Philipp Marxen

Taipei – My Experience Exploring the Vibrant Heart of Taiwan

Welcome to Taipei

The bustling streets of Taipei are filled with colorful street vendors, towering skyscrapers, and the iconic Taipei 101 building reaching towards the sky

This is a summary of my impressions of Taipei based on 4-5 visits ranging from a weekend to almost a year in the span of almost two decades. That gives me a perspective of massive change, but also some things that stay the same. 

As I stepped once again into the vibrant city of Taipei, I immediately felt the warm embrace of its bustling streets and friendly faces. Well, since it was August 2023 it was not just warm but outright hot and humid….

Pronouncing it “Tai-bei” came natural as I do speak some intermediate-level Mandarin. So that was a tool that helped me navigate this metropolis and look at it from another perspective. 

Getting Around: To navigate the city, I relied heavily on the Taipei Metro, known locally as the MRT or 捷運. It’s an exceptionally clean, efficient, and affordable way to travel. With clear signage in both English and Mandarin, I found my way around effortlessly. It is much cheaper, safer and cleaner compared to metros in European cities like Paris, Berlin or London, it is easier to use than the Tokyo metro and it serves you until midnight, unlike the early bird Shanghai metro.

  • Metro Tips:
    • Get familiar with the metro map.
    • Peak hours can be crowded, so just avoid that time if possible.
    • And the easiest way is to use the EasyCard!

Taxi or Uber: For areas less accessible by metro, I would occasionally use Uber. That only happened once or twice though. In the end, you can also explore Yangmingshan by bus and I am not that much of a night owl, so could usually rely on the metro.

Exploring Taipei is an adventure in itself, from the city’s iconic Taipei 101 that once held the title of the world’s tallest skyscraper, to the historical reverence of temples that light up in the night. Each method of transportation added a different hue to my Taipei palette, enhancing my experience in this endlessly intriguing city.

Cultural Insights

Busy Taipei street with colorful lanterns and bustling night market. Traditional architecture mixed with modern skyscrapers. A fusion of old and new

Let me give you an overview of culture and identity that I experienced in Taipei:

Language and Communication

Taipei’s quest to become a bilingual society is apparent in its commitment to language education and cultural exchange. Although Mandarin is the predominant language, there’s a growing emphasis on teaching and learning English. In some fancy cafes, you hear guests switching effortlessly back and forth. Likely Taiwanese that lived abroad or overseas Taiwanese that came back. 

There are plenty of English-Mandarin languages exchanges and the level of English has risen substantially within the last 15 years. Personally, I went to almost all language exchanges in Taipei, about 10 to 15 different ones around. While all using the language exchange label, some are more meet and mingle events or parties that have limited language exchange. Others are really focussed on language exchange. My favorites are a language exchange near NTNU with a clear separation of English and Mandarin practice. As that grew, it got a bit loud. Another one is at a home in the north of the center with sometimes very advanced level of Mandarin.  

I also created a language exchange myself, free of charge and to practice languages other than English: Polyglot Nexus. We spoke mostly French, Spanish, German and occasionally Mandarin. For me, I used it to occasionally speak Spanish and French while in Taipei. If you want to know more about learning languages at the same time, have a look at this article.

Local Customs and Traditions

Walking through Taipei, there is still a strong connection to religion, spirituality and traditions passed on for generations. Some of this includes burning paper money, incense or loud noises. 

Some aspects show the influence from mainland China, others the Japanese influence like the meticulousness attention to detail and the cafe culture that seems a blend of western and Japanese influence. 

When to Visit

A sunny day in Taipei, with bustling night markets and colorful temples, surrounded by lush green mountains and a clear blue sky

Deciding when to visit Taipei greatly depends on the weather and the vibrant festivals held throughout the year. August was not a good time as it is just too hot and humid. I started sweating immediately and still wonder how locals survive that period. 

Coming back end of September was a different experience. The weather is near perfect end of September to mid November with only occasional rain showers, but lot of sunshine and warms without heat. Plus, a lot of outdoor festivals fall into that period.

Weather Patterns

The climate in Taipei is subtropical, meaning you can generally expect warm and humid weather most of the year. However, typhoon season, typically from June to October, brings heavy rains and powerful storms. Personally, I’ve found the best season to visit Taipei to be either spring (April and May) or autumn (October and November). During these months, the weather is comfortably warm and the risk of typhoons decreases significantly.

  • Spring:
    • April: Average high of 25°C (77°F)
    • May: Average high of 29°C (84°F)
  • Autumn:
    • October: Average high of 26°C (79°F)
    • November: Average high of 22°C (72°F)

Generally, the summer months can be quite hot and sweaty, with high temperatures often surpassing 30°C (86°F), so if you’re like me and prefer to avoid extreme heat and humidity, these might not be the most comfortable months for your visit.

Festivals and Events

If you’re looking to immerse yourself in local culture and festivities, aligning your visit with Taipei’s numerous events can be quite rewarding. Basically, there is a blend of festivals of very different traditions. Obviously Chinese New Year. Many people leave Taipei to celebrate with their families in other cities of Taiwan. Besides, sometimes festivals and events are conveniently timed to give a sense of deniability. The Pride Parade and Halloween usually take place during the same week and that is a week when you see plenty of different dresses and costumes.

Another event not to miss is the Lantern Festival, which is held at the end of the Lunar New Year period. Picture the evening skies adorned with a kaleidoscope of colorful lanterns – it’s genuinely a breathtaking sight.

MonthFestivals and Events
FebruaryLunar New Year
February/MarchLantern Festival
Throughout the year
October
Various night market events and local celebrations
Pride Parade and Halloween

Do remember that during popular festivals, Taipei can get quite crowded, and accommodations may be harder to secure, so I always recommend booking well in advance. Since Taipei is one of the most tolerant cities, hotel prices during and after the Pride Parade typically spike.

Exploring the City

Busy streets, colorful night markets, and towering skyscrapers define Taipei's bustling cityscape. The iconic Taipei 101 stands tall against the city skyline, while traditional temples and modern architecture coexist harmoniously

Taipei, a bustling metropolis rich with cultural landmarks and secret places. Great for explorers like myself to find new cafes, temples, museums almost daily. It is a harmonious blend of the traditional and the modern. While I love discovery, I also like to go to the same vegetarian restaurants, cozy cafes and parks again and again.

Taipei’s Landmarks

  • Taipei 101: Always visible and for me personally one of the finest architecture wins in modern times.
  • Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall: A monument erected in memory of the former President of the Republic of China, this impressive structure is surrounded by a tranquil park, ideal for a leisurely stroll. Love the white and blue structure and its calm atmosphere.
  • National Palace Museum: Housing a vast collection of ancient Chinese imperial artifacts, this museum provided me with a deep insight into the country’s rich history.

Hidden Gems

  • Beitou’s Hot Springs: Hot Springs in Beitou are a treat. Just one thing to notice, the rules in the public hot springs are very strict. We were a group of taiwanese and foreigners and not allowed to enter as our bathing suits were not tight enough. In other words, speedos are ok, but surf shorts not.
  • Night Markets. Taipei’s favorite place to be on a weekend. Some delicious food, other of more questionable quality and an interesting mix of people. Already, about a quarter of the vendors are of Vietnamese origin and at the same time you might run into the founder of Nvidia – at least that happened to me.

Throughout my exploration, the convenient taxis and the cheap alternative of Uber ensured I navigated the city with ease, even after sunset when Taipei transforms with its vibrant night markets and lively street life. From towering landmarks to the warmth of hidden alleys, Taipei revealed its stories to me, one street at a time.

Outdoor Adventures

Taipei, located near the sea and surrounded by hills is perfect for hiking and other outdoor activities. I love that many hikes can be started from a metro station.

Hiking Trails

My adventures on the hiking trails have been some of my favorites. The trails in Yangmingshan National Park are particularly captivating, with various difficulty levels to suit all hikers. With Zoe and her angels we went on a misty cold day with heavy chilly winds on the peaks while a few weeks earlier I went hiking and it was 30 degrees and sunshine. On a clear day, the views from the trails over Taipei are simply striking. There’s nothing like reaching an overlook and seeing the city sprawl below me while I catch my breath and enjoy the natural beauty. Another of my favorite hikes is up the mountains south of 101. It is easily accessible by metro and just a 15-20 minute hike and you reach some beautiful platforms with perfect city views! 

One specific trail led me to some of the famous hot springs, where I could soak and relax after a vigorous hike. The contrast of the lush green peaks against the metropolitan skyline creates a unique backdrop that’s hard to find elsewhere.

City Parks

In the heart of Taipei, the urban green spaces offer a different kind of adventure. I found Da’an Forest Park to be a peaceful haven. It’s like the Central Park of Taipei – ample greenery, sparkling ponds, and spacious walkways.

  • Activities: Jogging, bird watching, relaxing
  • Key Features: Central location, public art installations, eco-pond

Whether I was out for a run or simply wanted to spend an afternoon reading under the shade of a tree, the well-maintained paths and diverse plant life made my time in Da’an Park thoroughly enjoyable. Perfect to join one of fitfam’s many free outdoor activities there. Plus, dancing or attending a jazz concert in Da’an park are wonderful activities.

Super happy that Taipei has so many parks and outdoor spaces. 

Nightlife and Entertainment

Ok, here is a confession, I am not really a night owl any longer. I like to get a good night sleep. Still, I did enjoy the night markets that serve up delicious snacks. There are also plenty of bars and clubs where the energy doesn’t dip until the early hours, there’s something for everyone. Some young foreigners and locals head to the Maji Square area. It is ok, but a bit too loud and rowdy for me. In terms of minimalistic, European style clubbing, there might be Pawn Shop and Studio 9. I never made it to these two clubs but might go sometimes. There are also a lot of dedicated gay clubs and bars, but again, I never made it there. 

My favorite places are salsa dancing places. Dancing usually starts as early as 9.30 to 10 pm and I can take the last metro around midnight after having my 2 hour dancing fix. Taipei’s nightlife is also pretty good for non-drinkers which was good for my one year of abstinence.

Night Markets

When it comes to Taipei nightlife, strolling through best night markets in Taipei is a must. I found the Shilin Night Market to be an inexpensive option packed with stalls offering tantalizing treats, from oyster mushrooms to fried chicken and vermicelli noodles – it’s a foodie’s heaven! But: It is a bit large and there are sometimes scooters and anyways, I only eat some of the treats. For non-food items, this market is also a treasure trove of souvenirs and fashionable finds.

My personal favorite night markets are RaoHe, which is very packed pedestrian area and the Tonghua night market, that is sometimes also called Linjiang. And in terms of food: my favorite are glutenous rice balls and sweet potato balls. 湯圓 and 地瓜球。

Bars and Clubs

The club scene in Taipei is the only that can be called a real club scene (not that much going on in Taichung or Kaohsiung). It is diverse and entertaining. But well, I didn’t go to a lot of places. Expensive clubs in the Xinyi district offer breathtaking views of the city and house trendy spots where stylish crowds gather to groove to the latest beats. Ok… that says all and is just auto-generated. I have not been to clubs in Xinyi. 

What I did do is attending a lively Salsa Night where salsa bachata zouk dancing energized my whole week. There are other events dedicated to purely Zouk or Bachata dancing. Absolutely fantastic!  

Culinary Journey

A lot is written about culinary options in Taipei… personally, I will write a bit more about vegetarian options.

Local Cuisine

In Taipei, I indulged in street foods that are the heartbeat of the city. There is stinky tofu – but it is clearly not my favorite

  • Must-Try Dishes in Taipei:
    • Stinky Tofu: Challenging yet rewarding
    • Gua Bao: A soft bun with explosive flavors
    • Beef Noodle Soup: Comfort in a bowl
    • Where to Eat: Ultimate food guide to the best culinary experiences in Taipei.

Vegetarian Options

Ok, I didn’t follow my own advice on must-try dishes but can give you a better inside into plant-based dining. Taipei is a haven (or heaven) for vegetarians. From upscale restaurants to vegan buffets offering an all-you-can-eat experience, I was never short of options. I delighted in innovative dishes that used tofu and tempeh in ways I had never imagined. The city’s commitment to vegetarian cuisine was clear and many restaurants take pride in their plant-based menus.

  • Vegetarian Eats to Look Out For:
    • Vegan buffets: A variety of choices. My favorite is MinDe Garden near 101.
    • In terms of restaurants, I loved Red Room Rendevouz, but it is very pricey..

Digital Nomad Hub

Taipei has become a beacon for digital nomads and remote workers like me, offering vibrant co-working spaces and ample networking opportunities. This city has a friendly entrepreneurial spirit and is supportive of foreigners setting up businesses. Although Taiwan isn’t as popular as Thailand or Malaysia for nomads, it offers a unique environment with a 90-day visa for many countries, making it an attractive spot for those who want to explore entrepreneurship in Taiwan. Still, there is a bit of a divide. Digital nomads that fly in and out, stay only a few weeks, do not speak Mandarin and do not have a lot of local connections on one hand and then remote workers and expat entrepreneurs that made Taipei their base, speak the language and contribute to the local economy. I earn to become the second option in the future.

Co-working Spaces

In my time here, I’ve found that Taipei’s co-working spaces are the heart of the digital nomad community. With a mix of locals and internationals, these places are equipped with fast internet, essential amenities, and often, a café or lounge area. Some spaces I’ve visited have daily rates starting as low as NT$300, making them affordable options for my work needs. From boutique setups to larger chains, each offers a different vibe to suit various working styles. It is also very common to work from cafes. Just make sure you consume enough so it is fair for the cafe as well.

Networking Opportunities

I was surprised at how easy it was to meet like-minded entrepreneurs and professionals in Taipei. Events and meetups are common, and groups such as Taiwan Impact Entrepreneurs strengthen connections within the startup ecosystem. Moreover, I’ve heard stories of foreign entrepreneurs who’ve found success in the Taiwanese market, adding to the allure of Taipei for ambitious individuals. So far, I gathered that the success factors are:

  • Carve out your own market niche
  • Remote work for other markets
  • Sourcing of Taiwanese products for global markets
  • Mandarin skills and local connections

Residential Life

In my journey navigating residential life in Taipei, I’ve uncovered a harmonious blend of modern convenience and cultural charm. This city offers a surprisingly affordable cost of living, especially when considering its status as a bustling metropolis.

Finding Accommodation

There are plenty of airbnbs and hotels in Taipei. Certain rules apply for airbnbs, so hosts are careful to make it legal according to local regulation. Apartment hunting can be simplified by scouring resources tailored for expats in Taipei. Websites and Facebook groups proved invaluable, offering listings and advice from fellow expats on securing a place. One thing to note: Some landlords would rather rent out to locals compared to foreigners, but this is slowly changing.

Cost of Living

Let’s talk about cost of living in Taipei. It is a bit of a concern. So far, I learned that while housing can be on the pricey side, overall, life here is quite affordable. I can vouch for Taipei’s cheap public transportation and great internet, which are blessings for both work and leisure.

For a clearer picture, monthly expenses for an expat here might look something like this:

  • Rent: USD/EUR 750 for a newer studio loft in the expanded city center
  • Utilities: $50 on average, thanks to efficient energy use and moderate climate
  • Transportation: An EasyCard makes it convenient; a monthly metro pass cost me only about $50
  • Food: Local eateries offer delicious meals for $2-$5, and groceries are reasonably priced

In other words, housing is not cheap but everything else is about 30% cheaper than in the US or Europe. 

Staying Healthy

In Taipei, I’ve discovered that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is convenient. With an array of fitness options and nutritious food choices, the city accommodates a wellness-oriented lifestyle beautifully. But it depends, some people move to Taipei and gain a lot of weight, others use it to stay healthy. I was in the second group.

Active Living: I often find myself exploring the many sports facilities available. Gyms like World Gym provide a comprehensive range of equipment. Just beware of their aggressive sales practices!  My room had A/C which provides a retreat from Taipei’s humidity, making indoor hours comfortable.

Hiking Trails: I took advantage of Taipei’s stunning hiking trails, allowing me to connect with nature and enjoy fresh air away from the city’s noise. The trails cater to all levels, from leisurely walks to more challenging treks; my personal favorite is the hike up Elephant Mountain, offering breathtaking views of Taipei and of course many hikes around Yangming mountain.

Vegetarian Delights: Taipei proves to be a haven for vegetarians. You can have questionable vegetarian options at night markets – that are super delicious but not the most nutrient packed choices. But there is vegetarian buffets like Minder Garden with plenty of inexpensive, fresh choices. There, I was able to get also some just steamed fresh vegetables, as I am not a fan of fake meat products.

Here’s how I incorporate healthy habits into my day:

  • Morning: Quick warmup at my room (especially for my back) and getting sunlight before 10 am outdoors.
  • Midday: lunch bowl or vegetarian buffet
  • Evening: dancing!

Living in Taipei, I find that staying active and eating well aren’t just easy—they’re part of the city’s charm. And again, Fitfam is a wonderful community that helps to stay active.

Navigating Transportation

In my time in Taipei, I discovered that getting around the city is quite efficient thanks to a comprehensive public transit system and the existence of abundant cycling and walking paths.

Public Transit System

I found the Taipei Metro to be the cornerstone of public transportation in the city. With its extensive network of lines, I could reach virtually any destination within Taipei, including popular spots like Taipei 101 and the bustling night markets. The trains are punctual, clean, and signposted in both Mandarin and English, which made my travel straightforward. A single ride cost me between NT$20-65, and I frequently used the rechargeable EasyCard for convenience.

For areas not serviced by the metro, the buses were my go-to option. 

Cycling and Walking Paths

Taipei encourages green transportation, and I took full advantage of it through the YouBike system. Renting a bike was easy and inexpensive, and I could do it all through an app on my phone. The fact that the first 30 minutes were free made it an even more attractive option for short trips. You have to take the bike from a station and return it to one, but there are plenty of these stations around.

At some point, I want to do a Huandao, which typically starts in Taipei and goes all around the island. I haven’t done that yet however.

Walking was also a pleasant experience, thanks to well-maintained sidewalks and pedestrian areas. Exploring on foot, I stumbled upon hidden gems that I would have missed otherwise. With thoughtful urban planning, Taipei has made sure that whether you’re riding or walking, it’s a delightful and efficient way to explore the city.

Practical Information

When I visited Taipei, I discovered some essential information that could help travelers in unexpected situations. Knowing about emergency services and being aware of local laws and policies are particularly important.

Emergency Services

Taipei is served by two major airports: Taipei Songshan Airport (TSA) and Taoyuan International Airport (TPE). For any emergencies, I always remembered the universal emergency contact number in Taipei is 119, which connects you to fire and ambulance services. I also kept note of 110 for the police. Taipei’s medical services are remarkably efficient and hospitals have well-trained staff and English-speaking doctors. The local medical system is very good and also affordable for people that are not part of the local insurance system.

1 thought on “Taipei – My Experience Exploring the Vibrant Heart of Taiwan”

  1. Thanks for the detailed post! I’ve been interested in Taiwan since 2012, but haven’t managed to visit yet.

    Having lived in Korea for several years, I’m also very surprised to hear about the affordability of eating out and buying groceries in Taiwan.

    Reply

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