As I’m walking through my first street market there is a distinct and unbearable smell in the air. I can’t quite pin it or describe it but trust me when I say it is the most unsatisfying smell I’ve come across. Sure enough the creator of this questionable cuisine realized it had an unpleasant smell when it was cleverly dubbed, “stinky tofu.” Welcome to Taipei.
After landing in Taipei, go straight to the well organized taxi line and hop in. Like any big city avoid the guys asking if you need a taxi and stick to the official line. From the start you can tell this is a city of honest, hard working people where scams are not nearly as common as other parts of southeast Asia. Upon my arrival, I head straight to meet my cousin Robert who has lived in this country for the past year. I quickly realize night markets are a big thing here and for good reason. Aside from the stinky tofu I enjoyed countless tasty bites including the Taiwanese version of an omelet, a bowl of beef and veggies and other grilled goodness.
As far as sites are concerned, there is not a whole lot in Taipei (which is maybe why many travelers I’ve run into don’t have it on the itinerary). I managed to visit a handful attractions in my short visit, all of which I’d recommend in the area. Lungshan Temple (龍山寺) , where I found that omelete, is a popular spot in the oldest neighborhood in the city.
After visiting the temple, wander around the night market and snake alley. The name comes from a previous time where you could walk the alley as shops would kill and skin snakes, ultimately serving the blood for males looking for an extra umphf. Shortly after some youtube videos surfaced on the internet, PETA or some sister organization came in and ended the killings. You can still find a couple shops serving the blood but thankfully no snakes are killed along the street anymore. Another site I visited is the famous Taipei 101, formerly know as the Taipei world trade center. This building is truly an engineering marvel. If you click the above ‘Taipei 101’ link you can read about all the well deserved awards and accolades it has received. Pay the NT$500 ($15 USD) and go to the observation deck for 360 degree views of the city.
After visiting the tower you can squeeze in a quick visit to the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial before taking a 30 or so minute walk to the Elephant Mountain hiking trail. The memorial is really worth popping your head in and if you go at the top of the hour you can watch the changing of the guards.
Now for the Elephant Mountain… I am warning you though this is a serious hike. Bring water and be prepared to sweat! But if you can manage the endless stairs you will be rewarded with a great view of the city (featured image of blog post).
For whatever reason backpackers I’ve met on this journey have been surprised to hear I visited Taipei. Granted it only has a view sites but I think if anyone is venturing to Southeast Asia they should add it to the itinerary. The people are kind, the food is delicious (although sometimes too stinky) and it truly is the safest large city I’ve walked around.