Wacky and wonderful, polite and pristine, the beautiful island of Taiwan lies off mainland China’s southeastern coast. It’s home to a fascinating culture that celebrates modernism and tradition in equal measures. You can explore the best of this in just a few days in the capital, Taipei.
Taipei’s frenetic night markets are a good place to start. If you only visit one, make it the Raohe Night Market in Songshan district—a gastronomic utopia. It’s held under the stars, near the city’s luminous Rainbow Bridge. Circle the market’s narrow lanes in a counter-clockwise direction and join locals grazing on bowls of fragrant pork-rib soup, indulgent ice-cream pancakes, and mountains of oysters. Most dishes cost under $5. My favorite cheap eats here are the huge pepper-pork buns cooked inside big, steaming pots.
For a spot of shopping and good people-watching opportunities, join the bright young things in the labyrinth of shops and stalls in Ximending, in Wanhua district. Even if you aren’t drawn in by the brightly-colored shoes and psychedelic-neon accessories, it’s a great place to watch the world go by. Ximending is also home to Taiwan’s weirdest restaurant, Modern Toilet. This bizarre eatery is themed around all things bathroom, from toilet-shaped furniture to excrement-inspired food presentation.
Looming above the capital, the Taipei 101 skyscraper is impossible to miss. Rising 1,670 feet, the aqua-colored building is the symbol of modern Taiwan and was once the tallest building in the world. Buy a $17 ticket to take the world’s fastest elevator up to its 360-degree observation deck in an ear-popping 37 seconds.
Taipei may be a modern city, but nature is never far away. The metropolis is surrounded by mountains where delicately-flavored Oolong tea is grown. Take a 30-minute train ride from the city center to Taipei’s zoo—itself an excellent attraction—and you’re at Maokong Gondola. From there, you can ride into the hills inside a glass-bottomed cable car for just $2.
Traditional tea houses dot the hills. Here drinks are served in an ancient ceremony that involves decanting the liquid through several pots for maximum flavor and aroma. It’s social, respectful, and calm.
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