I remember back when I told my friends I was going away to live in Taiwan. I was met with “Thailand? Rad!” or “Taiwan? Isn’t that where they make plastic?” Groan.
Needless to say, there’s a whole lot more to this eclectic island than plastic. No, I’m not talking about the (formerly) tallest building in the world. I’m not talking about night markets or 24-hour book stores either. Of course you should see all of those things while in Taiwan, but you need only look in a travel book for those little gems. I’m here to let you in on the top things to notice, experience, and come to love before you leave this island. Enjoy, friends.
1) Stinky food
Ever heard of Chou Dofu, or “stinky tofu”? I had heard about it here and there before heading over to Taiwan, but never expected the smell to bludgeon me in the face the first time I encountered it. Also popular in Hong Kong and parts of Mainland China, this fermented snack is well known on this island, and for good reason.
That reason being that you absolutely cannot walk within 50 feet of it and not notice it.
If it’s hard to imagine, allow me to help you out. Were I to be taken by mobsters and questioned, if they waved chou dofu under my nose as a form of torture, I’d tell them whatever they wanted to know. Were I to be relegated to an isolated island, and had a choice between chicken feet and this dish, I’d be eating feet the rest of my days. This is not rivaled by Durian, or even Kimchi. No no, this is an animal all its own that you can really only understand if you’ve come face to face, er, nose to nose with it.
If you can muster the cajones to try it, fear not, it tastes much better than it smells.
But don’t kiss anyone after eating it. That’s just mean.
2) All the pretty lights
The very best time to be in Taipei is right after Chinese New Year. I say ‘after,’ because ‘during,’ the city is a ghost town. After, however, we are gifted the annual Lantern Festival, which consists of hundreds of lanterns and beautiful lights adorning the city center. The best part is that it’s all free to go enjoy. So take a stroll, avoid the stinky tofu, and experience the most festive time of year in Taipei.
Can’t make it during this time of year? Fret not. This city manages to remain colorful year round with rainbow lights adorning just about every major building. Several times while walking around at night I would find myself staring up at the buildings, mouth open, drool trickling, waiting for the pretty lights to turn color.
Taipei 101, once the world’s tallest building, has a different color scheme each night of the week, and puts on a special show on particular holidays.
3) All the lovely ladies
Did I get your attention, boys?
Head over to Ximending to see what the lovely young hipsters wear, what they eat, and where they get their tattoos and gadgets.
Head out to the various night clubs sprinkled throughout the city and dance the night away. Luxy (typically a shit-show, and isn’t that awesome?!), Barcode (more upscale martini bar), and Primo are my old stomping grounds.
Head slightly outside the city and you’ll see an interesting sight: betel nut girls.
I have to say, the first time I ever saw a betel nut girl, I was intrigued. I wanted to go buy some betel nut just to check out her neat outfit, or rather, lack thereof. They’re basically a way hotter and more scantily clad version of a liquor store. And that, my friends, is hot.
4) The “shans”
Taipei is surrounded by lush green mountains. Do yourself a favor and venture up one if you ever find yourself in Taipei. My favorite, and therefore the very best, is Yang Ming Shan.
Okay fine, it’s everybody’s favorite. So just go – get yourself to the tea house at the top of the mountain, eat some cheesecake that will change your life, and soak in the amazing view of Taipei as the sun sets and the rainbow lights come on.
5) Would you like some pepper?
I have to laugh every time I think about going to a restaurant in Taipei. Every dish came out with an extremely attentive server rushing over, armed with a pepper grinder, enthusiastically asking if I would like some fresh pepper on my cheesy pasta.
No, I would not like pepper on my mac & cheese, xie xie.
All kidding aside, I still find myself missing the food and wishing I could go back for just one more bite. I’m not only talking about talking about local cuisine, oh no. This city also has the best in international fare to offer. I had some of the best Indian, Italian, and Middle Eastern food of my life in this city. (hey locals, remember Sababa? I can’t get that Beirut pita out of my mind).
And there you have my top 5 tourist attractions for Taipei city. If you ever get a chance to go there, take it, then tweet me your findings.