Jess F was heading to Shanghai and we decided to meet up in Taipei which was where her layover was going to be. It was my second time in Taipei but my first without someone who was familiar with the city to show me around. I could only imagine how my Mandarin would sound since I don’t practice it that often. (Spoiler Alert: My Mandarin was terrible as usual and Jess pretty much did all the talking ><;;)
I have flown in to Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) multiple times before but I’ve only ever left the airport once and my friend’s parents picked us up at 6am. This time around, I was alone but thankfully Jess gave me a head’s up about which bus to take to Taipei Main Station. It took about an hour and a half to get to the station and from there just 1 MRT stop away to our Airbnb! I was also able to quickly and easily purchase a data + voice sim card at the airport which definitely facilitated my overuse of Google Maps to get around. Make sure your phone is unlocked from any carrier!
Staying at the Airbnb was a great idea (as always) and even if the service is still a little hush hush in Taiwan, the apartment we rented had a super rad loft and was located in Ximending (西門町), the first pedestrian area in Taiwan. My OGs said that Ximending used to be one of the less safe areas of Taipei but my godmother who is from Taipei said that it’s where all the hip, young kids hang out now. It was great to pretend to be a hip, young kid anyway and the only unsafe thing we saw were people jaywalking in front of the police station. One of the other areas we walked around was Dongmen Station (東門站) and Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. Even if the streets were lined with all kinds of restaurants, we had our eyes (and stomachs) set on beef noodle soup (紅燒牛肉麵/hongshao niurou mian).
CKS Memorial Hall was grand! Essentially in a giant park with the National Concert Hall and National Theater nearby. We arrived through the side of the park and made out way up inside to see the statue of the man himself. With some stroke of luck and no planning at all, we caught the ceremonial changing of the guard which everyone seems to be fascinated about. However, as we exited through the front of the building, a huge white tent was blocking the view of the whole park. It turned out to be a pop up Disney store that wouldn’t stop playing “Let It Go”. How disappointing.
It was raining nonstop that first day so logically we got some mango panna cotta shaved ice at Smoothie House! We also hit up Libero Cafe for some caffeine (a whiskey coffee for me) and the back room just transports you somewhere else! It was like having drinks at someone’s hunting lodge in Scotland with plush velvet chairs and bottles of whiskey just waiting to be opened. Not that I’ve ever been to someone’s hunting lodge in Scotland.
We were able to walk around the Songshan (松山) area near the Taipei Songshan Airport (TSA) through a street market, a cool lunch place (that I’ll probably talk about next time), and towards the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. The coolest thing for me was watching planes take off and land as we walked around the area. Imagine living here and a jumbo jet is taking off just beyond your backyard at 430am. Yup, must get loud in the early hours of the morning. Still a really awesome sight though!
We then wandered towards the National Taiwan University (NTU) and concluded that with all the food and shopping around it, we’d totally get distracted if we went to school here. Their main walkway was so much larger than Sproul and I would totally be late for school everyday. I would assume that a majority of NTU students bike on a regular basis so they have these pretty sick double stacker bike racks right outside campus. Maximize the space and make sure your bike doesn’t get stolen! A+!
Since I mentioned that we would get distracted by food and shopping, we ended up doing so. Not with shopping but with food. We queued up for some guabao (割包) which essentially a sandwich-like snack. The soft fluffy dough is filled with braised pork (we picked half lean/half fatty park), pickled veggies, and crushed peanuts. It was a larger guabao than what I find in Manila so Jess and I split the bao and went for some coffee at The Imperfect Cafe just up the street. Contrary to the name, this cafe was far from imperfect and the hand poured Kenya roast was intoxicatingly welcoming while sitting on a Pinterest perfect couch.
Oh, we also hit up 3 night markets in 2 nights so that’s a pretty good batting average if I do say so myself. Saving that story for another day :]
Compared to 5 years ago, I found it a lot easier to get around Taipei now. While we had to walk a lot, I know that the train lines have been expanded (with more English yay) since my last visit so we didn’t have to take a cab at all. I have concluded that I spent too little time in Taipei once again. I definitely need to go back, stay longer, and explore more! And eat more pineapple cakes of course!