Similarly to Dubai or Singapore, Taipei is a fantastic city to visit on a short layover. I was on my way to Malaysia for a 2 week diving vacation, and had booked a cheap flight through this airport, without giving it much thought. Once we touched ground, I realized that I had nearly 6 hours until my departure to Kuala Lumpur. I immediately checked on my phone whether I needed a visa (short answer: no for most nationalities, but check the latest info), and if I could see the highlights of the city in just a few hours (short answer: yes). This was my step by step itinerary, which I would call very successful 🙂
5:10am – Landed in Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport
5:25am – Disembarked and rushed past other passengers to get to border control first
5:55am – Passed one of the most efficient border controls ever
6:05am – Got an Uber ($30); didn’t feel awake enough to figure out public transit options but there seemed to be some good ones, especially if you have a bit more time
6:40am – Arrived at Taipei 101 and took a bunch of pictures. Taipei 101 is a magnificent 509-meter skyscraper. It was the tallest building in the world for a brief period of time (2004-2009, when it beat the Petronas Towers and until Burj Khalifa was completed. Apart from its imposing height, what makes it particularly cool is its pagoda style and its blue-green glass surface. There is an observation deck on the 88th and 89th floors (out of 101), but I didn’t go up because other blogs I read didn’t seem impressed with the views.
7:00am – Wandered around the area looking for an ATM (hint: they are inside the 7-11 stores). The neighborhood, called Xinyi, was a cool mix of modern business / shopping district and residential area, with locals going about their lives, gardens, small shops, etc.
7:20am – Took the metro (<$1), which was very new and easy to use
7:55am – Arrived at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, a grandiose monument to the Chinese nationalist leader and first president of Taiwan. With the spotless white marble, blue roof memorial in the center, the beautiful green gardens around, and the orange-tiled roof National Theater and National Concert Hall on the flanks, the so-called Liberty Square looked radiant on a sunny day. The contrast to the neoclassic architecture was provided by a local kids’ basketball team that was training by running up and down the 89 steep steps (the age at which Chiang Kai-shek). In the gardens, a few groups of ladies practicing tai-chi added to the local vibe.
8:15 – Looked for the original Din Tai Fung restaurant, got ready to splurge on cheap, delicious dim sum… but found it closed (seemed like it opened at 11am)
8:30am – Walked north on Zhongshan Road, a wide boulevard with many historic buildings, including the red-brick, Victorian-style Presidential Office Building
9:00am – Arrived at Taipei Main Station, the hub for trains and buses. Looked for something to eat in the very lively surroundings. Most food stalls and restaurants were not open this early, so I ended up settling for some milk tea and mochi sweets
9:20am – Looked into the high-speed train to the airport, but found it rather expensive (~$6) and inconvenient (I would still need to take a shuttle to the airport proper, taking 30-40 min total). Got on a bus instead (~$4), prayed to make it back on time, while the driver didn’t seem to be on a hurry at all
10:10am – Made it to the airport, went through security in a breeze and got to my gate with half an hour to spare… and write this post
11:40am – Took off with destination: Kuala Lumpur
PS: The one other highlight of Taipei that I didn’t get to check out is the Longshan Temple. If you have 8 hours or more, you should be able to incorporate it to your itinerary. Even better: take the free half-day tour offered by Taiwan Tourism Bureau! It leaves Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport at 8am (or 1:30pm), visits Taipei 101, Longshan, the Presidential Office Building, the Chiang Kay Shek Memorial and the Martyrs’ Shrine, and returns to the airport by 1pm (or 6:30pm).