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Taiwan wasn’t really in our plans for this year. We always travel during Thanksgiving week, but had decided to stay home this year. But then while browsing the everywhere feature on Skyscanner two weeks before Thanksgiving, I came across a great deal to Taipei so we just had to go! We didn’t hesitate to book and were on a last-minute trip to Taiwan just 10 days later! We used United miles for our tickets, and all of our hotels were booked using mostly Marriott points, our last night being at the Novotel right next to the airport and we used UR points for that one. And what a great decision it was because Taiwan is by far our favorite Asian country so far! Most people briefly stop at their airport on a layover, but I highly recommend spending some time here. Great people, the most amazing food, super safe and one of the best and easiest train systems in the world!
We flew United but unfortunately had to fly to SFO from LAX (only hour flight though) and the flight to Taiwan was around 14 hours long. It was a mostly day time flight, so we were all up for the majority of the flight. Milana is a champion traveler and was happy in her seat the entire time doing crafts, drawing, watching her iPad and napping towards the end.
We arrived in Taipei in the evening, which was perfect because we were able to sleep and adjust to their time zone from day one. Milana easily adjusts to any time zone, regardless of how big the change (Taiwan was 16 hours ahead), within a day or two at most. I’m not sure how she does it, but jet lag is something she has never suffered from, making travel with her a breeze!
Being loyal to Marriott, we didn’t hesitate to book the majority of our stay at the Courtyard after reading reviews. Now if you are familiar with Courtyards, they usually aren’t anything spectacular. Well that was not the case in Taipei! This was by far the nicest Courtyard we have ever stayed in, with the best breakfast buffet we have ever seen. Having status, we were upgraded to the executive floor and had lounge access all day as well as free breakfast. The lounge was huge and had free food and drinks throughout the day, perfect when you have a child who wants a snack throughout the day! The MRT was on the bottom floor of this hotel and it was connected to a mall with lots of dining and entertainment options, making it a great, central location and super easy to get anywhere in the city.
One night, we decided to try the Taipei Marriott and we are glad most of our stay was at the Courtyard! This hotel wasn’t very close to a train station and the location wasn’t great. I wouldn’t stay here unless you are in Taipei on business. Our room was huge and really nice though, we were upgraded again and had lounge access here too.
The biggest upside to this hotel was the pool, which was heated and Milana loved using in the evening.
The train system in Taipei is super easy to use. The various lines are color and number coded, and it’s impossible to get lost! We used the train exclusively, making our transportation costs super inexpensive! The best part about the train is how courteous people are. There is a waiting line where people line up and wait for the train. No one pushes anyone and people exiting are allowed to do so before everyone boards in an orderly fashion! There are also navy blue seats on each train, reserved for the elderly, those with young kids, etc. and no one ever uses them unless they fit the criteria! The train could be packed and all those seats empty and they remain so until someone who needs it boards. Try that in the NYC subway, this was by far the most organized, clean and orderly train system we have used anywhere in the world.
The MRT is so easy to use, even a child can do it!
THINGS TO DO
There is lots to do in Taipei with kids! The locals are very friendly and love kids. Milana being a blonde, drew attention everywhere we went! The Taipei Zoo is a must visit while here. Admission is less than $2/person and kids are free! We didn’t expect much for that price but the zoo is huge with lots of different animals. We aren’t normally zoo fans, but really enjoyed this one! Milana caught the attention of a local school group, and they asked if they can take a photo with her and she happily obliged. That was the first and last time though, because as the day went on, Chinese tourists would try to grab her and take pictures with her or just shove a camera into her face and we were not allowing that to happen, especially since she was super uncomfortable with them. These local kids were friendly and nice and she loved them.
If you come to the zoo, it makes sense to take the Maokong gondola up to Maokong. The gondola leaves from the zoo, making it convenient and a nice end to your zoo trip. The views while going up are spectacular and Maokong is a super cute little city! Lots of street food and markets, we wandered around for a bit and ate some great food before heading back down. It started to rain while we were up there and Milana being the little SoCal child that she is was super excited to use her umbrella for the first time! I’m not sure she’s seen much rain in her life!
We were disappointed that Taipei didn’t have Kidzania but quickly discovered they have their own version called Baby Boss! It was pretty much exactly like Kidzania, where kids perform different jobs and earn money. However unlike Kidzania, tourists get a discount and you are told several times before purchasing tickets that the instruction is in Mandarin only. Milana is never phased by foreign languages and jumped right in with the other kids!
She even made a friend and they played together, even though neither spoke each other’s language! Travel lets your kids get out of their comfort zone. We now have a 6 year old that is confident and not shy/scared to participate in activities outside of most kids’ comfort zones!
You will also find lots of playgrounds all over the city! One of these Milana spotted from our window while at the Courtyard so we had to go downstairs and see it.
Another was a short walk from the original Din Tai Fung. You’ll most likely encounter an hour+ wait while here, so explore the streets around the restaurant! Lots of stores and a playground that occupied her while we waited for our table.
Taipei now has a new children’s museum. It’s called the Kids Awesome museum and it’s located in the Da’an district, half a block from the MRT station. It opened in September and has 3 levels of entertainment. The staff here is great and the facility super clean! Like many other places, they take everyone’s temperature before allowing them to stay and visibly sick kids are not allowed. I wish they did that in the US! So many parents feel the need to bring snotty, feverish kids out to public play places so this would solve the issue of spreading germs everywhere you go! The downside? The cost! We have been to many children’s museums all over the world and this was by far the most expensive! Kids are $26 USD here and adults around $7, which is absurd given the cost of everything else in the city! I’m curious if locals get a discount because I can’t imagine this place succeeding with such outrageous prices.
One of the most popular attractions in Taipei is Taipei 101. This used to be the tallest building in the world, but has lost the title in 2010. Shaped like a bamboo stalk, it’s hard to miss from many places in the city! We purchased our tickets for the observation deck on the 5th floor and took the elevator to the 89th floor. This is the 2nd fastest elevator in the world, climbing up to the observation deck in just 37 seconds! It’s important to come here on a clear day, or you may not see very much! Also get here early! We came before the mall opened to the public and didn’t have to wait in line for tickets/elevator. But as we were leaving, the line for the elevator was huge!
Earlier this year, Taipei started their double decker tour buses that you will see all over the city. We decided to give it a try one day and purchased the 4 hours ticket (kids are free). But I honestly don’t recommend it. Unlike the ones we have taken in other cities, no one talks here and you have no idea where you are/what the attractions are on the way. I wish them well but in order to succeed, they’re going to have to change some things around!
The Huashan 1914 Creative Park is a multi-purpose park in Zhongzheng District. The grounds are super cute and there is lots to explore here! I highly recommend venturing into this area, away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city.
If you’re looking for a great day trip option, take the red line to the last stop, which is Tamsui and explore the cute area! You can read my post about Tamsui here.
There are lots and lots of play cafes in Taipei! While not known for their food, they offer kids an area to play in while the parents eat. There were many to choose from, but of course we didn’t have the time for all and didn’t want to waste our food options on such bland food (they all have a minimum purchase requirement per person) so we narrowed it down to two. One of these happened to be located at the mall our Courtyard was in! We took the elevator to the 3rd floor and there was the Elephant Garden Cafe. They had a play area for the kids, each table had a high chair and friendly staff. Milana loved it here and quickly made a new friend! This one is a chain and there are several locations so you are bound to find one wherever you are in the city.
Another play cafe we found was Greenwood. After looking at photos of the various ones, this one seemed like the best option for an older child and I was right! They have several play areas. There is one for kids under 2, downstairs there was a small play area with various bikes/vehicles and the main level had a huge climbing structure as well as a slide and ball pit. Milana loved it! As with the other cafe, the food wasn’t anything spectacular but it gave us some time to relax while she happily entertained herself.
Let’s face it, we travel for food and love trying local cuisine. Taipei has by far the best food we have had on our travels! Milana is a super adventurous eater, and will at least try something before saying she doesn’t like it making travel awesome and much easier when you don’t have to find American kid foods to satisfy your child overseas.
One of our favorites are of course dumplings! And what better place to try them then at the very first Din Tai Fung. Milana can eat her weight in xiao long bao, so this was perfect. We have one of these right by our house, but the ones in Asia have different menus (the mushroom dumplings are the best!) so we went and ate so much food! We ordered the same stuff we always get here at home as well as a few different things and our bill was a fraction of what we pay at home, for the same exact food! Be prepared for a wait if you come during dinner on a weekend, but it is so worth it! And now we can say we came to the original one.
Of course this being Taipei, dumplings were everywhere! Din Tai Fung’s competitor is Kao Chi. This place actually opened 8 years before the first Din Tai Fung and has a huge following as well. However, after tying both, we now see why DTF has the huge lines and waits! Kao Chi was good, but nowhere near as good as DTF.
Another dumpling place we found was Yong He Soy Milk King, a short walk from the children’s museum. It had a ton of Yelp reviews and the food was really good! Their xiao long bao was around $2 an order, unheard of in the US! It was really good and freshly made. The scallion cake was good too, but none of us were fans of their soy milk, which is what they are known for. Super cheap but amazing meal!
Mangos are super popular in Taipei and them being Milana’s favorite fruit, she ate quite a bit! We also found a store dedicated to all things mango and she had their mango juice, which she proclaimed was really good!
Milana also loves egg tarts, and we had a bakery on the bottom floor of the Courtyard that baked them in front of you and sold them piping hot!
While in Tokyo earlier this year and Bangkok last year, we found Hello Kitty cafes so I decided to see if Taipei had one and sure enough they did! Not as spectacular as Bangkok’s, it was super cute with some really cute food options! They have a minimum purchase requirement per person, so keep that in mind when visiting.
As with most Asian cities, your visit is not complete without visiting a night market. There were several options in Taipei, but we chose the Shilin night market after reading reviews and seeing photos. It’s considered to be the largest night market in Taipei and is a nice combination of food, products and even carnival games! Dave won Milana a Hello Kitty doll and it only cost $3. Here in the US, you get a sticker or a pencil after paying $20 to play carnival games! We ate lots of yummy food and visited the Shi Lin Ci Cheng Gong temple, located inside the market grounds. Such a beautiful temple, it’s really worth a visit!
Since we didn’t have much time to prepare for this trip as we usually do, I relied on blog posts and reviews to figure out what to do. One of these blog posts recommended the Taipei Eats tour which we booked for 2 days before we left. Well let me save you some money and say don’t do it! It was a huge waste of money and we ate better and more local food on our own the entire previous week than we did on this tour! It’s not well run and they really could utilize the excellent MRT system to go from place to place vs. walking 25-30 minutes between restaurants. We have done these in other cities and this was by far the most disappointing. Street food is readily available in Taipei, just walk around and try it all on your own!
One of our favorite street foods is what they refer to as the Taiwanese burger. Pork (cooked for more than 10 hours) in a steamed bun and topped with cilantro and crushed peanuts. So good!
This woman makes some of the best scallion cakes you will find anywhere and they sell out the minute they come out of the oven!
Noodles are also very popular in Taipei. These are wheat noodles topped with pureed sesame sauce and lots of veggies, they are served cold. Milana loved them! We also tried a local soup, similar in flavor to miso but with eggs added to the mix, and a giant pork meatball to top it off. Milana loved this as well! We heard lots of things about stinky tofu (fermented tofu that used to be made with spoiled meat/milk/etc. and fermented for about a week) but the fried version wasn’t so bad at all!
Though I will say, we may have found the first food Milana didn’t like! She tried the stinky tofu and this was her reaction:
And let’s not forget tea! Have you ever had boba tea? Well it originated in Taiwan and is now found all over the world, the US included. We all love it and drank so much of it in Taipei! The best part? They were all under $2!
Taipei is such a family friendly destination, it quickly became our favorite family trip! We planned our entire trip in less than 10 days and had a blast! If you are considering Asia as your next destination, I highly recommend Taiwan. We love it more than Japan, Thailand and Hong Kong and hope to be back soon!