Soaring skyscrapers, beautiful museums, art, bustling shopping districts, an exciting food scene, and the splendor of nature—Taipei, Taiwan’s capital city, offers all that and more. If you’re a first-time tourist in this “City of Azaleas” and have a weekend to spare, there are plenty of things you can do and almost everything is within reach.
We had the chance to explore Taipei recently, courtesy of Starlux Airlines and Clark International Airport. The Taiwanese international airline has recently started to offer daily flights to Taipei starting at 210 USD (P11,900+). The boutique carrier operates an Airbus A321neo, which is configured in a two-class layout with eight seats in Business Class and 180 in Economy Class. The Airbus A321neo is a popular aircraft for short-haul and medium-haul flights. It is known for its fuel efficiency and its comfortable cabin.
Shuttling from TriNoma to Clark International Airport (CRK) was also a breeze via the P2P service of Genesis Transport Service Inc. To meet the needs of the airport’s growing number of passengers who want hassle-free travel, Luzon International Premiere Airport Development (LIPAD), the consortium that operates CRK, has provided a new, spacious terminal. Currently, CRK has 8 foreign and 5 domestic carriers that operate flights to 10 domestic and 10 international destinations.
Meanwhile, Dar Chiu Travel Service designed an itinerary that allowed us to make the most out of our short stay in Taipei.
Go for a leisurely trek at Thousand Island Lake
It’s actually a man-made water reservoir formed by the surrounding Feitsui Reservoir and Beishi River. Head over to the observation deck, the best location for selfies and simply taking in the breathtaking view. There are several hiking trails in the area so you may also explore the place on foot. The heat can be intense during summer so it’s best to go in the early morning.
While there, make your way to the tea plantations—which only takes a short drive. Our tour guide, Roy, says the area produces some of the finest tea leaves in the world, thanks to the “perfect altitude” of the mountain.
Location: Yong’an Village in Shiding District
Check out the Pinglin Tea Museum
Tea is an integral part of Taiwanese culture. Proof of this is the abundance of tea shops and tea rooms all over this east Asian country. In New Taipei City, there’s even a dedicated museum for discovering the evolution of Taiwan’s tea culture—the Pinglin Tea Museum. Here, guests could learn about the role of tea in Chinese history, the various tea making processes and rituals, and the technological advancements in tea making.
According to the museum notes, the tea industry in Taiwan thrives because its unique climate and terrain are suitable for growing tea trees. The appearance, aroma, and flavor aftertaste of the tea leaves differ depending on climate and altitude. The shape, color, and aroma of the leaves also add to their unique attributes. Timing is critical in the tea picking process, and tea workers hone their skills through years of practice. Finally, guests are introduced to the traditional apparatus and methods used in tea production.
Also on display are tools and accessories, teaware sets, and a wide assortment of ingredients used in making tea.
Location: Beside the Beishi River in Pinglin, New Taipei City
Lunch at He Huan Tea Banquet Stylish Restaurant
A nice segue to the Pinglin Tea Museum trip would be feasting on some tea-infused dishes at this eatery. He Huan has been in business for over 20 years and we figured out the reason for its longevity once we started eating lunch.
We began our meal by noshing on some refreshing bamboo shoot salad, which is drizzled with tea-flavored mayo. Enjoy it sans the guilt because bamboo shoots are high in protein, amino acids, minerals, fiber, carbohydrates and low in fat.
We enjoyed their cua pao or pork belly bun—they’re tea-flavored Taiwanese steamed buns served with braised pork belly (which is almost like our pork adobo but less salty) and fresh, crisp lettuce. It makes a delightful partner to the Tea Oil Noodles.
We also tried their Baozong Tea Goose, which has succulent, flavorful meat, and the fried ayu or sweetfish, whose name was inspired by the delicate sweetness of its flesh. Our tour guide says this type of fish can only be found in rivers with clear, pristine water. It’s probably why it tastes so clean and malinamnam, you can eat even its skin. It was suggested we season the fish with a bit of salt and pepper and he’s right—it did enhance the fish’s flavor. We also ordered seasonal veggies, crispy fried shrimps, and heartwarming stewed chicken soup. We rounded out our meal with some baozhong tea jelly.
Location: No. 28, Shuisongqikeng Pinglin District, Pinglin, New Taipei City
Have more tea at Xuan Zi Ju Tea House
A pleasurable activity to do after a good lunch. Tea ceremonies are a cherished tradition in Taiwan, providing an opportunity to relax, appreciate the flavors of tea, and strengthen relationship with family and friends.
We headed over to Xuan Zi Ju Tea House in Pinglin Old Street and met 71-year-old Mr. Huang, who demonstrated a traditional Taiwanese tea ceremony. He started by “warming up the cups” which is basically washing them with freshly boiled tea water. Pouring the drinking tea directly to a cold cup, said the tea master, influences the flavor of the tea.
After boiling the water, he let it cool down to 90 to 95 degrees Celsius before pouring it to the tea pot with tea leaves. He advised steeping the tea only for about 30 seconds to one minute, depending on the kind of tea leaves used. “Oversteeping makes the tea bitter to drink,” he said.
Mr. Huang then set two types of cups in front of each of us—a tall one for smelling, and a short one for tasting. He poured the tea on the tall cup and we covered it with the drinking cup. Then holding the cups together with our hands, our thumbs on top, we turned the cup upside down, transferring the tea from the tall cup to the short one. At this point, Mr. Huang told us to pick up the still-warm tall cup and roll it in between our palms and our faces, giving us a surprise relaxing massage. We smelled the tea and had a good sip.
Pro tip: A good way to appreciate the flavor of your tea is by drawing air to your mouth as you drink. The addition of oxygen to the liquid releases more flavor compounds. Then allow the taste of the tea to coat your entire palate and linger inside your mouth.
Location: Pinglin Old Street
Visit the Taipei Zoo
Taipei Zoo is one of the largest municipal zoos in the world and the largest in Southeast Asia. It has over 3,700 animals representing over 780 species. The zoo is divided into 13 different areas which include the Giant Panda House, the Koala House, the Bird World, and the African Animal Area. The zoo is home to some of the world's most endangered animals, including giant pandas, koalas, orangutans, and snow leopards. It also has a number of educational exhibits that teach visitors about animals and their natural habitats. If you’re bringing the kids along, this is a great place to include in your itinerary.
Location: Wenshan District, Taipei City. The zoo is open every day from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Check out the cafés and convenience stores
After a tiring stroll at the zoo, you may want to enjoy some light snacks and refreshments at the cafés, bakeshops and convenient stores around Taipei. About nine minutes away from Taipei Zoo, you can find Louisa Coffee which offers a range of brews, teas and baked goods. What I like about this coffee shop is you can tailor-fit the blend of your drink to your liking since the barista asks how much ice, milk, coffee and sugar you want in your beverage. You may also want to check out the 7-11 outlets which has a variety of interesting and delicious snacks you can’t find in our local counterparts. You might even find some nice pasalubong.
Dine at Mantanghung Spicy Hot Pot
Hotpots are very popular in Taiwan, and our group decided to have dinner at Mananghung, famous not only for its food but for its excellent service, according to Taipei Times.
The place offers eat-all-you-can hotpot. Aside from the meats, the restaurant also boasts a good selection of seafood and vegetables. What’s good about this hot pot is you can customize your sawsawan to your liking. After that hot meal, you could cool down with its wide assortment of Haagen-Dazs and Meiji ice cream treats. Did we mention the drinks are also bottomless?
Location: No. 185, Songjiang Rd., Zhongshan Dist., Taipei City
Experience culture and nightlife in Ximending
If you still have the energy after a long day, explore Ximending, which has a wide variety of shops, restaurants, and bars. It’s a great place to find clothes, accessories, souvenirs, and electronic gadgets. There are also many cafés and live music venues where you can relax and enjoy a drink. This area is also known for its street fashion and cosplay events.
Location: Wanhua District of Taipei City
Watch the changing of guard ceremony at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
The popular tourist destination is dedicated to Chiang Kai-shek, the former leader of the Republic of China (ROC). It was built in 1976 shortly after his death. It’s where people can come to learn about Chiang Kai-shek and to reflect on Taiwan's past and present. If you’re planning to visit the Hall, you may want to time it with the changing of the guards ceremony, which takes place every hour on the hour from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm daily.
Location: No. 21, Zhongshan South Road, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City
Visit Taipei 101
The landmark skyscraper is the tallest building in Taiwan and the 10th tallest building in the world. It was completed in 2004 and was the tallest building in the world until 2010 when it was surpassed by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The structure, which is 508 meters (1,667 feet) tall and has 101 floors, is a testament to Taipei's economic and technological prowess. It is equipped with a damper system that helps reduce the impact of earthquakes. The observation deck offers stunning views of Taipei and the surrounding area.
Location No. 7 Xin Yi Road, Section 5, Xinyi District, Taipei City
Have some xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung
Yes, we also have this restaurant in Manila—but wouldn’t it be nice to check out the origin of this Taiwanese restaurant chain? Din Tai Fung was founded in 1958 by Yang Bing-yi, a Hakka man from Shanxi Province, China. He worked as a deliveryman at a cooking oil retailer but decided to open his own restaurant after learning how to make xiao long bao or steamed pork soup dumplings from his mother.
To date, Din Tai Fung has over 180 locations worldwide. Its xiao long baos are considered to be some of the best in the world. In addition to xiao long bao, Din Tai Fung also serves other Taiwanese dishes and offers a number of vegetarian options. Reminder: Din Tai Fung is often packed with diners, so be prepared to wait for a table.
Location: Din Tai Fung has 15 branches all over Taipei City, including the one in Taipei 101.
Discover Taiwan’s rich history at Martyr’s Shrine
This is a popular tourist destination that’s also a place of pilgrimage for many Taiwanese people. The shrine is a reminder of the sacrifices made to protect Taiwan, and the main hall is dedicated to the soldiers who died during the Chinese Civil War. It houses a large statue of Chiang Kai-shek, the former leader of the Republic of China. The shrine also has a hall dedicated to the civilians who died during the Second World War.
Location: Chingshan Mountain (Chingshanling) in Zhongshan District, Taipei
Learn about Chinese art and culture at National Palace Museum
This place is a must-see for anyone interested in the local art and culture. The museum is a treasure trove of Chinese art and houses a collection of over 700,000 Chinese artifacts, including paintings, sculptures, and ceramics. It is divided into four main exhibition halls: the Chinese Painting Gallery, the Chinese Sculpture Gallery, the Chinese Ceramics Gallery, and the Calligraphy and Seal Engraving Gallery. There’s a family-friendly exhibit ongoing, and there’s a great selection of souvenirs and memorabilia for collectors.
Location: No. 221, Sec 2, Zhi Shan Rd, Shilin District, Taipei City
Explore Taiwan’s vibrant food scene at Shilin Night Market
If you’re a foodie who’s willing to try anything and don’t mind eating in a crowded area, this is a good place to discover old and new Taiwanese street fare—from noodles, skewers, omelets, fried buns, dumplings, mushrooms, fried chicken, bubble teas, and more.
We were feeling a little adventurous the night we were there so we gave in to the suggestion of our tour guide to try the stinky tofu. It’s a famous Taiwanese dish made by fermenting tofu with a variety of bacteria, giving it a strong odor. We also ordered duck’s blood soup, which has a rich and savory flavor. The duck blood gives the soup a slightly gelatinous texture while the spices give the soup a bit of heat. These are unique and flavorful dishes worth trying at least once. The market is open from 5pm to 1am daily.
Location: Shilin District, Taipei City
Photographs shot using Oppo Reno 10 Pro 5G