Photography by: Luke Beard (<– one of SF’s best photographers)
Taiwan is easily one of my favorite Asian countries to visit.
It’s like a mixture of Hong Kong, China and Japan, yet still completely different.
For one, it’s less expensive. Like, OKAYYY HI $3 bowls of Taiwanesse beef noodles…. I love you. I’m not kidding though: the shopping, the night markets- pretty much everything is beyond budget friendly and affordable. Definitely bring extra cash and get some shopping done if you’re planning a visit. The emptier the suitcase, the better!
My trip lasted a full week and we (@EatDrinkSF team and @LukesBeard) explored pretty much all of Taiwan. Guys, I’m not joking- we literally traveled the entire country in 1 week. Besides sleeping, we really didn’t give ourselves any downtime since we wanted to explore as much as possible. We got around by bus and this bullet train that takes you from North Taiwan (Taipei) to South Taiwan (Tainan) in only 2 hours! That’s like… going from Norcal to SoCal in 2 hours. What a dream!
Okay back to Taiwan. Here’s what I’d recommend:
Fly into Taipei and spend 2-3 days here. Then mix it up a little for the next few days and check out different cities.
WHERE TO STAY IN TAIPEI AND HOW TO GET AROUD
How to get around: You can take taxis, buses, and they even have Uber! Everything is super convenient and Google maps will be your best friend.
Where to stay: We stayed at the Regent Hotel. This particular hotel was fantastic. It was centrally located and right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city. The rooms are big, the views are dope, and most importantly…. the BUFFET. Ohhh the buffet. Wow. Can I just take a moment to talk about their food selection?? Everything was so grand! They had…3… no 4, wait 5 different sections of food. And don’t even get me started on dessert…
THINGS TO DO/SEE IN TAIPEI
Longshan Temple: This temple is over 240 years old and is the oldest Buddhism temple in Taipei. SUCH a cool place to see and experience.
This used to be the tallest building in the world until 2010 when Dubai had to one-up them! lol. Come here during golden hour so you can catch the gorgeous sunsets over the entire city.
Pro tip: Put your name down at Din Tai Fung (deets below) before you go up. They are famous for having some of the best dumplings in the world. There’s always a line- usually a 1-2 hour wait- and totally worth it.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall:
For those history nerds, this is a cool spot to learn about the history of Taiwan and watch the hourly guard changing ceremony. It was built to commemorate Chiang Kai-Shek after he passed away in 1989.
WHERE TO EAT IN TAIPEI:
Din Tai Fung: If there’s ONE place you have to try, it’s Din Tai Fung. While there are some locations in the US (Seattle, LA, and one just opened in Santa Clara), it will still never be as good as the OG location in Taiwan.
Ice Monster: Possibly the BEST shaved ice I’ve ever had. If you’re thinking “Oh, I’ve been to Hawaii… I know what shaved ice is all about” (<– uhm wrong, you have NO IDEA). Taiwanese shaved ice tastes like heaven and the texture is sooooo smooth… like gelato.
PS: If you want an IG pic, you’ll want to dine IN. Outside your shit will melt .02 seconds. I made this mistake… and lets just say the photo did NOT make it to the @CynEats Instagram page. (Might have seen this on snap!: Username: CynEats)
Ippudo– One of the best ramen spots in the world. The only location they have in the US is in New York. Pleaseeeee open one up in SF! There just aren’t many ramen places in San Francisco that compares. So if you’re in Taipei, this is a MUST visit. You’ll thank me later.
(Ps: If you stay at the Regent Hotel, this location is walking distance)
Night Market– You can’t go to Taiwan and not go to one of the night markets. They’ve got a bunch of weird stuff, but you gotta get out of your comfort zone and try something new! They have this one market that is SUPER dope. It has everything from gifts to food to carnival games. For cheap, you’ll find shoes, clothes, sunglasses, hats, jewelry… and just some of the most random sh*t you’ll ever see. It’s awesome.
Yu Shang Ge – This is a truly unique spot because everything they serve is vegetarian. I was shocked at some of the dishes that looked like meat, tasted like meat, but was really a vegetable? #mindblown. They had this “salmon sashimi” and “pepper steak” that tasted like the real deal! Order the set menu that comes with 9 courses.
TAKE A DAY TRIP FROM TAIPEI TO:
SUN MOON LAKE (similar to our version of Lake Tahoe in the summer)
Hotel: Fleur de Chin. This was one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever been to in my life. The views are insane, the food is fantastic and the pictures online don’t do this place any justice. They have floor to ceiling windows all around the hotel and you have a view of the water everywhere you go. Oh and did I mention that they give you pajamas to walk around in? Everyone was literally walking around in PJs + slippers to the dinner buffet. Pretty sure this hotel= heaven on earth.
Sun Moon Lake is magical in every way.
Minimum stay: 2 days at least!
Rooms: Gorgeous views of the lake. You even have your own jacuzzi/hot tub in your room. <—- Ballerrrrrrr ?
Food: Their buffet is AMAZING. Plus they’ve got a chocolate fountain for dessert… hell yes.
Activities: Bike riding or a boat tour that takes you to a cool ass temple:
PS: on the way to Sun Moon Lake, stop by Taichung city for lunch
Chun Shui Tang– According to our tour guide, this is the place where boba tea was born! You can even DIY your own boba tea here. Just make sure to call in advance.
Honestly, one of the best boba drinks I’ve ever had. Their boba is also way smaller and easier to chew.
Miyahara: OMG this was THE SHIT. You get to make your own waffle ice cream bowls and add as many toppings as you want. I’d definitely make the extra drive out here just to get this again.
Other places to visit that are driving distance from Taipei (day trip)
Ecofarm at Sheng Yang in Yilan County– You can think of this place as the “country side.” People turn their small piece of land and develop it into an eco-farm, where everything is natural, balanced, and free of pesticides. This particular place we went to reminded me of a family- friendly natural amusement park with tiny pools for kids to play in. (Read more about Eco Farms HERE)
Now this is a real gem of a restaurant and was one of my most favorite meals on the trip. Everything was so FRESH (literally picked fresh from the farm).
Oh and did I mention the little turtles just chillen and walking past us as we were having lunch? Sooo cute.
Another MUST VISIT spot that’s 1.5 hours away from Taipei: Pingxi road
This is a delightful little town where you get to release sky lanterns. It’s a Chinese tradition that happens every year during Chinese New Years. You pick a lantern, and you get four sides to write down your thoughts/wishes/dreams/
Ps: this happens on an active train track with ZERO warning signs.
TAINAN CITY (2 hours from Taipei- take the high speed railroad)
Now this is a city with so much history- it’s actually the oldest city in Taiwan! You could either do a day trip here or spend the night. My favorite hotel was the Shangri-la. Go all the way up to the top (tallest building in Tainan) and have brunch or dinner there, the views are amazing!
Historical sights that are all walking distance from each other:
Confucius temple– This is the first national academy built in 1665. This place is quite different than all the other Buddhist temples- as there aren’t many statues or places to worship. Instead, there is a shrine with 72 tablets recognizing the top 72 students back when Confucius was still alive.
Tree house– One of the coolest places we’ve visited on this trip (many photo-ops here). It’s an old warehouse that was run by the British trading company. It was one of the 5 foreign trading companies in the 17th century and was involved in local opium trade.
Chihkan tower– This is another spot to check out the mix of Dutch and Chinese architecture.
Lastly, shoutout to our tour guide Francis who put up with our group for an entire week (we miss you!). If any of you guys are looking for a personal guide to take you around Taiwan, I gotchu covered! He’s smart, funny as hell, and will make sure your group has the best time. Send me an email and I’ll connect you with Francis- the best guide in town. —> CynEats@gmail.com