We were so excited about the night markets in Taiwan that we planned to hit 4-5 of them on our trip. We read quite a few online guides on what to eat at those markets but in practice, it was impossible to find the right booths as they all looked the same. The name signs were difficult to spot even if you could read Chinese. In the end, we found it easier to just walk around and see which booths attracted long lines. You also need to have a strong stomach to take on the night markets as the sanitation may not be up to western standards. We both got sick one evening from the night markets. Still, definitely check out at least one night market for the experience, otherwise your Taipei trip wouldn't be complete. And if you only go to one, Shilin Night Market is probably the most representative. There is an underground market called B1 Gourmet Area (美食区) in the Shilin market. We thought that was the main food area but the market above ground was a lot bigger and the food booths were more interesting too (especially the ones near Shilin Mazu Temple).
Besides the night markets, we loved all the local Taiwanese restaurants we tried. The local Taiwanese cuisine was simple yet so tasty. Unlike the night markets, we didn't have to deal with any chicken bones and other food scraps by our feet when eating. The locals definitely view food as a priority in life as we have never been accustomed to waiting so long in line at restaurants. Most local restaurants didn't take reservations and the popular ones could easily demand a 1-2 hour wait. When we went to Din Tai Fun (the famous original restaurant for soup dumplings) at 2:30pm (while thinking we were being smart by avoiding the peak lunch time at noon), we were given a little slip with an estimated wait time of 120-150 minutes.
a great breakfast spot at the hotel
minced-meat over rice (卤肉饭)
We were so excited about the night markets in Taiwan that we planned to hit 4-5 of them on our trip. We read quite a few online guides on what to eat at those markets but in practice, it was impossible to find the right booths as they all looked the same. The name signs were difficult to spot even if you could read Chinese. In the end, we found it easier to just walk around and see which booths attracted long lines. You also need to have a strong stomach to take on the night markets as the sanitation may not be up to western standards. We both got sick one evening from the night markets. Still, definitely check out at least one night market for the experience, otherwise your Taipei trip wouldn't be complete. And if you only go to one, Shilin Night Market is probably the most representative. There is an underground market called B1 Gourmet Area (美食区) in the Shilin market. We thought that was the main food area but the market above ground was a lot bigger and the food booths were more interesting too (especially the ones nearShilin Mazu Temple).
We almost passed on this because we had seen many fireworks before and was afraid of dealing with a huge crowd. When the NYE party at W Taipei turned out to be a little lackluster, we decided to venture out to celebrate New Year's Eve with the crowd on the streets of Taipei. When midnight approached, everyone started moving to get an unobstructed view of Taipei 101. We found a small alley way on the east side of Eslite Xinyi Bookstore where it wasn't too crowded.
The fireworks were spectacular! They launched from every corner and every floor of Taipei 101, so the whole building became a giant display of fireworks. It was very different from any of the fireworks we had seen elsewhere and totally worth it.
an interesting spot near W hotel
interesting art installations in the park
nothing fancy but super delicious
long line outside this Vietnamese noodle shop
a popular pancake spot
crazy line outside this popular soup dumpling spot
the wait to dine in was 2-2.5hr
soup dumpling takeout
Except for a few steep climbs, Elephant Mountain Hiking Trail is a pretty easy trail with man-made stairs all the way up. The trailhead is not far from the city center so easily accessible. It provides a great brid's eye view of the city and the iconic Taipei 101 building once you get high up there. We went on the early afternoon of Dec 31 and saw photographers camping out at various strategic points on the mountain to take the best shots of the NYE fireworks at Taipei 101. We really enjoyed the hike and the view despite the overcast weather. It rained every day during our stay in Taipei which was a bummer. That's one thing to be mindful if you plan to visit Taiwan during the rainy winter season.
The only bad restaurant experience we had in Taipei was at a Japanese restaurant, Sasa Sushi (笹鮨). There is a lot of Japanese influence on Taiwanese culture as Taiwan was occupied by Japan for multiple decades. A local friend recommended us to try Sushi Omakase in Taipei. It's supposed to be really good at a fraction of the typical costs.
We must have picked the wrong place. Usually, Sushi rice is supposed to bring out and complement the flavor in fish. However at Sasa Sushi, the vinegar taste in the rice at Sasa Sushi overpowered everything else. At one point, we asked nicely if we could stick with the white rice instead of their special-made dark rice which had an even stronger vinegar taste. The chef was so offended by that request that he tried to ridicule us by asking if we had real omakase before. He insinuated that California rolls, an American take on Japanese sushi, didn't count as real Sushi and shouldn't be compared with his creations.
The bill came out to close to $500 for the two of us which was surprising - that was similar to what we would pay for a good Omakase in New York City! Maybe the menu was more expensive than usual because we went on New Year's Eve but we didn't think it would even be worth it at half of what we paid.
local breakfast staples
Jiufen is a good day-trip destination from Taipei. Jiufen used to be an isolated small village until the discovery of gold in the surrounding mountains during the Japanese occupation in the late 19th century. It then quickly developed into a busy town due to the gold rush. Many buildings in the town remain unchanged to this day, reflecting both the Japanese and Chineses influence on architecture and culture. Jiufen experienced a tourist boom after the award winning movie " A City of Sadness " (悲情城市) (Venice Film Festival) was filmed in the area in 1989. Today, in a maze of lanes and alleyways winding through the mountains, Jiufen is filled with retro-style cafés, food stores, tea houses, souvenir shops, as well as fantastic views of the ocean (on a clear day).
We had a high expectation of Jiufen but similar to our night market experience, Jiufen didn't deliver. The mountain streets in Jiufen were narrow and crowded so there was a lot of pushing and shoving. That alone wouldn't be an issue for us as rush hour on New York subways could be just as crowded. However, the narrow streets in Jiufen actually carried two-way foot traffic and the traffic flow coming from opposite directions brought us to suffocating complete stops multiple times. Food sanitation was also not up to western standards, like the night markets in Taipei. All the famous food spots had long lines. The weather didn't help either as it was overcast the whole time. Ah Gan's Taro Balls is supposed to have a great mountain/ocean view but all we got was a grey view like this .
We took Uber to and from Jiufen which cost us ~NT900 ($30) each way. The ride itself was about an hour one-way but on the way back, we had to wait 20+ minutes for the car to arrive as Uber was not as readily available in Jiufen as in Taipei. We looked into other options as well such as local train/bus or group tours . Overall, we think Uber is the best transport option considering both convenience and value (especially if you have two or more travelers in your group).
Go to Jiufen on a non-holiday non-weekend day with sunny weather to avoid big crowds and have a good view. Consider staying overnight too if possible ... the night scene with all the lantern lights is supposed to be very pretty and there are less crowds at night.
If you speak Chinese, you can book a private 10-hour Jiufen tour provided by a Chinese operator for the same price (~$150) of a group tour provided by a western operator (such as the ones you can find on Tripadvisor).
get a seat with view behind the shop
W Taipei is a hip design hotel centrally located near Taipei City Hall. A few major sites, Taipei 101, Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, and Songshan Culture and Creative Park, are all within walking distance. The rooms are modern and stylish. If you can, get a room with the 101 view. Otherwise Yen Bar at the top of hotel provides both a good view and drinks. The main restaurant at W, The Kitchen Table, is an excellent breakfast spot with good service.
As a member of Relais & Châteaux, Volando Urai Spring Spa & Resort didn't disappoint. The zen decor and the natural surrounding gave out a relaxing atmosphere. The massage at the spa with a hot spring bath was a soothing treat. We definitely ended our Taipei trip on a high note.
As part of the hotel package, most of our meals - dinner, breakfast, and afternoon tea - were included and provided by the Soyan Restaurant onsite. Surrounding by glass walls on three sides, guests enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of the green river at this restaurant. The 4-course French dinner was top-notch, as well as the breakfast set the next morning. We also had a delicious lunch at the other onsite restaurant, Siliq, which offers more local Taiwanese cuisine.
one of the life rituals at the resort
we got a rainbow!
great view from the restaurant
one of the life rituals at the resort