Taipei Travel Guide

Taipei Travel Guide

A teeny weeny nation of down-to-earth people, dominated by lush mountains and a year-round humidity that soaks into your soul and dizzies your perspective, Taiwan is one of Asia’s most endearing and underrated travel destinations. The cosmopolitan capital of Taipei is the best jumping off point; a chaotic yet slow-moving city, modern yet deeply authentic with proximity to awesome hiking trails, natural hot springs and off-track waterfalls. The orderly roads of Taipei stream with scooters, upon which you’ll see whole families, pets and various health and safety hazards hitching a ride. Betel-nut stained teeth smile eagerly back at you as you shuffle through thronging street markets heady with the smells of exotic food stuffs, from stinky tofu to papaya milk. Decidedly not China, Taiwan is everything the motherland isn’t; democratic, gay-friendly and open to all – holding a loud and proud Pride Parade each October and recently becoming the very first Asian country to legalize gay marriage. Read our definitive Taipei gay travel guide to discover the secrets of this glorious island capital.

The best hotels in Taipei

Let’s start this Taipei gay city guide with a roundup of the best places to stay in Taipei. Located in the chic Zhongshan District, the Okura Prestige Hotel is understated elegance at its finest. Lounge in the heated rooftop pool while enjoying panoramic views of Taipei’s mountains and cityscape, or indulge in the neighbourhood’s up-and-coming restaurants and one-of-a-kind boutiques. Easy access to public transportation and top museums are an added plus.

You can never go wrong with a stay at Taipei’s Mandarin Oriental. Considered by many to be the most luxurious hotel in the city, it only takes one visit to the sweeping five-star property to understand why. This is the largest hotel spa in Taiwan where you’ll find exquisite service, generous rooms, and exceptional attention to detail.

With a convenient location in central Da’an, Les Suites Taipei is another accommodation choice providing a fantastic base to explore the rest of the city without sacrificing comfort and style. Guests continually return to this boutique hotel for its impeccable service and modern facilities.

Photo: Winston Chen

Photo: Winston Chen

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Recommended hotels in Taipei
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Xiangshan (Elephant Mountain) | Photo: Fred Rivett

Xiangshan (Elephant Mountain) | Photo: Fred Rivett

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When you’re ready to escape the chaos of the city, indulge in one of the many hiking and climbing opportunities all within a day’s reach

Things to do in Taipei

A relatively small city with one of the cleanest and cheapest and easiest subways to conquer (with signposting and top-up machines all in English), exploring Taipei is a real easy treat combining traditional charm with modern day convenience. The best example of this is the subway’s free-for-all WiFi service that is even accessible while moving between stations! If you’re travelling anywhere in the months between April and September, you’ll also be glad of the powerful air conditioning that blasts through the entire Subway system.

To better understand the rich culture and Buddhist and Taoist influences of the city, begin your Taipei sightseeing trip with a stop at one of Taipei’s many mesmerising temples. Longshan Temple is one of Taipei’s oldest denominational temples, dating back to 1738 and situated in one of the most intriguing areas of Taipei. Sharing a neighbourhood with the old red light district, the area now features a bunch of quirky yet ostensibly harmless characters, including old ladies of the night plying their wares in slightly seedy alleyways amid stores serving up snake’s blood, rumoured to increase virility. At the centre, moments from the subway station, the ornately painted, dragon-crested temple itself lies in a haze of incense offered up by local worshippers to Buddhist, Taoist and Matsu deities. Other worthy temples to visit include Xingtian Temple, where incense is offered up to Guangdong the god of war and martial arts, and Confucius Temple, which is dedicated to the memory of Confucius, widely considered mainland China’s greatest teacher.

Once you’ve had your fill of temples, it’s time to explore a few of the city’s national monuments and museums. Noteworthy attractions include the National Palace Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of Chinese art, and boasting beautiful Coi-filled ponds that cover the serene out-of-city grounds. Chiang Kai Shek Memorial is even easier to get to, in the centre close to the Botanical Gardens, where the impressive guarded memorial is flanked on either side in perfect symmetry by the National Theatre and Concert Hall. Climb the steps and walk around each of the impressive architectural structures to find local high schoolers practising synchronised street dance under the ornately crafted roofs. Another memorial worth a visit is the Sun Yat-sen Memorial, in honour of the founder of modern China, Dr Sun Yat-sen.

When you’re ready to escape the chaos of the city, indulge in one of the many hiking and climbing opportunities all within a day’s reach. Long Dong (also known as Dragon Cave) attracts rock climbers from around the world, eager to scale one of the towering 70-metre sandstone cliffs. Alternatively, Yangminshan is located just north of Taipei’s city centre and offers everything from intermediate hiking trails to relaxing botanical gardens. Further afield adventures include the hot springs and mountain views of Wulai and the magnificent Taroko Gorge (best explored by scooter) in the East.

Photo: Andrew Haimerl

Photo: Andrew Haimerl

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Recommended experiences in Taipei
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What to see in Taipei

Taipei is a city where traditional Buddhist temples vie for space among intensely modern cafés, bars and restaurants. In one second you can be meandering down a winding alley, hung with red Chinese lanterns and grubby hole-in-the-wall Peking Duck diners, then turn a corner and you’ll find yourself confronted with luxury boutiques and designer name brands, with the staggering sight of Taipei 101 in the background. In spite of the inevitable sweatfest that will ensue, make sure to take an aimless wander through Taipei’s intriguing streets, particularly through Taipei points of interest such as Shida Night Market and Dongmen, as well as the area around Shandao Temple, where you’ll find an artsy neighbourhood and the beautiful Huashan 1914 Creative park.

If green space is what you’re after, Taipei has plenty of it. In addition to the serpentine roots of century-old Banyan trees that threaten to reclaim the pavements all over the city, Taipei’s parks are lush green affairs, the perfect answer of what to do in Taipei when the busy streets seem like too much effort. Da’an Forest Park is one of the city’s biggest and a great spot to watch elderly locals undertaking Tai Chi at dawn, while the pagoda-ridden 2/28 Peace Park just a few blocks south of Taipei Main Station provides a great backdrop for a photography session.

For an adventure further out, travel 50 minutes to the Northern terminal of the MRT’s red line to Danshui, a quaint riverfront district on the outskirts of the city with an old-school seaside feel. While here, take a stroll through Gongming Street Market to be greeted by numerous street vendors offering free tasters before walking the stretch of waterfront to enjoy street performers, old school carnival games and fresh fried squid. To satiate your hot spring needs head to Beitou, back down on the red line. Here you’ll find a handful of chic hotels with private hot springs, a lovely public hot spring and various trails that run parallel to turquoise-coloured natural streams.

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial | Photo: Dan Moore

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial | Photo: Dan Moore

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If you want the less touristy market experience, Raohe Night Market in the west, running parallel to the picturesque Keelung River cycle path, is a top choice, as well as the even lesser-known Ningxia Night Market above Taipei Main Station

Where to eat in Taipei

Without doubt, Taipei’s street food is among the best street food in the world – rivalled only by Malaysia and Singapore in our humble opinion. These foodie night markets are an iconic element of Taiwanese culture, dotted throughout Taipei on unassuming streets, featuring back-to-back food stalls and low-slung plastic tables where you can sample the likes of stinky tofu and chicken butt skewers. These night markets are certainly an assault on the senses, but maintain a little openness and you’ll discover that Taipei is a foodie capital for good reason. Other must-have snacks include the oyster omelette, sweet potato balls and whole grilled squid.

Mandarin Oriental

Mandarin Oriental

Taipei’s most popular night market remains Shilin Night Market in the north, a place also famous for ‘shrimping’ (where you fish for shrimp beside locals around a large pool before then BBQing and eating your haul!). If you want the less touristy market experience, Raohe Night Market in the west, running parallel to the picturesque Keelung River cycle path, is a top choice, as well as the even lesser-known Ningxia Night Market above Taipei Main Station. After dinner is the optimum time to try the international phenomenon that is pearl milk tea, the original Boba. Tear-jerkingly cheap and almost always served with a generous scoop of bubbles, Taiwan’s pearl milk tea can be found on every corner, with the most famous being at nationwide chain 50 Lan or try the luxury brown sugar versions at Insta-famous JenJuDan and Tiger Sugar. Other drool-worthy deserts to try while in Taipei include the Mango Shaved Ice at Smoothie House in Dongmen, Tofu Pudding at Eastern Ice Store in Zhongxiao Dunhua and even penis-shaped custard cakes in the Gay Village of Ximen.

While there are many upscale dining options in Taipei, the general rule is that the more scruffy the restaurant, the tastier the treats that await. When in doubt, hop into any crowded restaurant and order a steaming bowl of rich Beef Noodle Soup, the nation’s national dish, or try the fluffy steamed pork buns encased in glass on any roadside or even at 7/11! The exception to Taiwan’s normally laid-back style is world-famous restaurant Din Tai Fung, whose Michelin-starred steamed soupy dumplings and outstanding service at affordable prices has won critical acclaim again and again for very good reason.

Showcasing the weirdness of Taipei’s food scene would have to be one of the many themed restaurants, from the Hello Kitty Café to Modern Toilet, but these places are really focused on the experience rather than the food itself! It’s not just Taiwanese food that the city does well, however; for insight into the international food scene try out the intense Thai flavours at Thai Made in Da’an or the various Japanese style joints offering impeccable and affordable sushi and other Japanese favourites such as sake and grilled meat bar Kurume Izakaya.

Photo: Henry Co

Photo: Henry Co

Photo: Tommy

Photo: Tommy

Shopping in Taipei

As well as student sports fashion in Gongguan, international brands in Zhongxiao Dunhua and luxury labels in SOGO mall and Xiangshan, the winding streets around Zhongshan Station are where you’ll uncover independent designers and lovely boutiques. In the station itself the Zhongshan Metro Mall lies, an extensive underground mall connecting with several other stations, an option best saved for a rainy day, not uncommon in Taiwan’s broody tropical climate. Here you’ll find cheap goods and souvenirs, in particular at Wu Xing Creative Company, which sells hand-made ceramics and goods, as well as MBmore, a Taiwanese art gallery with limited-edition prints. Pick up a budaixi, or traditional wooden puppet, from ChangYi Fang where you’ll also find vibrant bags and accessories made from Taiwanese textiles.

For Taipei’s version of Piccadilly Circus, head to Ximen, a student hub packed with neon lights, grabber machines and street buskers among a number of intersecting shopping streets. When the weekend comes, follow your nose to the fragrant weekend Jade and Flower market just off the corner of Da’an Forest Park where you’ll find an awesome array of orchids in full bloom, as well as bonsai trees and cacti. Behind the greenery and the occasional adoptable puppy, you’ll find traditional jade jewellery and handcrafted souvenirs. The local disabled population makes most of the handicrafts here, making this a fantastic way to give back to the community while also enjoying a leisurely morning of shopping.

Photo: Martin Widenka

Photo: Martin Widenka

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Come in the late afternoon to discover a different vibe of gay café culture, handicraft markets and racy underwear shops before taking advantage of the Happy Hour specials offered at most of the bars

Nightlife in Taipei

Asia’s most gay-friendly city, Taipei, of course, has an incredible gay nightlife scene waiting for you to dive into. Touch down in lively Ximen and head to the back of the Red House, where many of the city’s gay bars and the super friendly local and international gay community spread out on the square for cocktails and late-night fun. Come in the late afternoon to discover a different vibe of gay café culture, handicraft markets and racy underwear shops before taking advantage of the Happy Hour specials offered at most of the bars. Gay events are always taking place here, so make sure to ask around or check on Grindr for the freshest information!

While you’re near the Red House, make sure to try out Café Dalida, a casual gay café and bar with outdoor seating, divine cocktails and drink specials. SOL Studio Bar/Bistro is another nearby choice, a gay bar and restaurant serving Italian-style pizza and Spanish tapas in addition to a full drinks menu on the large outdoor terrace or within air-conditioned interiors. Venture away from Ximen to discover more of Taipei’s gay scene. Goldfish in the Japanese quarter of Zhongshan District, in particular, is a nice cocktail bar for chilling, offering high-ceilings and artistic showcases with a customer base of bear and muscled types. If you’re looking for an upscale cocktail bar away from the streets, nearby MUD Cocktail Bar amba Zhongshan is a nice change of scene, with chilled vibes, DJ-hosted parties on weekends and some of the best cocktails in Taipei.

Photo: Tom Ritson

Photo: Tom Ritson

Let our Taipei gay scene guide introduce you to the city’s best gay clubs and lounges – most of which are located east near the commercial hub around Taipei 101. G*Star Gay Club Taipei is one of the only official gay clubs in Taipei, hosting two dancefloors and a youthful mix of locals, travellers and expats. Playing everything from international top 50 hits to K-Pop, G*Star is best hit up on the weekend – sometimes offering themed parties with performance and dance. Then there’s the Shangri La Hotel’s Marco Polo Lounge, high above the city on the 38th floor boasting stunning views of Taipei 101. As well as blissful cocktails in fancy environs, Marco Polo also hosts live music on Fridays and Saturdays. Last but not least is the 5-star W Hotel’s WET Bar, an upscale pool lounge by day and classy cocktail bar by night, found on the 10th floor. Get out onto the trendy, wooden deck pool terrace, fitted with sun loungers and comfy sofas, for unmatched views of the contrasting Taipei skyline. See information of WET Bar’s upcoming pool parties and rooftop yoga sessions on their Facebook page. And, because one bar option is never enough, take the elevator to the 31st floor where you’ll find the ultra-chic, indoor sky lounge and Asian tapas restaurant Yen Bar.

MUD Cocktail Bar amba Zhongshan

MUD Cocktail Bar amba Zhongshan Cocktail-El-Diablo

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