Arrival: After spending five weeks on a military base working 12 hour shifts, I decided to treat myself to 72 hours in Taipei. As much as I wanted to cram as much as I could into this small period of time, I decided to take it slow. Given that my job will be taking me to Asia more often, there will always be a chance to return. I flew a Japanese low-cost carrier, Peach from Okinawa to Taipei, it was cheap, quick, and efficient.
Day 1: I arrived late morning, checked into the Mandarin Oriental Taipei and had a long lunch at their Ya Ge restaurant. As I lunched with the PR Manager, Luanne, I asked her for tips on what to see and where to eat. So many places to experience and savor during 72 hours in Taipei. These were my highlights:
Ever since I was a kid, I have always been fascinated with electronics. When I read there was a market exclusively dedicated to this, I made it my first stop. When I entered the Guang Hua Digital Plaza, my inner six year old beamed with joy. It was a Best Buy on steroids. As you enter it is digital sensory overload with small shops lined with computers, cameras, mobile phones, and everything in-between. This is a 5-story indoor market with every electronic piece and accessory imaginable. I did not find the prices much cheaper than the US (expect 5-10% less for most items) however, what struck me was the variety. I was not in the lookout for electronics, but I was taken with the selection of accessories. Mobile phone cases, selfie sticks, camera cases/straps were made in creative designs from super kitsch to modern. I walked away with a cute leather and fabric camera strap for $12.
All this shopping sparked my appetite so I headed to one of the most popular night markets, Raohe Night Market. Entering the market was a sensory explosion too. The scent of the stinky Tofu, the masses of people eating and shopping, music, vendors using their microphones hosting demonstrations, bright fruits lined up to be made smoothies, cooked chicken feet, and crab which had recently met its fate at the market. I ended up going for the crab smothered in chili sauce and a papaya smoothie for desert. I ended my excursion with an hour foot massage for $10. By that time it was almost 1am!
Day 2: Had a lazy morning with a champagne brunch at the hotel (tip: take a few minutes to do a cost analysis of paying for a club level room, you may break even with perks such as inclusive breakfast, afternoon tea, and evening cocktails). By noon, I was ready to explore. At the recommendation of a few friends, I headed to Aquatic Addiction, an upscale fish food hall. I walked there from the hotel through the residential neighborhoods and caught a glimpse of life in Taipei. What I really appreciate about the city is how cosmopolitan it is without losing its culture. When I arrived at Aquatic Addition it was very busy with mostly locals indulging in their Saturday lunch. Picture a fish market, Whole Foods, William Sonoma, and a wine bar all rolled into one. Most food stands were overly crowded, however, I was able to get a seat at a wine bar and enjoy some bites with a few glasses of wine.
I walked back to the hotel and indulged in another glass of champagne and planned my evening. Although a tourist-heavy attraction, I really wanted to go to Taipei 101. Now the 6th largest building in the world, it is a must-see while in the city. When I arrived around 8pm, I got my ticket (around $12USD) and waited around 30 minutes in line to catch the elevator to the top floor. It was worth it! The views are spectacular with the bright lights of the city. I had one of the specialties at the top: a mango sorbet beer float. The sweetness of the mango with the sour beer was a pleasant surprise. Will definitely try this on a hot DC night.
After the Taipei 101 experience, I went for a walk at its adjoining mall, populated with luxury shops such as Dior, Ferragamo, and Louis Vuitton to cater to the 1% of Taiwan. I entered few of the shops but the items were at an extreme markup. Tip: for European luxury goods, best bet is to buy a ticket to EU and use the VAT exchange, you get a trip, the goods, and the experience at almost the same price! After the sticker shock, I went for a walk in the shopping area of vicinity. There are plenty of shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars to choose from.
Day 3: Champagne breakfast… again! This time I changed it up with breakfast at the lounge with green tea pancakes and a crab egg white omelet. Then I took a metro/bus journey to the National Palace Museum. The metro and bus were impeccable in terms of time, price, and service. There are plenty of people around who speak English available to help. The National Palace Museum is another must-see. Make sure to block at least five hours to experience it. What makes this museum interesting is that it’s the largest collection of ancient Chinese art in the world. During the cultural revolution of China, many ancient artifacts were destroyed. Thankfully, many items made its way to Taiwan and are now showcased in the museum. You can see a wide spectrum of art from calligraphy to sculptures, some as 1000 years old.
After experiencing the main museum, I discovered a hidden café which catered more to the employees of the adjoining government buildings. There, I had a delicious beef noodle soup, (here’s a recipe if you’re interested in replicating at home) and took a little break before trying to get the most out of my last 24 hours in Taipei. I spent a little too long taking photos in the beautiful garden, so I was running late to my tea reservation at the W Hotel Taipei (hotel high teas are quite popular throughout Asia). Taxis are also very cheap and convenient to take in Taipei, 50% of my transportation that weekend was done via taxi.
At the W Hotel it was a lively festive mood on a Sunday afternoon. I headed to their YEN Bar for afternoon tea and the first thing I noticed was the epic view of Taipei 101. Although I did not have hot tea I did indulge in delicious tea-based cocktails (full review coming soon) such as jasmine tea mojito and a merge of western and Asian snacks placed on a tower resembling the iconic building which it faces.
Last activity of the trip: the Shilin Night Market. The Raohe night market was definitely more of a food market as Shilin felt more like a shopping experience. Tons of clothing stores with electronics in the mix. However, don’t worry, there’s still food! The scent of the stinky tofu hijacks all the other food offerings at the market, however, there’s plenty to choose from.
The verdict: could I have done more with my 72 hours in Taipei? Yes, however, after an intense trip, I wanted to relax a little while taking in new a culture and cuisine. I did just that during the trip. Most importantly, the trip planted a seed to return not only to the city but to discover the beaches and the mountains this beautiful island has to offer. Hopefully next time, I will spend more than 72 hours in Taipei. Have you been? What should I add on my list for the next time?