The Taiwan visa jumped onto the pages of my passport like an unexpected ray of sunshine. After a bus ride, a midnight flight, another bus ride and three hours of sleep I found myself in Taipei’s Wanhau district in the middle of Ximending. The streets of the modern metropolis beckoned me to explore; I was thirsty for the birthplace of bubble tea, hungry for the taste of Gua Bao and keen for a themed cafe caffeine fix.
In a short time I grew quite fond of the bustling streets around Ximending in the districts of Wanhau and Zhongzheng. There was breathing space between the skyscrapers, in the metro and amongst the people. It was unlike any other Asian concrete jungle. There was a touch of serenity in the city’s crowd, a hint of calm in the traffic and a bit of quiet in the Mandarin.
The five days I spent in Taipei was short. Too short. It was too short to soak up all the culture, to travel back in history, to taste all the delicacies and to get to the heart of the Taiwanese. I only managed to scratch the surface of Taiwan but during the five-day-jaunt I did a lot of scratching in Ximending…
Ximending in Taipei – A Guide to Jaunting Around Wanhau & Zhongzhen
A Themed Cafe Caffeine Fix
Alice is Coming
Start your day with a caffeine fix in a themed cafe; make your way down the rabbit hole to Yanping South Road to Alice is Coming. At Alice is Coming it is always tea time and everything in this cafe stems from the wonderland’s fantasies and adventures.
I Spy With My Little Eye – Things to See
Street art is becoming a little obsession. The street art in Kunming Street stunned me. Murals of six meters high towered into the sky, dashes of colour and strokes of talent filled the once empty spaces of walls, doors, roller shutters, electric boxes and even an old ambulance.
Going Somewhere Slowly’s Tip: Make your way to Taipei Cinema Park and start exploring from there. Keep an eye out for the murals of local artists, Candybird and Mr. Ogay.
Ximending is all about entertainment. The Red House Theater was built in 1908 and was used as a public market building in the beginning.
Going Somewhere Slowly’s Tip: Visit the Red House over a weekend to shop for local arts and crafts at the market in front of the theater.
A visit to Taipei is not complete without standing still at some kind of street performance. There is no shortage of singers, dancers and magicians in the streets of Ximending.
The ancient street and old buildings of Bo-pi-liao dates back to the Qing Period (1644 to 1912). The red brick walls of the historic urban landscape hold a lot of history and culture in its cracks and local artists line up in the old streets to capture the bygone era.
Going Somewhere Slowly’s Tip: The old street is free of charge and located in Kunming Street, a 10 minute walk from Longshan Temple Station.
A Themed Restaurant
This restaurant has been on my themed cafe obsession’s radar for a very long time. Modern Toilet is a dream for anyone who enjoys weird food experiences and a nightmare for the rest. Everything from the seat, to the plate to the decorations is toilet- and poo-related (except for the actual food).
A Scoop of Taipei
Snow King started in 1947 and it is famous for the strange taste of traditional Taiwanese flavours (in ice cream). I tried Chrysanthemun tea ice cream and Sesame Oil Chicken. Sesame Oil Chicken should NEVER be an ice cream, it was like eating a piece of death with a mountain of salt to top it all off. I reached for a napkin after the first bite and vowed to rethink all future ice cream decisions, carefully.
Going Somewhere Slowly’s Tip: Don’t try the Sesame Oil Chicken ice cream. You have been warned. Don’t.
Get Busy – Things to Do
Clothes, shoes, shoe laces, cosmetics, jewellery, curios. You name it, they have it! Ximending is a shopper’s paradise.
Asians love karaoke and they do it in their own unique way. You usually gather a few friends or colleagues, get a few drinks and get a little private room where you can sing your heart out.
I realised a few things about the food in Taiwan; it’s salty, they love peanuts and cilantro and the food is not spicy. I braved the good, the bad and the ugly. The good was the peanut ice cream wrap and the braised pork rice, the bad was the blood cake and the ugly was the stinky tofu.
Going Somewhere Slowly’s Tip: Drink bubble tea, lots of it, and if you want a quick, inexpensive bite, a 7-Eleven store is always your answer.
If you are looking for a centrally located hotel in Ximending look no further than Taipei WESTGATE Hotel. I don’t think I could have chosen a more perfect hotel in a more perfect location. Excellent service, a hearty breakfast, friendly staff and one big bed that hugged me with comfortable linen after a long day of exploring.
Read more about my time at WESTGATE Hotel.
Outside of Ximending
Tamsui is a seaside district where locals gather over the weekends to indulge in the bustling market’s food, old school fun and games, boat rides and stunning river and sunset views.
Going Somewhere Slowly’s Tip: Visit the street next to the river to play some of the old school Taiwanese arcade games. Tamsui also goes by the name of Dan Shui.
Taipei 101 is synonymous with Taipei and it was the tallest building in the world from 2004 to 2010. The 101 floors of the 508 meter structure commemorates the renewal of time; there is a food court, a high-end mall, offices and an observatory deck. Looking up to the top made me quite queasy in the stomach.
Going Somewhere Slowly’s Tip: Look up. That queasy feeling is not too bad from time to time.
Five days was too short, but I’ll be back for you Taipei. And I’ll be back for the rest of Taiwan. I’ll be back to soak up all your culture, to travel back in your history, to taste all your delicacies and to get to the heart of your people.
Have you ever visited Taipei? What was the favourite part of your trip?
Special thanks to Taipainese, Hippy Yeh, for showing me around in Taipei and WESTGATE Hotel for hosting me for a night in Taipei. All opinions are my own.