Food, History and Culture Tripping in Taipei

When you successfully mix history, culture and food tripping, that’s another level of wanderlust high. Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan, is just the ideal place to take your wanderings into another height of discovery, learning and fun.

As a tiny nation, it is surprising to discover that Taiwan possesses an abundance of destinations for explorers of all sorts: foodies, outdoor enthusiasts, shoppers and even arts, history and architecture junkies alike. Spending a week might be too short to cover the whole country, but the good news for time-pressed wanderers, the capital city of Taipei can offer you a wonderful glimpse in just a couple of days, thereby giving you ample opportunities to sample its savory cuisine and colorful history and culture.

Dig into Taiwan’s history

Kick-start your first day with a visit to the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. The late Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek had a highly controversial political career, but his role as a founding president of Taiwan earned him a sprawling memorial hall. The picturesque ground composed of the iconic Liberty Square Gate, the Memorial Hall Square and the National Concert Hall makes it a perfect stop to start learning about the history of Taiwan. Make sure to witness the synchronized changing of the honor guards which happens every hour.

Such a cultural trip is never complete without passing through the vast collection of historical items and rapidly growing oriental art collection housed inside the country’s first-ever museum, The National Museum of History.

With all these historic sights easily reachable by taking Taipei’s Metro Line, you can also quickly visit the National Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall. The political mentor to a young Chiang Kai-Shek, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen went on to become the founding father of Taiwan when he spearheaded the modern Chinese nationalism movement. Honoring his contributions to the country, a memorial covering 28 acres of open space was built within the city.  Surrounded by lush gardens, it features a main building housing the performance hall, exhibition center, museum and a library packed with  more than 30,000 works of literature. The National Sun Yat-Sen Memorial hall is a must for every history junkie.

After historical sites hopping, a number of old temples and mansions can be added to your cultural and historical exploration of Taipei.

The Longshan Temple was built in 1738 by Fujian settlers and dedicated to the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Guan Yin. It is one of the busiest temples in Taiwan where Buddhists and even believers of many deities of Taoism come to pray. Make sure to immerse at the fervent atmosphere during the afternoon when the devotees start to chant simultaneously while saying their prayers.

Relive the olden ambiance at the Lin Family Mansion and Garden and take pleasure in taking photos of this lavish old mansion which screams of Instagram-material. This old residence of the Lin Ben Yuan Family was first built in 1847. Today, the whole property is hailed as an embodiment of a traditional Chinese garden architecture. Aside from the mansion’s stunning classic design, set your sights on the revolving colors and vibes, as you walk from one charming area to another.

Witness local life along Olden Streets

Even though Japanese filmmaker and animator Hayao Miyazaki has already refuted claims that the old mining town of Jiufen Old Street served as his inspiration for the town depicted in Spirited Away, tourists still find their way to visit this place. Navigating the lantern-adorned winding alleyways and stairways of Jiufen is more than enough reason to enjoy the vibe of this revitalized olden town.

Cure your fix for nostalgia and satisfy a childhood’s fantasy of letting a lantern fly up in the sky, carrying one’s wishes to the heavens, when you visit the Shifen Old Street. I do not usually support this activity, but I am making an exemption since it has been a cultural practice here for many years. (townsfolk make sure they all pick up the lantern's debris after it falls down to Earth) The town’s marketplace sits adjacent to an old but still operational railway track, so make sure to step out of the tracks when there’s an incoming train.

A couple of kilometers away from Shifen Old Street, on the upper tier of Keelung River, travelers can make a side trip to view the 66-foot Shifen Waterfalls.

A scenic walk along the Tamsui Fisherman Wharf shall provide you a delightful afternoon. Street buskers serenading passers-by with Taiwanese ballads with fascinating shops around Tamsui’s Old Streets as its backdrop summons a charming atmosphere.

Feast on Taipei’s street food and dumplings

Raohe Night Market and Shilin Night Market are two of the major night markets in the city. In these places you will experience a satisfying gastronomical adventure by circling your way through rows of street-food stalls with some of the most interesting and sumptuous road-side cookeries ever. The staple of Taiwan’s street-food culture, the stinky tofu, leads the pack of sumptuous fare, such as the flame beef cubes, oyster Omelet, Grilled Squid, Octopus Takoyaki, Bacon Wraps, Ice Cream Popiah and many more.

Dubbed by many as the Shibuya crossing of Taipei, Ximending was made exclusively for pedestrians only encompassing a few streets filled with colorful and trendy shops, an ideal destination for medium to upscale shopping and food destination.

Check out the cityscape of Taipei from the former tallest building in the world; The Taipei 101. The 1,671 foot high tower has an observation deck at the 88th and 89th floor with an outdoor deck, the second-highest skyscraper observation deck at 1,285 feet on the 91st floor.

After that, cap off your experience with a sumptuous lunch at the Michelin-starred dimsum restaurant DinTai Fung inside Taipei 101 mall. Specializing in steamed dumplings (xiao long bao), it easily charms diners into feasting on their variety of dumpling fillings, which include this author’s favorite—the Chocolate Xiao Long Bao.

Get high on natural attractions

Otherworldly is the first word that comes to mind when you see the vast expanse of Yehliu Geo park with its exceptional and spectacular rock formations. Stretching over 1,700 meters, this wonder of nature, carved by thousands of years of geological movement, showcases a stunning list of remarkable stone formations, such as: Queen’s Head, Princess Head Ginger Rocks, Kissing, Elephant  and Ice cream rock, just to name a few.

Ever wonder how the city of Taipei looks like from another perspective other than being on top of Taipei 101? Standing atop a view deck at Elephant Mountain will show you the answer. A brisk 20-minute hike rewards you with an incredible sunset view of the city while the towering Taipei 101 building elevates the scene to a postcard-like setting.

These are just a quick rundown of places to see when you are in Taipei. It is still best to let yourself get lost in the city’s mesmerizing maze consisting of both the modern and historic districts. As you familiarize yourself with the city, an easy hop into the high-speed trains of Taiwan will swiftly take your exploration deeper into its cross countryside locations.

This article first appeared on the Tourism pages of BusinessMirror on April 29, 2018.