Taipei is great for a weekend jaunt, as it’s not too expensive, very safe, and totally underrated by those blinded by more famous Asian cities and their respective nightlife. My weekends in Taipei usually consist of shopping and museum visits, followed by a long night at whatever jazz bar I come across. For first-time travelers to Taipei, there are quite a few things that, while not off the beaten path, are well worth a look.
Right now, round-trip tickets from Hong Kong-Taipei are currently going for about US$250. Last time I went, I stayed at The Ambassador, which I got for cheap as part as a package deal. The hotel had friendly, English-speaking staff, Japanese-style toilets and great beds, and it’s in a walkable neighborhood a few blocks from a lot of mom and pop noodle shops and MRT stations.
The MRT is clean, safe and on time; guards are also serious about not letting the trains get too crowded, which is a huge pleasure (as are the empty, tree-lined sidewalks). The MRT is also the quickest way to get out to Beitou hot springs for an afternoon. You can either hang out with the old ladies in the outdoor springs, or go for privacy by renting a room with a hot springs bath by the hour. These rooms are actually quite nice and affordable, but you’ll still get smirked at by the staff if you go with your partner. You can also walk some short trails, and there are quite a few food stands and cute souvenir shops. I bought a pair of hand-painted tealight holders for US$5.
One of Taipei’s main draws is its night markets, where you can eat your heart out and then shop till you drop. Taipei’s markets have better quality stuff than Hong Kong’s, although prices are slightly higher and haggling is not as common. Come with an empty suitcase for all the Taiwanese snacks, clothes, shoes (sometimes in a size 9/40!) and costume jewelry. Trying to choose a night market can be overwhelming. Shilin and Raohe are the most popular, so if you’re short on time, stick to those two. The proprietors are usually helpful no matter their English level. These markets are most dangerous for your wallet, but you can make it through a weekend on a couple hundred US dollars, much less if you don’t shop and eat local.
One local place is Din Tai Fung, which is now worldwide. It started in Taipei, though, so if you haven’t had it before, experience its soup dumplings at home base. Other must-dos are Taipei 101, and the National Palace Museum. The area around 101 is good for a miles-long afternoon walk; you can pass by the Presidential Office Building, Memorial Peace Park and the National Taiwan University, among many other sites. The museum could easily take up your entire weekend, as it houses a vast collection of Chinese treasures shipped out from the mainland after World War II, and everything on display is a small percentage of what is actually under the museum’s roof. The tour groups are relentless and I was unashamed in literally running past them, so don’t let them deter you. The gift shop is also worth a look.
After all that walking, I loosen up with a massage by a blind masseur at the Blind Massage Health Center. One of the best I’ve ever had! As for nightlife, I prefer jazz bars, which are all over Taipei. Brown Sugar is expensive but worth it; Velvet Underground doesn’t do jazz but is much cheaper and tons of fun. I’ve fallen into a bit of a rut with where I like to go, but chances are wherever you end up, it’ll be unpretentious and laidback.
This is just a small sample of tons of stuff to do in Taipei. What do you recommend for an unforgettable weekend?