Taipei Culture and Attractions
Taipei is a cultural destination, its long and ancient history sits perfectly in harmony with it’s modern buildings. With four days here we had time to sample a little bit of both. We mentioned in our previous Taipei travel post, what a surprising and enjoyable time we had touring around. The great news about all of Taipei’s attractions is that they can be accessed easily by public transport. So unless your are absolutely pushed for time, there isn’t a need to bother with an organised tour operator, below is a list of easy to get to DIY tourist spots.
Taipei National Palace Museum
The National Palace Museum has to be one of the jewels in the crown of Taipei’s cultural offerings. The museum collection has artefacts collected and assembled over three thousand years charting the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties in China.
It is a real treat to visit here, apart from the noisy tour groups which you have to dodge in order to get a good quiet moment with some of the displays. The museum are aware of this and have staff standing around with “speak quietly” placards which are wholly ignored by some Chinese and Taiwanese visitors.
To get here you take the MRT to Jiantan and then a 20 minute bus ride(bus number 304 takes you right there) to the main palace gates. You will need at least two to three hours here to get through the collections at a steady pace. Sadly no photography is allowed inside the buildings, but the sheer range and the age and beauty of some of the pieces on display will stay in your mind forever. This a must see attraction.
Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, Taipei 101 and Taipei City Hall
These three attractions are located reasonably close to each other and can be viewed at a leisurely pace within three to four hours. We decided to hit this location about an hour or so before sunset to allow us time to wander through the memorial hall and gardens and then head on to Taipei 101. Doing it at this time allowed us to ascend the tower just as the sun was setting, giving us a chance of both a sunset and night-time view of Taipei. In the end this plan worked out really well. But first the memorial hall.
The park surrounding the memorial hall is full of Taiwanese life from the impressive kite fliers with some very big industrial sized kites, the dog walkers with their dressed up dogs in clothing and even shoes (well sneakers/trainers). Others are there just for a stroll or a run around the gardens as the day cools and the sun disappears behind the tall buildings surrounding the park.
It really is a peaceful little green spot in the middle of one of the main government and shopping districts in the city. The memorial building is not as impressive as others in the city, but certainly worth a visit. We went back through the park on our way back from the tower visit and found lots of groups of young Taiwanese practising kick boxing, dancing and hip hop around the memorial terraces. Now we couldn’t help thinking that this would just not be allowed in some countries, but in our view was a great use of a public building by the locals. Nice to see.
From here it is about a 10 – 20 minute walk through the town past Taipei City hall and on towards the Taipei 101 tower. In order to get to the observatory entrance you are forced to walk through the very plush and very expensive designer Taipei mall, where all the shop boys and girls from the designer stores can be seen preening themselves in the countless mirrors ready for their next customer. No expense has been spared here on the shop designs and make for some interesting viewing on the way to the ticket desk.
When you reach the desk you hand over your dollars and are whisked up the 88 floors at breakneck speed (60 Kmph to be precise ) ears popping along the way. The first stop is the main glazed observation deck, where you can grab a coffee, a teddy bear or an ice cream at one shops which occupy the floor. You can if you are in need of some fresh air wander up to the 91st floor which offers you open air views (through some anti suicide fencing) across the whole of Taipei. The atmosphere was a little hazy when we got up there, so we killed some time before sunset by visiting the huge ball damper which hangs on the 87th floor – this reduces the sway in the building through some clever physics and some impressive sized shock absorbers. Then we got lucky with a reasonable orange sunset to top off the trip here. Well worth the admission fee in my view.
The building held the world tallest building crown from 2004 until 2010 when the Burj Khalifa opened its doors in Dubai and stole its crown. As well as the view from its top, the building also dominates the Taipei skyline and can be viewed (and photographed as you will see from the gallery) from lots of different places.
This is one of the oldest temples in Taiwan originally built in 1738, but has been rebuilt many times due earthquakes, fire and some man-made disasters. The temple is small but well worth a visit to witness the Chinese at prayer and coming to pay respects and light candles and incense. There are also a fine collection of Taiwanese poor who inhabit the park in front of the temple. They are well mannered and wont hassle you, but its sad to see.
Chiang Kai-shek memorial
This hall was built in 1980 to commemorate the life of the political and military leader Chiang Kai Shek. He has an interesting and controversial history in both Taiwan and China and many now say the current Chinese mix of old style communism and capitalism was based on many of his ideas, proposed almost 50 years ago. Interesting to think what the world would look like today if China had adopted his path decades ago? The hall is flanked by a fine Concert Hall and the National Theatre either side and and staring opposite is the splendid entrance gate.
Museum of Contemporary Art
This was somewhat of a disappointment to us and we felt like we were in some end of year show for graduate students. It was all a bit underwhelming and for us, too much of a focus on video art, which, with one exception, was all a bit underwhelming. We drowned our sorrows in some fantastic dim sum buns at a local cafe, at the end of the road near to the MRT station – if you go, try them they are delicious.
IT and Camera Shopping at Guanghua
This is the place to go if you are in need an electronics fix. You will find virtually any camera, laptop or other electronic device you could wish for sale here. The stallholders are up for a bit of bargaining and you can bag some reasonable cut price electronic goods here if you try a little bit of haggling. I could list all the gadgets I wanted to buy, but won’t.
We had a very pleasant and leisurely walk here from the station, around some very impressive flower gardens and parks which form the approach to the museum. The tranquillity is only disturbed when a plane roars above your head taking off from the domestic airport nearby. They seemed very close at times. Sadly on arrival at the museum we found 90% of the space closed as they were undergoing a major refurbishment/installation. The professional staff were very helpful and it will be business as usual from October. Sad because what they had on offer in the basement rooms was excellent in the form of a photographic history of Taipei through the ages through the lens of a local photographer. Really interesting to see the changes.
Take a Gondola Ride (Cable Car Ride)
We took a gondola ride up to the village of Maokong. The cable car is located near to Taipei Zoo (which also has an MRT station), and we passed loads of family based activities when walking the 10 mins to the Gondola station. We were surprised at how long our ascent took, I think it was about 30-40mins. The ride is fun, and on reaching the summit, there are a few quaint traditional tea shops to grab a cup of green tea and marvel at the amazing views of the city.
Other things to do in Taipei
There are an abundance of markets and night markets, of all shapes and sizes dotted around the city. We managed to visit several and enjoyed all of them. For those seeking out cheap bargains, there is a fairly good night market located near to the university.
We sadly did not have the time or energy to go trekking in the Yangmingshan mountains and hills in northern Taipei. We also wanted to visit the hot springs at Beitou, which is fairly easy to access from downtown. We will just have to pick this up next time we visit Taiwan. This is one country we will most definitely be returning to as we are intrigued, and want to experience more.
Final Flashpacking Travel Thoughts
Taiwan is an interesting place, part of China and yet not so in many other ways. It fiercely protects its uniqueness, much to the annoyance of some. It remains a bit of a thorn in their side and while there is tacit acquiescence to the rule of China in Taiwan, this peace remains only so long as that relationship is kept purely platonic. Any attempts at full integration continue to be met with fierce resistance from the independent and proud Taiwanese.
Taipei proved to be a charming and exciting destination. While not having the extreme energy of Hong Kong, another of China’s independent areas, it certainly has more than enough on offer to make it onto your travel itinerary if you’re planning to travel around the world.