China Expat & Travel Blogger. ATTRACTIONS & THINGS TO DO IN CHINA. See My Fun TRAVEL Adventures in China!
Taiwan was one of the first major overseas travel destinations I visited after moving to China to work as an English teacher. I had already made an epic voyage to Hong Kong—my favorite travel destination in Southeast Asia thus far—and Macau, and though I didn’t know much about ‘China’s 23rd province’, all it took was a photo of Taiwan’s infamous Taipei 101 building to have me racing to book my next 3-day adventure.
I landed in Taipei during Spring Festival 2014, China’s annual holiday rush period following Chinese New Year. Might I mention it’s also the time of the year that produces the world’s largest human migration. Hundreds of millions of people traveling to and from home, vacationing in and out of the country—yeah, it gets that crazy.
And why Taipei? Well, not only is it the capital of Taiwan, but its also the region's most popular city. I’d crash in the Taipei’s Ximending District for 3 nights—this hip tourist haven that was loaded with a bunch of cool shops, restaurants, fashionable youth, and an occasional street performer or two. At 26 years old and just starting to bounce around Southeast Asia, it was exactly the kind of place I was looking for.
And so over the next 3 days I’d travel across Taipei and explore as many popular attractions as I could.
Having living in Mainland China for a year by that point, the first thing I noticed was the glaring contrast between the two regions. Taiwan was far cleaner, more orderly, and most importantly, people didn’t care to stop and stare at foreigners so much. If you’ve ever visited the Mainland then you know exactly what I’m talking about!
I’d start Day 2 off with a trip to Taipei Zoo, which was ridiculously m-a-s-s-i-v-e, at least, that’s how I remember it. I’d spend roughly 4 hours there and I’d still only see just half the park.
Taipei Zoo was home to giraffes, lions, bears, monkeys, gorillas, cheetahs, elephants, and camels, to name a few. The most memorable moment came from catching sight of a panda for the very first time and seeing a rhino up-close. Those things just look like modern day dinosaurs!
Afterwards I’d make my way high above the city on Maokong Gondola Cableway. I had read that Taiwan was notorious for its beautiful mountain ranges, and once at the top I had the chance to see just that.
And then it happened: By mid-day I was standing atop Taipei 101, easily one of the coolest, most iconic buildings in the world. I’d later discover that it was actually designed to embody 3 popular elements of Chinese traditional culture: a pagoda tower, a stalk of bamboo, and stack of Chinese money boxes. Talk about creativity!
I saw Taipei far and near from 91 floors up. What’s crazy is that Taipei was probably the most densely packed city I had ever seen in my life up until that point. To the left? Buildings. Right? Buildings. Twelve o’clock? More freaking buildings!
There were lots of mountains in the distance too, and between watching the streetlights light up the whole city while specks of pink, purple and orange filled up the evening sky, I’d say that the view from atop of Taipei 101 was one of the best I had ever seen during my 20-some odd years on the planet, bar none.
Night fell and I’d make stops at Ciyou Temple and several popular night markets across Taipei—also an activity I read was a must-do when hitting Taiwan. I explored Raohe Street Night Market, Guangzhou Street Night Market, and Wu Fen Pu. What an amazing day!
And then came Day 3 in Taipei. This day was all about exploring the little things and seeing more of everyday life in the city.
The first stop I made was to Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, this massive public square dedicated to the “father of Taiwan.” The halls there were definitely the largest ancient looking Chinese buildings I had ever seen. Have you seen any bigger?
From there I paid a visit to Taipei’s Presidential Palace, the office of Taiwan’s Governor-General and Kuomintang leadership in Taipei. I guess it’s like the White House of Taiwan because there were armed guards everywhere.
Afterwards I’d hit Dadaocheng Wharf, Dihua Market, and Eslite Bookstore, an insanely popular retail bookstore chain of Taiwan.
By evening’s time I was facing my last night in Taipei. With plenty of touristy activities crossed off the checklist, I figured it was only right that I party!
I met a friend from China—he had since moved to a town near Taipei to study at a university—and after hitting a theater and watching the worst movie we’d ever seen in our lives (RoboCop, 2014), we wound up partying at a cool hip-hop club near Taipei 101.
And that’s it. The next day I’d get up bright and early to catch an early bird flight to Hong Kong.
Yeah, Taiwan was dope!