I never expected to be in a city like Taipei on Christmas Day. And perhaps symbolically, this was one of my favorite days of the entire trip. Our walk about brought us to many beautiful and cultural highlights.
Traditionally, I’m usually at home with family, a tree lit in the background and rugrats screaming around the house. This year there was none of those, which was sad. Even so, I had the time of my life. Walking through these places, I thought about the opportunity I have received and the support of the family that helped me achieve it.
Our Walk-About of Taipei on Christmas Day
We spent Christmas doing some pretty nontraditional things, actually, especially coming from an American background, but perhaps that’s because in Taiwan, life doesn’t stop on December 25th. In fact, it’s just as busy as ever.
It was a scorcher of a day, somewhere around 85 degrees, and as we walked away from our hostel, I had a bunch of things on our to-do list, though the first thing we saw was a bit unexpected: The Presidential Office Building. We had actually stopped to put on sunscreen right in front of it (thinking back, maybe that looked sketchy?), and I’m just happy I snapped a picture of it before we stopped there, for when I tried to take another, the security (mind you, with their scary semi-automatic guns) shooed me away. If I’ve learned anything being abroad? Don’t try taking pictures of political buildings or even USA embassies unless you try to do it covertly. Around the building, spooled razor wire sat around, tire spikes sent a clear message, and the security gazed stoically out. We continued on our way.
What to See in Taipei: Taipei Botanical Gardens
Soon, we found the gate of our first destination, the Taipei Botanical Gardens. Different areas had different themes, such as the palms, boddhi trees, lotuses, and bamboos. A stream twisted its way through the park, resolving in small bodies of water. A greenhouse with tropical flora such as Venus fly traps and pitcher plants occupied one area. Additionally, a group of people practicing local dance routines were nearby. Even more, a large group of amateur bird photographers snapped furiously at the spotting of a small hummingbird-looking thing perched on the end of a long reed in the middle of a pond. The place was beautiful, but I wish I could see it in full bloom. There were only a few hibiscus flowers here or there. Next time?
From there, we made our way down a street that seemed dedicated to the bird trade, though we also saw pigs and skunks. We saw tropical birds like parrots and macaws being sold on the side of the road in this way; I was saddened by this since these creatures are so beautiful. Moreover, most all are endangered (and many macaw species cannot be legally sold, so there’s that). The noise level on this street was out of this world. These birds are all incredibly loud.
My Top Recommendation in Taipei: Longshan Temple
We finally found Longshan Temple (龍山寺), nearby a station of its name on the blue line. One of three big Buddhist temples in this particular district, it was first established in 1738. It was gorgeous. It has survived earthquakes and even bombing by Americans during WWII, and today it is an exemplar of Taiwanese architecture.
When you step in to the inner courtyard, you pass by an area where you can buy offerings or leave donations. People waited in long lines, bringing their gifts inside to place on tables around the courtyard. Others were praying at altars of candles and incense. Yet others were discovering their lots through kau cim or Chinese fortune sticks. It was fascinating to learn and explore through watching these people in their fervency.
We walked around the area for a while, just taking it all in. I didn’t want to miss something, especially since I knew I might never see such a beautiful temple ever again. Out of all the places we saw, I think Longshan Temple was my favorite. The art decoration just had a different vibe with its darker palette, and the wafting smoke in the courtyards spoke of an ancient history. I loved it.
One of the Coolest Buildings in Taipei
As this is an older part of Taipei, I was heartened to see old factories being converted into new areas for pedestrians, business, and art. We walked east through these areas on our way to our next destination, Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, nearby a station by the same name on the red or green line. At the memorial, we were met by three things: the beautiful memorial property itself framed by the National Concert Hall and Theater with Liberty Square between, a protest against radioactive food from Japan, and a market within the square. Excitement was in the air.
Dancers performed in the market with the announcer dressed in a Santa outfit, all flanked by a Christmas scene. We were flagged down by a woman selling something that tasted like rice-crispy treats with cranberries and healthier fare mixed in. (We bought them obviously.) But then we made our way to the 89 steps of the memorial, a building dedicated to a man some venerate and others loathe.
This man was the “Red General” of China who fought to exterminate Communism. (Once, he said he’d kill 1000 innocents to get at one Communist.) He waged war against them, the local warlords of China, and the Japanese simultaneously, prompting some in modern times to reflect that he was a man who did what he could in a desperate time. With China unified, he tried to find a vision of democracy. However, he didn’t trust the fragmented people enough to let go of his authoritarian regime for years until even his death.
He was ousted from the mainland and set up his Republic of China on the island of Taiwan. As such, Taiwan still claims to be the true China. Either way, through his “White Terror” campaigns, he killed millions of Chinese both before and after his removal, which certainly tarnishes his record.
Changing of the Guard Ceremony Inside
Inside, two guards stood stationary, and luckily enough, we arrived right in time for the Changing Ceremony. Foot stamps, fancy gun acrobatics, and a military procession made the show something special. All around, people whispered in awe and snapped pictures with cameras or phones on selfie sticks. Even the dancers from earlier came in to watch. Lasting 10 minutes, the show was certainly dramatic.
Best Food Street in Taipei: Yongkang Street
By this time, we were famished, so we left the memorial to find some grub. This led us to Yongkang Street, nearby Dongmen Station (東門), a paradise for those seeking Taiwanese cuisine and original home of one of the most famous restaurants in the world, Din Tai Fung.
Walking down the street, we had some Bubble Tea at a place called Coco. I got “3 Brothers,” a milk tea with tapioca pearls, pudding, and grass jelly. I’m telling you now, if you’ve only ever had Bubble Tea from America, you haven’t really had Bubble Tea. This was off-the-charts good. (Cara said she was pleasantly surprised, giving it two thumbs up. “Plus, the green jelly was delightfully refreshing.”) We also consumed some dumpling stew. Our favorite meal were these spring onion pancakes that come in a variety of flavors. Besides the bread from the previous night, they were a favorite on this leg of the journey.
Best View of the Sunset in Taipei: Elephant Mountain
After watching the singers a short time, we hopped onto the subway and made our way down the red line till we reached the last stop, Xiangshan. Here, we’d undertake our second mountain hike to see the Taipei skyline by sunset. I’ve never hiked a more crowded mountain. Even so, the mountain is relatively small at 183 m. At the top, each rock was already ‘called’ so a good vantage was hard won. Though we were eaten alive by the mosquitoes (at least, I was), we had the chance to see a beautiful sunset on a wonderfully clear night. We even heard a strange man come through singing a strange song quite loudly! What times we live in.
For Some Great Food, Raohe Night Market
That night, we visited Raohe Night Market and saw the insides of the temple next door. We picked up some squid, a famous pork bun, a delicious thing that looked like a pot pie but with an egg in it, and some egg tarts. The energy was high this busy night. We went back to our hostel to sleep off the fatigue.
For Some Cool Sights, 228 Peace Park
The next morning we woke up early to see the Peace Park nearby. There were some interesting monuments and traditional Chinese structures set against ponds. The National Museum of Taiwan sits to its north. It was a nice way to end our time in Taiwan. Plus, it was another beautiful morning in Taiwan. Overall, we wanted to soak it up.
At this point, we made our way back to the hostel. Collecting our things, we stumbled our way through Taipei Main Station trying to find the awkwardly placed airport bus stop. As we boarded our plane, inklings of Malaysia filled our brains. See you there in Malaysia!
What About You?
What cultures do you click with? Do any temples or foods inspire you to travel more? Tell me about it below by commenting! I want to hear all about your adventures!