A first-timer guide to Taipei can be pretty straightforward – you have the photogenic memorial halls of Chang Kai-shek and Sun Yat-sen, the National Palace Museum, the towering presence of Taipei 101 and the lively night markets with the widest assortments of stinky tofu, strangely large fried chicken, oyster omelettes and other street food that will surely pique your curiosity. Throw in nearby sights such as Yehliu Geopark, Maokong teahouses and Danshui and you might just be able to call your Taipei experience complete – but what about an extra day in the city?
Consider dipping your toes in Taipei’s contemporary scene after diving into its rich history and traditions. Easily done in a day and with ample time to soak in what the places have to offer, these three destinations may just form the highlight of your Taipei visit.
Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA)
Just a few blocks out of Zhongshan station, I saw two big boards that were linked together by a hundred brown strings in random order that created an intriguing sight. I picked up the pace to see two big faces staring at each other, beautifully outlined by the strings that ran through the boards.
Behind this incredible art installation, however, was an ordinary red-brick building with a 4-pillar entrance. This facade proved to be tricky as I saw the strange and colorful pipes that hung from the lobby ceiling – I was undeniably inside MoCA. The history behind the facade is more interesting than it looks as I find out later on; the building used to be a school and a city hall at different points in Taipei’s history.
MoCA’s biggest appeal for me lies in its effort not to intimidate visitors by having friendly receptionists, a modest number of exhibits (three at that time), and audio guides free to anyone with a QR Code Reader in their phones. The ticket was definitely a bargain at NT50 (~PHP70). Earphones and lockers were also available to guests for free and only a number of people are allowed at any time in the museum. Guests can also have lunch at the quaint little restaurant at the end of the tour.
My personal recommendation, however, is to have cheap and authentic xiao long baos in the famous hole-in-the-wall called Fuda Shandong Zhengjiao Dawang Restaurant near the metro station – a tasty detour before heading on to the next destination.
Huashan 1914 Creative Park
Three stations and one transfer will take you to Zhongxiao Xinsheng station, five minutes away from the Huashan 1914 Creative Park. I imagined it would be hard to miss a cluster of boxy gray buildings in the middle of the city; but, I ended up being drawn to a larger-than-life poster of the anime One Piece signalling that I was near.
As the name suggests, the concrete barn-like buildings were built in 1914 as a wine factory explaining the European-inspired architecture. Today, the 4.5-hectare park houses an assortment of exhibits, shops, cafes and restaurants that are a far cry from what the old buildings seem to suggest.
Right across the first building selling One Piece merchandise was a quiet store selling clay pots. As I stepped in, I saw a man shaping one small pot while occasionally smiling at the little boy watching him work. Several intricately designed pots that resemble what he was molding were displayed throughout the store. As beautiful as they were expensive, the store looked more like a museum than a store. Adding to this impressive display was a video about the store’s history projected on the bare wall of the room next door. This was only one of many such stores in the park. The ability of these stores to solicit genuine admiration and excitement from its audience was quite rare and made Huashan Park my favorite place in Taipei.
Interspersed with such gallery-slash-stores are dozens of craft stores, novelty stores and tents selling goods from hand-painted bags to expensive jewelry. And if you end up needing a break from all the walking, you can catch an art film in the cinema or grab a bite from food trucks and restaurants – all within the park.
I took refuge in Cafe Offline after a good three hours of window shopping. A two-storey building with warm wooden walls and an atrium that displayed a giant table showing off different magazines welcomed me. There were no small tables in the cafe, only big ones full of people reading, chatting and drinking coffee. As I was drinking my own, I soaked in the atmosphere inside the cafe; one that was unique to it and the park – a quiet excitement evidenced by all its visitors who marvel at simple things such as funny-looking teabags and a form of somewhat tangible inspiration from the business owners who successfully turned their passions into a living.
Eslite bookstore at Dunhua Road
Having a few hours left before airport check-in, I went to see the famous 24-hour bookstore just near Zhongxiao Dunhua station. I really didn’t know what to expect given that I visited the store on a sunny afternoon; but, a massive eight-storey building definitely came as a surprise.
After the first few floors that looked like a department store with its several kiosks selling items from clothing to decorative plates, you will find the infamous bookstore. More than the rows and rows of shelves that can be overwhelming, it was the number of people standing up and readings books as if in stop motion that astounded me. The management allows visitors to read books without purchasing them which made the bookstore appear more like a library short on tables than anything else.
The bookstore was undeniably large that the receptionist had to show me a map just so I could find a book; and, after passing through shelves and readers alike, I still found myself lost and bookless. After a few more minutes to find the book and to pay at the counter, I walked towards the exit until I noticed the basement that I haven’t explored.
A small gallery was waiting for me at the foot of the escalator featuring works by college art students who gave me a free poster, as if their works and the time they spent explaining them were not enough. Next to this quaint little gallery was a store with the quote “See Things Differently” near its entrance. Through the windows you could see the many colors and patterns that were residing inside – this turns out to be Eslite’s supplies store slash craft heaven. The first stop sold a variety of notebooks – from themes of travel, listing and dreaming to unique designs featuring classic icons such as Audrey Hepburn and Minnie Mouse. A few steps away were stamps of different shapes and sizes right next to postcards and washi tapes; and, when I turned right, racks of the most beautiful wrapping papers I’ve ever seen that almost made me squeal.
This bookstore served to be the perfect cool down to the day – strolling in peace surrounded with new and pretty things, plus, air conditioning.
I’ve heard once before that there will always be something beautiful to see in a place; an extra day in Taipei is no exception. This extra day filled with inspiring energy and surprises turned out to be my favorite day in the city – with an open heart and mind, it could be yours too.
Note: Alriiight, there’s my attempt at a more editorial type of writing. How’d I do? 🙂
“The passport is the new diploma.”