Looking to see the ‘real side’ of Taipei and have a local experience beyond the touristy sights? There’s plenty of things to do in Taipei if you know where to look, and if you love to travel solo in Taiwan, these are fun and interesting ways to get to know the local culture a little better while exploring their beautiful country. Here are my favourite local experiences in Taipei.
Scoot to Taipei
This post is part of a collaboration with Scoot who flew me up to Taipei and dig deep to find unusual experiences beyond your typical tourist attractions. Scoot is having a sale on flights to East Asia from now till 10 March 2019, including to Taipei and Kaohsiung from $99 (one-way, including taxes), for travel from now until 31 May and from 1 July to 14 November 2019!
For travellers looking to stay connected or plan while on the go, get some Scoot Wi-Fi while you are on board. Many of my plans in Taipei were coordinated with the local guides over Whatsapp and Line so it was useful to stay connected while making that 4-hour+ flight.
Shoutout to Flexiroam as well which is now offering a free microchip with 1GB data for every Scoot passenger. Basically it’s a sticker that you attach to your SIM card that lets you access data in many different countries without having to remove your original SIM card. It’s useful if you are going to hop to many different countries quickly and don’t want to waste your time hunting down a local SIM card.
After you’re done seeing typical tourist sights like Taipei 101 and Ximending (Check out this article on must-see sights in Taipei), what other types of activities will give you an insight to the local way of life in Taipei? These were some favourite activities where I got to learn about daily Taiwanese culture from the local guides.
Zip around Taipei on a Motorbike Tour
The most Taiwanese way of getting around is to hop on a scooter and zip about the city. I was not about to brave the insanity that is Taipei’s city traffic on a scooter, so I signed up for a motorbike tour where a local guide would do all the driving and show me the secret sights of Taipei City along the way.
Originally I signed up for the Dawn Tour which would have taken me towards Pingxi (near Shifen and Sandiaoling Waterfalls) and Jinguashi, but it was really rainy those mornings so my tour got cancelled, but after some discussion with them, I ended up doing the night tour with AJ around Taipei City instead.
Now AJ is a serious biker and his ride is no dinky scooter – it’s a large solid bike that is technically classified as a car in Taiwan because of its size and power, so getting up steep hills and covering long distances was no problem. He had a full faced helmet for me and even had gloves prepped for some of the colder parts of the journey.
AJ knew I had already been to Taipei several times so he decided to take me to some really local spots instead of following the typical night tour itinerary too closely. I would have been hardpressed to find some of these places on my own. He also gave me some great tips to help me find some more local experiences on the rest of my trip.
Stop 1: Luroufan at a local’s only spot
We met in the evening and after some mulling, AJ took me to this place that serves some frankly AMAZING minced pork rice aka Luroufan. We headed to Sanchong on the outskirts of Taipei City, where AJ himself lives because ‘Taipei City is just too expensive’. Jinda Luroufan 今大滷肉飯 is a nondescript looking eatery save for the long snaking queue in front of it, a sure sign that the food is awesome. The meat was fatty and soft and melted in your mouth as you ate it, it was so good.
40 Daren Street, Sanchong District, New Taipei City 新北市三重區大仁街40號
Stop 2: A night view of Taipei without the crowds
Next, we headed to Yangmingshan for an amazing night view of the city. I always thought of Yangmingshan as a day spot where you go hiking and soak in hot springs, but along the way AJ showed me a collection of FnB outlets taking over old military housing and turning it into an upcoming hipster area, making me feel like I had to come back and explore this place more thoroughly.
He took me to the Chinese Culture University 中國文化大學, perched in the middle of the slopes and we found a bunch of cars and motorbikes casually stopped along the roadside, with people standing and sitting along the walls of the university looking down and admiring the view of downtown Taipei from above. I like how it wasn’t crowded at all, with no tourist traps around.
No. 55 Huagang Road, Shilin District, Taipei City 台北市士林區華岡路55號
After that, AJ drove us deeper in to the mountains, and we climbed even higher to Erziping 二子坪. These were some hella steep and narrow roads, and a lot of it was done in pitch darkness with nothing but our high beam on and it got pretty cold at some point so I was glad for the gloves that AJ had. Our final viewpoint was on the top of Mount Datun 大屯山 over 1,000m high and we were lucky to get a pretty clear night view of the city below.
A little history of Wanhua
On the way back, AJ was going to introduce me to a bubble tea that he loved but unfortunately the stall was closed. Still, he took me around the historical Wanhua area, pointing out some local sights to me and explaining a bit of history about familiar spots like Bopiliao and Qingshui Temple. He also pointed out a porridge joint that I wish I had time to check out, but guess I have to save something for future trips back…
All in all I had a really satisfying time and I loved seeing Taipei in a different way than usual. I’d usually be in the MRT or walking, so zipping around by bike was a nice change and gave me access to places I wouldn’t have been able to reach easily on my own.
How to book
The Sunset tour in Chinese costs about S$102 – the Dawn tour is a little pricier at S$110, and the full day 8 hour tour costs about S$170. English tours are available as well but they cost slightly more.
I used Klook to book my motorbike tour (Klook affiliate link) which is probably the easiest option for English speakers, and you can find them on KKday as well. The motorbike guides get in touch with you via Line or Whatsapp directly to coordinate the pickup.
Join the commune at the Treasure Hill Artist Village 寶藏巖國際藝術村
Huashan 1914 and Songshan Cultural Centre demonstrate how Taiwan has transformed abandoned spaces into hip cultural spots, and they’ve quickly gained popularity and are on many tourists must-see sights when getting their culture fix in Taipei. If you find those spaces a little too commercial for your liking, head down to Gongguan where you will an interesting art space right along the Xindian river.
Known as the Treasure Hill Artist Village, don’t get confused by the big temple that’s right in front of the art space – walk a little further in and you’ll find a bunch of rather ramshackle looking houses built into the hillside that houses the studios that make up the Artist Village.
Treasure Hill began as an illegal shanty town that became housing for military dependents, it was later restored and turned into an artist commune in 2010. Most of the compound seems to be artist studio spaces, it hasn’t attracted mainstream and commercial brands so it still has that very indie feel. I loved just wandering around the narrow alleys and uneven staircases – there is a lot of art scattered throughout the buildings and surprises around every corner.
How to get there
The easiest way is to take the MRT along the green Songshan-Xindian line to Gongguan Station 公館. Treasure Hill is a short walk away by the river. Alternatively if you are up to cycling, start your journey from Bitan Scenic Area or Jingmei and cycle north the Xindian River till you pass Fuhe Riverside Park – read more about cycling in Taipei here
If you are a little more intrepid, there is a hostel located in the Treasure Hill Artist Village so you can stay overnight and soak in the vibes when only the few residents that live here are left. They also have a local artist residency programme – Check out the Taipei Artist Village website for more.
No. 2, Alley 14, Lane 230, Tingzhou Road Section 3, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City 台北市中正區汀州路三段230巷14弄2號
Tip: Grab dinner at the nearby Gongguan Night Market, the largest night market in the south district and a local favourite for its cheaper food and vast options, largely due to the student crowd from the nearby National Taiwan University.
Weekend shopping at Four Four South Village 四四南村
If you rather not shop in the malls, look out for this little village located very close to the iconic Taipei 101 tower. Similar to Treasure Hill Artist Village, Four Four South Village was also once housing for military dependents, but has since been designated a historical area and its low buildings have been preserved, a rarity amidst the sea of modernity and tall buildings around it.
What most people come to Four Four South Village for is the weekend flea market also called the Simple Market, where little stalls are set up in the main square selling anything from clothing to art and even yummy snacks. If you can’t make it down on the weekend, Good Cho’s 好丘 is a great reason to swing by. This lifestyle store has some really cool local designed goods and food stuff that make for great souvenirs if you don’t mind spending a little bit more. There is also a cafe that was a bit too crowded for me to grab a bite when I was there, but most people go there for their famous bagels.
How to get there
Take the MRT to Taipei 101/World Trade Centre Station on the red Tamsui-Xinyi Line. Four Four South Village is a short walk away.
Good Cho’s has a few outlets around Taipei, though this one at Four Four South Village is the original branch that opened in 2010. Check out their website for more.
Xinyi Road Section 5, Taipei City 台北市信義區信義路五段
There’s nothing wrong with the popular Taipei night markets like Shilin Night Market and Raohe Night Market. While they tend to be very crowded of course, they do have a festive atmosphere and they see tons of tourists so they are used to non-Chinese speakers as well which is helpful if you aren’t used to the way of life.
Pig out at Nanjichang Night Market 南機場夜市
Nanjichang or South Airport night market is a little under-the-radar night market where you will hardly see any tourists.There used to be a military airport around the area, and it got its name in relation to Songshan Airport which is in the north of Taipei City. It is mostly food stalls – very few game stations and other retail outlets here.
My motorbike guide AJ said that the food here was still very authentic compared to the tourist night markets as most of the vendors here have been around for many years and aren’t in the business for a quick buck or gimmicks, but he still gave me a bunch of suggestions on must-eat food here:
First up: Lai Lai Dumplings 來來水餃店, a dumpling shop that has been around for over 30 years. There is a minimum order of 10 dumplings, so I had a whole plate to myself for dinner – it was just 70 NTD (S$3) for some delectable handmade pork dumplings!
Next up: Haochi Zhaji 好吃炸雞 with a really crispy and large fried chicken cutlet. Eat it while it’s hot – I packed half of it back to my room as I was a little full after the dumplings, and it definitely tasted better when warm.
There is a nameless pushcart closer to the Nanhai Road side of the market with an old uncle selling fried biscuits or 無名推車燒餅. These fried wonders ranged from just 10-15 NTD (S$0.40-$0.60) each. I had a salty and a sweet one and they were lovely crispy treats.
I capped off my meal with an apple juice from Meilan Auntie Fruit Juice 美蘭阿姨果汁 has been around for ages and is well-loved as no additional sugar is added to the fruit juice.
How to get there
Nanjichang is located along Zhonghua Road in the ZhongZheng district.The closest MRT stations are Longshan Temple along the blue Bannan line or Xiaonanmen along the green Xindian-Songshan line, and requires about 15-20mins of walking to reach. Alternatively, take a bus to the Nanjichang Apartment stop.
Lane 307, Zhonghua Road Section 2, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City 台北市中正區中華路二段307巷
Shop local at Jingmei Night Market 景美夜市
Be prepared for some hustle and bustle because Jingmei Night Market is not a tourist night market at all. It’s surprisingly big and you can easily get lost in the many lanes that sell all manner of food and sundry. It might be a bit challenging for non-Chinese speakers because there’s little in terms of tourist infrastructure and it gets pretty busy, but it’s a great way to see a slice of local life, so my suggestion is to immerse yourself while you are there and not block the way with your gawking and picture snapping
For foodies, I was a bit overwhelmed by the crowds and ended up wandering by accident into this hipster curry joint called FleeingByNight Curry 夜奔咖哩 and had this delectable 浪潮雞肉咖哩 chicken curry dish for dinner. Not the cheapest, but the tiny restaurant had great decor and a nice vibe.
How to get there
Take the MRT green Songshan-Xindian line to Jingmei Station. It’s a short walk from there
Jingmei Night Market: Jingmei Road, Wenshan District, Taipei City 台北市文山區景美街
FleeingByNight Curry: 19 Jingwen Road, Wenshan District, Taipei City 台北市文山區景文街19號
Traditional Taiwanese food cooking class with Jodie
What’s a more local way to eat in a foreign country than to learn the local recipes and cook your own food. Or have someone local cook for you if you’re lazy like I am. I enlisted the help of Jodie’s Kitchen, where a Taiwanese lady named Jodie holds cooking demonstrations and lessons in her house in the Xinyi District.
Jodie offers several different types of food classes – Xiaolongbaos are quite popular, but I elected to take the Traditional Taiwanese Cuisine course and learn about the Taiwanese staple, rice. We made several 3 main dishes based on long-grain rice that is planted in Taiwan: We started off with peanut milk that is a very popular breakfast dish, then we fried some delicious white radish cake and finished off with mushroom sticky rice. Along the way, Jodie served some Taiwanese tea and threw in some vegetables and fruits to complete the meal.
I say ‘we prepared’, but really Jodie was the one doing most of the cooking and I mostly helped with the prep and eating. It’s a very personalised class so depending on your level or interest in cooking, this can be quite a hands-on session or you can treat it like a demo.
How to book
Check out the Jodie’s Kitchen website for more details or drop her an email. The Rice course costs $4,000 NTD for 1 person (4pax max per class, and it’s cheaper per pax too) and covers all the ingredients that Jodie uses. If you want something special or specific you can ask her too, she’s pretty flexible. The entire session lasted about 4 hours.
Jodie’s Kitchen is located in her house in the Xinyi district which is a little out of the way from downtown Taipei so you will need to take a 10-15min cab ride to get there from Xinyi or Wenshan MRT.
After the lesson, I took a cab to Taipei Zoo station and hopped on the Maokong cable car just in time to catch sunset, or you could head to Elephant Mountain for a climb too.
What awesome local experiences have you had in Taipei? Share them with me here.
This trip was sponsored and produced in collaboration with Scoot as part of a series exploring Taipei and its surroundings. Check out the other #TaiwanderingWithScoot articles here, or see all my Taiwan content.