I am back from my first visit to Asia and of course I have so much to share! I had the privilege of traveling to Taiwan for work. Since this was not a personal vacation, I did not plan out my own itinerary or do much research before heading to Taiwan. With that, I really went in to this trip with no expectations and that honestly made the whole experience better! I compiled the highlights of my trip in to this one LONG post as a Guide to Taipei!
What to See & Do
Once the largest building in the world, the Taipei 101 is a must see during a visit to Taipei! There is a fancy mall at the bottom of the building then you can make your way to the observatory to see some of the best views of the city.
The Grand Hotel
I was obsessed with this place! I visited it twice during my stay. From the architecture, to the shops to the restaurants. As the name implies, it is SO grand and beautiful. Be sure to get a photo on the grand staircase and the orchards.
I visited the gondolas on the recommendation of a colleague. She described it as a trip up in to the mountains in a “gondola” (picture a sky tram). I pictured a short 20 minute ride. No, it is 45 minutes each way up through the mountains! It got a little scary at times, but it was beautiful and worth it. Guests can also pick a glass bottom gondola to get additional views of the ground below them. I would recommend going at sunrise or sunset for great views and because it’s cooler.
National Palace Museum
This museum has the largest collection of Chinese artifacts and is one of the worlds best museums. After visiting this museum, I’ve added “visiting the world’s best museums” to my travel destinations.
This is an easy must see, as there are temples literally on every corner in Taipei!
Performance at the Taipei Eye
On my last day, we had the privilege of watching a Chinese Opera performance. The venue provided English subtitles and it gave us a chance to learn a great Chinese parable.
Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf
I’ll be honest, there was not much to this area other than the big bridge. I probably would not go out of my way to see this again, but if you are nearby then it would not hurt to stop by.
With any trip, you do not get to see everything. The one thing I hate that I missed was the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. So add that to your list for your visit.
Taroko National Park/Hualien City
We took a three hour bus ride from Taipei to Hualien City through the mountains. While it was a beautiful scenic trip, it was a bit scary going through the mountains! Once there, I could see why people enjoy going out to Hualien City. It is a beach town with plenty to do including the sites at the Taroko National Park. For those who love nature and hiking, I would highly recommend taking the trip!
Where to Eat
The food is always the most exciting yet scary thing for me when I travel abroad. While I am a food blogger, I am also picky! I try to be adventurous and of course respectful of different cultures and cuisines when I travel. Taiwan was no different. I ate street food, squid, dumplings, tons of pork and McDonalds. Yes, McDonalds is worth noting ’cause I do not eat that at home, but during one outing McDonalds and KFC were the only quick food options.
As far as cuisine, Taiwan’s connection to China is present through their cuisine and dining culture. Many of the restaurants we ate family style with a large lazy susan shuttling food around the table. This was super efficient for a large group so our dinners typically took less than an hour. Dinner also always came with hot tea served how we serve water at dinners.
For food, here are the places I really enjoyed:
When I posted that I was in Taiwan on Instagram, literally everyONE said I should go to the nigh markets. Taiwan is famous for their night markets which are open late with vendors selling all types of Taiwanese cuisine and just about any other item you can imagine. Even if you are not big on eating from street vendors, it is definitely worth the visit.
During the day, you can also pick up plenty of street food at various day markets.
Din Tai Fung
This is a MUST stop in Taiwan. I first visited Din Tai Fun in Seattle and loved it. I figured I would only like it more in Taiwan and I did. We visited the one in the Taipei 101 which was packed, so be prepared for a wait.
The W Hotel
I celebrated my birthday in Taipei so of course the food blogger needed an appropriate venue for a celebratory dinner. I dined at the Yen Restaurant, one of the highest restaurants in Taipei. It was delicious. During lunch, the Yen Bar also serves a highly rated high tea.
Brunch was a must during my trip! I found a Parisian themed coffee shop that featured the famous Japanese soufflé pancakes! In addition to great Instagram worthy food, the space is also super cute.
The Grand Hotel Restaurants
I told y’all I was obsessed with this place so it should be no surprise that I ate at several of the restaurants there! If you find yourself craving more American fare during a long stay, the Yuanshan Steakhouse is great. If you want a chill people watching spot, post up at the Garden Cafe. The three other restaurants offer more traditional Chinese cuisine.
My job organized most of my transportation, but in the evenings I was on my own. When I could, I used my two feet and good ‘ole google maps. The heat limited how often I could do this though. Other times I used the Taiwanese train system with a group. One trip required a couple of line changes and several stops before reaching the final destination and we were just fine. The only complication was using the machines to purchase our metro tickets. The staff at the customer service counter helped us and pointed us in the right direction. The trains were also SUPER clean especially compared to many American cities.
The hotel gave me a card with the hotel address to provide to taxi drivers to help overcome the language barrier. I often used Uber and with the app there was no need for the card. Many of our drivers did not speak much English other than “hello”. The Uber app basically serves as a translator for us making it even more useful.
May I recommend the best airline to travel to Taipei?? EVA AIR! Especially if you are flying from Houston! The Taiwanese airline has a direct flight from Houston to Taipei that is about 16 hours. The returning flight is a little shorter with the tailwind. Their seats are a bit bigger than American based airlines making the 16 hours pretty comfortable. (Be sure to get compression socks).
The Houston flight leaves at 1am, so I was able to sleep for most of the trip. I also lucked up on a emergency exit row seat going, then begged for one coming back. This folks is the key to the long flight! Yes, it is annoying that you cannot put your activities under a seat in front of you, but the leg room is completely worth it. When I was sleeping, I snacked on the flight food and watched movies.
The other highlight of flying Eva Air is Hello Kitty! They have Hello Kitty themed planes that fanatics get a kick out of. If you miss the Hello Kitty plane, the airport has a Hello Kitty terminal and other Hello Kitty themed items throughout the airport.
Things to Know
Taiwan’s currency is the New Taiwan Dollar. The exchange rate is about 30 NTD for every USD. This is the first trip I went on where when I exchange money I got more back! Talk about exciting. I gotta say I liked holding a $1,000 bill! I made a point to translate everything before purchasing and most items were much cheaper than American items. The higher end restaurants were priced similar to American restaurants though. We were able to exchange money pretty much anywhere including the hotel. The best place to exchange though would be the National Palace Museum which has no fees.
So listen, our little 7/11 convenience stores are a favorite in Taiwan. *Cues Beyonce’s song.* In fact you can find one on every corner. Unfortunately, they do not have slurpees, but they have just about every other thing you can think of. You can exchange money there, purchase train tickets and even pay your bills. These were a huge help for us on many occasions.
Traveling While Black
Listen, I know we stand out when we go to other countries. Like others I have my share of “traveling while black” stories but thankfully none where I felt uncomfortable or mistreated. The same was true for Taiwan, butttt my braids were quite the attraction! Plenty of people gawked at my braids and I kept my cool because honestly I can’t say I wouldn’t stare at a hairstyle I’ve never seen before either! Most of them lauded me compliments about my hair. All and all, I thought they were very kind and welcoming.
Beware that some places in Taiwan do have the squat toilets which basically looks like a urinal glued to the floor. Using this type of toilet requires a squat technique that I have not quite grasped. There are Youtube videos that demonstrate how to use it. I managed to make it through the trip without having to use one. These old knees would have been in troubleeee.
It is HOT
If anyone tells you Taiwan feels like Houston or other humid American cities, they are lying to you. I know humidity. I grew up in humidity. I’ll even spend extra time protecting my hair from humidity. What I experienced in Taiwan was next level humidity! They also do not love air conditioning in the manner that we do here, which is probably better for the environment. It just took some adjusting, but we were fine with fans and plenty of water.
I really enjoyed my visit to Taiwan. It sparked in me an interest to visit more countries in Asia. I am not keeping my eye out for flight deals to Japan, Singapore and Thailand :).