Taipei layover, what to do and how to do it?
October 18, 2014 3:28 PM   Subscribe

I'll be in Taipei on a twenty hour layover coming up and would like to leave the airport and explore.

I assume I'll need a tourist visa to leave, are these hard go obtain? Can I get one at the airport? Any idea how much they are? And if I do make it out, any suggestions or advice on things to do or avoid? I'm American and this will be in a week or so from today. Food recommendations welcome. Thanks!
posted by pwally to Travel & Transportation around Taiwan (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've never had to buy a visa, as a US citizen. Be aware that Taipei airport is a fair ways outside of Taipei proper. Not that you won't be able to get to the city on a 20-hour layover, just plan accordingly. What hours will you be there?
posted by town of cats at 3:59 PM on October 18, 2014

Response by poster: Hi town of cats, we are there from 9pm to 5pm the next day, sleep isn't really a big deal but I guess a bunch of stuff will be closed.
posted by pwally at 5:43 PM on October 18, 2014

Perhaps you might get some ideas from someone who wrote about "How You Can Take a Weekend Trip to Taipei from San Francisco and Still Make it Back to Your Monday Morning Team Meeting."
posted by noonday at 6:22 PM on October 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

If it's anything like Tokyo, I would bet there's plenty to do overnight.

I did this with a 17 hr layover in Fiji. Double check the departure time before you leave the airport, and make sure you have an alert or periodically check during those 20 hrs. A storm came up over the Pacific and our flight left 5 hrs early! We noticed the time change on our boarding passes as we left the airport. Have fun! Totally worth it to break up a long trip.
posted by jrobin276 at 6:38 PM on October 18, 2014

Oh, we rented a hotel room btw. After a 10 hr flight and more to go, we actually spent most of our 12 hours sleeping (flat! Heaven), hot shower, yoga, walk on the beach, fancy breakfast, etc. very refreshing. It actually helped mitigate jet lag a lot too. If Taipei has the Internet cafés like Japan, that would be perfect... Small cubicle set up for napping and internet/movies, shared shower, foot bath/oxygen room, take out, library of comics. Definitely an experience! With 20 hrs you have time to refresh and explore :)
posted by jrobin276 at 6:47 PM on October 18, 2014

I'm an American who just came back from my first trip to Taiwan last week.

First off, as an American you can get a visa on arrival and is free so don't worry about that. We took a taxi from the Taipei Taoyuan airport to downtown Taipei (Taipei main station) and the standard fare is 1000 TWD (US$33) and takes about 45 min. You could also try public transport but it would either be a bus or a bus/train mix, not sure about the price or time.

In my opinion the best thing about Taipei is the cheap delicious food. One classic old restaurant we went is Chow’s Porridge 周记肉粥 near Longshan temple and it was amazing! Try to get there before noon as it's very popular. Read about it here:
You should probably also eat at Din Tai Fung (several locations) as it seems to have become the national restaurant and is quite good despite that I think it's wildly over popular at home and abroad with lines out the door at all times.

Longshan temple itself shouldn't be missed either. Once you're in the city you can get around easily and cheaply by subway and Longshan has it's own stop. The temple is beautiful and actively used by the locals so it's not just a tourist place. The area around there is interesting as well and the mall in the subway station there is full of interesting shops and cheap excellent massage places. Bopiliao Old Street is right next to the temple and across from Chows porridge and is worth a quick walk around too.

Chiang Kai Shek memorial hall is a couple stops away from Longshan and really interesting and grand. You could watch the changing of the guard which happens every hour on the hour. Then a few stops from that is Taipei 101 (we didn't go there but people seem to like it)

Finally I would really really recommend the Beitou hot spring. It's a bit of a ride on the subway to Xinbeitou but totally worth it. The entrance fee is less than US $5 and it's a very uniquely Taiwanese experience. Bring your swimsuit!

So enjoy and make sure to eat as much as you can!
posted by banishedimmortal at 7:01 PM on October 18, 2014

I did a day in Taipei with a similar length layover a couple of years ago, and you can absolutely go into the city and enjoy the day! I took a shuttle bus from the airport--it was easy to find by following the "to taxis and buses" signs in the airport. I don't remember what it cost, but it took about an hour.

It was my second visit to the city, and I had already seen some of the big tourist items, so I went to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (which is really excellent) on my layover. For a first visit, banishedimmortal's ideas are great. I'd especially recommend Longshan temple and the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. And definitely Din Tai Fung. A good night-time option would be a night market, and maybe some street food.
posted by snorkmaiden at 7:50 PM on October 18, 2014

You *could* explore the night markets but I'm not sure how late they open. They're really fun though, and not to be missed. Shilin is perhaps the most famous and biggest, and there are a bunch of others.

Seconding the Memorial Hall. It's... big. Like, seriously.

Din Tai Fung is pretty good, but I don't think it's THAT great. I much rather go nuts on the street food and boba tea.

I loved Taipei 101 and highly recommend it. Tickets are NT$500 (~$17), and, weather permitting, you can go on the roof...I think.
posted by curagea at 8:38 PM on October 18, 2014

I was also just there last week, and I'm going to say... Check out Hsinchu City! It's amazing. The oldest city in Taiwan, and central Hsinchu is as Chinese as it gets.

Interesting histories I learned during my stay there (and other parts of China) - The communists destroyed Chinese history in the Cultural Revolution. Literally, the entire goal of the Cultural Revolution was "Destroy the Past". As a result, historical China almost exclusively exists in Taiwan. And so, Hsinchu City is actually more (traditionally) Chinese than most cities in China. It's incredible, and only about half an hour from Taoyuan Airport.

Only caveat is, no one speaks english. Not speaking much Mandarin (or Hokkien or Japanese*) it was much easier to get around Taipei, where at least a few people speak english.

Oh, and don't mention Mao. I made that mistake, and my host was terribly offended and responded with hawking a disgusting lugie and proclaiming "I SPIT BLOOD AT THAT NAME"

No matter where you go, DO visit temples. Taiwanese religion is amazing; I found temples with Buddhas alongside Shivas alongside Shinto deities alongside old Taiwanese deities.

only old people speak Japanese, don't try that on young people and especially not on the ethnically Chinese.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 12:25 AM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was in Taipei last year - it's a great city to explore. As town of cats mentioned, the airport is a fair distance from the downtown area. This isn't a big deal, just something to factor in as you think about time. Your time frame is ideal for visiting one of Taipei's many night markets. The night markets are fabulous . . . they go on forever, are literally open all night, and are spilling over with delicious food and fun things to buy.

I would definitely suggest booking a hotel. That way you can check in at your hotel, head to a night market for several hours, go get some sleep, then plan an activity or two for the next day before your flight.

Have a wonderful time!
posted by WaspEnterprises at 8:32 AM on October 19, 2014

Just as a note of caution, be aware that greater Taipei has two airports: Taoyuan Intl (TPE) where you are almost certainly flying to and which is a ways from Taipei city proper, and Taipei Songshan (TSA) which is a smaller airport within city limits with flights only to China, Japan and Korea. The transportation links are quite different to each airport.

If you only have 20 hours, I'm going to have to disagree with Hsinchu -- Taipei is closer, has better mass transit, has plenty to do, and has traditional neighborhoods (it's not all skyscrapers, far from it in fact.)

Here's an abridged version of my standard "you're going to Taiwan!" email that I send to my friends, modified for your circumstances. I've kept the Chinese characters even if you don't read Mandarin because you can past them into Google Translate which will read them out loud for you.

- If you get there in time and like food, a night market is a must. Shilin (士林夜市) is the most famous/well-known one, but I would say that any of the night markets in greater Taipei are quite good – I would probably go to the one closest to where you are staying. You can go and try all sorts of deliciously fried Chinese snack foods late at night for quite cheap.
- For art, the National Palace Museum 國立故宮博物院 it represents the best of the imperial Chinese art collection spirited away by the Nationalists. The museum used to be a little run down but they reopened after a major renovation in 2007 and it’s much better now. The two famous pieces are the jade cabbage and the meat-shaped stone, which often have Mona Lisa-like crowds around them. Metro to Shilin and bus from there.
- Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall 中正紀念堂 is a famous and noticeable Taipei landmark If you go early in the morning there are often elderly people practicing tai chi in the large plaza before the monument and it’s kind of a really peaceful sensation.

With your schedule, though, I would recommend just wandering around Taipei. The city is very safe and pretty walkable, although the ubiquitous scooters will be parked and roaring around everywhere. In a very broad sense, the western part of the city is older and the eastern part (especially out near Xinyi) is newer and has more of that “Asian Tiger” skyscraper-and-glass architecture. 西門町 Ximending is a trendy/hip shopping area -- the pedestrian volume is great and it's very lively. The area right around Taipei Main Station 台北車站 is also fun to wander because there’s a high concentration of bookstores in particular and just lots of shopping there

(Slightly) farther afield
- Danshui 淡水(also spelled Tamsui) is a little bit hokey and touristy, but there are some beautiful views of the harbor from there and it can be a lovely seaside walk. Easily accessible by MRT red line, it’s at the end of the line.
- There are hot springs out in Beitou 北投 which I’ve never been to, but are supposed to be quite excellent. Not sure if this would work with your schedule though.

Taipei’s public transportation is excellent (although for a 20-hour trip walking will serve you perfectly fine.) The Metro, called the MRT, is clean, fast, air-conditioned and has pretty good coverage of the city. Fare is distance based from NT$20 to NT$65 (US$0.65 to US$2.15), but you can also get a one-day pass for unlimited travel for NT$200, which is probably what I'd recommend.

City buses are actually very good, but I would not recommend them for someone who does not read Chinese and is in town for 20 hours, unless you are an very adventurous traveler! Cabs are quite affordable as well, at least from a US perspective, and are easy to hail in most any districts that a tourist is likely to be in.

Breakfast stores are quite popular and a serious thing. You can get traditional Chinese breakfasts (飯糰, 油條, 蛋餅, 豆漿) and also a whole variety of different types of sandwiches, some of which are quite good. Earlier is generally better. I have been to the one described here and it was delicious.

Here are some classic Taiwanese foods with pronunciation in Mandarin, except for the ones marked with * which are approximate pronunciations in Taiwanese.
- 滷肉飯 (lǔròufàn) which is a very “home-style” Taiwanese dish, minced pork on rice. Simple but classic!
- 臭豆腐 (chòu dòufǔ, stinky tofu) almost always seen at a snack bar/night market. Pretty much what it says in the name, but also one of my favorites
- 牛肉麵 (niúròumiàn, beef noodle soup) is one of the most popular dishes, which is also interesting because at the same time many Taiwanese (like my cousins) do not eat beef for cultural reasons
- 肉圓 (pronounced bàwán*, Taiwanese) is a snack food that is sort of like a very large dumpling filled with pork/bamboo/shiitake mushrooms and then enwrapped in a gelatinous dough
- 蝦仁煎 (pronounced óu’àjiān*, Taiwanese) is an oyster omelet usually also served in a sweet space. A favorite of mine
- 蚵仔麵線 (pronounced óu’àmísuǎ*, Taiwanese) is an oyster and vermicelli soup noodle dish
- 剉冰 (pronounced cuàbīng) is shaved ice, which I always have in the summer but is possibly less appealing in October. If you do have it I would find one of the night market stands that has a huge variety of toppings so you can add to your heart’s content.
- 麻糬 (pronounced muǎjí*, Taiwanese) is very similar to Japanese mochi
- 潤餅 (rùnbǐng) is a sort of fresh spring roll in a sweet sauce, which to be honest I have no idea where to get because it’s always bought for me by my family members, but it’s delicious. I think there are some deep-fried versions out there but if so I greatly prefer the non-fried versions, as the whole point is I don’t want another deep-fried orange eggroll
- 割包 (guàbāo) which are the pork buns that I think the Momofuku chain of restaurants popularized in NYC
- 鳳梨酥 (fènglíshū) pineapple cakes which are considered a specialty. Insane amounts of butter and cream go into them, I think, but the best ones are flaky and soft.
- 飯團 (fàntuán) at the aforementioned breakfast stores. Pork floss, pickled vegetables, small pieces of youtiao wrapped in the core of a rice roll. There are also sweet versions now, which I like, though I prefer the savory ones.
posted by andrewesque at 4:09 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older How do I shop for dental services (NYC)?   |   Hindsight is 20/20 Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.