I recently had the opportunity to visit Taiwan with a tour group. Having never been, I was super excited and am thrilled to say I had the best time. While most people who visit China never take the time to get off the mainland and go to Taiwan, it is definitely worth a visit. There is much to do, see, taste and enjoy. And as the Taiwanese like to say: “The most beautiful scenery in Taiwan is the people” which, although many don’t speak English, is actually true. I found everyone to be incredibly kind, and even made a few friends! Here are some highlights and recommendations:
Where to Stay: We stayed at the Howard Plaza Hotel which is in the Daan district, the modern commercial district. In other words, it’s the area with lots of shops, restaurants, bars, and boutiques. The Howard has 10 restaurants so if you are too tired to go out you can eat at the hotel. Dining Traveler
Tip: Stay on the top floor and you will be treated to a complimentary happy hour every night in the Rosewood Lounge from 5:30-7:30. Drinks and a buffet of snacks are limitless.
What to Do: There is a great deal to see and do in Taipei, but here are the not-to-be-missed places to visit:
• National Palace Museum: This is one of the top ten most visited museums in the world. It is a massive, beautiful building, housing epic pieces of Chinese Art. Most notable is the jade art collection, a much-revered stone in the Chinese culture.
• National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall: Taiwanese history is incredibly interesting, and this memorial is dedicated to the most famous Chinese president of Taiwan, who served as president from 1928 until 1975.
• Eslite Spectrum Songyan: This upscale building is located in the most modern part of the city. Peruse the bookstore, shop for knickknacks in the Asian design stores, sample tea in the elegant tea shop, or grab a glass of wine and dessert in the chic First Restaurant on the top floor.
Where to Eat: Ah the most exciting part. the most popular types of food available in Taiwan include classic Chinese fare, Japanese food as result of the Japanese occupation from 1895-1945, and Taiwanese food, a combination of Chinese and Japanese flavors and ingredients. Wherever you go, expect to be served tea throughout your meal. No matter what kind of cuisine, tea is an important element of dining in Taiwan.
• For Taiwanese fare, head to Shin Yeh Restaurant: Start with an order of the pan-fried turnip cakes. They are crispy little omelets which are the perfect opener to your meal. Next share the braised tofu, pan-fried mushrooms, and sauteed greens with your dining partners. The tofu is served in a savory sauce with veggies, and the mushrooms dish features amazing, chewy nuggets of shiitake mushrooms cooked with garlic, ginger, star anise, soy sauce, and lemongrass.
• For classic Chinese dumplings, visit DinTaiFung Dumpling House: This dumpling house actually has a Michelin star, which is pretty remarkable. The venue is casual, fun, and always crowded with a constant flow of dumplings coming to all the tables. Sample steamed veggie buns, taro buns, mushroom dumplings, noodles served in a sesame and peanut sauce, and more. No matter what kind of dumpling you want, they will have it. Wash down your food with some Taiwanese beer and this will be one of your best meals in Taipei.
• For Japanese food, check out Yu Shan Ge Restaurant: You can choose from several different set menus, the best being the Japanese curry pot menu. The tasting menu opens with salad and includes sticky rice and soup, but the real highlight is the curry pot. A fondue pot with its own burner is placed before you, filled to the brim with a silk, delicious milk-curry broth. Next, you are brought a huge bowl of vegetables, rice, and tofu which you then cook in your curry pot. It is fun, interactive, and delectable. The restaurant is pristine and elegant, with wonderful service.
Nightlife: Sure, there are bars, but what you really want to do at night is visit what Taipei is famous for: The night markets! There are two night markets I would recommend: the first is the Raohe Night Market, which is one of the oldest night markets in Taipei. It features stall after stall of local treats like cups of fresh fruit, crispy cookies, okonomiyaki, which are Japanese omelets, fried dumplings, and nougat bars. There are items like bags and shoes and umbrellas and candy and pretty much anything else your heart could desire for sale. This night market is also interesting because there is a Taiwanese temple at the entrance, which anyone can enter. Taiwanese temples are beautiful, with lots of gold and color and floral decorations. The second market I would recommend is the Shilin Night Market, the biggest one in Taipei. This night market is HUGE with rows and rows of different vendors and even an underground food court, where you will find the bizarrest food you have ever seen. Open containers are allowed in Taipei, so grab a beer and stroll the streets of the shilin night market for hours. There is no better way to soak up the Taiwanese culture than to hang out with locals at a night market.
The Verdict: Taipei is a fun, vibrant city with a thriving tourist industry. You can easily spend three or four days in the city eating, drinking, and sightseeing.