Taipei: Independent Under Chinese Influence
Taiwan is an independent country, but the Chinese influence is very strong. Taipei was an interesting experience. It's not a common choice for Western tourists and you don't see many around.
As we visited the city during the typhoon alert, we decided to look for shelter and entertainment at the Memorial Palace Museum. Many buses take you there from Shilin Station. The highlight of the museum is the collection of Tibetan Canons containing ancient teachings, commissioned by the Chinese Emperor.
The Taipei 101 is the 8th tallest building in the world and it offers a stunning view of the city from the Observatory at the top of the shopping mall. The best time to go is sunset. You will find tourists, but the space is big with many windows and there is also an open terrace on the highest floor.
Night Markets are a must. Tonghua Night Market is conveniently located walking distance from the Taipei 101 so you can go right after admiring the sunset to grab something to eat and explore. We had fried chicken and fried squid (to stay safe), but the more adventurous palate won't be disappointed. You can try the chicken feet, very typical dish in Taiwan. The market is plenty of strange things, like people getting a message with cleavers! Just take a walk and your mouth will open in awe.
Taiwan is an independent country, but the Chinese culture is all around. We spoke with a couple of local friends to know more about the history and present situation of the relationship between Taiwan and China. It seems that there are different political views about Taiwan's independence in the country, but overall for young people, this discussion is not a priority. It's also common that families are a mix between Chinese and Taiwanese natives so that creates a strong bond between the two realities.
WHERE TO STAY:
RF Hotel conveniently located in the Daan District (easy metro access). We booked a mini-double. The room was tiny, but a good compromise to stay in our budget. The hotel was clean and the staff super friendly.
WHAT TO EAT:
Food specialties to try (adventurous palates aside) are: the Bubble Tea, a tea-based drink with tapioca balls or fruit jellies. Din Tai Fung is an international dim-sum chain with locations in Asia and the U.S and it started in Taipei. The restaurant inside the Taipei 101 mall is popular, but you can always get your number and wait for your turn while shopping. Our local friends chose the menu for us, based on local specialties: drunken chicken in Shaoxig rice wine, pan-fried dumplings, fried rice with shredded pork, steamed poor dumplings (Xiao Long Bao style) and for dessert: mini-taro and sesame paste buns.