with its narrow streets and road side vendors, is considered the bastion of old Taipei life, whereas East Taipei, with its classy malls, chic boutiques, and stylish restaurants and cafes, reminiscent of those found in Tokyo, Paris or New York City represents its metamorphosis into a modern and international city.

The Greater Taipei metropolitan area beyond Taipei City boundaries includes the surrounding New Taipei City (新北市) and Keelung (基隆市), representing the largest urban cluster in Taiwan with nearly 7 million people, though run by three different government authorities.

Central districts

Districts of Taipei
Old Taipei (萬華-大同)
Wanhua and Datong make up the oldest parts of Taipei, home to many historic buildings, such as the Longshan Temple and the Red House Theater, although it has lost much of its economic relevance to the East District. Ximending is the "Harajuku of Taipei", a shopping neighborhood centered around teenager fashion, Japanese culture and subcultures.
Zhongzheng and Gongguan (中正-公館)
Zhongzheng is the political center of Taiwan and the location of the Presidential Office and important government ministries. Its prime tourist attraction is the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Gongguan, on the other hand, has a youthful feel thanks to students from the Taida and Shida universities thronging the area.
East District (大安-信義)
Daan and Xinyi are the modern commercial and financial districts of Taipei, and can be collectively referred to as the East District. Offering department stores, plenty of fashion boutiques, lounge bars, and atmospheric restaurants, and some of the most expensive real estate in the city, it is also home to Taipei 101, the Taipei World Trade Center, and the International Convention Center.
Zhongshan and Songshan (中山-松山)
Zhongshan has riverside parks, the Martyrs Shrine, the Fine Arts Museum, and a large pub and bar scene. Many firms and financial institutions are located in Songshan, which is directly north of the East District. Raohe Street Night Market is one of the oldest of Taipei's famous street markets.

Suburban districts

Beitou (北投)
This district is famous for hot springs and the Yangmingshan National Park.
Shilin (士林)
A traditional area of the city that is known for its excellent museums, including the world famous National Palace Museum. Shilin is also home to one of Taipei's largest night market and the expat enclave of Tianmu.
Neihu and Nangang (內湖-南港)
Located in the eastern reaches of the city, Neihu and Nangang are hubs of the IT industry in Taipei, home to many large shopping centers, and a great place for hiking and 'templing'. A mouth-watering juxtaposition of local Taiwanese culture and modern shopping malls and restaurants. A definite must-visit, Neihu is largely a secret to the tourist world.
Wenshan (文山)
This leafy district in the south of the city is associated with its many tea houses and plantations in Muzha and also for the Taipei Zoo.

Understand

An evening in Taipei from Elephant Mountain

In 1884, the Qing dynasty governor of Taiwan, Liu Mingchuan, decided to move the prefecture capital to Taipei. With the construction of government offices and the influx of civil servants, Taipei's days as a sleepy market town were over. When Taiwan was granted provincial status in 1885, Taipei remained the provincial capital. As Taipei is in the north of Taiwan (the closest area to Japan), the city continued to thrive when Taiwan was ceded to Japan in 1895. Japan was in the throes of a 'modernize-come-what-may' period, and little regard was paid to Taipei's traditional Chinese-style architecture; many of the old buildings, including the city walls, were demolished. Even so, during the Japanese period of colonial rule, several prominent buildings were however constructed, the Presidential Palace and National Taiwan University being among the most famous.

The city's architecture again suffered a major onslaught when the KMT government arrived from mainland China in 1945. In order to cope with the influx of millions of mainland refugees, temporary housing estates sprang up all around the city. Later, these were replaced by Soviet-era style (or 'no-style') concrete apartment buildings. These buildings characterized Taipei's landscape until the 1980s, when Taiwan's economy began to take off. Wages increased and in order to satisfy a wealthy and sophisticated market, Taipei began to change. Wide, tree lined boulevards were laid, high quality apartment blocks constructed and stylish restaurants and cafes established. The city was booming and has never looked back since.

The Taipei of today is a confident city of about 2.6 million inhabitants (about seven million including suburbs), and is characterized by its friendly people and safe streets. While it is not usually high on the list of tourist destinations, and is usually passed over by Western tourists in favour of other East Asian cities such as Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo, it is a fascinating place to visit and live. Taipei's local cuisine has deservedly earned its place among Asia's finest, and visitors from other parts of East and Southeast Asia visit in droves in order to have a taste of it, with many coming back repeatedly to satisfy their cravings. Furthermore, despite its size, Taipei does not have any rough areas that are considered unsafe, even at night - which in itself is attractive.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 19 19 22 26 29 32 35 34 31 28 24 21
Nightly lows (°C) 13 14 15 19 22 24 26 26 24 22 19 15
Precipitation (mm) 83 170 180 178 235 326 245 322 361 149 83 73

Central Weather Bureau seven day forecast for Taipei

Taipei has a semi-tropical climate characterized by hot and humid weather. The most comfortable season to visit is the fall, when the rainfall is at its lowest and the temperatures average a pleasant mid 20°C. February to April are particularly damp with little sunlight, while the summers can be very hot, but often punctuated by heavy thunder showers. Taipei is prone to typhoons from May to October, though the highest concentrations are in August and September. Winters can be quite chilly, with temperatures occasionally falling below 10°C at night, though snowfall has never been known to occur.

Tourism

Get in

By plane

Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport

Taoyuan Airport arrival hall

Taipei's international airport is officially called   Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (IATA: TPE). However, the name was changed only in September 2006 and the old name, Chiang Kai Shek International Airport (often abbreviated as CKS), is still commonly used. Many airlines fly to the Taoyuan International Airport. The airport is located about 30 km from the city and freeway buses ply the route, picking up and dropping off passengers at most of the five star hotels. It also stops at the Taipei Main Station and the domestic airport (Songshan Airport), which is in downtown Taipei. There are also bus services connecting the airport to nearby cities and Taichung in central Taiwan. Travelers to other destinations need to change transportation in Taipei.

There are four transportation options at the airport: bus, high-speed rail, taxi, and pre-arranged car. An MRT line is under construction, but it will not be operational until early 2016. Here are the options from cheapest to most expensive forms of transportation:

When returning to the airport, express buses can be caught at various stops throughout the city. One major one leaves every 15–20 minutes from   Taipei West Bus Station adjacent to Taipei Main Railway Station (near MRT exit M5 and underground mall exits K12 and Z3). Another is at the terminal at the Songshan Domestic Airport (松山機場). Other stops are outside major hotels and also in front of Minsheng MRT Station. For people taking early morning flights, the earliest available buses to the airport leave at around 4AM from the Far Eastern Plaza Hotel (台北遠東國際大飯店) (201 Dunhua South Rd Section 2).

In addition to the transit hotel within the airport terminal, there are several hotels located near the airport if you desire more comfortable quarters for an extended transit or for some other reason would rather lodge by the airport than in Taipei. The Novotel Taoyuan International Airport, located next to the China Airlines headquarters building, is mere minutes from both terminals and has commanding views of the airport's runways. Also nearby is the CitySuites Gateway Hotel, 10 minutes from the Cing-pu High-speed Rail Station and three minutes away from Taoyuan International Airport. .

There is night service, although it's really hard to find information about it. Best source is the airport website. As of 21Feb2012 there is overnight bus service to Taipei Railway station as follows: 1:30AM, 3AM for Terminal 1 (exit B5), add 10 mins for Terminal 2 (bus station, 1819 stand). Ticket is purchased from the driver - 165 NT$. Unconfirmed - one extra departs at 04:00, Wednesday & Saturday at Terminal 2 Without Detouring Terminal 1. From the Taipei Railway you can take overnight train to connect to other cities or bus from the adherent bus station. It takes about 55 min from the airport to the city (at night).

Songshan Airport

Songshan Airport

  Songshan Airport (IATA: TSA), officially Taipei International Airport (台北國際航空站) at the northern end of Dunhua North Road is the city center airport. It serves a few domestic destinations as well as select international routes to regional destinations. There are numerous daily flights arriving and departing for the outlying islands and cities on the east coast of the island. The airport also serves flights to various destinations in mainland China, as well as "city shuttle" services to Tokyo-Haneda, Seoul-Gimpo and Shanghai-Hongqiao. The airport is served by the Taipei Metro Brown Line's (officially labeled the Wenshan-Neihu Line) Songshan Airport Station and can be reached in about 15 minutes from Taipei Main Station. Many city and long-distance buses also connect to the airport.

By train

Taipei Railway Station

All inter-city trains, operated by the Taiwan Railway Administration (台鐵) and Taiwan High Speed Rail (台灣高鐵), arrive at and depart from   Taipei Railway Station on Zhongxiao West Road, Sec 1 - opposite the 53 story Shinkong Mitsukoshi Building (新光三越). Taipei Main Station is a huge facility. Ticket counters are on the first floor and platforms on B2. There is also a food court on the second floor, several underground shopping malls, and directly connects to Taipei Main Station on the Taipei Metro which is served by Tamsui (Red) line and Bannan (Blue) line. In addition to ticket counters, the first floor also has a tourist office, a post office, stores selling aboriginal handicrafts and several booths offering head and neck and full body massage (NT$100 for every ten minutes).

There are also three other train stations in Taipei city. Wanhua Station (萬華車站) is in the south-western part of the city and is within walking distance of MRT Longshan Temple Station and is only served by local trains. Songshan Station (松山車站) is close to Raohe Street Night Market and all trains operated by the Taiwan Railway Administration stop at the station. Nangang Station (南港車站) is on the eastern end of the city and is currently served by local trains and some express trains. It is directly connected to Nangang Station on Taipei Metro's Bannan (Blue) line and the Taiwan High Speed Rail is expected to operate into the station by the beginning of 2015. All train stations in Taipei city accept Easy Cards to enter the station in addition to tickets bought at the vending machines or counters.

The THSR stations and platforms are wheelchair-friendly and all trains include a wheelchair-accessible car (wider doors, ample space, accessible bathroom). Note that the official English guide for online reservations distinguishes between "senior or disabled tickets" and "handicap-friendly seats"; while it's possible to buy a ticket for the former online ("correct passenger ID" required), a ticket for the latter has to be reserved by calling the ticketing office on the phone.

Baggage storage

By bus

Taipei Bus Station

Intercity buses arrive and depart from the   Taipei Bus Station, which is located on Chengde Road, behind Taipei Main Station. Generally speaking, the buses operated by private companies are more comfortable and sport such amenities as wide reclining seats and individual game and video monitors. The government run buses are blue and white and are called guóguāng hào (國光號). All intercity buses are known as kèyùn (客運) and can be distinguished from the local city buses called gōngchē (公車) by the fact that they do not have a route number, but only the name of the destination.

Get around

By metro

Taipei MRT

Taipei City has a very clean, efficient and safe Mass Rapid Transit system known most commonly as the MRT, but also called Metro Taipei (台北捷運). Fares are between NT$20 and NT$65 for one-way trips around town. Stations and trains are clearly identified in English, so even for those who cannot read Chinese, the MRT system is very accessible. All stops are announced in four languages: Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka and English. All stations have information booth/ticket offices close to the ticket vending machines. There is no eating or drinking while in the stations or on the trains. There are priority seats. If you need a seat, there are stickers offered at the information booth that allow passengers to identify those in need. Trains generally run from 6AM to midnight, with convenient bus connections outside the stations.

Women and/or children traveling at night can benefit from the Safe Zones - sections of platforms that are under heavy surveillance - located in some of the subway lines. Stations and trains (including the monorail) are wheelchair-friendly, but note that when there are multiple exits from a single station, usually only one of these is equipped with a lift.

MRT Station in Taipei

In addition to single journey tickets, the Taipei MRT also sells value-added cards/smartcards called EasyCard or youyouka (as in 'yo-yo-ka', also 悠遊卡). These cards hold amounts up to NT$5,000, and one only needs to "touch" (sensor) them past the barrier monitor to gain entry and exit from paid areas. Value-added cards can be purchased at station ticket offices or at vending machines, and can be recharged at the stations or convenience stores. To purchase a new EasyCard you will need to pay NT$500 (including a deposit of NT$100 and NT$400 usable credit).

One great advantage of using the EasyCard is that there is a 20% discount on all MRT rides, and if you transfer from the MRT to an ordinary city bus, or vice versa, within an hour, the bus ride is only NT$7. The discount is automatically calculated when you leave the MRT station. Student cards with even deeper discounts are also available for purchase, but only upon request at a desk and a student ID. Major convenience stores such as 7-Eleven, as well as various other retail outlets and parking lots also accept the card as payment. It is also possible to buy day cards just for the metro system for NT$200 (refundable deposit of NT$50) and for NT$180 you can buy a card that works on both the metro and buses. Alternatively, the Taipei Pass costs NT$250 (no deposit) and covers travel on the metro and Maokong Gondola for one day, which is cheap and convenient if you take at least six trips.

Oftentimes limited-edition cards are issued by the transit authority depicting artworks, famous characters, landscapes, etc. These are quite collectible and are perfect souvenirs for your trip. Remember single-journey tokens are recycled when you exit the stations, so if you want to keep a particular one you should purchase an extra.

By bus

Taipei City Bus

Taipei City has a very efficient bus service , and because all buses display information (destination and the names of stops) in English, the system is very accessible to non-Chinese speaking visitors. Payment can be made by cash (NT$15) or EasyCard (see "metro" listing) for each section that the bus passes through. For local buses (all local buses have a number, so do long distance buses) the maximum will be two sections with a total cost of NT$45. The confusion, however, arises by not knowing where the section boundaries are located and the fact that there is often a buffer zone to prevent people who get on one stop before the boundary from overpayment.

When to pay Above the driver, there is an electronic red sign. If the Chinese character for "up" (上) is lit, then you pay when you get on. If the same sign is lit when you get off, you do not need to pay again. However, if the sign is displaying the Chinese character for "down" (下) when you are getting off, then you will need to pay a second time. Finally, if the character for "down" is lit up when you get on, then you need to pay only when you get off. Until you get the hang of the system, just let the locals go first and follow their action. It's really not as complicated as it sounds, and bus drivers won't let you forget a second payment if you owe one!

Besides, if you are transferring from the MRT to a bus within one hour, there is a discounted bus fare when using the Easycard, vice versa.

By taxi

Taxis are the most flexible way to get around, and are extremely numerous. They are expensive in comparison to mass transit, but are cheap when compared to taxis in the rest of the world. Taxis are metered, which meter starts at NT$70(an additional NT$20 is added over the meter for the taxi rates at night ). Most taxi drivers cannot speak English, and it will be necessary for non-Chinese speakers to have their destination written down in Chinese. Tipping is neither necessary nor expected.

Since 2012, all passengers are required to buckle their seatbelt. Women and/or children traveling at night are advised to use one of the reputable taxi companies. The toll free taxi hotline is 0800-055850 (maintained by Department of Transportation).

Taiwanese taxi drivers tend to be more honest than in many other countries. They are notorious for their strong opinions on politics. A large majority of them support Taiwan independence as they spend all day listening to talk radio. They will probably be unable to share any of this with you if you do not speak Chinese. Avoid any potential political discussion.

It is not advisable for lone women at night to hail a random taxi from the street - it is best to have the number of one of the bigger taxi companies and to call for a cab. Taking a taxi at night in Taipei is more dangerous than walking.

By bicycle

Some pavements (US English: sidewalks) in Taiwan have this sign to allow bicycling.

Even though motorized traffic is very heavy in Taipei, bicycles are still legitimate vehicles to get around. There are long cycle paths beside most rivers in the city. Bicycles can also be carried on the Taipei metro but only at Saturdays, Sundays, and National Holidays and via certain stations - bicycles aren't permitted in larger interchange stations such as Taipei Main Station and Zhongxiao Fuxing, and bicycles are only permitted in the first and last carriages. Properly packaged folded bicycles are exempt from the restrictions upon ordinary bicycles. There are not many segregated bike lanes but on some busy streets cycling on the pavement (US English: sidewalk) is permitted where signed or marked, as in Japan.

Taipei has a great bike sharing system - YouBike. It is very cheap if you register through their site - first half hour is NT$5, which is enough for most every ride you need. You use EasyCard (the same as for the subway and buses) to rent them. It's all very easy and the bikes are modern and convenient. Check each bicycle for defects before you use them; bike seats are turned backwards to signal some form of maintenance is required.

By car

Renting a car is not only unnecessary, but not recommended in Taipei unless you are planning to head out of the city. Traffic tends to be frantic, and parking spaces are expensive and difficult to find. Most of the main tourist destinations are reachable by public transport, and you should use that as your main mode of travel.

Address system

The Taipei address system is very logical and user-friendly. The hub of the city is the corner of the east-west running Zhongxiao (忠孝) and north-south running Zhongshan (中山) Rds, however while the north/south divide is made at Zhongxiao here, further east it is made instead at Bade (八德) Rd, something which confuses even people who have lived in Taipei for years. All major roads are identified by their direction in relation to these roads. For example, all sections of the north-south running Fuxing (復興) Rd north of Bade are called Fuxing North Rd (復興北路). Likewise, those sections to the south are called Fuxing South Rd (復興南路). Those that cross Zhongshan road are similarly identified as either east or west. Section (段; duàn) numbers begin at 'one' near the two defining roads and increase at intersections of major highways. For example, Ren'ai (仁愛) Rd (which has only an east location and therefore does not have a direction suffix), Section 1 will be close to Zhongshan South Rd. The section number will increase as one moves further away from Zhongshan Rd. So, for example, when Ren'ai Rd reaches Dunhua South Rd (敦化南路) far in the east of the city, a typical address could be: 7F, 166 Ren'ai Rd, Section 4. The house and lane numbers begin at zero every section. Lanes (巷; xiàng) lead off roads (路; lù) and streets (街; jiē), while alleys (弄; nòng) branch off lanes.

Talk

Taipei is a city of people from many different origins, and you can find a good mix of Chinese (people whose families migrated to Taiwan from 1949 onwards) and native Taiwanese (people whose families had been in Taiwan since the Ming or Qing Dynasties). While Mandarin is the lingua franca, and is spoken and understood by most people under the age of 60, other Chinese "dialects" are commonly heard as well. Among the native Taiwanese, while speakers of Minnan form the majority, there is also a significant number of Hakka-speaking native Taiwanese living in Taipei.

English is compulsory in all Taiwanese schools, and most people under the age of 40 will have at least a basic grasp of English, though few are fluent. Nevertheless, it goes without saying that learning some Mandarin and/or Minnan will make your trip much smoother.

See

Those who take the time to visit and look around will soon find that Taipei is just as vibrant as any other major city, and is full of a certain charm which makes it unique in its own right. Just spend a day wandering around Taipei's streets and you will start finding many surprises.

Landmarks

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Several memorial halls like the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Zhongzheng District and Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Xinyi commemorate the most recognized leaders of the Nationalists to the lesser known war dead in the Martyrs' Shrine in Zhongshan District. All three have honor guards which change at set hours, demonstrating military precision and solemn respect for the ROC leaders and soldiers before them. Built in the middle of large parks, the memorial halls are also good places for some quiet reflection.

Longshan Temple

While Taipei is largely secular, the elaborate Taoist and Buddhist temples such as Longshan Temple and Bao'an Temple in the older districts of Wanhua and Datong still draw locals who maintain the old rituals and traditions. On the glitzier side of town, Taipei 101 may have relinquished its tallest building status but remains a very popular attraction for its architectural style and observatory deck. On New Year's Eve, Taipei 101 becomes a beacon of lights and fireworks.

Museums and galleries

Anyone with even the slightest interest in Chinese history should visit the National Palace Museum in Shilin, which holds the singular best collection of historical artifacts from China, expertly curated by its staff. It is large enough that only one percent of what it owns is displayed at any one time, chief among them ancient paintings, scrolls, books and ceramics that span over 5000 years. The National Museum of History in Zhongzheng also holds valuable relics. There are other quirky little private museums such as the Miniatures Museum and Museum of Drinking Water for more off-beat exploration.

Art in classical and contemporary forms can be appreciated too, in the Taipei Fine Arts Museum and the Taipei MOCA. Local artists have gathered in various artist villages to find inspiration and cultural centers like Huashan Cultural Center are interesting informal spaces for a creative spark. Taiwanese auteurs dream of becoming the next Ang Lee, displaying their independent films in the Spot-Taipei Film House. All these can be found in Zhongshan.

Parks and outdoors

228 Peace Park

If the cityscape gets a little dreary, there are plenty of parks to escape to. Daan Park is one of the largest in the city, earning the moniker of Taipei Central Park. 228 Peace Park in Zhongzheng was named to remember the bloody 228 Incident of 28 February 1947 and also holds the National Taiwan Museum and the 228 Memorial Museum. A few green spaces can also be found along the banks of the Keelung River, such as Zhongshan District's Dajie Riverside Park.

Visit the Taipei Zoo in Wenshan to see giant pandas, brown bears and gorillas for a low, low price. It's more akin to a walk in a leafy park, where animals are free to roam around in their open enclosures. Combine it with a ride up on the Maokong Gondola, which has a few special glass-floor carriages, to relax further in the hilltop teahouses.

City gates

Even though very little ancient architecture remains in Taipei, four of Taipei's five original city gates still stand. The city walls which surrounded the old city and the West Gate were demolished by the Japanese to make way for roads and railway lines. Of the four gates still standing, the Kuomintang renovated three of them in its effort to "sinicize" Taipei and converted them from the original southern Chinese architecture to northern Chinese palace style architecture, leaving only the North Gate (beimen 北門 or more formally Cheng'en men 承恩門) in its original Qing Dynasty splendor today. This gate sits forlornly in the traffic circle where the Zhonghua, Yanping and Boai roads meet.

Do

Hot springs

Wulai Hot Springs

Hot springs (溫泉) come in various brands in Taipei, ranging from basic natural pools, to plush spas at five star hotels. The three main places to have a soak in the Greater Taipei area are: Beitou (北投), Wulai (烏來) and Yangmingshan National Park (陽明山). The basic free 'rub and scrub' type public baths are run by the city. Most hotels offer the option of a large sex-segregated bathing area that generally consists of several large baths of various temperatures, jacuzzi, sauna and steam bath and also private and family rooms. Some hotels also have outdoor baths (露天溫泉), which offer restful views over the surrounding countryside. Prices range from around NT$300 to NT$800.

The law in Taiwan states that for safety reasons, individuals are not allowed to bathe in the private rooms, and there must be at least two people. Etiquette requires that bathers thoroughly wash and rinse off their bodies before entering public baths, do not wear clothing (which includes swimwear, though this is not the case for mixed-sex public areas) and tie up their hair so that it does not touch the water. Finally, people with high blood pressure, heart disease or open wounds should not enter the baths.

Hiking

Qixingshan in Yangmingshan National Park

The mountains around Taipei make hiking is a popular exercise in the city. The main hiking spot closest to the city is the Four Beasts Mountain which border Xinyi and Nangang. One of the most rewarding walks is on Elephant Mountain, where steep steps lead up to several different viewpoints that give a striking contrast between Taipei 101 and its neighboring low-rise buildings, especially against the orange hues of sunset. Continuing on separate trails will head towards the remaining 'beasts' of Leopard, Lion and Tiger, and Nangang mountain and Jiuwufeng beyond them.

Yangmingshan National Park (陽明山國家公園), just north of Beitou is also a favorite destination, particularly during spring when thousands of calla lilies, peonies and cherry blossoms bloom in the valleys. There are dozens of hiking trails in the park, most marked out on maps from the visitors center. Qixingshan is the highest peak in Yangmingshan, and looks out over the Taipei Basin and the north coast.

Theme parks

There are a few amusement parks around Taipei. One is the Children's Recreation Center in Zhongshan, great for younger kids, though a little old-fashioned. The Taipei Water Park is also a good place to spend time during summer, with its water slides and swimming areas.

Festivals and events

Taipei hosts numerous festivals throughout the year, but as many follow the lunar calendar the dates according to the Gregorian calendar are inconsistent. Check the Taiwan Tourist Bureau's events section before planning to attend an event.

Lantern Festival in CKS Memorial Hall

Buy

It has been said that Los Angeles has no center. In contrast, one could say that Taipei is all center, and as such it has been given the epithet - "the emporium without end." Basically, however, the main shopping area can be divided into two districts: East and West. West Taipei is the old city and is characterized by narrow streets packed with small shops. East Taipei boasts wide tree lined boulevards and the biggest shopping malls are located in this area.

Shopping areas

Core Pacific Living Mall

The busiest part of East Taipei is in between MRT Zhongxiao Dunhua Station and MRT Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall Station (Bannan Line). The axis of this shopping area is Zhongxiao East Road, Sec. 4, which is surrounded by numerous of department stores. SOGO has three branches in this area, mainly sales various of boutique. Another notable one is Mingyao Department Store which has the flagship store of Uniqlo in it. East Taipei is also famous for the small stores inside the alleys. On the other hand, Daan Road in the other side of the area, has more elegant clothing shops.

Miramar Entertainment Park

Xinyi is arguably the premier shopping area in Taipei, if not all of Taiwan, and is anchored by a number of department stores and malls. Key among them is Taipei 101 Mall, as part of the larger Taipei 101 complex. Eslite Mall is an upscale market-style shopping center with a 24 hour bookshop (with a good English selection) on the second floor and ethnic music store in basement. For absolute luxury, try Bellavita Shopping Mall or Breeze Center. Songshan has some shopping malls with distinctive architectural features, such as the 'Death Star'-like Core Pacific Living City and the Miramar Entertainment Park, which sports a giant ferris wheel along with an IMAX theater.

Ximending, the area with youth

For trendier fashion catering to youths, check out Ximending (西門町) in Wanhua just west of Downtown. If it's pink, plastic, and imported from Japan, you can probably find it on sale in a store. Sneakerheads will also find shoe stores with the latest limited releases here in sneaker-crazy Taipei, though you need to get a number and wait in a queue buzzing with anticipation. Several night markets don't just sell food but also have a large variety of clothing, handbags and more, like Shida Night Market near the university areas in Gongguan and Shilin Night Market.

Electronic goods

As the sales headquarters for many homegrown multinational electronics manufacturers (including Asus, Garmin and Acer among others), good bargains and unique models can be found in Taipei. Those interested in picking up inexpensive electronic goods and cameras should wander the lanes and alleys around Kaifeng Street and Zhonghua Road, as well as the malls connected to Taipei Main Station.

Computer buffs will enjoy a visit to Guanghua Digital Plaza (光華數位新天地). Specializing in computer and electronic goods, this market has the largest number of stalls selling hardware and software under one roof in Taiwan, and all at very competitive prices. K-Mall, located in the former Asiaworld department store on the east side of Shinkong Mitsukoshi, specializes in electronics of all kinds and is a location for large companies such as Asus, Samsung, Benq, and Acer to showcase their newest products. The Taipei Zhongshan Metro Shopping Mall (Easy Mall) is a long underground shopping area that houses several stores selling all manner of items, not necessarily limited to electronics. A few stores in the Easy Mall carry current and vintage video games, hardware and software.

Specialty items

For jade, flowers and jewelry in one central location, check out the Jianguo Holiday Market in Daan. There are actually three different markets, the Weekend Jade Market, Weekend Flower Market and Weekend Handicrafts Market in this same location. As the names suggest, they are open only on weekends until 6PM. The Chinese Handicraft Mart in Zhongzheng is also good for handicrafts.

Wanhua's Dihua Street, Bopiliao Old Street and Snake Alley night market are throwbacks to the older days of Taipei, back when herbal remedies and aphrodisiacs were extremely popular. Pottery enthusiasts will enjoy a visit to Yingge in New Taipei City. Its old street is a crescent of beautiful pottery shops interspersed with coffee shops and tea houses.

Zhongshan North Road (中山北路) is a tree-lined boulevard featuring numerous international and local brands. Gucci and Louis Vuitton are among the brands who operate stores along this street. This road, particularly along the second section, is also famous for its numerous wedding picture studios and gown boutiques. It is possible to find a great deal for wedding portraits here as competition is stiff.

Go to just north of the junction with Zhongxiao West Rd on Zhongshan North Rd, sec 1 (west side of the road) for trekking and backpacking stores selling a wide range of high quality equipment, and you'll be ready for all the outdoor hiking that Taipei and Taiwan offers.

Books

Taipei has great book shops, and roads such are Chongqing South Road, are packed with stores specializing in Chinese language books. The Station Front Area (站前) is a section of downtown Taipei just south of the Taipei Railway Station. It is a bustling area filled with shops and stores of all kinds, but it is particularly well known for its high concentration of bookstores due to the bloom of bushibans (as known as cram schools).

The following book stores all have good selections of English titles:

NB: In order to protect the environment, a government policy rules that plastic bags cannot be given freely at stores in Taiwan, but have to be bought (NT$1) - bakeries being an exception as the items need to be hygienically wrapped. Re-usable canvas and nylon bags are sold at most supermarkets.

Eat

Taipei probably has one of the highest densities of restaurants in the world. Almost every street and alley offers some kind of eatery. Of course, Chinese food (from all provinces) is well-represented. In addition, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean and Italian cuisines are also popular. Basically, East Taipei, especially around Dunhua and Anhe Roads, and also the expat enclave of Tianmu are where to clash chopsticks with the rich and famous, whereas West Taipei offers more smaller, homey restaurants.

Night markets

Innocent-looking stinky tofu

Several night markets (夜市) are located in each district. Some are open during daytime, and all are open until around midnight. Night markets consist of restaurants and stores at the permanent locations and little booths along the center. Every night market has a huge variety of food, so a visit to any one is a good bet for good food.

A lot of Taiwanese street food hasn't actually originated from Taipei, but any popular xiaochi (small snack) eventually makes their way up to the capital. Some of the best known night market snacks are: oyster vermicelli (蚵仔麵線; ô-á mī-sòa), oyster omelet (蚵仔煎; ô-á-chian), fried chicken fillet (雞排; jīpái), stinky tofu (臭豆腐; chòudòufǔ) and aiyu jelly (愛玉冰; ài-yù-bīng) among a long list of others. Because of the vast selection, the recommendation is to go with a few people and share the food. Otherwise, honestly the best way to eat is to join the longest queue in the market, or just buy whatever catches your eye! Vendor food is generally safe to eat, but use common sense though if you have a sensitive stomach.

Tianbula (甜不辣; tiánbúlà) Literally "Sweet, not spicy", is a Taiwanese version of tempura

The most famous one in Taipei is the Shilin Night Market (士林夜市). It is easily accessible via the MRT at either the Jiantan (劍潭) or Shilin (士林) stations. Locals in Taipei view Shilin as touristy, with food catering to the tastes of mainland visitors. Another excellent option is Ning Xia Night Market (寧夏夜市) in Datong located near the Taipei Circle (建成圓環) and accessible via the MRT at Zhongshan (中山) station. Raohe Street Night Market (饒河街觀光夜市) is also a viable option. It is a mere stone's throw away from the TRA-administered Songshan (松山) railway station.

Restaurants

While it might be possible to spend all your dinners at night markets, Taipei also has plenty of sit-down restaurants with more substantial dishes. For upmarket Taiwanese cuisine, which revolves around the mild yet flavorful trio of basil, garlic and chili, in addition to white rice or sweet potato congee (no wheat-based products for example), try Ching-yeh Aoba in Zhongshan or Shinyeh Table in Daan. But for more down-to-earth experiences, don't forget to go to one of the many "hot fry" (熱炒) restaurants in Taipei where the locals go to eat Taiwanese food and drink beer and kaoliang. Be prepared for a noisy atmosphere, tiny seats, lots of empty beer bottles and excellent food at a low price.

The influx of KMT migrants perhaps makes Taipei one of the easiest places to sample a quality spread of Chinese provincial cuisines. Xiaolongbao (小籠包) or soup dumplings is a Shanghainese dish made famous by Din Tai Fung, whose first storefront at Xinyi Road remains heavily patronised by fans of the world-wide franchise. They have many branches all over the city too, though their branch at Taipei 101 is also extra crowded. Around the corner from Xinyi Road is Yongkang Street, which boasts quite a mix of old and new restaurants like Kaochi or Jin Ji Yuan. Both serve xiaolongbao, along with other dishes such as fried chicken, good alternatives for when the queue to Din Tai Fung is an hour long.

Beef noodle soup is a national icon; Taipei even holds a yearly judging event every September to appraise competitors. There are two main types: hongshao (紅燒牛肉麵), a strongly flavored dish derived from Sichuan spicy bean paste and soya sauce braised beef, and qingdun (清燉牛肉麵), a clear light broth, although there are even tomato varieties popping up around the city. On Yongkang St alone, there're already two beef noodle shops, Yongkang Beef Noodle and Lao Zhang, which have their own regulars. Those more game to get to hard-to-find places can reward themselves at Lin Tung Fong in Zhongshan or the one at Taoyuan Street near Ximending.

Vegetarian

Vegetarian food (素食) is also common fare, with the city boasting more than two hundred vegetarian restaurants and vendor stands. Another Taipei specialty is vegetarian buffets. They are common in every neighborhood, and unlike the 'all-you-can-eat' buffets listed below (which charge a set price, usually ranging from NT$250 - NT$350 including dessert and coffee/tea), the cost is estimated by the weight of the food on your plate. Rice (there is usually a choice of brown or white) is charged separately, but soup is free and you can refill as many times as you like. NT$75–120 will buy you a good sized, nutritious meal. Note that many of these veggie restaurants are Buddhist in nature and so meals do not contain garlic or onion (which traditionalists claim inflames passion).

Drink

The nightlife in Taipei runs from boisterous night markets to equally exuberant clubs and bars, and indeed the city comes alive with glittering lights after the last rays of the sun leave the grey buildings.

Bars and clubs

A cold can of Taiwan Beer

Xinyi is where the biggest and most flashy clubs are, especially the ATT4FUN Building which has an excellent view of Taipei 101, while smaller shophouses around the Taida and Shida university areas host live music gigs (although lessened after noise complaints). The "Combat Zone" in Zhongshan used to be the go-to district for US soldiers in the Vietnam War and remains fairly gritty with quite the collection of dive bars. The area around Red House Theater near Ximending has a large number of outdoor bars which are generally known to be gay-friendly. Visit the Taiwan Beer Bar, also known as Taipei Brewery, in Zhongzheng if you fancy trying cheap and fresh brews of the local favorite Taiwan Beer.

Cover charges are usually required for entry, but these will include a free drink at the very least, with some places even offering free flow of house pours for the whole night after payment. Wednesday nights are ladies' night in most venues.

Tea houses

Taiwan's speciality tea is High Mountain Oolong (高山烏龍, a fragrant, light tea) and Tieguanyin (鐵觀音, a dark, rich brew).

The mountainous Maokong area of Muzha in the Wenshan district of the city has dozens upon dozens of teahouses, many of which also offer panoramic views of the city. Its especially spectacular on a clear evening. A Maokong Gondola (cable car) system services the Taipei Zoo MRT station to Maokong. The S10 bus comes up from the Wanfang Community MRT station.

Cafes

While traditionally a nation of tea drinkers, in recent years the Taiwanese have really embraced the cafe culture, and all the usual chains can be found here in abundance. For cafes with more character, roam the back streets near National Taiwan University between Xinsheng South Road and Roosevelt Road in Gongguan. More cafes are located in the area around Renai Road, Section 4 and Dunhua South Road. There are also some interesting and characterful places between Yongkang Park and Chaozhou Street, and in the alleys around Shida Road. However, for a particularly impressive range of styles, visit Bitan in Xindian, where all the cafes offer restful views over the river and mountains beyond (though can be noisy during weekends).

Sleep

This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget below NT$2,500
Mid-range NT$2,500-5,000
Splurge NT$5,000+

Taipei offers an important number of various accommodations ranging from basic dorms to 5-star luxury hotels. See the districts articles to read detailed listings.

Tourists sleeping one night in Taipei might want to stay in Zhongzheng, near the Main Train Station, where many budget accommodations can be found. Hotels around the Ximending area would be convenient for those wanting to eat, shop and party all in one area. Business travelers would probably prefer to stay in Xinyi, the financial district, where many luxury hotels are located. The Grand Hotel in Zhongshan, built back when Chiang Kai-shek decided there wasn't a suitable hotel in which to welcome foreign dignitaries, may appeal to those interested in classical Chinese architecture and history. 10% service fee and 5% VAT are usually not included in the top end hotel rates.

If you're staying a bit more long-term in Taipei, do as some daily commuters do and get cheaper rooms outside city boundaries, in places such as Xindian and Yonghe, which are still somewhat accessible through the Taipei MRT network.

Learn

Buddhism

Universities

National Taiwan University

Language

Taichi

Chinese cooking

Work

Teaching English (or to a lesser extent, other foreign languages) is perhaps the easiest way to work in Taiwan. Work permits will be hard to come by and will take time. Consult your local Taiwan consulate/embassy/representative as far in advance as possible.

It should be noted that anyone staying in Taiwan for an extended period of time can FIND English teaching work, albeit technically illegally. If you are staying as a student or for some other long term purpose, it should be noted that many people are teaching English (or some other language) for pay without a permit in Taipei and elsewhere in Taiwan.

Connect

Tourist and emergency numbers

Telephone

Mobile phone coverage is relatively good in Taipei. Among the major providers are Chunghwa Telecom (中華電信), Taiwan Mobile (台灣大哥大), Vibo (威寶電訊) and Far EasTone (遠傳電訊). Taipei has both GSM 900/1800 and 3G networks and roaming might be possible for users of such mobile phones, subject to agreements between operators. Most payphones work with telephone cards (電話卡) which are available at all convenience stores. Prepaid 1GB SIM cards can be purchased for about 500NT with a passport.

Hospitals

Major airlines

For up-to-date information on cheap flights, check the advertisement pages of one of the three local daily English newspapers (see 'Media'section below).

Media

Taiwan has a very free and liberal press. There are thwo daily local newspapers available in English, The China Post and Taipei Times. A third English-language newspaper Taiwan News (formerly China News) is no longer available on paper but continues to exist online Note that most media in Taiwan has a political slant; The China Post is more pan-blue while Taipei Times is more pan-green.

Free news and information are available from the following:

Internet

Internet cafes are plentiful, especially in the maze of alleys between Taipei Main Station and Peace Park. However, you may have to wander around (and look up and down as many are on higher floors or in the basement) before finding one. Some computers are coin operated. Internet cafes are known as wang-ka in Chinese (a combination of wang, the Chinese word for 'net', and ka an abbreviation of 'cafe'). Below is a list of a few recommended internet cafes:

Taipei also has a city-wide Wi-Fi service called Wifly. For a small fee, you can buy a card that gives you unlimited internet access nearly anywhere in the city for a day or a month. The card costs NT$100 for 1 day of unlimited access and NT$500 for 31 days of unlimited access and can be purchased in Starbucks Coffee Shops, 7 eleven stores or online (connect via Wi-Fi to Wifly network for details).

Taipei offers a free Wi-Fi network called TPE-Free. It is available in most public area in Taipei, MRT stations, city administrative district offices, city libraries... You need to register at any tourist information center with an ID. At the free Wi-Fi spots, you usually have an power plug and a USB plug to load your electronic devices. TPE-Free users can also enjoy the iTaiwan network available in some public buildings.

Stay safe

Taipei is one of the safest cities you will ever visit, and violent crime is extremely rare. However, as in many large cities, pickpockets operate in crowded areas, and so you should be vigilant in night markets.

Local police are a resource you can turn for help, and many officers speak at least basic English.

Cope

Presidential Office Building

Foreign missions

As the People's Republic of China (PRC) does not allow other countries to have diplomatic relations with both itself and the ROC on Taiwan, many of the world's nations do not have official embassies or consulates in Taiwan. However, as the PRC allows recognition of Taiwan as a separate economy, many nations maintain a "Trade Office', "Institute" or something of a similar name in Taipei. These missions usually perform limited consular activities, such as issuing visas.

Go next

The excellent rail system means that day trips are easy to make, and there's lots to see around the New Taipei and Keelung area.

It's even possible to travel to anywhere along the west coast of Taiwan all the way to Kaohsiung and back within a day, although at the price of a high-speed rail ticket. The eastern parts are a little harder to get to, and Taroko Gorge warrants more than a night's stay anyway.


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, March 26, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.