It’s been more than two months since I got back from Taiwan, and a lot has gone on since then, so excuse blog posts lacking on detail. To help me catch up, I’m going to one Taipei megapost, covering both the Landis Hotel and my exploration of the city.
The Landis Hotel
The (wrong) bus from the airport dropped me off right across the street from The Landis hotel, which I had booked via Skyauction at a very good rate of about $60 a night. The Landis is one of Taipei’s luxury hotels, but it is a bit past its prime. It’s not in a very interesting location, but close enough to the MRT, Taipei’s subway, to get around very easily.
I got to the hotel around noon, and my pre-assigned room was not ready, but the friendly clerk arranged for me to get a different room. The room was large, similar in size to that in the Imperial Palace in Seoul. While some rooms had stunning views of the mountains, and others views of Taipei 101 – the tallest building in Taiwan – mine faced the street. But there wasn’t a lot of noise.
The bed was super firm, and there was also a desk area with a fruit plate and bottled water. The bathroom was very big, and had high-quality amenities and bathrobes. The furniture was definitely heavily scuffed though, and the design was outdated, suggesting the hotel could use a reno.
Turndown service was particularly good, with a full housekeeping service, including a neatening up of my stuff strewn over the desk. Also, the banana on the fruit plate was replaced every time I ate one.Each room had its own wifi router, so the free internet was great. I Facetimed with home no problem.
The Bell Desk was super-friendly and helpful with any questions I had, including how to get back to the airport. One thing that the hotel could have done better was explained its facilities. The rooftop gym was large but old, though adequate for my purposes. The best part was the rooftop deck next to it, which had great views and was a relaxing place to sit, and which I found completely by accident.
All in all, I’d stay at the Landis again.
I initially was going to be in Taipei for 4 nights, but then I decided to buy a condo, and figured flying back the night before my closing wasn’t the best idea, so cut the stay to only 2 days – which is too short but still got me a good taste of the city.
Overall, the city struck me as a mash between Ho Chi Minh City and Hong Kong. It’s not as fashionable as Seoul, has a mix of income levels on the street, and has mopeds everywhere. The architecture is mainly mid-rise mid-century buildings. In all, it was a lot less overwhelming than Seoul, which makes sense since it’s about 10% the size. One thing to note is the ubiquity of restaurants and coffee shops – which I think may have made up a full 30% of the ground level storefronts in the city. Also, it is hot and humid – much closer to Southeast Asia weather than I’d expected.
I wanted to hit the ground running to make the most of my two days, alas I struggled to get MRT tickets. The machines themselves wouldn’t take my credit card, so I had to find an ATM. The ATM only gave 1000 TWD notes, which the machines wouldn’t take either, so I had to go to a different entrance that had an actual person, and bought a 24 hour pass. After that, the MRT was super easy and I took it all over town, with very easy transfers unlike Seoul.
From there, I went back on the Metro to Taipei 101, which is a huge skyscraper. You can pay and go to the top but the wait was super long and I didn’t feel like waiting. So I just went to the food court, as I hadn’t had lunch. There were dozens of delicious looking restaurants, but very little English info. I ended up ordering poorly under pressure and got fried chicken and fried squid. Not super delicious, but only about $4.
Across the street I hit another mall where Western stores dominated, and then I made my way to City Hall, which holds the free, interesting Taipei Discovery Center – a museum about the city itself. It’s highly interactive and great for kids. They also had a special Teresa Teng exhibit – a singer I knew nothing about but had a very interesting international career in the 1970s and 1980s. Google her.
From City Hall I meant to go to the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, but I made a few wrong turns and just ended up at my next intended destination – the Songshan Culture and Creative Park. The park is a sort of an oasis in a very hipster neighborhood of Taipei, with a lot of cute boutiques, cafes, and coffee shops. The park has some ponds and flora, and some industrial villages converted into galleries and other art spaces. I got lost a bit as to how to get into the museums, but eventually found the ticket booth for the Design Museum, which was okay but not worth much time.
I went back to the hotel and rested before dinner, which I intended to have at the Shilin Night Market – in the north of the city, an easy MRT ride from my hotel. Unlike my night market experience in Seoul, this was a real night market, with carnival game booths, and tons of street food, set up on the streets of Shilin. At the center of the market were stalls selling clothes, electronics, and fruit. In the basement of the market was a food court type place, with lots of counters and some plastic tables for over a dozen establishments. They all seemed pretty similar, but I wanted to avoid ones that were aggressively selling the Taiwanese specialty “stinky tofu.” It stinks. The place I ended up parking was a Teppanyaki grill- which though associated with Japan is very popular in Taiwan. I got pepper steak, rice, cabbage, soup, and beansprouts for about $8. It was alright, but left me hungry, so I snagged a delicious fresh donut on my way back to the MRT before heading back to the Landis.
The next day, I had breakfast at a hipster coffee shop and bakery, before making my way on the MRT up to Beitou.
Beitou is the northernmost district of Taiwan, at the base of the Yangmingshan National Park. It is most famous for its hot springs. In the WWII period, the Japanese used it as a retreat for their soldiers. In the Vietnam War era, American troops used it as a retreat of a different sort, which led to the city falling out of favor as a nice place to go. It had a rebirth in the 1990s and 2000s, and now again holds dozens of resorts and hotels providing a spa getaway.
Beitou ended up being one of my favorite parts of my trip. To get to the springs area, you take the MRT to Beitou, and then take a special line that just runs one stop to Xin Beitou. Upon getting out in Xin Beitou, you’re right at the beginning of the park that runs along the very hot creek and up to the mountains.
After a confused, but cheap, lunch (my ordering skills in Taiwan were terrible), I started up towards the resorts at the top of the hill. On the way I stopped in the Hot Springs Museum, which is an old converted bathhouse that explains the history of Beitou, and also passed the “green” Taipei City Library Beitou branch and the public bathhouse. You also get to walk through the gorgeous “Thermal Valley” (also referred to as “Hell Valley”) where the steam rises up from every side of you.
The public bathhouse is an easy way to check out the hot springs cheaply, and is pretty close into town. But from what I read it wasn’t exactly a relaxing experience, as it is very crowded. So I decided to splurge and get a day pass at one of the hotels above the town, the Spring City Resort. The hotel offers a day pass for 800 TWD, about $24, which gives you access to its various pools and related facilities.
It was a 15 minute uphill walk from the town, but there’s also a bus you can take most of the way. At the hotel, I headed to the front desk, paid my money, and was given a ticket to give at the spa area. Once there, I was given a shower caddy, which had a bathing cap, robe, and slippers. The “locker room” is a converted room on the ground floor of the hotel, which still has the desk and TV in it. I changed into my bathing suit and headed out.
There are outdoor showers just outside where you pre and post spring shower. I don’t have a lot of pictures of the pools themselves, but there were about 10 of them of different depths and temperatures. At first, there was a group of Chinese tourists at the pools as well, but I ended up having them to myself after that. There were also lounge chairs, looking out on the city below, which was an awesome place to sit and read in between dips.
I spent about 90 minutes at Spring City before showering and changing and heading back downtown. It was relaxing and fantastic.
From there, I went to another night market –the Ningxia Night Market – which was just a long row of food stalls. It was pretty much street food, including a lot of offal and stinky tofu. There was also a row of restaurants on the street. I went to Formosa Chan, which looked clean and crowded, but alas didn’t have an English menu. I ordered by pointing, and it worked out okay, except what I thought was chicken was pork and what I thought was potato was cabbage. But it all tasted good, and was a hearty meal for $8.
I decided to walk home and got to see a lot more of the city, which was very alive at night. I got home, packed, and fell asleep early, exhausted after a long week and a half of travel.
I definitely recommend visiting Taipei, and I want to go back and explore the rest of Taiwan – particularly Taroko Gorge and Sun Moon Lake. It is not super-touristy, very cheap, and has a lot to see with friendly people.