Hey everyone, before continuing on, I want to remind you that this is an ongoing series. If you haven't been following it, click here and here to see the first two installments that I have posted over the past few weeks. Enjoy, and let us hear your opinons down below!
All right, now that we've checked off one of our must-see destinations from our list, I'm going to give you guys some time to freely explore. See, aren't I nice? Though I strongly suggest that you spend some time walking around downtown. There is always a lot of art on display, which I personally always enjoy checking out. And there are heaps and heaps of department stores and shopping malls for those of you who want to shop-til-you-drop! Even if shopping isn't your thing, take a look around. The new ESLITE shopping center located a short walk from the city hall MRT station has a lot of cool alternative activities for those of you who don't need any new clothes or shoes.
There you can participate in a DIY silver smithing class where you can choose to make either a ring or a bracelet from a bar of silver, or you can try your hand at *blowing glass or pottery. That's where my wife and I got our wedding bands, FYI, because nothing says love like "hand-made". You can even conveniently rent a bike and ride around for fun if the outdoors are more your thing. Especially if you're from the suburbs like I am, the big city can be an awesome experience, so make the most of it!
Here's my top-five recommendations for how to spend your free-time. And again, these are just some of your options. There is really so much more that you could do and see. Whether you follow my lead and visit on of my recommended spots from the list below, or pave your own adventurous path, the choice is yours. And as these are "extracurricular" activities, I'll leave the "cheapskate" and "big spender" tips out of this section. It's your time, and your money. I'll offer you some suggestions on how to spend them, but I'll leave the decision making up to you. Just do me one favor though…have fun! You're on vacation, remember?
Conveniently located within walking distance from Taipei 101, Simple Market is just one of the many art markets that have popped up around Taipei over the last several years. I have to say that I really love how the Taiwanese people take run-down old historical buildings and re-purpose them. Rather than tear down these rich, culturally significant buildings, they make them into places of art, and beauty. 44 South Village(44南村) was originally a military dependents housing complex that had been abandoned and in shambles for years. Now every Saturday and Sunday, it houses Simple Market. On Saturdays they rent-out stalls to people selling second-hand clothing and other items, while on Sunday's they're filled with vendors selling their own hand-made foods, clothing, leather bags, accessories of all kinds and much more. Back in our hay-day, my wife Ruby and I would often rent a space to sell our own handmade wares. She sold handmade dresses, shirts, scarves and other things like that, and I sold handmade leather bags, belts and wallets. We got to supplement our income nicely, and had a blast being there and checking out all of the unique items that were for sale. They also have a restaurant, an ice-cream shop and several stores selling various hand-made and novelty items, even a guitar store, all inside the main building. They also always have an art exhibition of some kind or another in one of the rooms in the same central building. Outside, in addition to all of the handmade goodness, you can also buy fresh vegetables and fruits from the farmers market, and one of my favorite snacks, baked sweet potato (烤地瓜). Those suckers are both delicious and nutritious, plus they're cheap and will fill you up. The market also has several grassy areas and trees to sit under and rest and enjoy the weather on a nice day. Plus they usually have live music, so that's just one more thing for you to enjoy as you soak in the sunshine.
This is the trickiest destination to get to on this list. It's very close, and easy to walk to, but if you are worried about getting lost, you can grab a taxi from in front of 101 and show him the Chinese sentence 「我要到四四南村」. The driver will know where it is. If you want to hoof it, then follow my directions closely. When you exit Taipei 101, turn right on Songzhi St. Keep going until you reach Songqin St. And then turn right. Keep straight, pass Xinyi Elementary School and go straight until you come to the next intersection. Cross the street and you'll be at Simple Market.
2. Songshan Cultural and Creative Park and Songyan ESLITE
Like Simple Market and the restored 44 South Village, Songshan Cultural and Creative Park is another prime example of how the Taiwanese give new life to their old, run-down buildings. The park occupies what was once the Songshan Cigarette Factory(松山菸廠), and the area surrounding it. The first building you come across when you enter former cigarette factory grounds is now home to a store that sells all kinds of fancy glass figurines and decorations, as well as a high-class restaurant. The area right out front has lots of picnic tables, and a pond with a path around it which is nice for taking a stroll. The water is home to fish and turtles, and lots of birds make there home there, in fact you can buy seeds from a vending machine to feed them if you want. I think it's especially nice to hang out around the water and relax when it's evening, and there's a cool breeze. To the left of the restaurant is some kind of tall smokestack that I assume must have once been integral to the functionality of the factory, but now you can sometimes go in and check out exhibitions inside.
Last time I was there, there were a lot of photographs on display as well as an artsy film projected on one of the walls. When you continue in to the largest building of the complex, past the restaurant, you have the option to explore it further. It's quite large and you might get lost, but don't worry, it'll be easy enough to find your way. There's a neat garden in the middle between two of the buildings, and the frequently have art exhibitions on the first and second floors of the building. You may find something cool that you never expected you'd find, so check it out! Outside on the right side of the compound are several other exhibition halls, which always have something to see in them. The coolest one that I've been to was Nathan Sawaya's amazing collection of larger-than-life LEGO sculptures. Once you've checked all of that out, you can head into the Songyan ESLITE department store and do some shopping. You can grab some bread from their famous bakery on the basement level, but be warned, there's always an insanely long line (that's just part of life in Taiwan). After chewing down. Check out the theater next to the bakery. They play really artistic movies, do they may not be your thing, still it's an option. There are also some really cool and unique activities for you to try your hand at upstairs. You can be a silver smith for a day, and craft your own bracelet or ring. If jewelry isn't your thing, why not blow glass, or make pottery? Making something with your own hands makes for a much better souvenir, and a memory that you'll always treasure.
It's pretty easy to get there from Taipei City Hall Station, all you have to do is turn left on Zhongxiao E Rd and walk straight and cross the intersection, then keep going straight for around 3-5 minutes until you pass the park on the right side of the street. The building directly behind the park is home to one of the cram-schools that I worked for in Taipei, if anyone's interested. You can see their advertisement draped across the side of the building. You'll want to cross over to the park-side of the street, and then turn right down the alleyway directly after the park. Head down that way for a few more minutes, and you'll see the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park on your left-hand side.
3. Hankyu Department store (阪急百貨公司) and Xinyi ESLITE (信義誠品)
Hankyu department store was always one that I frequented when I lived in Taipei, especially since it's conveniently connected to the City Hall MRT Station, and Xinyi ESLITE underground and to the City Hall Bus Station one the ground level. There are tons of great shops throughout the department store, but my favorite is definitely MUJI, which can be found in the basement level. MUJI is a world-famous Japanese brand that sells everything from slippers to stationary, and both my wife and I loved shopping there, we just didn't usually purchase much since their prices are quite steep. I bought the most comfortable, form-fitting bean-bag chair that the world has ever seen from one of their locations, and I really miss it since I left it with my in-laws in Taiwan…it was the perfect video-gaming chair! Another store you should check out is UNIQLO. It's another famous Japanese brand and they always have a lot of trendy clothes. Unlike MUJI, however, their prices are quite reasonable and they have some good sales. On the rooftop level above the bus station is another cool spot to visit. The space used to not be used for anything, which I always thought was a shame since it's such a nice space. Now they've remedied this by hosting another art market on the Weekends. You can browse the various hand-made wares, try some gourmet coffee and listen to live music. There's also a Starbucks up there, as well as a TGI Friday's and a NY Bagels(This is the best place to get American style breakfast food in Taipei, in my opinion) if you need a snack. After checking out Hankyu, I'd take the underground path over to ESLITE. There's a lot more to see and do here. There are floors upon floors of shops, an awesome food court (I especially love the Korean stone bowl rice, and the shaved ice store that's by the escalator), exhibitions and special events, and the largest bookstore in Taiwan, which happens to be open late. I can't even begin to tell you how many hours I've spent at this place, and while the selection of English language books is considerably smaller than that of Page One, I still find ESLITE to be the more interesting, and entertaining of the two. Check them out and let me know what you think.
It's pretty easy to get there; all you have to do is turn left on Songzhi St. when you exit Taipei 101. After that it's just a straight shot to ESLITE. Now all you have to do is keep walking straight, between the two buildings on the walkway and you'll arrive at the back entrance to Hankyu.
4. Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall Is a memorial to the Father of Taiwan, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, and was completed on 1972. The building itself is massive, and the park that surrounds it is beautiful. Throughout it are displayed statues depicting Sun's life and the revolution he led which led to the founding of The Republic of China. If you want to learn more about his story, then I suggest you rent a copy of the 2009 film, Bodyguards and Assassins. While the film is very much a dramatization of events and not to be taken as an accurate account, it is still a good movie and one I recommend you watch. There is always a pair of guards silently standing watch in the hall, still-as-statues, much like the Queen's Guards of England. And if you're lucky, you just may whiteness the changing of the guards, which is a very special and memorable ceremony. On a sunny day, the park will be filled with families having picnics, playing games and flying kites. You may also be lucky enough to witness one of the traditional Chinese Kungfu classes that take place in the shadows of the memorial hall. And there are often large groups of young-people break dancing, or playing guitar or involved in some other kind of activity. And during the lantern festival, the park will be filled with decorative lanterns of all shapes and sizes. The festival takes place in either January or February, close to Chinese New Year, and the lanterns are best viewed at night. It's a must-see if you're there when the festival is taking place. You can get there by MRT (the stop is Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall Station) or you can take a walk, or rent a bike and pedal your way over there if the weather is nice.
You can get there by MRT(the stop is Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall Station) or you can take a walk, or rent a bike and pedal your way over there if the weather is nice. If you choose to be adventurous, it's just a straight shot down Zhongxiao E Rd, like you were going to the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park, only you keep going until you see the memorial hall. It'll be on your left, and you can't miss it.
5. Taipei World Trade Center
The World Trade Center is home to most of the big, important expos in Taiwan. Or, rather, "they" are. I say "they", because the Trade Center actually consists of three separate buildings, all of which are conveniently located close-by Taipei 101. When I say "close", I really mean, "right next door". The architectural design of the buildings themselves is very modern, and pleasant to look upon, much like the buildings that surround them in the heart of the Xinyi district of the capital city. The buildings resemble an assortment of boxes stacked one-on-top-of-the-other, like the "blocks" you may have played with as a child. And inside, they are very spacious. They have to be by necessity, as they are constantly filled with elaborate displays, stages and booths for the variety of exhibitions that they are used for. I've been to several such exhibitions. I've been to one on travel, one on books, and several other subjects as well. One of the most popular is the comic convention they host yearly. Expect to see plenty of scantily clad anime heroines straight from the pages of your favorite manga, and flocks of fan-boys crowding around them. And expect to find a lot of merchandise for sale, so I hope you brought your wallet! Just check online before you go to see if there is anything on exhibit that interests you. It can be a fun way to kill some time. Here's their website: http://www.twtc.com.tw
It's just next to Taipei 101, all you have to do is walk outside and over to the trade center. Look for the building shaped like a bunch of blocks stacked on each other.