Taipei in Postcards

Classic view of Taipei City taken from the Fireworks Lookout of Elephant Mountain.

Hi there.  Like everyone these days, I take the time to rekindle the flames of inspiration and remember why we love doing the things that we do.  If you’re like me who loves to move around and take photos, then you are stuck at the moment.  One of my favorite photographers (Joe McNally) suggested that now is a time to go back to and go through our collection of photobooks and images.  Like him, I have been collecting photobooks and magazines all my life and I still have hundreds of images in piles of cards that I still need to process.  That might take quite a long while, but I can still post images here that I have already posted elsewhere. 🙂  So we take the time to “squeeze” activities like these in the middle of our work schedule.  There’s no point in being too “productive” at work these days as we are all working under a different situation and circumstance.  We all need to stay sane right? 🙂  So like most of you, I am trying to catch up with my writing (aside from picking up a few more skills).  Besides, I haven’t posted in this blog for quite some time now.  So here we go.

I had the chance to visit Taipei last December with my wife.  Actually, I almost gave up any chance of taking photos in this beautiful city after I saw the weather forecast showing a week of rainfall.  But surprisingly, we had good weather and sunny days the whole time since we arrived here.  So what I’ve read is true:  weather is really unpredictable in Taipei.  By the way, the image above is a classic view of Taipei City (on a fine and windy day) taken from the Fireworks Lookout of Elephant Mountain.  The climb to get to that viewpoint was challenging enough but the view was extremely worth it.  I stayed on that location for hours; not willing to move or give up my spot because other photographers were already set to capture the iconic twilight photo that this spot is famous for.  Besides, no one knows what the weather will be like the following day; so I had no intentions of coming back.  🙂

Taipei is described as the Yin and Yang of cities; a mix of the modern and the traditional.  Its beauty was created from a blend of Chinese, Southeast Asian, Japanese, and American influences; which is obvious from its cuisine, entertainment, and the courtesy of its people.  Taipei is one of the most tourist-friendly places on the planet.  Its people is one of the nicest I have encountered; taking the extra effort to speak our language (unlike other Asian locals in my previous trips) and going the extra mile to make the tourist experience memorable.  Shopping and street food is a quintessential experience, in addition to your search for the most authentic Bubble Tea. 🙂  Aside from these, there are other day trip attractions and destinations which is always a part of a Taipei visit.  But we never went to any of those.  Like most of my trips, I basically stay in one city and try as much to absorb its story, architecture, and of course its food.   A Taipei trip on its own is never disappointing.

Taipei City at Night viewed from the Observation Desk of Taipei 101.

I have committed one big sin though.  You might think that I forgot to post my photo of Taipei’s National Palace Museum.  I did not.  It’s because we missed that one which is quite unforgivable considering that it’s a must-see attraction for first-timers in Taipei.  On our way to the museum (it was our last day in Taipei, if I remember correctly), we decided to have lunch first and stumbled upon Japan’s famous Ichiran Ramen inside one of the malls in Xinyi.  Needless to say, we spent the rest of the day queuing.  So there goes our museum visit.  It’s silly I know.  Sorry about that.  Well at least, I know where to go first when I visit Taipei again.  🙂

But despite this, I still managed to take a few decent photos of some major sights.  And with the unexpected beautiful weather, I really enjoyed the street food experience and those photography sessions during the late hours of the day.  I am particularly passionate about cities and their architecture and Taipei is a treat for architects and architecture fans.  Taipei is made up of a few districts or neighborhoods and each district is notable for at least something; whether it’s shopping, food, or a famous landmark.  So I list them below with their most popular sights.  Enjoy my unofficial guide to Taipei.  Enjoy the photos too as much as I enjoyed taking them.  🙂

Zhongzheng:  This is Taipei’s central district and the site for its government offices, museums, shrines, and some of the city’s major tourist attractions.  This is where you get a sense of the nation’s recent political history.  The National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is the most iconic of these attractions.  The neoclassical main hall is a monument to authoritarian leader Chiang Kai-shek.  Aside from Chiang’s statue in the main hall, there is also an artifact museum of Chiang’s memorabilia on the ground floor.  Don’t miss the very popular hourly changing of the guards in the main hall.  This structure is flanked on both sides of Liberty Square by the two halls of the National Theater and Concert Hall; with the main hall hosting large-scale cultural events such as dances, musicals, Chinese and Western Operas as well as classical and popular music concerts.  The 2/28 Peace Park is a beautiful garden park dedicated to the victims of the February 28, 1947 incident.  This event is of major importance as it led to the country’s transformation from dictatorship to democracy.

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Datong and Zhongshan:  Datong is one of the oldest districts in the city, while Zhongshan was once a hub of finance and international business activities.  Bao’an Temple and the National Revolutionary Martyr’s Shrine are my favorites in these districts.  There are more attractions of course and I apologize for not having visited the rest of them.  🙂  Bao’an Temple is a UNESCO award-winning site and is the mother of all Taipei temples.  Taipei has hundreds of temples but Bao’an is the most elaborate and richly decorated.  People come here to pray for good health.  The National Revolutionary Martyr’s Shrine is a beautiful complex of traditional structures dedicated to the memory of almost 400,000 soldiers who died for the ROC.  Like most shrines, there is an impressive hourly changing of the guards.  The shrine is windy and peaceful with a lush landscape, a long courtyard, and a beautiful mountain as a backdrop.

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Wanhua and Ximending:  Wanhua used to be a trading center for tea, coal, and camphor (a compound used to make ointments).  Today, it is best known for its temples and historical neighborhoods.  Ximending is Taipei’s shopping district and perhaps the most popular destination for most visitors to Taipei.  Bopiliao Historical Block is one well-preserved neighborhood in Wanhua.  Most of the buildings here now house art galleries for upcoming artists.  It has less visitors however, but it’s still an interesting neighborhood because of the gritty buildings and lanes that give the area its texture and character.  Ximending Pedestrian District is everyone’s night shopping destination and is filled with hotels, cinemas, and shops selling cosmetics, clothing, food, and all sorts of bubble tea claiming to be the original (among many others).  I suggest booking a hotel in this area when planning to visit Taipei.  We stayed at  Diary of Ximen Hotel which gives you a good value for your money.  I am not getting paid for this advertisement by the way.  Just trying to help.  🙂

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Da’an and Songshan:  Da’an is Taipei’s latest and most expensive residential and commercial neighborhood.  This is where top restaurants, high-end shopping streets, and major universities are located.  Its main attraction is the beautiful Da’an Forest Park which is Taipei’s leafy Central Park where people come to play and have picnic.  Its architectural centerpiece is the beautiful Daan Park StationSongshan is famous for those areas around its train station, the night market, and beautiful bridges dotting the Keelung River.  Raohe Street Night Market is Taipei’s oldest night market and the highlight of a visit to Songshan.  You can load up on a great assortment of Taiwanese street eats and treats.  Don’t forget to try the famous black pepper pork bun.  You’re sure not to miss this one as its stall always has the longest queue and is the nearest to one of the main gates of the market (the gate next to the temple).  Adjacent to the street market is the peaceful Rainbow Riverside Park with its riverside promenade and beautiful bridges.  While the Rainbow Bridge is the most popular for young lovers, my favorite is the beautiful 2nd MacArthur Bridge; best viewed at night when you can see the luminous Taipei 101 Tower from a distance.

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Xinyi District:  Xinyi is the big city part of Taipei and is the city’s financial and city government district.  Taipei 101 Tower (Taipei’s most famous icon) dominates the skyline of this part of town; supported and surrounded by some of the biggest malls and office buildings occupied by multinational companies.  Taipei 101 Mall should not be missed which has branches of some of the famous restaurant chains in the region.  A climb to Taipei 101 Observation Deck is a part of a visit to Taipei 101 Tower.  The best time to view the city from the top is at night when all the building lights are on making the city look like an inverted night sky.  Xinyi Place is Xinyi’s premiere shopping destination with high-end malls carrying the biggest names in retail as well as several specialty stores.  The plaza between the mall buildings is a hive for busking and entertainment and is particularly attractive during Christmas season.  A hike to the top of Elephant Mountain is a must-have and challenging but rewarding experience.  Expect a steep trail to the top.  Elephant Mountain is the vantage point of every classic and iconic postcard shot of Taipei; so expect a large crowd and come at least a few hours early if you are planning to photograph the city at sunset or twilight (yes I mean a few hours early).  🙂

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So there you go; my incomplete and unofficial guide to Taipei.  🙂  I hope that somehow, I have inspired you to visit this beautiful and progressive Asian city (when things go back to normal of course).  And I hope you are making the most of your time and reviving your passions (and learning new things as well) during this period.  Take care and stay safe everyone!

See you in my next post.  Cheers!!!  🙂