5 Coolest Airbnbs in Taiwan

5 Coolest Airbnbs in Taiwan

Taiwan possesses Asia’s most robust democratic system. It practises a form of direct democracy, which means that even ordinary citizens have a say in the most important matters of state. This freedom of expression and participation translates into a rich culture. From the underground hip-hop and rap scene to the thriving arts community, Taiwanese culture is rich, diverse, and heterogeneous.

So why stay in a cookie-cutter hotel when you are in Taiwan? Instead, bunk at one of these unique Airbnbs that reflect the personality of their host—and their country.

Image courtesy of Airbnb.

1. Sunny Loft (Zhongshan, Taipei)

Dom’s Sunny Loft is strikingly unique and stands apart from all the other loft listings in Taipei that have a bland industrial-modern vibe to them. Instead, Sunny Loft uses plenty of natural wood, evoking the zen of a traditional Japanese temple.

But there are also personal touches like an ornate Turkish lamp and surreal Dali-esque paintings that make you feel like you are in someone’s home—and for a good reason, because Dom the superhost designed the entire house himself.

Image courtesy of Airbnb.

Gorgeous as the entire apartment is, the centrepiece is perhaps the loft bed. Compared to the aesthetics of the place, it might look simple, but it commands a gorgeous view of a park. Surrounded by the serenity of nature and ensconced in the cosy loft bed, it might be hard to leave the apartment even though Zhongshan station is just 3 minutes away!

Book Now: From $211 per night

Image courtesy of Airbnb.

2. Living in the Nature (Shoufeng, Hualien)

When you first lay your eyes on Crystal’s villa, with its European barn-like architecture and set amidst sprawling greenery, you’d be forgiven if you think you were suddenly transported to a pristine, idyllic forest in rural France. But no—you’re actually still in Taiwan—in Hualien, to be specific.

But Crystal’s villa is not just a carbon copy of a European country retreat. Inside, it is furnished with antiques collected from her travels, like oak double-doored cabinets and a stately writing desk, giving it an eclectic feel. It’s simply gorgeous and full of character.

Image courtesy of Airbnb.

The real highlight of the place, however, is the location it is set in. While staying in Crystal’s villa, you will call wild animals and plants your neighbours, and drink from the sweet waters of a mountain spring. On a cloudless night, you might even get to see a sky full of stars from the patio. When you book Crystal’s villa, you’re booking more than an accommodation. You’re booking an experience.

Book Now: From $144 per night

Image courtesy of Airbnb.

3. Play Design (Datong,Taipei)

Play Design’s room oozes industrial chic. It looks like the room of a creative who carefully curated each individual piece of furniture in the room, making sure every piece is functional yet stylish, simple yet intricate. And that’s because it is the room of a creative—sort of.

The room is a recreation of Japanese illustrator Naho Ogawa’s room, and all the furnishing is sourced from local Taiwanese designers. So the room is, in itself, a cultural destination, a design mecca for the discerning traveller.

Image courtesy of Airbnb.

It’s a space built for play and work—and for the creative for whom work is play. Staying at Play Design’s room, you’ll undoubtedly find inspiration from the confluence of Taiwanese design and Japanese visual language.

Book Now: From 176 per night

Image courtesy of Airbnb.

4. Personal Cafe (Taoyuan, Taipei)

For everyone who has spent half their waking hours on weekends lazing away in a café, this is the perfect Airbnb for you: at Pin-Pin’s place, you will be literally be living in a café!

And the said café is a warm, cosy one with bar stools looking out onto the street and an elaborate espresso machine that can brew you the perfect cup of coffee.

Image courtesy of Airbnb.

Wondering where you’ll be able to sleep? Well, just open the hidden door at the café, and you’ll step into a fully furnished bedroom. Don’t worry—the entire space is private, so you can fulfil your fantasy of being the only person in a café.

The only caveat is that everything is self-service, but, on the bright side, there’s no service charge either. The cherry on top of this delicious cuppa joe is the little pet pig who lives on the rooftop of this building, who enjoys human company, and belly rubs, most of all.

Book Now: From $38 per night

Image courtesy of Airbnb.

5. Cingjing Campfire Sky Glass House

(Ren’ai, Nantou)

The décor of Kuma’s villa is understatedly elegant. We especially love the high, latticed ceilings, which give a sense of expansiveness and makes us feel as if we were at an Alpine lodge. Looking at the décor alone, we would already have featured it on our list of cool Airbnbs.

But this villa comes with a feature that is probably unmatched by any other listing: it offers a panoramic view of the Central Mountain Range of Taiwan. 

Image courtesy of Airbnb.

It’s hard to describe the sense of awe that descends on you as you sit on a comfortable chair and gaze into the distance, contemplating life, watching the sun sink behind the mountains and wash the sky with a golden hue.

Really, words can’t capture this sensation. This is one Airbnb which you’ll fall in love with just by looking at the photos, but please, visit it in person. Neither words nor photographs can do it justice.

Book Now: From $193 per night

Disclaimer: All prices mentioned in this article are subject to Airbnb’s change without notice.

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5 Most Entertaining Cafes in Taiwan

5 Most Entertaining Cafes in Taiwan

When I was a wee young lad, my mother, just to get me to eat my meals, had to pretend that the food was radioactive and would turn me into Spiderman, or mimic the sound of a chugging train as she patiently tried not to choke me with the spoon. Thanks to her efforts, today, I am no longer a stubborn brat a mature man who has regular meals.

I suppose such fond memories are why I—and a large part of the population—find the idea of a themed café so entrancing. Playing with food while maintaining the appearance of a respectable adult? Yes please!

Taiwan, with its commingling of Japanese and Western influences, is a fertile ground for the sprouting of these themed cafés. Here are five of my favourites that I’d recommend you if you were my friend (everyone who reads this article is my friend).

Photo by ianbcarlos on Instagram

1. Modern Toilet Restaurant

This one perhaps appeals more to the weekly Zouk-going teenager than to any child. Remember how you used to chug down a bottle of the cheapest vodka (bought at the nearest 7-Eleven) and promptly regurgitate it in the toilet bowl an hour later? And, in your drunken state, think that the new state of matter existing between solid and liquid actually looks appetising?

Well… now you can fulfill such thoughts (we don’t judge). Modern Toilet Restaurant is a café that is, as its name suggests, themed after the lovely interior of a toilet. From the seats upon which you rest (toilet bowls), to the serving receptacles of the food (toilet bowls and bathtubs) and drinks (urinals), to the food itself (chocolate ice cream, naturally), no detail in this café is left untouched, so please remember to wash your hands thoroughly after you leave.

 

Address:
No. 7, Lane 50, Xining South Road, Wanhua District, Taipei City, Taiwan 108 (Taipei branch);

No. 96, Section 3, Sanmin Road, North District, Taichung City, Taiwan 404 (Taichung branch)

Opening Hours:
(Taipei Branch) Monday to Thursday 11.30am to 9pm, Friday 11.30am to 9.30pm, Saturday 11am to 9.30pm, Sunday 11am to 9pm

(Taichung branch) Weekdays 11.30am to 8.00pm, Weekends 11.00am to 8.30pm

Photo by linda6403x on Instagram

2. Crazy Cart Cafe

If you’ve ever wolfed down the last spoonfuls of your chicken rice, dashed to your car, and sped off because of shouts of “summon auntie!”, then Crazy Cart Café will appeal to all these instincts in a healthier way: this café combines good food, fast cars, and high speed.

After savouring Western-inspired meals like meatball spaghetti or pork ribs, you can stroll leisurely to your car—no rushing needed—and take off without even leaving the café.

A go-kart track runs around the interior perimeter of the café and connects to a much larger track outside, where you can drift around the track to your heart’s content without fear of the summon auntie—or if her presence at your tail makes the ride more thrilling, you can always imagine her shadow forever chasing you.

Address:
Global Mall Nangang Station Store 1/F, No. 360, Section 8, Civic Blvd, Nangang District, Taipei City, Taiwan 115

Opening Hours:
Weekdays 12.00pm to 2.30pm, 3.00pm to 5.30pm, 6.00pm to 8.30pm;

Weekends 11.30am to 2.00pm, 3.00pm to 5.30pm, 6.00pm to 8.30pm (accurate as of 18/01/2019)

Photo by a0211_roger on Instagram

3. OIA alpaca café

What’s the difference between an alpaca and a llama? The answer is a funny punchline here. Honestly, it doesn’t matter whether the four-legged furry animals wandering around freely in OIA alpaca café are alpacas or llamas. (Though they are obviously alpacas, as the name of the café states.) The important point is that they are irresistibly adorable.

I mean, just look at this face. How can you not want to pet it? A word of warning, though: don’t try to pet it. The alpacas will spit at you—yes, really, it’s an alpaca thing. Rude.

Instead, lure them to your side with carrots, and make sure these cute but greedy creatures don’t chew any of your food or appendages. You might think that you are at OIA alpaca café to nibble on food and see cute alpacas, but, in reality, you are at OIA alpaca café as food to be nibbled on.

Just kidding! You are not very nutritious to alpacas.

Address:
252, Taiwan, New Taipei City, Sanzhi District, No.12-1 Beizhizi, Houcuo Road, Xinbei

Opening Hours:
11.00am to 8.00pm

Photo by ianbcarlos on Instagram

4. Central Park Cafe

No friends? No worries. Visit Central Park Café (not Central Perk) and you will be instantly transported to the café resembling the one that Joey, Chandler, Ross, Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe, your television best friends, used to hang out in all the time. Look! That awful velvet orange couch is still there, as well as the hideous faux oriental rug—but these strikingly 90s paraphernalia just make the café seem more homey and authentic.

Even the food at Central Park Café is themed after each character. Phoebe, naturally, offers cookies baked according to the secret recipe of her grandmother (pronounced “Nes-lay Tou-lou-se”, not the butchered American pronunciation of “Nestle Toll House”), and thankfully omits any smelly cats; Joey has a smattering of hearty pizzas and sandwiches for consumption, but “JOEY DOESN’T SHARE FOOD” so be sure to order individual portions.

At this café, it’s really as if you stepped into the world of the sitcom Friends and had friends.

Address:
No. 3, Lane 240, Section 3, Luosifu Road, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan 100

Opening Hours:
Weekdays 1.00pm to 9.30pm
Saturdays 12.00pm to 10.00pm
Sundays 12.00pm to 9.00pm

Photo by comaz on Instagram

5. Maiden Diner

The food at Maiden Diner is delicious. The grilled chicken leg and baked mushroom spaghetti have a comforting, nursery feel that will remind you of your maid’s cooking—true to the theme of this café.

Indeed, Maiden Diner offers you the opportunity to relive your childhood days when your maid would cook dinner for you… oh wait… you mean that the maids at this café are of a different type? Waitress, what are you doing?

Oh… okay. Still fun to visit, though.

Address:
No. 100, Shimin Blvd, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan 100

Opening Hours:
12.00pm to 9.00pm

There are of course a lot more themed cafés in Taiwan, such as Rikkakuma Café, a café revolving around a cute brown bear; Gudetama Chef, the temple of my spirit animal (I quote a description of Gudetama from Vox: “Life for Gudetama, which mainly consists of lying on a plate, is largely unbearable”); Alice is Coming, which is like stepping into the twisted world where Alice ended up after falling through the rabbit hole, and so on. But this curated list promises you the five most entertaining themed cafés where it’s not just the food that is themed, but the entire experience.

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You’ve Probably Never Seen These Quietly Stunning Scenes of Taiwan

Self-taught Taiwanese photographer Max Tseng shares with us a collection of photographs featuring rarely seen everyday scenes of Taiwan.

Composed like a drawing, each shot evokes calm and stillness, even though the subjects are undeniably in motion.

Rather than technical skills and professional equipment, Max insists that the foundation of a good photograph is built on first deciding on the story you want to tell. “When you know what you want to convey, you’ll know it when the shot comes into view,” he says.

In this series of quietly stunning pictures, Max evokes an ethereal, universal sense of nostalgia, at the same time providing outsiders a rare peek into the seldom-seen pastoral character of Taiwan.

Beimen, New Taipei City

Photograph by max.tseng 

“Built in 1884, the ancient North Gate (Beimen) is a monument to Taiwanese history. Today, it stands witness to the flow of Taipei’s working class as they stream past in and out of the city, bearing individual hopes, chasing individual dreams.”

Chiayi, Chiayi County

Photograph by max.tseng 

“With her old-style houses, winding alleys and criss-crossing telephone wires overhead, Chiayi retains vistas of Old Taiwan. This common scene in many of our childhoods evokes memories of home.”

Zhongsan Road, Chiayi County

Photograph by max.tseng 

“Every March and October, the position of the sunset transforms this section of Zhongshan Road into a natural studio. The addition of pedestrians completes the picturesque scene.”

Fields, Hualien County

Photograph by max.tseng

“Located in Eastern Taiwan, Hualien is known for her agriculture. Featuring abundant fields nestled amongst majestic mountains, these terraces look like steps carved for giants. You can’t help but feel inspired to make similarly bold strides towards your own ambitions.”

Sea, Hualien County

Photograph by max.tseng 

“Just off the coast, sea freighters sail past on the Pacific Ocean. Such a simple scene nevertheless evokes a profound sense of wellness and peace.”

 

Coastline, Hualien County

Photograph by max.tseng 

“Fishermen gather to harvest the sea at the mouth of the Hsiukuluan Sea. The eel fry they are after is a local delicacy, made into a thick stew paired with noodles that warms hearts and bellies.”

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Taiwan By Train (Part 2)

Taiwan By Train (Part 2)

West Coast Line

Bao’an station

The West Coast line is a behemoth of a line, stretching from Keelung all the way to Kaohsiung for a total of 404.5 km. It has its roots in the aforementioned 1891 rail line that Liu Mingchuan commissioned, making it the longest, oldest—and busiest, with over 171 million passengers served in 2016—railway line in Taiwan.

Out of the 95 stations on this extensive line, I, true to my superstitious Chinese roots, immediately decided to shortlist Bao’an (保安) station because of its name, which roughly means “preserving the peace” or “security”. Imagine my delight, then, when I found out that I was not the only person who had judged a station by its name.

Photograph by yoyoyang_taiwan via Instagram

Apparently, it is common practice in Taiwan to buy a ticket from Yongkang(永康) station to Bao’an station because, when combined, the stations read 永保安康,or, “everlasting peace and health”. Upon hearing that, I promptly bought one ticket for myself.

(In fact, this behaviour is so prevalent that it is known as 吉祥語車票. Other auspicious combinations include 十分成功 [Shifen station and Chenggong station), 吉安壽豐 [Jixiang station and Shoufeng station], 多良金崙[Duoliang station and Jinlun station] and so on.)

Photograph via Wikipedia
Photograph by iviayvve via Instagram

Putting aside this detour into folklore, Bao’an station is worth a visit because of its historical and architectural value. Bao’an station opened in 1900 respectively, making it one of the oldest stations on the West Coast line; a large portion of its lifespan was spent transporting large quantities of sugar because it was located near a sugar factory.  The station building itself showcases classical Chinese architectural vocabulary with a Japanese inflection, and is one of the few remaining stations on the West Coast line to be built in wood—specifically, the valuable Formosan Cypress carted all the way from Alishan Mountain.

Bao’an station also provided me a base from which to explore a lesser-known part of Tainan. It is located within walking distance of Chimei Museum, a private museum that has one of the world’s largest collections of violins, and a surprising Western art. After being saturated with art and wishing I could play the violin, I proceeded to Tainan Metropolitan Park, which is a simple recreational space for its surrounding residents, to allow my head to get used to the outside world again.

South Link Line

Guzhuang station

Guzhuang station is a stop on the South Link line. The 98.2-km-long line was completed in 1991, making it the newest TRA line. It is also the line that finally linked up all the existing railway lines running around the perimeter of Taiwan, closing the circle and enabling round-island rail travel today. I picked Guzhuang station as one of my last destinations on my Taiwan rail line because, in 2015 RA reported that it is the second least used station in all of Taiwan. 

Photograph by trainkuo via Instagram

 

During that entire year, only 281 passengers boarded the train at Guzhuang, and merely 470 alighted. My heart ached for Guzhuang. I wanted it to know that it was still remembered and needed.

I was also eager to experience the distance between Guzhuang and Fangshan stations, which, at 26.9 km, is the longest distance between stations on all TRA lines. (To put that into perspective, it is about half the entire length of Singapore’s East-West line.)

Imagine my sorrow, then, when I found out that Guzhuang station stopped operating in October 2017. Nonetheless, I wanted to complete my mission, so I took the train to Dawu station, its preceding station; from Dawu, it was a short 10-minute drive to Guzhuang.

Taoyuan Airpot MRT Line

During that entire year, only 281 passengers boarded the train at Guzhuang, and merely 470 alighted. My heart ached for Guzhuang. I wanted it to know that it was still remembered and needed.

I was also eager to experience the distance between Guzhuang and Fangshan stations, which, at 26.9 km, is the longest distance between stations on all TRA lines. (To put that into perspective, it is about half the entire length of Singapore’s East-West line.)

 

Imagine my sorrow, then, when I found out that Guzhuang station stopped operating in October 2017. Nonetheless, I wanted to complete my mission, so I took the train to Dawu station, its preceding station. After a short 10-minute drive, I arrived at Guzhuang, finally completing my journey.

(Missed the beginning? Read Part 1 now!)

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Taiwan By Train

Taiwan By Train

Taiwan is a country that moves on rails. The entire railway network skirts around the circumference of the oblong island, and is about 1,700 km long in total. (In contrast, the current MRT network in Singapore, as of January 2019, has a length of about 200 km only.) The rail network has played an important role in Taiwan’s history, and continues to be the main mode of transport for many citizens. 

Photograph by  Taiwan Itinerary

A Brief History of Trains

In 1887, Taiwan was designated by the Qing dynasty government as an independent province of China. Liu Mingchuan, a Qing court official, was appointed the first governor of Taiwan. He promptly commissioned Taiwan’s first railway; construction began right away in the very same year.

Four years later, in October 1891, the first rail line linking Keelung and Twatutia (a district in Taipei) opened. It was a 28.6 km railroad, a mere fraction of the eventual network that would span across Taiwan just 100 years later. The entire railway of 100 km was completed in 1893 and connected Keelung to Hsinchu.

Qing-dynasty rule of Taiwan did not last long, however. Control over Taiwan was ceded to the Empire of Japan in 1895 after the conclusion of First Sino-Japanese War. When the Japanese arrived on the island, they were dismayed at the poor quality of the railway. The Japanese government then established the Ministry of Taiwan Railway, which quickly began work by reconstructing the existing line, while also making an ambitious plan to build a railway connecting Takow (present-day Kaohsiung) to Keelung.

Work on the railways began immediately; in 1908, Takow residents could take a train, for the first time, to Keelung. The entire construction project cost over 7 million yen. Even after the completion of this monumental project, the Ministry continued to develop the rail infrastructure. It next turned its attention to the eastern coast of Taiwan, laying down tracks all the way to Taitung.

1945 marked the inauguration of modern Taiwan, Republic of China. The ROC government established the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) to take over the operations of the Japanese Ministry of Taiwan Railway, and the development and operation of Taiwanese rail continues to flourish to this day. One of the highlights of the modern Taiwan rail system is the construction of the Taiwan High Speed Rail, which opened in 2007.

Today, Taiwan’s rail system is so convenient and cost-efficient that it has become the main mode of transport for most people, whether inter- or intra-city (for the cities which have their own metro system). In fact, the high speed rail is so popular that it has caused the cessation of many domestic flights! In 2016, Taiwanese trains shuttled over 1.09 billion passengers, which works out to an average of about 3 million passengers per day.

 

A Trippy Train Trip

Last December, I was one of those 3 million passengers. I spent my Christmas and New Year break in Taiwan, but, having been to the country before, I wanted to experience it from a different perspective. Thus, I decided to embark on a trip around the entire Taiwan, solely by train (but over the course of several days).

I’m not going to bore you with descriptions of the various people who have fallen asleep and drooled on my shoulder (and vice versa), or give you a detailed itinerary or account of every single stop I made. After all, the joy of train travel is its paradoxical combination of freedom and limitation: it lets you hop on and off at any stop you wish, while ensuring you’d never get lost because of its pre-planned route.

Instead, I’ll highlight some stops and surrounding sights I found attractive, nostalgic, inspiring, or just plain fun—none is a “must-see,” because, really, what I want to see is not necessarily what you want to see. But I found them interesting, and I hope that you will too; if not, that they will at least inspire you to take your own meandering train journey around Taiwan.

Taipei Train Station

Photograph by taka.chano via Instagram

As one of the 三铁共構stations in Taiwan—in other words, a station that houses a local metro, the TRA regional railway, and the HSR network, Taipei Main Station was the natural starting point for my journey.

In addition to its function as the main transport hub of northern Taiwan, the station also serves as a landmark and a gathering point for many people. With its sprawling and distinctive terracotta-red façade, reminiscent of a traditional Chinese hall, Taipei Main Station is easily recognisable from afar, contributing to its iconic status.

More than a mere gathering point or transport origin, however, Taipei Main Station is also a historical site that sits atop sediments of Taiwanese rail history.

Taipei Main Station first opened in 1891 as the first rail station in Taipei; in 1897 a more permanent station was built just to the east of where the station is currently located.

The alleys and thoroughfares around Taipei Main Station play host to the earliest commercial streets and markets of Taipei, which sprung up around the time when its first incarnation was constructed in 1897. Therefore, I felt that it was worth my time not just to use the station as a springboard for my travels around Taiwan, but to explore its surrounding areas as well. Popping into a random shop, I was richly rewarded with steaming bowls of beef noodle soup and soy milk that were both cheaper tastier than those available at the station’s food court. 

Pingxi Line

Houtong station

Construction of the 12.9-km-long Pingxi Line was completed in 1921; it was mainly used to transport coal mined from northeast Taiwan to the rest of the island. Even though the coal mining industry has since cooled down, the Pingxi Line is today preserved as a tourist line. With its slow, meandering journey through sites of natural beauty, it is little wonder why.

Photograph by taniadelrey via Instagram

At Shifen, the train wanders through an idyllic village preserved in time, perhaps by the ethereal, other-worldly glow of the sky lanterns launched every night.

At Badouzi station, the train is a mere hair’s breadth away from the coast—so near that, with the windows down, you can smell the saline breeze and even feel the lash of the salt spray on a windy day.

At Lingjiao station, the train soars across the Keelung River and the Lingjiao waterfall.

Photograph by Joel Fulgencio via Unsplash

Photograph by meisje_sanne via Instagram

The highlight of my experience on the Pingxi Line, however, is Houtong. Houtong is home to hundreds of stray cats, and the village, once an abandoned mining town, has capitalised on the feline frenzy and reinvented itself as a tourist destination.

Undeniably, Houtong can at times feel kitschy, capitalistic, and exploitative—some shopkeepers even wear bands of cat ears on their head to attract customers—but when a shy cat stretching under the shade of a tree purred at me, and when a calico rubbed itself on my legs, I fell in love with the town all over again.

Jiji Line

Jiji station

Built in 1921 with a length of 29.7 km, the Jiji line is the longest and oldest tourist railway line in Taiwan. Like most tourist lines, Jiji line was originally built for industry use. In this case, the line was instrumental in the construction of a hydropower dam at Sun Moon Lake.

The eponymous Jiji station on the Jiji line was built in 1930. The station’s building was constructed entirely out of cypress, presumably harvested by the logging operations that were flourishing around the area. To make an understatement, cypress is not a cheap wood, so Jiji station holds the honour of being the most expensive and valuable station on the Jiji line.

 

Photograph by shootflim_photography via Instagram

Unfortunately, the building collapsed during a devastating earthquake on 21 September 1999 (which also damaged the whole rail line badly). A replica of the original building was reconstructed in 2001.

Photograph by liu_hsin_te via Instagram

I initially chose to visit Jiji station as I (inaccurately) thought that it was quaint and quiet, not knowing that it was one of the more popular stations on a popular tourist line. Still, the buzz of the crowd when I was there was nothing compared to an attraction like, say, Taipei 101, or Taroko Gorge, which contributed to the illusion that I have taken the train to a rural township perched at the edge of a primordial forest always threatening to swallow it again. 

But the illusion of idyll is somewhat lost when I encountered lots of enterprising shops selling Jiji’s specialty snack, a curious banana wafer roll (think egg rolls or cigar biscuits but made with banana). For this crispy, banana-flavoured snack that I have never seen anywhere else in Taiwan, though, losing the illusion was worth it. 

(Our train odyssey continues! Read Part 2 now.)

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Visit These 5 Night Markets for a Culinary Tour of Taipei

Visit These 5 Night Markets for a Culinary Tour of Taipei

If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one to hear it, does it really make a sound? If you visit Taiwan and omit a stop at one of its many famed night markets, have you really visited Taiwan?

 

No, you haven’t. (That was not a rhetorical question.) There is so much you can learn about a country’s identity from its food, and Taiwan’s night markets are the perfect places to indulge in some gluttony while telling yourself you’re pursuing a cultural activity.

Visit these 5 Taipei night markets for some snacks unique to them, and experience traditional culinary traditions at the same time.

Photograph by Max_Paterson via Instagram

Shilin Night Market

Synonymous with the fried chicken cutlet we get in Singapore, Shilin Night Market actually offers a much wider variety of street food, all of which offer a more unique destination for your taste buds.

Try, for instance, some pan fried buns at Zhong Former Shanghai Pan-Fried Bun (鍾家原上海生煎包), available at NTD12 each. Each delicate morsel, like a pan-fried xiao long bao, is bursting with soupy broth, so be careful not to scald your tongue when sinking your teeth into its translucent skin.

Oyster omelette, with its savoury gelatinous texture and briny ocean-fresh oysters, is a perennial local favourite, and not to be missed (about NTD60 at various stalls) as well. It’s slightly sweeter and springier than the Singaporean version, but comes with the same lip-smackingly spicy sauce. 

Browse and patronise any stall that appeals to you, or simply join the one with the longest queue.

Getting there: Take the Red Line 2 to Jiantan Station (劍潭), not Shilin Station. After leaving Exit 1, cross the street to the left and the night market will be in sight.

Photograph by kj_kyoto via Instagram. 

Raohe Night Market

Please do not visit Raohe Night Market without eating Fu Zhou Shi Zu Pepper Buns (福州世祖胡椒饼). This is not a fire drill. I repeat, do not visit Raohe Night Market without eating Fu Zhou Shi Zu Pepper Buns.

Its premise sounds deceptively simple: a wheat-based bun stuffed with marinated pork and spring onions, costing NTD50 each. But it is the pork bun elevated to gourmet standards. Each bite rewards you with a chunk of pork, its porcine juices soaking the bun, still crispy, as the freshness of the spring onions cuts through any heaviness.

The Michelin inspectors, heeding my advice, have awarded the stall a Michelin Bib Gourmand designation. They were wise not to ignore me, so you probably shouldn’t, either.

Getting there: Take the Green Line 3 to the terminal station Songshan (松山). Leave the station from exit 5. You will spot the night market entrance across the street, next to the temple.

Photograph by jinxocampo via Instagram.

Ningxia Market

Though smaller in size and variety than Shilin Night Market or Raohe Night Market, Ningxia Night Market offers one unique advantage over the both of them: it’s entirely sheltered! No inclement weather will present an impediment to indulgence.

That is not to say the food at Ningxia Night Market does not stand up on its own. Huan Ji Sesame Chicken (環記麻油雞) sells a bowl of mee sua doused in an aromatic sesame broth, topped with chunky chicken pieces. Established in 1941, the shop’s enduring legacy tells us good food is timeless. 

If you’re not saturated with sesame after that, head to Lin Ji Mochi (林記燒麻糬) for some dessert. The stall offers its irresistibly bouncy mochi (NTD40 for two) dusted with ground peanuts and black sesame seeds.

I tell myself that chewing the mochi is a form of exercise, but feel free to disregard my wisdom.

Getting there: Getting there: Take the Red Line 2 to Shuanglian (雙連) station. At Exit 1, take a left onto Minsheng West Road (民生西路), heading west. Walk for about 6-8 mins, and the market will be on your left.

Photograph by dennisnlim via Instagram.

Miaokou Night Market

With a name that translates literally to “mouth of the temple”, how would we dare to defy its religious edict and not put food into our mouth?

Miaokou Night Market is located at the port city of Keelung, just an hour’s ride away from Taipei by train. When at a port city, it would be foolish not to have seafood, so head straight for one of the many seafood stalls at Miaokou Night Market hawking their catch of the day. You pick the seafood you want, how you want it cooked, find a seat, and eat. Simple, but delicious.

Finish this fresh feast with mostly Pao Pao Shaved Ice (泡泡冰), a cross between ice cream, sorbet, and shaved iced, made from freshly pulped fruits. This fine icy dessert is traditionally mixed by hand to achieve the “bubbling” effect that gives it its characteristic lightness; after eating it, I feel light as a bubble.

Getting there: At Taipei Main Station, take a Local Train (區間車) on Taiwan Railways to Keelung Station. Each ticket costs NT$41; trains leave every 15-20 minutes, all day.

Lehua Night Market

Lehua Night Market is not a common stop on many travellers’ itineraries. It’s slightly further away from the typical attractions near the city centre, and doesn’t boast of any famous, must-try stalls.

Indeed, it’s on this list for an entirely different reason: it’s the night market which offers the biggest proportion of foreign food.

To understand the soul of a country and its gastronomic culture, we not only have to try its indigenous cuisine, but also its interpretations of other food. Hence, Lehua Night Market. Go there not to try the typical Taiwanese snacks of fried chicken cutlet or oyster omelette, but Hong Kong curry fish balls, Turkish kebabs, Japanese sushi. 

Lehua Night Market is also the first night market to be eco-friendly, so be sure to bring along your own reusable bags and cutlery!

Getting there: Take the Orange Line 4 and alight at Dingxi Station (頂溪). Turn left onto Yonghe Road, Section 1 (永和路一段) from Exit 1, and continue walking south for around 8-10 minutes. The night market will be on the right.

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