Taiwan, also referred to as Republic of China (ROC), is located off the coast of China although it is not part of China. The relationship between the two countries is a bit murky and has changed many times over the years (it’s confusing to explain, so just look at this link). Taiwan felt like China in a lot of ways, and we loved the few days we spent here! Below are a few tips for Taipei, Taiwan.
Tip 1: Head To The Beitou Refuse Incineration Plant for a Free 360 View of the City
It costs $20 to go up Taipei 101 for a 360 city view. It costs $0 to go to the Beitou Refuse Incineration Plant for a 360 city view. Which do you think we picked? Obviously, we took the trip to a waste burning facility which allegedly had a free observation tower. When we exited our bus, we saw the tower in the distance, and began following a slightly-deserted and strange route on the side of a highway. No one else was walking towards a trash burning plant at this time. Upon arrival it was empty and there was no one inside, but the doors were open and some signs led us to a rickety elevator. We ascended the tower and stepped out into…an observation deck! The glass is a bit stained and scratched, and it kind of felt like we went back in time to the 1970s, but we had the entire place to ourselves. On the floor below is a rotating restaurant with an elaborate menu and gaudy decor. The waiter was nice (and likely bored), so we felt compelled to share a beer — still spending only a fraction of the price of the pricey Taipei 101.
Tip 2: The Food At The ‘Modern Toilet Restaurant’ Is Crappy – Literally
Weirdly enough, this is NOT the only poop-themed restaurant in existence. Upon hearing of the Modern Toilet online we determined we must go, even though we anticipated some tourist prices. The ambiance – and the prices – did not disappoint. It was full of toilets and droppings and nastily-named foods which were mediocre overpriced. But, we can say we at in a toilet restaurant and consumed poop ice cream, so there’s that.
Tip 3: It IS Possible To Enjoy Cute Characters For Free
There are so many cute characters around Taipei. Most of these characters are located in little pop-up shops, overpriced yet adorable character cafes, “parks,” or other places involving making a purchase. It might seem safer to avoid these places altogether, lest you get dragged into the cuteness and mistakenly spend all your money for the day. But wait! It is possible to enjoy the characters without making a purchase. Around these spots are often selfie posing areas, cute little signs, and advertisements leading you to the [insert overpriced store/restaurant/theme park here] where you can take photos or look around for free.
Tip 4: Avoid The Toy Vending Machines
At all costs! They are located everywhere throughout the city – in shops, restaurants, on random street corners in mass quantity. They are so cute and you may feel compelled to use them over and over and over, but don’t do it! Each toy costs around $2 USD, which seems kind of sort of reasonable…until suddenly you have 12 plastic toys in your bag and realize you’ve used up your food budget for the next week and have to eat stale bread from the hostel instead of street food. You’ve been warned.
Tip 5: Don’t Expect The Bopiliao Historical Block To Be Super-Historical (Although It’s Still Cool)
This block used to be a main connecting road between parts of the city. It’s beautiful and impressive, but I wouldn’t exactly describe it as feeling historical because it’s been heavily restored. Due to the government’s work to preserve and refurbish the area, it feels quite new and modern. This street is celebrated for its varying kinds of architecture resulting from Taiwan’s many, many changes in ownership over the years.
Tip 6: Just Wander Around
Lame tip, I know. Or is it?! Although “wandering” is sometimes harder in big cities, Taipei is a place where it works. The most interesting (and strange) things we saw were a result of wandering. The streets are a melding of old and new, real and fake. And of course, there is many a mis-translation…
Among the historical palaces and buildings (be sure to check out Liberty Square) are uber-modern shops and slogans. We also some some interesting street sights including a group of men aggressively playing the lottery and a rowdy and strange open-air jewelry auction. We tried to spectate both of these events; let’s just say it didn’t go over too well.