For a capital city that’s serviced by direct flights from Australia’s east coast, Taipei is underrated as a tourist destination. It’s easy to navigate thanks to a tidy, efficient railway network and after dark it becomes a lively city with modern bars and restaurants that weave between old- and modern-world charms. From art hubs to dim sum restaurants, nightclubs to night markets, Taipei’s scene once the sun goes down is a stew pot of offerings.
Start the evening by witnessing the day’s last Changing of the Guards ceremony at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial. The former Chinese government leader, whom the memorial was named after, fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the Chinese Civil War against the Communists. He remained in exile here until his death in 1975, aged 89, and the monument was opened five years later. Revered by some and abhorred by others, a 6.3-metre-high bronze statue of the dictatorial strongman lords over an otherwise vacant auditorium guarded by members of the various Taiwanese defence forces.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
21 Zhongshan South Road, Zhongzheng
There’s still enough sun to scale Elephant Mountain for twilight views over Taipei. Catch an MRT (Taipei Metro) train to the Red Line terminus station, Xiangshan, before the thigh-burning hike up a coiling stairway to the Six Giant Rocks Lookout, one of several on the mountain. Dominating the Taipei skyline is Taipei 101, once the world’s tallest building.
Xiangshan Hiking Trail
Alley 342, Lane 150, Section 5,
Xinyi Road, Xinyi
If that’s not enough walking for you, Taipei 101 is just a few minutes on foot from the base of Elephant Mountain. Its traditional design elements represent a bamboo stalk and Asian pagoda, but due to the threat of typhoons and earthquakes, these were given modern makeovers with a spherical steel pendulum suspended between the 92nd and 87th floors to counterbalance movements caused by wind and tremors and to ensure the skyscraper withstands its exposure to the elements. The 101-storey glass tower stretches 525 metres above the city streets. Boutique fashion houses, a food court and several restaurants fill its lower levels, and indoor and outdoor observation decks occupy the 89th and 91st floors. Access is via what was, until recently, the world’s fastest elevator, which climbs 382 metres in 37 seconds.
No. 7, Section 5, Xinyi Road, Xinyi
Down in the Taipei 101 dungeons is Din Tai Fung, a restaurant specialising in dumplings and single foods, or what the Chinese call ‘small eats’. As many as 14,000 pork, shrimp, vegetable and truffle dumplings are rolled each day and an army of dumpling chefs – I counted 18 – prepare these tasty parcels behind the glass windows that connect to the front kitchen.
Din Tai Fung
B1, 45 Shifu Road, Taipei 101 Mall
The next port of call – Songshan Cultural and Creative Park – is a two-kilometre walk away. Five former tobacco factories have been converted into exhibition and performance spaces, and the site includes gardens, museums, galleries, bookstores and craft beer bars. Lording over them is the Eslite Spectrum shopping mall, where samples of pearl milk tea are served at Chun Shui Tang on the third floor. The teahouse claims to have invented the beverage popularly known as bubble tea, using tapioca balls as its secret ingredient.
Songshan Cultural & Creative Park
133 Guangfu South Road, Xinyi
Taipei’s famed night markets are all over town. The closest to my hotel, the funky Amba Taipei Songshan, is the Raohe Night Market, which sits down a narrow pedestrian street that leads towards the Keelung River. It’s one of the oldest night markets in the city, and packed to the brim with food stalls and trinkets. From here, it’s a train ride through the MRT to Jiantan Station to get to Shilin, north of the river. A maze of alleyways is filled with stalls selling dishes whose names I can’t pronounce, though there are also noodle dishes and tempura I do recognise. Resorting to pointing and sampling bits and pieces here will ensure full bellies.
Shilin Night Market
101 Jihe Road, Shilin
Better-dressed clientele are around the corner at Draft Land. Opened in January 2018, it draws a crowd of young professionals ordering from a selection of 18 pre-mixed cocktails on tap. The bar’s owned by an award-winning mixologist, so it’s probably not a surprise that the mixes are altered every second night. There are no frilly umbrellas or fruit garnishings, just classic ingredients fused with Taiwanese influences. An example? Pandan with dark rum, cinnamon and apple.
2-1 Lane 248, Section 4,
Zhongxiao East Road, Da’an
A recent innovation in Taipei is the rise of speakeasies – bars modelled on the illicit establishments that sold alcohol during the prohibition era in the US. Ounce is hidden behind a cafe and accessible through a door with multiple handles and buttons. Only one works. I make my intentions known to the Eastern European girl behind the coffee machine and she okays it with the barman, allowing me to enter. Inside is an intimate, barely lit room where female patrons outnumber men two to one. Take a seat at the bar, where the drinks are heavy on the liquor and the price tags match (around AU$20 each compared to AU$9 at Draft Land).
309 Section 4, Xinyi Road, Da’an
For late night drinks, the American barman from Ounce recommends Dick’s Place in Da’an or Tenderland in Zhongshan. Both stay open all night. With jet lag catching up, however, my hotel bed sounds more appealing.
AirAsia flies from major Australian cities to Taipei, with a stopover in Kuala Lumpur.
Amba Taipei Songshan hotel has a relaxed vibe and amazing views of Taipei 101 and the Keelung River. Rooms start from about AU$110 per night on a 21-day advance purchase plan.
For more ideas on what to do in Taipei, day or night, visit the Taiwan Tourism Bureau website.