Help flesh out an itinerary for eight days in Taiwan
June 5, 2016 10:32 PM   Subscribe

I will vacation in Taiwan shortly, arriving late afternoon on Saturday, June 18. I have a reservation at the W Taipei from then until Thursday the 23rd. That Thursday, I figure on leaving Taipei and traveling to elsewhere on the island, maybe taking the train down the west coast to Tainan and Kaoshiung, then returning to Taipei or Taoyuan the night of Saturday the 25th and catching my flight out the morning of the 26th. My interests for the trip include food, contemporary and traditional art and culture, food, areas of great natural or architectural beauty, nightlife, and food.

What are some attractions and day trips from Taipei I shouldn't miss? I'm planning Jiufen, Beitou hot springs, and the Imperial Palace Museum so far.

What about things to definitely eat. I'm thinking of eating at Din Tai Fung and Da Wan yakiniku in Taipei. Does Din Tai Fung still live up to the hype now that they have them all over? Are there other high-end restaurants I should be trying? Chinese, or maybe a really first-rate sushi places?

Otherwise I'm planning to do a lot of my eating in night markets and greasy-spoon soy milk breakfast places - any of these in particular to make a priority, in Taipei or elsewhere?

Is the plan to take the train down the west coast the best choice for a post-Taipei leg? Having a week to see the whole country narrows down how many places I can go to, and while Taroko Gorge and Sun Moon Lake both sound interesting, they are perhaps better suited to a longer trip.
posted by strangely stunted trees to Travel & Transportation around Taiwan (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I would shorten the time you're spending in Taipei by a day or two and spend that time on the beautiful east coast of Taiwan because I like to spend my time hiking and cycling. If you prefer spending your time on history/culture, you have the right idea with taking a fast train down to Tainan for your outside-of-Taipei time.

Highlights of my 2 week trip to Taiwan:
- National Palace Museum - so much amazing stuff, even if you skip the most popular exhibits because of the wait
- Miaokou Night Market - it's in Keelung, about ~1 hr from Taipei via local train, and even more happening than the night markets in Taipei
- Longshan Temple (in the evening, when there are lots of people around)
- Taroko Gorge via bicycle (rented bikes from someone who drove us to the top of the gorge, we coasted down)

I would also recommend as day trips from or in Taipei
- Jiufen - so picturesque, take the time to have a nice pot of tea in the traditional tea house
- Ceramics museum in Yingge - it has both a bunch of excellent informational exhibits about how ceramics are made and fine art style exhibits of modern work
- Chen San Ding is a bubble tea place with only black sugar fresh milk tea on the menu - it was great
- Yangminshan is a geologically active park with some cool fumaroles and mud volcanoes; you can spend half a day hiking and the later half of the day at the Beitou hot springs

I think Din Tai Fung in Taipei was better than the one I went to in Bellevue, WA; YMMV.

The Taiwanese government puts out extremely helpful tourist guides in English - pick some up each time you get to a new city/town and they'll help orient you and find local specialty food.
posted by asphericalcow at 12:34 AM on June 6, 2016

Best answer: Allot more time than you think you'll need for the National Palace Museum, and maybe go twice, because they're always changing their exhibits. When the KMT left the mainland, they took as much art as they could, so it's probably the most comprehensive collection of Chinese art in the world. I'm not a huge connoisseur of art, but I kept going back during my year in Taiwan; that and the food are the things I remember most fondly.
posted by languagehat at 6:46 AM on June 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My wife loved Toroko Gorge - about a third of the way down the east coast of the island. You can do a day trip from Taipei or hit it on the way south.

I have the misfortune of being an engineer and actually thought it was terrifying. Unstable rock formations everywhere. We walked by a big rock that clearly recently came off the cliff above. But hey, it's pretty.
posted by doomsey at 7:37 AM on June 6, 2016

Best answer: Already some good suggestions above (incl. multiple visits to NPM), I'll add a few tips haphazardly:

I also recommend cutting time from Taipei (even though it's my hometown) and visiting the island's east coast (though you might avoid parts of Ilan on the weekend, that's where a lot of Taipeiites go to escape the city)--rent a bike and go cycling and enjoy the mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

For the western coast, you can save lots of time by using the High Speed Rail, but be warned that many of the stations are pretty far from the city center so you'll have to check the connections. Though I haven't been for a while, check out Tainan and Lugang (near Changhua), older representation's of Taiwanese culture. Unsurprisingly, these two places also have great local food, so totally pig out.

Within Taipei, I would recommend (weather permitting, as it shuts down during heavy rain and lightning storms--check detailed weather) a ride on the Maokong gondola for a visit to the hills and having a nice cup of tea. Get one of those EasyCards and use it to rent a Youbike and ride on the bike path toward the town of Tamsui, you can ride the MRT back into town.

Night market wise, I would recommend Raohe (which is by MRT Songshan station) for its authenticity or Ningxia (which is also good, and closer to the city center). There are also a nice variety of food options near universities like National Taiwan Univ. (MRT Gongguan) and National Taiwan Normal Univ (MRT Guting).

I recommend reading thru this blog for a variety of food reviews on basically any culinary variant imaginable.

Have fun!
posted by wallawallasweet at 7:37 AM on June 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You should definitely try a rechao (i.e. Stir-fry) restaurant. Very loud and boisterous, super cheap, and usually much better food than fancier restaurants. There's a good one that I like on LeLi Road, near Liuzhangli station (I can find the address later). Menus are only in Chinese but you can get away with pointing at what other people are eating.

You can take the high-speed rail to Tainan, but it's still a longish shuttle ride from the station into downtown. A day trip through Tainan will probably involve walking through temples in blistering hot heat, eating a lot of street food and constantly ducking into the air conditioned 7-11s.

I think the scientific term for the weather here now is "hot as balls" so I'm sort of laughing at the idea of going to a hot spring. I definitely recommend going up to Yangmingshan to do a hike, explore some of the geothermals, etc but be prepared for San Francisco-like microclimates (i.e. freezing and foggy at the top).

Asphericalcow's suggestions are pretty good. You can visit Miaokou night market as part of a Jiufen day trip, but it's not absolutely necessary. Ningxia night market and Tonghua night market are two pretty good Taipei night markets that aren't as touristy as Shilin or Raohe.
posted by alidarbac at 7:37 AM on June 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In Tainan check out Tu Hsiao Yueh for noodles, it has been open since 1895 and supposedly the pot there has never been cleaned, or not in decades or something, so you are tasting the funk of many years when you drink the broth. The broth is indeed intense although I can't attest to how many years of funk I tasted.

Din Tai Fung is good and kind of worth going to just for the ambiance; the bunny-suited workers making each perfect dumpling behind a big glass window is fun to watch and there's lots of good people watching while you wait for a table. I thought the Din Tai Fung in Taipei was better than in the US (Bellevue WA), but not dramatically better. Everyone in Taiwan has their own dumpling place they claim is better, but Din Tai Fung is still the place to beat, it seems. Try the truffle dumpling, it's better over there. And get the black sesame dumplings for dessert, if you like sweet black sesame it's the best I've had.

Alishan national park is really lovely. I am not sure whether the train is running and am finding conflicting reports online.

If you're in Kaohsiung anyway stop by Wu Pao Chun bakery. Their red wine longan bread wins international competitions. Plus you can pick up some boxes of pineapple cake to bring back home to friends and family, the one at Wu Pao Chun is the best I've gotten.

This may be a "family with kids" thing but I was really impressed with the Taipei zoo. It is crazy cheap to get in and it's lovely - the pandas are still young so that panda building may be packed but the rest of the zoo was empty when we went and it's a really pleasant place to walk around. I think I had just never been to a zoo in a tropical climate before, but it was nice to be in a place with a lot of animals and jungle plants. Maybe not your thing, but I was like "uuuugh I guess we should go to the zoo and see those damn teen pandas" and I ended up being really glad we made the trip.
posted by town of cats at 11:57 AM on June 6, 2016

Best answer: I find that the pork chop noodle at Din Tai Fung in Taipei is much, much better than in Bellevue. I always order it in addition to the dumplings. The chicken soup is also good there.

I really enjoyed my Omakase dinner at the sushi bar in Niu Sushi, and I also recommend Yong He Soy Milk King.

The National Palace Museum is wonderful. It's like the Louvre of Chinese art.

The tea shops on top of the mountains around Taipei are fun if you're travelling with others or meet people there.

I enjoyed watching the sunrise at Alishan. I took the train there and stayed at a cheap motel for the evening and then woke up around 4am for the hike to the summit, along with the many other tourists although there's also a tram that you can take instead. I did this maybe 20 years ago so I can't say what it's like now.

If you're adventurous you can try local delicacies like stinky tofu and rooster testicle soup. Bon appetit! :)
posted by praiseb at 3:00 PM on June 6, 2016

Best answer: Taipei born, live in the US now. You've gotten some great suggestions here but personally I think Din Tai Fung is way overpriced and only so-so. There's a long line and the place is full of Japanese tourists instead of locals (when I lived in Japan 10 years ago, my Japanese colleagues who had been to Taiwan had all gone there- it's featured often in Japanese travel shows).

Taiwanese people are food obsessed and there will be fads for the street food, I don't know what's hot now but it changes all the time. Sometimes it's little fresh made donuts, sometimes it's fried cheese, sometimes it's chewy ice cream- I never know what it's going to be when I go back.

My general advice for food is that you don't need to do like a bunch of research, all you need to do is really wander around and see what looks crowded with locals.
posted by raw sugar at 7:14 PM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

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