They say time is money, but when you are traveling, time usually ends up being worth far more than money....and yet, despite its worth, time is the enemy of a traveler. So much to see, so much to do, and the clock is always ticking.
The impending end of a trip usually means difficult decision making. Cutting one thing over another because that bastard time won’t allow for both.
What makes these choices even harder is the fact that everybody from Lonely Planet to Yahoo Answers loves to romanticize every damn place on this planet. Sometimes a church is just a church, a meal is just a meal. Not everything can be transformative. So, how do you make a decision when everything is a "must-see?"
Well, this is me trying to help.
So if you have a limited amount of time, or if you, like me, feel so lazy from the heat and just cannot carry on past 3pm each day, here is my list of MUST SEE TAIPAI, ranked from most important to least...
MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR TIME - MUST SEE SIGHTS IN TAIPEI, TAIWAN
1. EXPLORE THE CITY
Okay, this isn't a sight. However, as any traveler would agree, an important element of visiting a new place is “getting the atmosphere,” as my German friends Hannah and Anne say. This doesn’t require paying for museums, or seeing the big church. It requires getting lost, sitting in a park, people watching, reading on a cafe patio…. truly just absorbing the atmosphere. I got the most out of Taipei when I put down my map and just wandered. If you are visiting Taipei, prioritize doing this over any museum or monument. The city is the best part of this city.
It would have been easy to put a museum or temple as number 2 and pretend I am cultured, but lets get real about why you came to Taipei - it is a world class foodie destination. There are over 30 dishes that are considered “essential” to a trip to Taipei. There are even a few dishes that if you don't try, locals will say you were never even there. I tried a whole bunch and, like most things in life, some were great and some weren't. I will make it simple for you - I have three things I consider the best: 1- Xiao Long Bao, soup dumplings 2- Gua Bao, steamed pork belly bun (specifically from Lan Jia), 3 - Beef Noodles (specifically from Yongkang) BONUS DRINK: The wonderful bubble milk from this stand across from Lan Jia
If you're still hungry, check out Bourdains Taipei episode.
The temples in Taipei are a must see for two reasons: 1 - they are incredibly beautiful (and I don't mean that in a Lonely Planet"everything is beautiful" way ) - these temples are astonishingly intricate and vibrant with color. 2. The experience of observing other worshipers actually is transformative. Read about my experience here.
I did a little tour'd temples including:
- Lungshan Temple (with the green alley next door - where patrons get the herbs presribed to them at the temple)
- Qingshui Temple
- Bangka Qingshan Temple
- Hsing Tian Kong
4. ELEPHANT MOUNTAIN
You may notice on your drive in or, you know, while walking around the city, that Taipei is surrounded by mountains. Everyone goes on and on about the view from the Taipei 101 tower when CLEARLY the better view of Taipei is better from the mountain. If you are a diehard hiker, great, go hiking. If not, but you still want a view, Elephant Mountain is very accessible from Taipei. I went up at sunset, which, duh, it was a sunset, it was pretty. I wasn't the only one who had this idea. About half of Taipei joined me for the hike, which was less than awesome. However, the view that was worth huffing and puffing and sweating in front of all those people .
5. DAY MARKETS
Have you noticed that I haven't mentioned the legendary Taipei night markets yet in this post? Yeah, that wasn't an accident. The night markets are fine but... once again, you will not be the only person there. While some people may be locals, parts of the night markets are tourist traps, and super crowded ones at that.
Day markets, however.... that is where it's at. Here, you can actually watch locals haggle for their food and see the way they live and eat. People pull up in their motorbike from stall to stall, pursuing the options. There will also be plenty of things you don't actually want to see - welcome to Asia. Finding these are not hard - literally, if you see a crowded street, you have found one. My favorite one was this one right near my hostel... if that link is wrong, it is just one or two alleys over. Follow the people.
6. CHIANG KAI-SHEK MEMORIAL HALL
Holy crap! This place is massive. Make sure your adventures take you through the grounds of this memorial. You need to see it. Read the wikipedia page of Chiang Kai-shek before going - his influence over Taipei was, ahem, interesting to say the least. Note that it is called the Democracy monument.
IF YOU STILL HAVE TIME...
- Night Markets: Night markets are certainly unique, but I found them to be less of a market and more of a circus. If I had been in the correct state of mind anytime that I went, I may have liked them more. Fish, birds, games, food, and any trinket you can possibly think of. Definitely go... but maybe just keep your expectations lower than mine. Also, go in with a clear idea of what you want to eat - browsing around and just choosing what looks good is VERY overwhelming - I never ended up actually eating anything.
- National Palace Museum: Here is a confession - I never went. I heard it was super crowded and I was so jetlagged and hot I could't work up the energy. Considering it has the largest collection of Chinese art ever, it is probably incredible. If that is your priority, certainly go. Maybe eat a full meal and meditate beforehand, I heard the crowds can be very aggravating.
IF YOU HAVE THE MONEY....
- Shop: I had neither the funds nor the space in my bag to shop, but I wish I could have. Both the area around the Zhongxiao Dunhua metro stop and the Ximen metro stop are great areas for shopping. Zhongxiao Dunhua is more boutiques, Ximen is more.... well.... shop after shop of cheap/bizarre trinkets... like pokeball external chargers, Golden Retriever earrings, and Disney scrunchies. I love Taipei.
If you still have time, you better be eating and wandering!