Whether the early mornings are a blessing or a curse when visiting East Asia remains to be seen. They are an artifact of not adjusting to China time quickly enough. Yet again, I woke up before my 5:00 AM alarm, ready to take on the Taiwanese capital for the third time. My son woke up at 6:00 AM, rather bright and early for him as well, and we headed upstairs to breakfast in the lounge.
Today was a mixed bag of sights. I’d settled on taking the MTR red line out to Tamsui, but we would make an quick stop first. Rain was forecast for the afternoon, so getting an early start was probably for the best. Plus, we had an air raid drill to deal with, which the Grand Hyatt Taipei had warned us about.
The rain had come early as well, but we fortunately missed it. It was wet when we stepped off the MTR in Guandu. Starbucks was a necessary pit stop. Rather, it was a pit-avoid. Chinese toilets are of a squat style. Strategic planning is necessary to ensure one can use familiar facilities.
From the MTR station it is about a 15 minute walk to the Guandu Temple. You can also hop on a bus, but they run infrequently enough that walking is often just as fast. The Guandu Temple was originally constructed in 1661, its several stories built into a hill.
The first floors are impressive, but I suggest heading up to the upper floors to see the beautiful halls and columns. The temple is well-maintained and very clean.
From the upper floors you get a lovely view out across the decorative roofs and of the city beyond.
The artistry of flamboyantly colorful animals and other figures at the peaks is magnificent.
The Guandu Temple is an operating place of worship, so be respectful of those who come for that purpose. Just like visiting magnificent cathedrals in Europe, it gets a bit awkward as a traveler visiting for simply the architectural and cultural significance.
Tamsui and Fort Santo Domingo
From Guandu we continued down the MTR to the end of the line: Tamsui. This district is out near the mouth of the Tamsui River, and there are a few interesting places to explore. We headed along Zhongzheng Road, headed for the Tamsui Old Street. Along the way we passed one of the old steam engines of the Tamsui train line
It was still fairly early, so there wasn’t a lot of activity. But Tamsui can be a bustling place at times with numerous shops and restaurants scattered through the the district. Things would pick up by the time we returned. Another nice area to walk is right out along the estuary.
We stopped at a couple shops, but ended up moving on fairly quickly for Fort San Domingo. Originally a Spanish Fort, it changed hands and became Fort Antonio under Dutch control. The fort costs NT$80 (~$2.75) per person to visit, and it is an interesting piece of colonial history in Taiwan. It was originally constructed in 1629, although the current edifice is newer than this, since the original was destroyed.
I’m not sure this is quite what they intended by putting the statue here, but hey, he wanted a photo. My kid also carried around his Boeing 787 the entire day.
The current buildings were repaired and later leased to the British government for over a century. It was an official, and then unofficial, UK consulate to Taiwan up through most of the 1900s. Since being returned to Taiwanese control, it has become the historic site you can tour today.
You don’t need a whole lot of time to visit Fort San Domingo. We stayed most of an hour before heading back through Tamsui.
Din Tai Fung, a Taipei Original
A friend of mine recommended eating at Din Tai Fung, a dim sum restaurant that has become an international phenomenon. There are even a number of locations in the U.S. The original location is near the Dongmen MTR station, in close proximity to Yongkang Beef Noodle where we ate during our first day in Taiwan. I’d picked the Tianmu location, however, as I’d read it isn’t as busy as others. It was also a much more convenient stop for our planned itinerary.
The line here was far shorter than what I’d seen at the original location two days prior. It only took 10 minutes for us to be seated. While we waited we watched the chefs at work making the xiaolongbao, a signature dumpling served by Din Tai Fung.
The food is phenomenal. I way over-ordered. Everything sounded delicious, and it all was. We just couldn’t finish it all. The signature xiaolongbao are a must. Then consider some of the other dumplings or potstickers. My son wanted noodles, so we went with those, too.
There is even a “guide to enjoy the xiaolongbao” for those (i.e. us) who have no idea how to properly enjoy this delicious food.
Completely stuffed, we continued onward, planning to visit the Miniatures Museum of Taiwan. This was one of the things my son expressed the most interest in visiting when I listed out some options for the day.
Downpour and Disappointment
When we exited the MTR at Songjiang Nanjing, we were met by a thundershower. This was no quick shower we could sprint through in a minute and come out relatively unscathed. It was a torrential downpour.
A $10 umbrella later and we were on our way. Thing is, the umbrella really didn’t help. We both got soaked there was nearly an inch of water in the streets in many places, so the feet were the first to go. We had just enough time to make it to the miniatures museum before the cutoff time for the air raid drill the hotel had warned us about.
Then the disappointment of the day: the Miniatures Museum of Taiwan was closed. I thought I’d checked the hours for everything we planned to do, but this was an unfortunate oversight. I felt terrible. This was what my son had been looking forward to most that day.
We were just forced to just sit and wait out the air raid drill in the basement of the building. Not exactly how you want to spend any of your short time in Taipei. The soaked shoes forced us to make a pit stop at the hotel, which was a bummer since it cost us another half hour. But it was either that or brave our final hours with wet feet.
Huashan and Chia Te Bakery
With so little time left for seeing the city, it was a decision between hiking Elephant Mountain or visiting the Huashan 1914 park. I’d probably have enjoyed the former more, as it provided excellent views of Taipei. But given that we’d completed a strenuous climb up Mount Qixing in Yangmingshan National Park the previous day, Huashan 1914 park seemed like a better idea. My son might have rebelled had I told him we’d be hiking another hill.
The Huashan 1914 Creative Park is an art center in the middle of Taipei inside buildings that were formerly a winery. There are a number of shops, mostly selling art and pricier souvenir items, as as well as a few cafes. There is also a very cool toy shop, which is where we spent most of our time.
If you enjoy seeing revitalized and repurposed buildings, it is worth a brief stop. I loved the old warehouses with vines covering every inch of the front wall.
Our final stop was at the Chia Te Bakery, a highly rated spot in the Songshan district. The lines did not lie. They have some excellent offerings.
We opted for a couple of their classic pastries, a pudding, and an entire box of creme-filled cookies. The cookies were by far the best, light and airy and utterly delicious. A box of two dozen is probably about enough for one sitting. You may need two. 😉
Just like that, our visit to Taipei came to a close. With three packed days, we were able to see and experience quite a lot. It was a bummer that our last day didn’t go quite as planned, but we still enjoyed our day out. Our stay at the Grand Hyatt Taipei was excellent, which was our base for the brief visit.
I hope to come back to Taiwan and explore more of the island. The country had never really been on my radar until the past year, but it is an amazing place to visit if you’re looking for somewhere in Asia and are not quite sure where to start. My son and I had a blast. Our adventure wasn’t quite over, as we’d have one last day in Xiamen, in mainland China, before returning home.