Hello 2019! My family and I celebrated the New Year in Taipei. It was a windy, messy and ultimately fun experience.
Normally, winters in Taiwan are cold and chilly, with some warm spells in between. THANKS TO GLOBAL WARMING, we experienced daily showers and probably a thunderstorm.
Despite the rainy weather, we still enjoyed our stay. We can never underestimate the determination of tourists! Also, we prepared for our trip by buying sturdy raincoats from the nearest 88-peso store before leaving. I also bought a water-repellent reversible parka from Uniqlo, and it was enough to keep me mostly dry and warm.
Thankfully, rain showers in Taipei are not as strong or as muddy as in Manila (at least, from what we saw). It’s a different story when you go up the mountainside, aka Jiufen –you’ll feel like you’re literally being blown away by the wind.
New Year in Taipei 2019
DINING in Taiwan
Food is one of the main attractions in Taiwan. Practically all of my friends and acquaintances who have been to the island-state extol the virtues of the street food and formal dishes.
Here are some of the places we tried out.
Shabu-Shabu: 12 Hotpot (XinYi Branch)
We were debating between shabu-shabu or beef noodles for our first proper meal in Taipei. We ended up with 12 Hotpot because it was a shorter walk from the station, haha! We didn’t get to try Yong Kang Beef Noodles, though, which is apparently a must-visit place as well. Yongkang Street is famous for food!
You get your queue number outside after inputting the number of people in your party, and whether you’d prefer the bar or a sit-down table. You can choose a maximum of four persons in a party. If you’re six in a group like we were, I recommend queueing up for 4 and 2 persons.
Thank goodness they have an english menu. We tried out the supreme beef and the supreme pork. The food tastes a bit bland after some time, so you need to take full advantage of all the sauces they have available!
Reasons to Eat: 12 Hotpot can warm your stomach and give you a good meal for only NTD$218 per person. They have an english menu and a fun queuing system. Overall, it’s a good way to try out Taiwan’s local fast food culture.
Getting There: The XinYi branch is only a few minutes’ walk from Dongmen station, Da’an.
Street Food: Shilin Night Market and Zhong Cheng Hao
Local delicacies and unique street food are all for NTD$100 (or less) in the bustling Shilin Night Market. We tried a couple of grilled seafood fare, some takoyaki, waffles, and a bunch of other things.
The Zhong Cheng Hao Oyster Omelette is the definite must-try street food or snack in Shilin Night Market (though we did eat it as dinner). There were a lot of locals and foreigners lining up for the place, but just be patient and you’ll get a seat!
Reasons to Eat: The omelet with oysters and starch has a savory taste that’s delicious and also filling. Plus, it’s also quite cheap! My friend also says there’s a must-try street takoyaki with cheese (I can’t remember if the takoyaki I ate had cheese, LOL).
Getting There: The night market is only a minute’s walk from the Jiantan MRT station (and not from the Shilin MRT station). Just keep walking and you’ll eventually get to Zhong Cheng Hao. You can’t miss it!
Street Food: Jiufen Milk Tea and Peanut Ice Cream
The charming old town of Jiufen offers a lot of food, from street food to fancy tea houses to snack-filled souvenir shops.
Taro ice cream rolled into a wrap with ground peanut? Sign me up! I tried the NTD$40 A-Zhu Peanut Ice Cream Roll from stall No. 45. The peanut really added that extra crunch. It was worth it even in the rain.
The rest of my family bought some milk tea. I was personally a bit confused how to order one without pearls or sinkers so I skipped out.
Reasons to Eat: You probably won’t find this type of street food anywhere else.
Getting There: Jiufen is a train and bus ride from Taipei Main Station.
Traditional Food: Zhang Ji Traditional Fishballs
The fast-moving line of people outside this shop in Jiufen was a clear recommendation with regards to the taste. The traditional fishballs were a must-try, but so were the braised pork rice!
I was very happy with these simple-looking dishes. It was also fun looking at the open kitchen.
Reasons to Eat: The long lines and the fast turnover of customers tell you all you need to know. A lot of people flock to this shop because of its good taste, great value for money, and authentic atmosphere. Aside from this shop, there are a lot of street food to enjoy outside.
Getting There: I have no idea how to navigate inside Jiufen. I promise you won’t miss this stall!
Themed Cafe: Gudetama Chef Cafe
Taipei is famous for its themed cafes, including the Modern Toilet in Ximending. But of course, there was only one themed cafe for me –the Gudetama Chef Cafe!
The food they serve was western (I think most themed cafes serve western food). I recommend all of them. The whole experience made me so happy. I’m giddy just thinking about it again…
I’m also super happy we got seated after only 10 minutes of waiting (we didn’t have a reservation). We visited the cafe and shop around 8PM.
Reasons to Eat: If you love Gudetama, say no more. Everything in this shop, from the bathroom mirrors to the placemats, are Gudetama-themed. The risotto, the black pasta, the pizza… all dishes are emblazoned with Gudetama’s cute face. When you eat in such an atmosphere, it’s so easy to be lazy and happy.
Getting There: The Gudetama Chef Cafe is located in Dunhua S. Rd, Da’an District. It was a few minutes walk from Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT Station.
Beef Noodles: Lao Shan Dong Noodles Made by Hand
This shop has been standing since 1949, and it still has such a homey and simple vibe for a Michelin-rated restaurant. You can watch the cooks making the thick Shandong-style ribbon noodles by hand.
Aside from their beef and tendon noodle soup, we also tried the flavorful beef broth and their pork dumplings. The staff was very friendly and thankfully gave us an english menu.
Reasons to Eat: Taipei is famous for its beef noodles, so we were on the hunt for a good place to try some (again, we missed Yong Kang). Lao Shan Dong did not disappoint! They had great value for money (I still can’t believe we finished everything we ordered), and the noodles were a highlight.
Getting There: It was a bit of an adventure finding the place (it’s in the food court-esque basement of the Wan Nian Building). However, it’s conveniently located near Ximending.
Milk Tea: 50 Lan
50 Lan is an incredibly popular milk tea brand in Taipei, and there was a branch right in Ximending. The sky blue logo just calls to you (also, the NTD$50 price doesn’t hurt!).
To be honest, the taste was pretty average for me. I only got the classic milk tea (with no pearls or anything), so maybe the taste is different for people with other orders like the bubbletea. Then again, maybe this place is famous just because it’s been going strong since 1994.
Reasons to Eat: Another must-have in Taipei is milk tea. You can probably buy one every hour, since there are so many stalls and restaurants offering the cool drink.
Getting There: Honestly, you can find a milk tea place everywhere (at least one for every block in a busy district). We found the 50 Lan shop somewhere in Ximending.
Dumplings: Din Tai Fung
If we’re talking about dumplings, then we need to talk about Din Tai Fung. This highly rated and world-renowned restaurant built a name for itself thanks to its delicious xiao long bao.
One of the best things about Din Tai Fung is the way you can just watch the cooks work on the dumplings. The amount of precision that goes into each piece must be the reason why they have such consistently good xiao long bao anywhere in the world.
Getting a seat is not an easy feat. There are several branches in Taiwan, including the Xinyi Branch (the original location, which is near Dongmen) and Fuxing (somewhat near the Gudetama Chef Cafe). One of the busiest branches is in Taipei 101 Mall, where waiting times can run up to 120 minutes, so I definitely don’t recommend lining up there. Instead, we tried our luck in their branch in Shin Kong Mitsukoshi’s Taipei Hsinyi Place A4, and we only had to wait an hour or so.
You can also check out Din Tai Fung’s handy branch wait time lookup page here.
Reasons to Eat: Unbelievably delicious xiao long bao. That’s it.
Getting There: Stop at Taipei 101 MRT Station and try your luck in the branch there, or walk for 10 minutes to the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi branches. Most locations are only a few minutes’ walk from the metro station.
SHOPPING in Taiwan
Night Market: Shilin Night Market
They take their night markets very seriously in Taipei. Because we’re all lolas and titas in the group, we only had the energy to visit one night market –the best one, Shilin!
You can catch lots of food and souvenirs in any night market in Taipei.
Reasons to Shop: Shilin Night Market is one of the largest and most popular night markets in the city, especially when it comes to food. Even with the rain, you can clearly appreciate Taiwan’s vivid night culture.
Getting There: The night market is only a minute’s walk from the Jiantan MRT station (and not from the Shilin MRT station).
Shopping District: Ximending
The first thing that greets you after exiting the Ximen MRT Station is the giant H&M building (which we barely entered). This bustling neighborhood and shopping district boasts both foreign brands and local wear.
We found that a lot of the international brands (and tech stuff) were more expensive in Taipei than in Manila (so we didn’t do a lot of shopping), but the local clothes and shoes were fairly priced. I did somehow trick the world into getting me new shoes. Yay.
You can also check out The Red House which is also in Ximending.
Reasons to Shop: You’ll find almost anything in Ximending, from great clothes and traditional souvenirs, to bars and loud restaurants. It’s like the “Harajuku” of Taipei.
Getting There: It’s right beside the Ximen MRT Station.
Shopping Malls: Shin Kong Mitsukoshi
Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Mall is a luxury Japanese mall with four low buildings and an attractive walkway. It’s like Bonifacio High Street on steroids.
With only luxury brands and restaurants, Shin Kong Mistukoshi is more of a place to relax and stroll around in than to actively shop in –at least if you and I have the same budget.
Between you and me, I only dragged my family there so that I could see the Line Friends Store in A11. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see the BT21 characters in action. We also spent the time eating at the Din Tai Fung branch in A4.
Getting There: It’s a few minutes’ stroll from the Taipei 101 MRT Station.
SIGHTSEEING in Taiwan
Historic Sites: Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall and Liberty Square
You can’t go to Taipei without visiting the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. This historical landmark was built in honor of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, the former President of the Republic of China. You can see a large statue of him inside the octagon-shaped building.
The large Liberty Square is surrounded by the iconic main gate (paifang), the National Concert Hall and the National Theater. We couldn’t enter the National Theater without a ticket for the show, but you can enjoy free admission to the CSK Memorial Hall and galleries.
Reasons to visit: The CSK Memorial Hall is the stage for a lot of must-have tourist photos. The galleries are informative and fun, with displays on modern art and history.
Getting there: Liberty Square is right outside the Chiang Kai-Shek metro station. We actually walked to the side of the memorial hall straight from our lunch in 12 Hotpot, Da’an.
Parks: New Taipei Metropolitan Park
It’s less of a must-see and more of a we-just-happened-to-see-it. Haha! This giant park is right beside the Sanchong metro station.
Getting There: Exit from the Sanchong MRT station.
Parks: Yehliu Geopark
We went to Northern Taiwan on a KKDay Tour (which I highly recommend –hello to our tour guide Jo!).
Yehliu Geopark is home to a lot of unique natural geological formations, such as the Queen’s Head and the fairy slipper. We didn’t have enough time to appreciate every single rock formation (I didn’t even see some of them, like the Ice Cream Rock and the Elephant Rock).
The sea alone is worth a visit.
Reasons to Visit: If you’re going to Northern Taiwan to see the old towns, might as well go to Yehliu! While it is far and remote, I honestly think it’s one of the more unique sights Taiwan has to offer.
Getting There: I recommend either booking a Northern Taiwan tour, or heavily researching how to commute. It’s a 90-minute or one-hour bus ride either way.
Old Town: Jiufen
This decommissioned gold mining mountain town is a must-visit for most Taiwan tourists. Jiufen has the aesthetic of old Japanese towns coupled with tasty street food.
There was an incredible amount of people in Jiufen –so much so that we didn’t get to walk all the way to the famous A-Mei Teahouse and the cobblestone Shuqi Road. There was a literal standstill in the middle of the narrow streets.
I’ll definitely visit this place again (when there’s less people and less stormy rain!).
Reasons to Visit: Jiufen is touted as the real life “Spirited Away”. If you’re a fan of the movie (like I am!), you’ll definitely appreciate the quaint charm of the old town.
Getting There: Like the other sites in Northern Taiwan, Jiufen is a train and bus ride from Taipei Main Station. There are some shuttle bus services connecting Jiufen, Shifen Old Streets and Yehliu.
Old Town: Shifen Old Streets
Fly a lantern in Shifen! For NTD$200, you can write down your wishes on a color-coded lantern (red side for health, pink side for happiness, and so on). Take a couple of photos or five hundred.
There’s really not much to do in this small collection of lanes and alleys surrounding an old railway. Ideally, we could have visited Shifen Waterfall, but it was both raining and also a holiday when we visited.
Reasons to Visit: Getting to fly a lantern is on every person’s checklist in Northern Taiwan. Seeing your wish written on a lantern flying into the sky is a unique experience. Plus, you can get in and out of Shifen in under an hour.
Getting There: Once again, I recommend going for a shuttle bus or a tour service. Maybe you’d like to try the incredibly slow old railway train?
Temple: Longshan Temple
The Mengjia Longshan Temple is the most well-known temple in Taiwan. It was pretty busy when we visited, with locals and foreigners praying and offering for wishes for the new year (presumably).
The temple staff give out incense for free, though my family struggled for a hot minute to find where to light the incense.
The temple represents a mixture of Buddhist, Taoist, and other traditions.
Reasons to Visit: No visit to Taiwan is complete without a visit to one of its big temples.
Getting There: Longshan Temple is conveniently located a few minutes’ walk from the Longshan Temple MRT exit. We enjoyed a drizzly stroll through the Bangka Park to get to the temple from the station exit.
Museum: National Taiwan Museum
I try to visit at least one museum in every city or country I visit. National Taiwan Museum was located near one of our transfer stops going to Taipei 101, so we chanced a quick visit. I’m very happy we did!
The exhibits are focused on botanical and zoological finds, with some anthropological galleries in the top floor. I love the interactive and modern vibe of this old museum.
In another universe, we could have visited the bigger (and more famous?) National Palace Museum, but we didn’t have the time.
Reasons to Visit: Get a peek behind Taiwan’s rich history and scientific culture. I honestly didn’t know Taiwan was occupied by the Japanese until I visited this museum. Also, this small museum is a great place to take a rest in the middle of an otherwise busy day.
Getting There: Go down at the NTU Hospital MRT Station, or take the bus to Taiwan Museum.
Park: 228 Peace Memorial Park
Located near the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall and right beside the National Taiwan Museum, the 228 Peace Memorial Park is a relaxing and beautiful park. It is a contrasting monument to the violence and terror (White Terror) that the Taiwanese people experienced in 1947. More than 30,000 Taiwanese died in this hidden massacre. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to visit the National 228 Memorial Museum.
The park has a small pool, gardens, a paifang (for filial piety), Chinese pavilions, and a modest temple.
Reasons to Visit: It’s a place to remember the bloody struggle behind the now-prosperous and democratic Taiwan. We didn’t actually know the significance of the place when we visited– it’s simply a beautiful place to take a rest as well.
Getting There: Alight at the NTU Hospital MRT Station, or take the bus to Taiwan Museum.
Fireworks Show: Taipei 101
This mall/observatory is a must-see in Taipei. Though we didn’t go up the observatory, we did go around the mall for a short while, and we also ate in the food court. Because it was New Year, we stood in the rain for over two hours to wait for the beautiful fireworks and lights display at Taipei 101.
One of the best vantage points would have been the Elephant Mountain, though we didn’t go there because (a) hiking is not our thing, (b) we’d have to compete with literal thousands of people, and (c) with the cloudy weather, there was no guarantee of a clear view of Taipei 101.
In fact, seeing the top of Taipei 101 disappear into the clouds was a normal sight for most of our trip.
Instead, we walked a couple of blocks from Shin Kong Mitsukoshi A4 and hung out at the intersection of Songzhi Road and Song Gao Road.
The fireworks were awesome (as advertised).
How did we get home after the New Year’s Countdown Show? Thankfully, all MRT lines were open for the next 24 hours into the new year. Less thankfully, there was a ridiculous line outside the City Hall MRT Station. In the end, we leisurely walked for fifteen minutes to the Yongchun MRT Station, then took an uber from Ximen MRT Station. We wanted to take a bus, but I guess all the bus lines were closed for the night (there was no extension for bus lines). I think we got back to our hotel around 2AM.
Reasons to Visit: Taipei 101 is an iconic landmark in the heart of the city. It’s also home to a fashionable high-end mall and to a very busy Din Tai Fung branch.
Getting There: Take the train to the Taipei 101 MRT Station.
I still wish we had less rain and wind during our stay, but the hot food and the warmth of family more than made up for it. (Then again, our struggles with clear raincoats and upended umbrellas made our experiences truly unique and unforgettable.)
I’m praying that the rain means we’ll have more blessings this 2019! And that we’ll stay hydrated. How did you celebrate the new year?