One of the reasons we picked the hotel that we did was that it lies just on the edge of the Ximending neighborhood of Taipei. This area is easily walkable, and though it really comes alive at night, it also presented many options for breakfast.
We headed out around 7 am. Yuling had her heart set on a certain type of beef noodle soup commonly had for breakfast. This was easily obtainable from many little stalls in the area. There really isn’t a need to think too carefully about your selection; just find something that smells and looks good. We found one and each had a decent sized bowl for well under NT100 each.
The dish is commonly served with just the essential components: beef, broth, and noodles. You then customize it by adding other condiments such as pickled vegetables.
Our main destination for this morning was Lungshan Temple, a bit south of the south end of Ximending. In addition to its Buddhist elements, Lungshan also includes altars to various Chinese folk deities.
Although it would have been easily reachable by bus or subway from where we had breakfast, we were eager to explore Ximending and opted to walk. At 8 in the morning, the neighborhood is largely very quiet and you won’t find much open with the exception of some stalls selling breakfast items, convenience stores, and a few other odds and ends.
Lungshan Templet itself is a major destination both for tourists and locals. There is no charge for admission. The courtyard after the first gate contains pleasant, artificial waterfalls to the left and right. Proceed from here into the inner area of the temple through a passage on the right. While passing through here, you can obtain incense or candles place in front of the main alter.
Though it was still relatively early at the time we went, the inside was crowded both with tour groups and people visiting the temple to pray. The main alter, and the one that draws the most attention, is a Buddhist one, but if you continue your circuit to the right and around the back of the temple area, there are other altars to different Chinese dieties. We found 30 minutes was sufficient to take in the temple.
Exiting the temple and turning left, we headed to Herb Alley. This small section of street hosts vendors selling various herbs and teas. Yuling and I each bought a cup of herbal tea for NT10 each.
I recommend spending at least a little time stepping off of the main road and walking though some of the narrower alleys, just to make sure you take in the full variety of goods being sold.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
Chiang played a major role in the history of modern China, both as a political and military leader for the Republic of China. His role is too vast and complicated to summarize here, but basically Chiang Kia-shek is to Taiwan and its government as Mao is to mainland China.
The National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall sits at one end of Liberty Square. Admission is free. The main hall is reached by climbing a large number of steps. Inside, you’ll see a very large statue of a seated Chiang. The theme is very similar to that of the Lincoln Memorial. Two guards stand unmoving to either side. A changing of the guard ceremony takes place at the top of every hour, though we were not there to see it. Besides the main hall, there is a small museum to the left of the main entrance.
When you are inside the hall, be sure to look up at the ceiling as well. Easily overlooked, this was to me one of the most impressive architectural features of the building.
From the top of the memorial, there is also an excellent view of the other buildings bordering Liberty Square: the National Theater, the National Concert Hall, and Arch of Liberty Square.
National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall
We took the subway from there to the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.
Sun Yat-sen was the founder of the Republic of China and played an instrumental role in the overthrow of the Qing dynasty. The memorial hall for Sun, however, is not as grand as that of Chiang’s. It is also closed on Mondays, so we were not able to go in. However, memorial hall itself contains a statue of a seated Sun, very similar to that of the Chiang Kia-shek Memorial Hall.
Besides the memorial hall, right outside (but in the same complex) is Zhongshan park. This little park provided a nice rest from the hot noontime sun. In the middle of the part is a small pond with numerous turtles and koi. A path around the pond is pleasantly sheltered from the sun by trees. At one end of the pond, a small restaurant provides a place to sit and an opportunity to purchase beverages.
From the Sun memorial, we took a bus to Ooh Cha Cha, a small, friendly vegan restaurant. Yuling and I both enjoyed a Chai latte. For food the restaurant offers a selection of vegan sandwiches, burgers, salads, and deserts. Plan carefully when selecting your choice, because you were certainly want to leave room for a slice of vegan pie.
We finished the afternoon by taking a bus to Da-an Forest park. Although it was recommended by a number of guide books and sites we consulted, this is one sight I would recommend be skipped. There wasn’t much of anything to see in the park, except perhaps a small pond that served as home to a number of water foul. The “forest” isn’t really a forest and under the hot afternoon sun we found the small, sparse trees provided little shelter.
Ximending at Night
We spent the rest of the hot afternoon resting in our hotel. Once the sun went down, we headed out again.
The quite, closed-up Ximending that we had passed through earlier in the day was now alive with activity. A number of streets are closed to car traffic. Even on a weeknight, the neighborhood is alive with people getting food, shopping, and spending time with friends.
Similar to our route in the morning, we started on the north end and walked south. One essential stop is Ay-Chung Flour-Rice Noodle. This small but incredibly popular stand sells only three things: a small bowl of noodles, a large bowl of noodles, and a take-home jar of sauce. The line stretched several dozen deep, but given the simple menu service is incredibly quick. The ingredients weren’t exactly clear to me, but it had a slight seafood flavor.
We continued walking south, toward the general area of Lungshan temple. We were heading toward Xuaxi Street Tourist Night Market. Despite the name, you won’t find stalls selling the usual souvenirs geared toward tourists.
What they do have is a large number of stalls selling a variety of freshly prepared local food. Yuling and I stopped at two stands. The first one served a pork-rib soup. Another we stopped at, like many others, displayed various fresh seafood items and vegetables. You told them what you wanted and they would prepare it for you. Seating is generally outside on little tables and stools.
This is certainly a place to go for an authentic experience. However, there are some rough edges. Cleanliness was a bit of concern with some of the vendors. In more than one case, we had trouble finding anyone to serve us at a restaurant and ended up going somewhere else. There are also a fair number of free-roving dogs, which reinforced some of the concerns about cleanliness. For the less adventurous, or simply less comfortable with the available selection here, I would recommend the options further north.