On my first trip to Taipei with Aien in 2014, we followed a list of experiences that mustn’t be missed during one’s first tour of the city. The list covered:
- taking a dip in a public bath in Beitou (with a side trip to Beitou’s public library)
- crossing the Tamsui Lover’s Bridge at Fisherman’s Wharf
- trying out odd street food at Shilin Night Market, the Modern Toilet restaurant and dumplings at the Taipei 101 branch of Din Tai Fung (before it was franchised in the Philippines)
- shopping in Ximending
- visiting Longshan Temple, the National Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall and the National Palace Museum
- and riding the gondola to Maokong’s tea plantations
In 2017, Taiwan temporarily lifted the visa requirements for Filipinos traveling to the country for 14 days or less, with effect until July 31, 2018. This gathered great interest to go to Taipei and highlighted destinations we missed to visit, such as Jiufen, Shifen and Yehliu. I decided to go back, this time with my family.
Here’s an itinerary you can follow on your second or third time in Taipei:
DAY 1 – National Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall => Toilet Restaurant => Ximending => Longshan Temple
Note: Before you arrive in Taipei, make sure you have a portable WiFi first. This booking site allows you to order in advance and pick it up from the airport.
Like my first time in Taipei, I began my trip with a visit to the National Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. Chiang Kai Shek was a main player in the history of Taiwan. Head of the Republic of China government after the Second World War, he fled Mainland China after the communist uprising and governed in exile from the Taiwanese island. (Today, Taiwan’s official name is Republic of China.) His story is told inside the many chambers of the Memorial Hall where his possessions are preserved. Entrance to the hall is free.
Outside the hall, an expansive plaza called the Liberty Square separates the key facilities within the area, which includes the National Concert Hall, the Arch of the Liberty Square and various gardens and gates. Catch Falun Gong public performances at the Arch on your visit.
From the square, we rode the MRT to Ximending and took our lunch at the famed Modern Toilet restaurant. The outlet requires each diner to order at least a dish (view the menu here). Although the menu seems to be within the ordinary — there are hotpot options, Thai and American — the ambiance and fun of eating on a miniature toilet bowl might be worth the visit.
Modern Toilet is located at the center of Ximending, a district described as the “Harajuku” of Taipei. Here, youth shopping abounds from shoes to clothes to facial products. Stores and stalls are open during the day and night, though expect a bigger crowd in the evening. Many stores have their own tax refund counter, so make sure to ask this information before you purchase!
From Ximending, we took an Uber car to Longshan Temple — one of Taipei’s oldest places of worship. Entrance is free. The temple’s MRT station and surrounding areas are known for bargain shopping as well.
DAY 2 – Fruit picking along Bishan Road, Neihu => Baishihu Suspension Bridge => Taipei 101 => Grocery shopping
Tourists rarely visit Neihu since not many know about the Baishihu Leisure Agricultural Area, including the strawberry farms up on its mountains. Strawberry farms are abundant along Bishan Road and Dahu Street and are best enjoyed between December and May. From the Neihu MRT station, one can ride the bus (arrives every 30 mins) to go up to Bishan Road. For convenience we just booked an Uber to reach our destination. Whichever option you take, we advise you drop off to Neihu Strawberry Farm here 內湖草莓園.
The strawberries are sweet and fat. We enjoyed the strawberry ice cream as we strolled the a trekking route bound to Baishihu Suspension Bridge.
Along the way, we had our lunch at the Farmhouse Cafe Trattoria, an Italian restaurant with a wide outdoor area. We learned about the different honeys they sell. Honeys, they said, tend to carry the flavor of the abundant plants within the area where the bees harvest. One bottle was lychee flavored — interesting!
After lunch, we made our way to the unique Baishihu Suspension Bridge. Designed to reflect a dragon’s spine, the bridge spans 116 meters and connects the trekking area and horticultural site with a parking lot leading to the Kaichang Shengwang Temple.
If you want to explore Neihu and the agricultural area around, here’s a complete list. Otherwise, you can return back to Neihu MRT station via bus or Uber.
Later in the afternoon, we visited Taipei 101 (see discounted ticket here) and did a grocery shopping just to discover some new items unique to Taiwan. We found new fruits unfamiliar to our eyes. Look at these below:
DAY 3 – Yehliu, Tsamsui and Shilin Night Market
Yehliu, Shifen and Jiufen are three destinations outside Taipei that you might not want to miss. They are quite far apart, without a convenient commute to connect, but booking sites like Klook offer packages that combine the three or bring you to one. We advise you book early to avoid missing out the available slots.
- If you want a tour of Jiufen, here’s an easy 1-day trip
- Shifen can be accessed through this convenient half-day tour
- If you want a combination of Yehliu, Shifen and Jiufen, try this one
Having missed an available slot, I decided to make my own itinerary via the Crown Northern Coastline, a tourist bus with drop-offs at main sites along the east coast of Taiwan from Tamsui (northernmost of Taipei) until Yehliu Geopark. The bus leaves 9:00 a.m. at the earliest from Tamsui MRT station. This was a less ideal option than getting a tour from Klook, but without any better choice, we rode the bus on a nearly two-hour scenic journey to Yehliu.
Yehliu Geopark is a cape that stretches 1.7 kilometers out into the sea. Shaped by thousands of years of wind sculpting the rocks facing the East China Sea, Yehliu is filled with natural wonders. Its famous natural sculpture is the “Queen’s Head”, and there are others such as “Leopard” (which only appears 18 days from the sea each year) and “Cute Princess Rock”. Other areas of the park are worth the visit, and we encourage you to make the most of your time here.
You can purchase a Yehliu ticket in advance here.
Upon return to Tamsui’s MRT station, you can make the choice of visiting the Lovers Bridge at Fisherman’s Wharf — which requires a bus ride — or riding the train back to Taipei to visit the famed Shilin Night Market.
DAY 4 – Maokong
Maokong is perhaps one of the best places to escape the city without getting too far. Tea aficionados have loved visiting the quaint village since the 1980s when the Taiwanese government declared the area a tourist tea plantation. Now home to dozens of tea houses and cafes, visitors can get to Maokong through an easier option: the Maokong Gondola.
Since 2007, the Gondola has brought tourists between the MRT Taipei Zoo station to Maokong through a 4.3-kilometer journey. It was my second time at the Gondola, yet I couldn’t help but be awestruck by the view of the route and gondola’s engineering ingenuity.
We had our tea at Cat’s Got Nothing to Do Cafe, whose name references to the fact that Maokong locally translates to “cat’s hollows”, which are potholes on the area’s stream boulders and stones carved by water over time. Regardless, the cat has been the adopted as a tourism symbol of Maokong, and today you’d see that most tea cans and products sold in the area bear a cat logo.
I recommend Maokong as your last itinerary in Taipei (Avoid Mondays as the gondola is closed for maintenance). Not only is the experience relaxing and the view of the city breathtaking, but it rightfully sums up the entirety of Taipei: a growing city that has excellently preserved its culture and heritage, and made the seamless connection between its traditions and the modern world.