Someone I know is going to go visit Taipei for a weekend, and asked me where in Taipei that she and her friends should go. So I spent an hour typing everything that I know about visiting Taipei in an e-mail. I thought I should share this here as well and get some feedback from people who actually are from Taipei and correct any of my outdated or inaccurate information. My comments about various places are just my personal opinions, of course.
I can’t seem to find a good printable (e.g. pdf) map of Taipei. But you can readily find a detailed map of Taipei in the Taipei travel books sold in HK bookstores (cost: ~$40 HKD). I found those travel books useful for finding good places to eat, but not so much on shopping (I don’t think there’s much to buy in Taipei anyway, except books). As for the places to go, it depends on what type of places that you want to go (e.g. museum, scenery, shopping).
Museums: I don’t think it’s really worth the time (but a good time killer if you find yourself out of things to do). 故宮博物院 is okay (the things there are mostly small items, which is logical considering those stuff were scrambled out of Beijing during the civil war). But 中正紀念堂 and 國父紀念館 less so. And this is coming from a person who has interest in history.
Scenery: I’d definitely recommend going to 淡水 during late afternoon to watch the sunset. The bridge at the fisherman’s pier (you may need to ride a boat to go out there, even though that place is reachable by land) is beautiful. Places like 九份 is a 1 to 2-hour train ride (can’t remember clearly) away from Taipei City, but it’s worth a visit if you can spare the time. 陽明山 seems to be a good place for both day time (walking around trails and look at the scences) and night time (restaurants that overlook the city of Taipei at night). I haven’t been there (I went to meet with some local friends when my trip-mates went there on the last day of our trip), but I would like to go there when I visit Taipei again.
Shopping: The 24-hour 誠品書店 is one of the most well-known place for HK people (you’ll find lots of them there, and according to some, they do not exactly behave very well), I couldn’t find my book there when I was there though (damn). Note that only the bookstore portion of the 24-hr 誠品 is opened during late night (there’s also a large gift and music section on the lower levels). There’s a new 誠品 opened in 信義區 (which is the new commercial/shopping district), which is pretty nice according to comments from visitors, but it’s not 24-hrs though. Basically you’ll find big and small bookstores opened left, right and centre. So you don’t need to worry about finding where to buy books. Other than books, I can’t really say much about shopping. The malls and department stores are pretty much the same as the ones in Hong Kong (both in terms of appearance, prices, and the quality of service). But I guess Taipei 101 (I think it’s currently the tallest building in the world after they put an antenna up top) is worth a visit. Going up to the observation deck of the tower is probably a good idea (it wasn’t opened yet when I went there). There is also the underground mall. I think I’ve been there but I didn’t remember much from it. 西門町 is kind of like Mongkok of Taipei, both me and my friends were not overly impressed.
Eating: Now to the best part. Lots of nice food to eat, especially at the night markets. I’ve been to 士林夜市 (which fit very nicely with a trip to 淡水, since it’s right on the way between 淡水 and 台北車站, so you can go there on your way back from 淡水). There’s also 饒河街夜市 which seems to be the new hot spot of HK tourists (and it’s near 信義區). I’d also recommend 鼎泰豐, the 小籠飽 there is the best that I’ve ever eaten (and I ate quite a few of them in Hong Kong, since Shanghai food is kind of in nowadays). But you’ll need to get there early (i.e. before 11:00am) or you’ll have to line up. Of course there’s bubble tea and 小吃, which is both cheaper and better than the ones in Canada (duh). Food is inexpensive compared to Hong Kong.
Getting around: The bus service from the Airport to 台北車站 is called 國光客運 (I think there’s only one company that does that line), which is convenient (and certainly cheaper than taxi) if you’re staying in one of the hotels near that area. The subway in Taipei is called 捷運 (or MRT in English abbreviation). It’s probably the easiest way to get around. But some stations are located in the middle of seemingly nowhere (e.g. 市政府 MRT station is 10-minute walk away from the newly built malls such as Taipei 101), and the stations are small (some are similar the skytrain stations in Vancouver in size), so expect to do some walking after getting out of the station. I only rode on the bus twice, and they are single deckers similar to the ones in North America. The way the bus fare is collected is different than it is in Vancouver or Hong Kong though. Taxies are not expensive when you have multiple people sharing the cost and they are no more scary than the ones in Hong Kong. Some taxi drivers would refuse to take you if you want to go to places that they don’t want to go though, just like Hong Kong. Traffic congestion is not too bad, contrary to popular perception.
Mobile phone: GSM phones from Hong Kong (and probably Canada) will work, along with sim cards from Hong Kong. Expect roaming charge though, of course. If you expect to use the phone a lot, you can buy a pre-paid card (預付卡) at a convenience store. You’ll need to fill in your address information, which is of course the hotel that you’re staying in.
Currency Exchange: From my experience and according to the Taipei travel newsgroup, the currency exchange inside the 禁區 in the airport gives the best rate (there’s another one outside of the 禁區 in the airport). You can probably also exchange money at the hotel, but of course the prices there is not very good at all. Of course there’s always Interact.
Internet: Probably not a necessity. I don’t know if the hotel would provide internet access. But I guess you can go to computer malls such as NOVA near the Taipei Train Station to get online to check web mail and etc.
Customs and etc.: No visa is needed for Canadian passport holders (there’s 落地簽證 for HK permanent residences).
General: People are mostly very friendly (to tourist anyway, Chinese people are always friendly to money) and willing to help when asked.
Judging from the length of this post, you might have guessed I like Taipei a lot :p (actually I liked most of the places that I’ve traveled to). I certainly would like to visit again when I go back to Hong Kong sometime in the future. The pictures from my 2004 Taipei trip is at: http://www.davidmak.info/album/v/taipei/?g2_GALLERYSID=5a09104f497f66ba727916b5e0a05658
And here are some links that I dig up which may be useful:
Scan of a map of Taipei, the most detailed one that I found:
MRT Map with mini-map of the stations
Bus Service from Airport to Taipei Station:
Taipei Travel Net
Taipei Traveling on Wikipedia