Ever since I first laid eyes on a photo of the Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai many years ago, it quickly imprinted on my non-existent bucket list. How romantic would it be to sit under the night sky and release a lantern with a perfect wish written on it and watch it float away with thousand others, next to someone you love? I was sold. So when I found out that there is a lesser known, yet still a pretty authentic way to experience a lantern festival in Taiwan, so close to a Valentine weekend, I thought it was just the perfect reason to finally go. So I did my research, booked a ticket, all ready to tick off something I’ve been dying to attend, when two days before my flight, I learned that I am most definitely going to be missing it.
You see, the internet lies sometimes, and as much as I didn’t wanna be defeated because “my research game is strong”, I failed and booked a ticket on the actual night of the event. So close, but it was just not happening. Instead of wallowing though, I was beyond thrilled to be exploring what I now consider as Asia’s best kept secret. It was mostly the food I was excited for, and though it went far beyond my expectation, Taiwan was a country I ended up leaving filled with desire to see more.
Because Taiwan now welcomes Filipino passport holders visa free, I thought it was just fitting to write a little Taiwan 101 for first timers. After all, I do hope to come back and write about it more in the future, so a little teaser will do. I don’t really like writing “Ultimate Guides” because there’s just so many out there that it has become kind of… generic. Instead, I try to make my articles more “me”, by including only places that I actually enjoyed and appreciated. I’ll try to make this one as ME as possible, while still providing you enough information. (READ: A Gluttonous Journey In Taiwan, Asia’s Best Kept Secret)
Two words: Easy Card. Get one right away! Public transportation in Taipei is extremely reliable so no need to splurge on cab fares. It’s very cheap to get around the city and you can get from Point A to Point B in a blink of an eye. Okay, not exactly, but I loved the public transportation here. Make sure you have Google Maps with you to see the most convenient route to take. The good thing about Taipei is that wifi is almost everywhere in the city!
Getting out of Taipei is also such a breeze so day trips out of the city is definitely feasible, and in my opinion, a MUST. We’ll get to that later but I just thought we should get that part out of the way since transportation can get quite intimidating if you have no idea what you’re up to. But I’m telling you right now, it is easy!
Cool Places Around Taipei
Many guides you’ve read probably already told you the Must See places of Taipei– memorial shrines, national museum, Taipei 101, etc. They’re all actually pretty cool, but that’s not all there is to do and see in this city. There are numerous more fun things to do in Taipei. Either way, I’ll let you in on my favorites and give you only the best of the best.
I’ll start with this because it’s the most famous one. I’m not normally the type of tourist that will pay $20 for a view, but my husband wanted to, so off we went to the top. This is after all, one of the tallest buildings in the world. Initially, I wasn’t quite amazed by the idea of being in one of those record breaking towers, but seeing it from the bottom and finally seeing it at the top, it was pretty exhilarating. The view is no doubt marvelous, but the experience itself is quite nice. If I remember correctly, the elevator to the top is supposed to be the fastest in the world too.
Tip: The Mango Beer Float at the top. As gimmicky as it sounds, it was pretty damn good.
Huashan Creative Park
Wikipedia describes Huashan Creative Park as an abandoned winery turned to a “multi-purpose park“. To make the description short, it’s a creative space where cool artistic events are held. Cute coffee shops can also be found here, and of course, Instagrammable walls are all over. It’s every blogger’s park goals and dreams come to reality.
We were lucky enough to catch some cool events when we were here which held light show installations. I forgot the actual name of the event but it was a pretty fun exhibit.
Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall
Memorial Halls are like a thing in Taiwan. This one is specifically built for the former Chinese President, now a landmark visited by hundreds of tourists everyday. It’s a beautiful open space surrounded by a park perfect for late afternoons especially if you fancy a nice walk.
I admit, it was their night markets and their reputation for food that put Taiwan on my radar (before I found out about the lantern festival). Taiwanese takes food very seriously and night markets are their special way of handling that. Their street food is phenomenal– possibly my top 3 in all of Asia. Despite the delicious food, it’s the experience that you must succumb to!
Shilin Night Market may be the biggest and most popular one, but I enjoyed Roahe Night Market so much that I ended committing to it on those nights I wanted the experience. The variety of food was so enticing, from their original pork buns, egg tarts, even to sushi and grilled oysters! Everything we wanted and more!
Keelung Market is also another one worth mentioning, but it is located outside Taipei. I’ll come back to this and tell you more about it later. For more night markets, check out my post on Taiwan Food Culture. (Read: A Gluttonous Journey In Taiwan, Asia’s Best Kept Secret)
Busy, bright, and brilliant. Ximending is Taipei’s busy hub, like Shinjuku to Japan or Time Square to New York. Shops fill the streets, the scent of street food fill the air, and locals and tourists complete the scene. Just walking along the streets will keep you entertained enough. It is after all, the heart of Taipei, and a trip to Taiwan just isn’t complete without this experience.
Elephant Mountain is actually on top of my to do list in Taiwan, but I somehow ended up missing it with no excuse. I thought I’d add this here anyway because I just wouldn’t want you to miss out on a great city view like I did. It’s known to be a short hike that will reward you a pretty damn good view of Taipei.
Day Trips Near Taipei
Just an hour train ride away from Taipei, Keelung is often visited by sunset for its night market. Known for its seafood, it was easily on top of our to do list as well. I’ve heard there are plenty of other things to see in Keelung, but truth be told, the seafood was enough reason for me to go.
If you were a fan of Spirited Away like me, this is non-negotiable. Jiufen is said to be the inspiration of the film, and many elements of it is very evident and clear as I walked up and down the stairs of the old town. It’s quite simple to get to Jiufen and there’s a couple of ways to this. We chose what sounded the most convenient for us– we took the train to Ruifang, and then boarded a bus to Jiufen not too far from the train station. We got there early enough which were both a good thing and a bad thing. Great, because it wasn’t as crowded as I heard it was going to be, and bad, because many of the stores were still closed. Still, it was a great experience especially as a first time visitor of Taiwan.
The Pingxi Line
Pingxi is known for their lanterns, and that’s where I was supposed to be for the festival. Good news though is that with or without the festival, Pingxi is still very welcoming to tourists, allowing us to release a lantern in the sky, which you get to customize yourself. Each color represents something– love, wealth, happiness, etc.
Pingxi isn’t the only highlight of this train line though. Each stop offers something different, and if you start early enough, you can hit most of the best ones at least. Some of the highlights includes lanterns, cat village, and waterfalls. The other stops are quite fun to explore for its quaint charm.
The train comes by hourly, so make sure you plan accordingly. We hit the Pingxi Line the same day we did Jiufen which still gave us a good amount of time to explore. The train gets really packed come 5pm, so I recommend starting from the beginning of the line and ending it at the last stop of your choice so the train wouldn’t be too packed on your way back. This is just half of the journey back to Taipei and let me tell you, the ride back from Ruifang is inevitably going to be absolutely packed, so might as well make the Pingxi journey comfortable.
Other Cool Things To Do
Get a foot massage
I normally wouldn’t pay over $5 for a good massage, but Taiwan was not only a special occassion, but my feet were in so much pain and were demanding for a good massage! I blame my thigh high boots, but I’m thanking it as well. My massage turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever had. Painful and deep, exactly how I like it. They say a foot massage here is meant to hurt during the process, but will leave you feeling great afterwards. Well I like a good painful massage so I enjoyed the process as well.
A hair wash
Apparently, getting your hair washed is a thing here that locals love to do. It’s a way to be pampered, and who doesn’t love a good pampering? You get your hair washed, a head massage, a blow dry, plus they will style our hair the way you want– what more could you ask for?
A foodie experience
It really isn’t a trip to Taiwan if you didn’t have a foodie experience, now is it? I’d have to say Taiwan is one of the biggest foodie trip I’ve made and a very successful one. Night markets are great, but don’t just rely on that. There are plenty of noteworthy restaurants all over the city. The motherlode of all Din Tai Fung is right here in the city. We’re talking about the OG– where it all began. Yes, it was definitely way better than everywhere else. (Read: A Gluttonous Journey In Taiwan, Asia’s Best Kept Secret)
A date at the hot springs
If you fancy a more unique way to experience Taiwan, a tour to the nearby hot springs is definitely a great way to spend a day. Beitou Hotsprings is one of the most famous one, with treatments ranging from budget to bougie.
Just get lost
So many places, so little time. I wasn’t really expecting Taiwan to be as amazing as it truly was. If you have more time, dedicate a day to just get lost. In the city, in the outskirts, everywhere. That’s the only rule that matters at this point. You never know where it could take you. Your first time in Taiwan should be all about the adventure you’ll never forget.
PIN ME FOR LATER!