The Red House
After a bit of research into Taipei, I decided the best area to stay in was Ximending, which was described on various sites as similar to Shibuya, one of the main tourist areas in Japan. It is quite similar, even down to the busy 4 way pedestrian crossing, though all on a slightly smaller scale.
There is plenty to see, do and especially eat in the area, which makes it a great base – Ximen station also has pretty good access to the main lines which makes it easy to get to all the other main tourist destinations in Taipei.
Historically Ximending was the site of a famous marketplace, The Red House in 1908, and the area has only grown as a shopping and eating hot spot since then. There is a large pedestrian only area which is packed full of street food vendors, noodle houses and the usual shops selling tourist orientated wares.
It is a popular place, especially during nights and weekends, and highly recommended as a Taipei sight to visit.
Taipei 101 was the worlds tallest skyscraper from 2004 to 2009, and is comfortably regarded as one of the best sights in Taipei. It is easy to get to, it has its own station on Red Line (2) in the Xiangshan direction.
On site there is a large upmarket shopping mall, which has a great food court, as well as a variety of upmarket restaurants. The tower itself has an observation deck on the 89th floor, including an outside area on the 91st floor. The cost is around $20 US to visit using the high speed elevator.
The Taipei Zoo and Maokdong Gondola are conveniently situated next to each other near the Taipei Zoo train station, which is at the end of Brown Line 1.
The zoo is famous for its Panda’s, which were a gift from China. They have featured in YouTube clips since they were cubs, and are now fully grown. When we first arrived they were sleeping, but after 20 minutes or so the keepers came and fed them so we got to see them running around eating for a bit. It was really hot when we arrived so we didn’t explore much else in the zoo. Like other zoo’s in Asia it was very cheap to enter, about one tenth the price of a western zoo, so it was economical to just visit the panda’s on the way through to the gondola.
The entrance to the Maokdong Gondola is just up from the zoo. It costs $120NT each way to the top station, but you get a discount for using your easyway card. The views back onto Taipei are amazing, especially after dark, so if you time your ride to go up in the afternoon and down in the evening you will be rewarded with an amazing night view.
At the top of the mountain there are some tea houses and other eateries, as well as some mountain walks. We ate some snacks then took the gondola back one stop to Zhinan Temple Station where we spent an hour or so exploring this fascinating place. They will happily show you around the inside of the beautiful Taoist temple and if you are feeling extra adventurous you can tackle the stairway of 1000 steps up to the Tudigong Shrine.
A day trip up to Jiufen is a must if staying in Taipei for more than a few days. To get there take a train to Ruifang then a short walk to the Jiufen Bus – it’s a popular trip so just follow everyone else or ask if you are not sure where the bus stop is. It takes about 15 minutes on the bus and you can use your Easycard for the whole trip.
Once in Jiufen you can explore the enclosed street market, which is full of interesting food, tea and local wares. The main attraction is the house which served as the inspiration for scenes in the famous Spirited Away movie. Its a little tricky to find, and unfortunately the public viewing space is a little close to get a good photograph, but you can get good shots from the tea house opposite if you are prepared to buy a drink.
The best time to view the house is at dusk just as the lights come on – three hours is enough time to see most of the area, and the markets close pretty soon after dark, so time your time your trip to arrive mid afternoon if you just want a quick visit.
Tamsui is another great afternoon location just north of Taipei. It’s the last station on Red Line 2, which makes it easy to get to. Just out of the station is the Tamsui Old Street area, with the usual street market stalls and a few interesting historic buildings scattered around. After the market area you want to make your way down to the waterside and catch the Dan Shui Ferry to Fishermans Wharf. We timed the ferry so we arrived at sunset, which made for a really nice view.
Fishermans wharf is features many restaurants and bars, as well as the iconic Lovers Bridge, which lights up with different colours after dark.
There is plenty of things to do in the surrounding area too, including bike riding across the water in Bali District. We had dinner at one of the local restaurants before catching the bus back to the station.
Taipei Street Scene
Shilin Night Markets
Taipei Mountain Scene
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