24-Hours of Sightseeing in Taipei: My First Time in Taiwan

After five glorious days in Palau, I had a short stay in Taiwan. Taiwan is a state in East Asia. Some of its neighboring countries include the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to the north-west, Japan to the north-east, and the Philippines to the south.

It is common for travelers to spend time in Taiwan after Palau. If you read my last post, you know that the only flights out of Palau are to Guam, Manila, Japan, and South Korea – I’m actually supposed to be checking out South Korea in July – I’m still hopeful the trip will happen.

Why Taiwan?

Anyways, I opted to leave Palau via Taiwan. A few factors influenced this decision; for starters, I’d never been to Taiwan, so that alone was a good incentive. Moreover, it was one of the few nations in the area still allowing immigration, and from what I’d heard, a lot of things were still open, so I could go out and not have to be stuck quarantining in a hotel room.

Made it into Taiwan 🇹🇼. They check my temperature even at check-in. Seems I have an anti-fever with 35,1…

So after a 3.5-hour flight Palau to Taipei, I arrived in the capital late in the evening. Remember, I mentioned there were rumors that Taiwan was enforcing pretty strict COVID protocols? Well, they were true! At the airport, they were indeed taking it very seriously and had lots of screening measures implemented already. They were amongst the first nations to take swift action, so airport procedures went pretty smoothly.

Airport Hussle Game: Strong

I did run into a little trouble, totally my self-inflicted. It turns out; I went to the wrong immigration terminal after getting off the plane, which would have been fine if I didn’t have checked luggage (another reason carry-on only is the best way to travel). You see, at TPE, they have multiple immigration terminals, and my bag was waiting for me at a completely different terminal than the one I chose 🤦.

I had filled out the forms, been tested, complied with all the screening measures and check-ups… and now I had to rush to the other terminal and do it all over again.

I backtracked, running all through the security area, the medical area, filling out new forms, to finally arrive at the proper terminal. Thankfully, I managed the whole ordeal pretty well and was soon on my way.

From the airport, I took a taxi straight to my hotel in downtown Taipei. Quick facts about Taipei: It is the capital and largest metropolitan area of Taiwan, with 2.6 million inhabitants. Located in the northern part of the island in a basin between the Yangming Mountains and the Central Mountains, and it serves as the island’s financial, cultural, and governmental center.

Once I arrived at my hotel, they took my temperature at the reception before letting me go to my room. I dropped off my luggage and went straight up to the bar of the hotel. Thankfully, it was still open, and I was able to grab a quick bite and something to drink. After, I went back to my room and slept through the night.

The next day was the only full day I had to explore Taipei before taking my departing flight to Brunei(link) the following morning.

Before arriving in Taipei, I had done some research as to what I could do while there. I was happy to find out that most places were still open to the public at the time, so I had a full day planned.

A full day of culture, history, and sightseeing in Taipei

In the morning, I took an Uber to Shilin, where the National Palace Museum is located. This museum is famous for having a permanent exhibition of the world’s best collection of Chinese historical antiquities. It has nearly 700,000 pieces of ancient Chinese imperial artifacts and artworks, making it one of the largest of its type on the planet.

The collection encompasses 8,000 years of history of Chinese art from the Neolithic age to modern times. Most of the collection is made up of high-quality pieces collected by China’s emperors.

National Palace Museum

The National Palace Museum was originally established as the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City (a palace complex in central Beijing) around the 1920s.

Its location changed a few times since then; all the artifacts have been evacuated to different cities at different times to prevent the relics from falling into enemy hands during world wars and times of unrest.

Finally, as the Chinese Civil War resumed following the surrender of the Japanese after WWII, the decision was made to evacuate the arts to Taiwan for protection.

An interesting fact, a total of 2,972 crates of artifacts from the Forbidden City, moved to Taiwan. These crates only accounted for about 22% of the containers transported south initially. Nonetheless, it is said that the pieces that made it represent some of the very best of the collection.

To be honest, I didn’t really find it that interesting—lots of pottery, carpets, and other Chinese stuff. I just walked through and saw everything pretty quickly. Either way, it was nice to see, especially the outside – the museum building itself is, in my opinion, the most impressive thing about it. So I took some photos, check them out:

More of the National Palace Museum

From the museum, I took a taxi to the center of Taipei to see the Bangka Lungshan Temple, a Chinese folk religious temple in the Wanhua District (one of the original districts of Taipei). The temple was built in Taipei in 1738 by settlers from Fujian during the Qing rule. It was built in honor of Guanyin (the Buddhist representation of compassion).

Lungshan Temple

In the past, it served as a place of worship and a gathering place for the Chinese settlers, and since then, it is where countless generations of Taipei citizens have come to pray and seek guidance at times of trouble. In addition to its Buddhist elements, it includes halls and altars to Chinese deities such as Mazu and Guan Yu.

After the temple, I continued to walk around the old Taipei. Eventually, I arrived in Zhongzheng, the political center of Taiwan, and the location of the Presidential Office and other essential government ministries.

I walked past several of these landmarks and got to see the Presidential Office Building – which is the workplace of the President of the Republic of China on Taiwan. At present, this Baroque-style building is a symbol of the Government and a famous historical landmark in downtown Taipei.

One of the main attractions in this district is the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. A famous national monument, landmark erected in memory of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, former President of the Republic of China.

Chian Kai-Shek Memorial Hall

Chiang Kai-shek was a Chinese nationalist politician, revolutionary and military leader who served as the leader of the Republic of China between 1928 and 1975, first in mainland China until 1949 and then in Taiwan until his death.

He began as a member of the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party (CNP) – a major political party in Taiwan) and a lieutenant of Sun Yat-sen (first leader od the Kuomintang) in the revolution to overthrow the Beiyang government and reunify China.

He became the commander in chief of the National Revolutionary Army (from which he came to be known as Generalissimo). He led the Northern Expedition from 1926 to 1928, before defeating a coalition of warlords and nominally reunifying China under a new Nationalist government.

Midway through the campaign, the KMT–CPC alliance broke down, and Chiang purged the communists inside the party, triggering a civil war with the Chinese Communist Party, which he eventually lost in 1949.

As a leader, Chiang sought to strike a delicate balance between modernizing China while also devoting resources to defending the nation against the impending Japanese threat. Trying to avoid a war with Japan while hostilities with CCP continued, he was kidnapped in the Xi’an Incident and obliged to form an Anti-Japanese United Front with the CCP.

For eight years, he led the war of resistance against a vastly superior enemy, mostly from the wartime capital Chongqing. As the leader of a significant Allied power, Chiang met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Cairo Conference to discuss terms for the Japanese surrender.

No sooner had the Second World War ended than the Civil War with the communists, by then led by Mao Zedong, resumed. Chiang’s nationalists were mostly defeated in a few decisive battles in 1948.

In 1949 Chiang’s government and army retreated to Taiwan, where Chiang imposed martial law and persecuted critics during the White Terror. The period of martial law lasted for 38 years and 57 days from 19 May 1949 to 15 July 1987.

Taiwan’s period of martial law had been the most prolonged period of martial law in the world at the time it was lifted but has since been surpassed by the incumbent Syrian 48-year period of martial law, which lasted from 1963 to 2011.

Presiding over a period of social reforms and economic prosperity, Chiang won five elections to six-year terms as President of the Republic of China and was Director-General of the Kuomintang until his death in 1975.

He was one of the longest-serving non-royal heads of state in the 20th century, Chiang was the longest-serving non-royal ruler of China had held the post for 46 years. Like Mao, he is regarded as a controversial figure.

Supporters credit him with playing a significant part in unifying the nation and leading the Chinese resistance against Japan, as well as with countering Soviet-communist encroachment. The opposition and critics condemn him as a dictator at the front of an authoritarian and corrupt regime that suppressed opponents.

After President Chiang Kai-shek died on 5 April 1975, the Executive branch of the government established a Funeral Committee to build a memorial. The hall officially opened on 5 April 1980, the fifth anniversary of the leader’s death.

The memorial site spreads over 240,000 square meters. The Gate of Great Centrality and Perfect Uprightness was placed at the west end on Chung Shan South Road. Next, the Gate of Great Loyalty stands at the north side on Hsin Yi Road, and finally, the Gate of Great Piety can be found standing at the south side on Ai Kuo East Road. A Boulevard of Homage.

More of Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial

The massive courtyard in front of the memorial serves as a place for both national celebrations as well as a platform to voice one’s disapproval of the government. The hall and square became the hub of events in the 1980s and early 1990s that ushered Taiwan into its era of modern democracy.

The memorial consists of a giant bronze statue of Chiang Kai-shek, watched over by two motionless honor guards who are replaced every hour in a rifle twirling ceremony. The ground level of the memorial houses a library and a museum documenting Chiang’s life and career, complete with his sedans and uniforms.

These exhibits are filled with Taiwan’s history and development. Even if you are not into memorials, the gardens, with their Chinese style ponds, are definitely still worth a visit.

I walked around the area, and surrounding buildings took some photos and grabbed a taxi to the Xinyi District. Xinyi is the modern financial district of Taipei and home to Taipei 101, the World Trade Center, and the International Convention Center. It is the newest part of the city with many shopping malls and entertainment venues.

I went to Chung-shan Park to visit another memorial. This time in honor of the second most important guy in Taiwan: Dr. Sun Yat-sen. A Chinese philosopher, physician, and politician, who served as the provisional first president of the Republic of China and the first leader of the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party of China).

He is referred to as the “Father of the Nation” in the Republic of China due to his instrumental role in the overthrow of the Qing dynasty during the Xinhai Revolution. Sun is unique among 20th-century Chinese leaders for being widely revered in both mainland China and Taiwan.

National Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall with Taipei 101 in the background

Sun’s chief legacy is his political philosophy known as the Three Principles of the People: Mínzú or nationalism (independence from foreign imperialist domination), Mínquán or “rights of the people” (sometimes translated as “democracy”), and Mínshēng or people’s livelihood (sometimes translated as “welfare,” or literally “a scientific study of helping people to survive in the society.”

A park named Zhongshan Park marks the front yard of the Hall. On the inside, there is a 19-foot bronze statue of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, watched over the day by motionless military honor guards. Every hour, there is a formal changing of the guards, which is a popular tourist attraction.

The memorial includes gardens, decorative historical walls, and an exhibition and performance area surrounding Lake Cui. Inside it has displays of Sun’s life and the revolution he led.

The exhibition center is around 10,000 square feet, which boasts of a multimedia theatre, an audio-visual center, lecture halls, and a library with over 300,000 books.

Lectures and seminars on aspects of art and life are hosted weekly in the auditorium of the memoria. It is also a popular site for public concerts.

For these reasons, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall has grown into much of a community center and is much less touristy than the newer and larger Chiang Kai-shek Memorial.

From this memorial, I made my way to the highest building of Taiwan: Taipei 101 – Officially known as the Taipei International Financial Center. It was – for a brief period – the tallest building in the world. However, it was quickly surpassed by the Burj Kalifa and other buildings around the globe.

Today, this 101-floor, 508-meter high skyscraper is the ninth tallest skyscraper in the world. The tower is rich in symbolism; it was designed to resemble bamboo rising from the earth, a plant recognized in Asian cultures for its fast growth and flexibility, both of which are ideal characteristics for an economy.

The building is also divided into eight distinct sections, with eight being a number associated with prosperity in Chinese culture. The internal architecture of Taipei 101 is similarly awe-inspiring with ornate details on the structural beams, columns, and other elements.

The building is perhaps most notable for its feats of engineering. It was the world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2010. It also boasts the world’s second-fastest elevators, which will zip visitors up to the 89th-floor observation deck in a mere 37 seconds.

If you know me, you know I love skyscrapers, so of course, I went to the top of the building to check out the views. The ride was well worth it with stunning views of Taiwan. There was still a lot of smog in the city, so I couldn’t really see the horizon, but from that height, the view was still quite stunning.

Vies from the top of Taipei 101

Everything in the city below was super tiny, but you could still get a good look at Taipei. You could see the river and the rolling hills way in the distance.

The island of Taiwan has an area of 35,808 square kilometers (13,826 sq mi), with mountain ranges dominating the eastern two-thirds and plains in the western third. From what I could see, the country looked very beautiful, and I definitely want to discover more of it in the future.

I decided that the best time to visit would be in the late afternoon when I could spend a couple of hours and see both day and night views of Taipei. So after I got there, I waited for almost an hour for the sunset and was also delighted to see Taipei at night.

Night Views of Taipei

Taipei 101 mall, I’m glad I waited for sundown. In the dark the view is much better than during the day.

Dinner and drinks to end the day

After, I went back through the mall and walked a little around the shopping area below the tower. That evening I was meeting a client of mine, Sebastian, who lives in Taiwan. I wanted to consult with him on some Taiwanese matters – Actually, Taiwan can also be a tax-free heaven, which may be of interest to those who want to live there.

So, I met Sebastian for dinner, and we went to a wonderful steak house. I had a delectable steak for dinner, and we continued after to do some bar hopping through some of the bars that were still open.

Dinner at Bar Mood Taipei

Delicious drinks at East End cocktail bar

We went to, I think, three really nice cocktail bars and had some very exquisite drinks. It was a super lovely evening chatting and exploring Taipei with Sebastian before I called it a night and returned to my hotel.

So that’s the story of how I made the most out of a full day in Taipei! I really liked the little that I saw, and know both the city and Taiwan still have much more to offer.

I am absolutely looking forward to coming back and exploring this island in more detail.

The next day early in the morning, I was already on my way to the airport to take my flight to Brunei. Read all about that next.