Visiting Taiwan, you say? Not particularly interested in birds / birding / standing next to a 400-year-old Buddhist temple, looking in the opposite direction with binoculars trained at some distant bird-like silhouette on the horizon? Gasp! Doth my ears deceive me?
For readers without birds on the brain (literally and figuratively), I’ve compiled a short list of must-see attractions in Taipei City, geared toward those with only a few days to spare. These are just the sites that Melanie and I actually visited; there are so many more things to see and do in Taipei City, so get out there and explore!
#1: The National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院)
How to get there: The National Palace Museum is located in the Shilin district of Taipei City. There are several ways to get there. You can take the Tamsui Line (Red Line) of the MRT and get off at Shilin Station, then take a Red 30 bus to the Museum. Other buses that will get you close the Museum are 255, 304, 815, and Minibus 18 and 19. Alternately you can take the Wenhu Line (Brown Line) to Dazhi Station and take a Brown 13 bus to the Museum. Lastly, getting off the Wenhu Line at Jiannan Road Station and taking a Brown 20 bus will also take you to the Museum.
Why go there: Besides the amazing grounds and architecture, the National Palace Museum is a national museum of the Republic of China, and houses some 700,000 artifacts covering nearly 8,000 years of Chinese history. The Museum was originally established in Beijing. During the Chinese Civil War, it was relocated to Taipei. Only about 22% of the artifacts from the Beijing Museum were transported to Taiwan, but these represent some of the finest pieces in the collection. Photography is prohibited within the Museum, so you will have to see the collection for yourself. Numerous artifacts, ranging from rare book collections to Imperial items to works of art, are on display at the National Palace Museum.
Adjacent to the National Palace Museum is the Zhishan Garden. Tranquil koi ponds and quiet winding paths weave their way across the Garden. Large koi are kept in the ponds, and several covered pagodas offer shade and relaxation. There is also enough habitat to attract wildlife, including black-crowned night-herons, Malayan night-herons, black drongos, Taiwan barbets, and even crested serpent-eagles riding the thermals over the surrounding mountainside (I found three of these birds soaring overhead during my visit). The Museum also keeps a pair of black swans and other domestic waterfowl on site.
#2: Shilin Night Market (士林夜市)
How to get there: The Shilin Night Market is easily accessible via the MRT Tamsui Line (Red Line); get off at the Shilin Station and you’re there.
Why go there: The Shilin Night Market is the most popular of Taipei City’s “night markets.” A shopper’s paradise with a carnival atmosphere, the night market tempts the senses and tries one’s patience with exotic, robust tastes and aromas combined with seriously backed-up foot traffic. Regardless of what you’re looking for, this night market has it. Foods from around the world can be purchased conveniently and cheaply from countless street vendors. If you stop nowhere else, be sure to hit up the Hot Star Large Fried Chicken stand. The stand is easy to find, just look for the long line of people waiting patiently with the same look on their faces that a hungry dog gives to a three-legged cat.
# 3: The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (国立中正纪念堂)
How to get there: The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is accessed via the MRT Tamsui Line (Red Line). Simply get off at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Station; this is also a transfer station for the Xiaonanmen Branch Line.
Why go there: No trip to Taipei City would be complete without a visit to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Built in memory of the late President Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975), the Memorial Hall is a popular tourist attraction in Taipei City. The main Hall houses a statue of the late President, and the lower levels of the Hall are home to a museum portraying the President’s life and military and political history. Many unique and rare artifacts, such as the President’s car, reading glasses, and military service medals, are on display in the museum levels.
The Memorial Hall is just one part of an expansive square, which serves as a popular public meeting place and the location of the National Theater and National Concert Hall. Twin gardens adorn either side of the square, and there is an impressive gateway at the main entrance to the square. These small oases in the concrete jungle of Taipei City also attract a wide variety of wildlife. The koi ponds are host to many fish and turtles, and Eurasian moorhens breed here. In the late summer you can see and feed the small chicks as they swim around the pond.
All manner of bird life can be found in and around the gardens. Including the moorhens, black-crowned night-herons and Malayan night-herons can be found at the ponds and throughout the gardens. Common and Javan mynas are plentiful, as are spotted doves and red collared-doves. On my visit to the CKS Memorial Hall, I found several light-vented bulbuls and Japanese white-eyes, black-collared starlings, and black drongos. You may also find grey treepies and oriental magpie-robins. Head over there at dusk to watch the sky fill up with Pacific and barn swallows, and maybe even the occasional bat.