Thursday, 2 August 2012

Taipei Outing: Taipei 101

This post has been updated in June 2015, and is mostly taken from my Formosa (Taiwan) travel guide, which covers all vegan restaurants in Taipei together with the key attractions in Taipei and Northern Taiwan, including the mining towns around Jiufen, the historic Pingxi Railway Line, Jiaoxi (hotsprings and Taiwan's top vegan bakery, Vegan Heaven), Hualien and of course Taroko Gorge. Its maps are freely available here.

view from Taipei 101 on a very clear day

For most visitors to Taipei a trip up the world's second tallest building in the world's fastest elevator is essential. Whether it was actually ever the world's tallest actually depends on how you count, as the height to both the top of Willis Tower (formerly Sears Towers) in Chicago and its highest usable floor has always been greater, but Taipei 101's spire officially 'counts' whereas Willis Tower's antennas don't. 

Nonetheless the building is a remarkable feat of engineering, especially given that it’s built very near a major earthquake fault, and the views on the right day are quite impressive. These clear days don't come often, however, and it’s not worth going up if it’s cloudy. It's also incredibly crowded (mostly with Chinese tourists, for whom it's a compulsory stop on the tour-bus route) so expect a wait of at least half an hour. If you intend to go up at dusk then visit early, see how long the queues are and visit Taipei 101 in the time you have left, though the night view isn't bad either. Many people complain about being herded through crystal and gem shops, and while there's no pressure to buy any, with the crowds it can be a little overwhelming. 

Elephant Mountain offers a comparable if not better view, without the admission charge or crystal shops.

If this all sounds like too much, and you'd prefer to trade the souvenir shops with trees and the tourists with students and professional photographers, a comparable view of the city can be had for free from Elephant Mountain or for NT200 from the Miramar Ferris Wheel in Neihu (Jiannan Road Station on the brown line - you'll see it), which could be worked in with a visit to Sophie's Garden. Alternatively good views of Taipei, from further afield, can be had from Maokong Gondola, which can also become quite crowded during dusk, especially on weekends.

Transport and Timing
Taipei 101 has its own MRT stop on the red (Tamsui) line, which as of February 2015 erroneously shows in Google Maps as Jieyuntaibei101 / Shimao Station (transliteration of Taipei 101 MRT station gone horribly wrong; other stations on this new line have the same issue). Alternatively, if coming from the blue line, it's a short walk from Taipei City Hall Station, what has attached a bus station with buses fanning out as far as Tainan. 

Observatory: 9:00 – 22:00 (last ticketing 21:15)
Cost: NT500 (includes optional headset). 
A combination pass for Taipei 101 and National Palace Museum is available for NT600 (saving NT150) but can only be purchased at Taipei 101.

The much-acclaimed "international" foodcourt in the basement of Taipei 101 has absolutely no vegan options. Adjacent to it is a branch of Jasons (supermarket) which sells a range of imported items, including snack foods and cruelty-free cleaning products (in case you're moving here). It used to be an essential, albeit expensive, vegan stop, but it's now trumped by the iVegan supermarket.

I discuss more distant restaurants and more travel itineraries in my travel guide, but the following are the three best four options near Taipei 101.

Minder Vegetarian (明德素食園, $$, Taiwanese, buffet, vegetarian)

A typical Minder Vegetarian meal (~NT200, by weight)

The closest vegetarian restaurant to Taipei 101 is the Xinyi branch of Minder Vegetarian, which is located in the basement foodcourt of the Eslite Bookstore (誠品信義店), close to City Hall MRT stop. This is the vegan heart of Taipei so a non-vegan chain restaurant (albeit a good one) should only be considered when in a rush or stuck between the lunch and dinner sittings of most other restaurants (generally from about 14:00 until 17:00). As usual all products containing fake meat (except pure wheat gluten) and dressings should be avoided. White radish cake usually contains tiny pieces of fake meat inside it which probably contain dairy products.

11:00 – 21:30 (one of a few which don't close between lunch and dinner).
Eslite Bookstore, B2 Foodcourt (誠品信義店)
Song Gao Road, Number 11 (MRT City Hall Station)

Jhuangjing Loving Hut (愛家莊敬店, $, Taiwanese, Organic)

"Low Carbon Lunch Set", excellent value at NT100

This Loving Hut serves traditional, inexpensive Taiwanese food, but of course vegan. It's the closest vegan restaurant to Taipei 101, a very pleasant dining experience and excellent value, but if you have limited time in Taipei it should only be a priority for its low cost.

If the staff are there between lunch and dinner they may serve you – call to check before walking. Likewise it's not always open during its advertised hours, so I always recommend calling before walking there. It's just under a kilometre from both Xiangshan Station and Taipei 101, but a more pleasant walk from Xiangshan Station through Zhongqiang Park.

信義區莊敬路 >440
440 Jhuangjing (Zhuangjing) Road
(02) 2758-6266

11:30–2:00, 17:00–20:00

Tian Zhuan Zhai Loving Hut ($$, Korean, Taiwanese)

the most authentic (vegetarian) Korean food in Taipei

This great Loving Hut is run by a friendly, talented and multilingual Korean lady and her family. It features a slightly wider and more unique menu than the nearby Jhuangjing branch, including a few Korean items, but is a little further to walk and a little more expensive, with dishes starting at around NT150. It's five hundred metres from Xiangshan Station or one kilometre from Taipei 101, both along well-paved roads (like most in this posh area of Taipei).

11:30-14:00, 17:00 – 20:30
247 Songde Road

Guangfu Loving Hut ($$$, Hotpot, Taiwanese, International)

The Guangfu Loving hut is one of only two restaurants I consider 'must-visits' in Taipei. Its specialty is hotpots, a traditional North-East Asian meal in which diners cook their own raw food in a broth provided at the table. Traditionally hotpots are shared, with a family or group sharing a large pot and dipping their own chopsticks into the pot, but there are enough cookers available for everyone to have their own. Hotpots are traditionally very heavy on meat, and most broths contain animal products, and while there are a few vegetarian hot-pot restaurants around, this is almost certainly the only fully-vegan one in Taiwan. Their vegan versions of traditional broths, and their creative new variants, are amazing. This Loving Hut also serves a range of international and fusion cuisine (my favourite is the Tomyam Tahini Rice), especially during summer when hotpots become less popular, and desserts. At about NT200-300 per main dish this is more expensive than most Loving Huts, but excellent value. A feast for two, with (non-alcoholic) drinks and desserts, should come to around NT1000. Be sure to help yourself to the variety of condiments available by the back counter. The restaurant also sells a range of grocery items, but most are more suitable for a kitchen than a backpack.

Tomyam Tahini Rice

The cookers work on induction, an efficient and responsive system which generates electrical currents inside the pots instead of just heating up. However it will also 'cook' anything metal placed near it, so never place electronic items or anything metal on or near the cookers (even when off, in case they are accidentally turned on). The menu is trilingual (including Japanese). This is a popular restaurant, so reservations are recommended, especially during weekends. There will probably be English-speaking staff (or ‘volunteer’ translators from a nearby table) when you call.

Guangfu South Road, Lane 280, Number 30.
(02) 2777-2711
Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall Station, Exit 2. Walk out the exit and keep going. Cross the roundabout (circle). Take the second right (Lane 280, Guangfu South Road) and it's a few buildings down on your right.

Veggie Creek ($$, Taiwanese, One-pot wonder)

Choose your own fresh vegetables and other ingredients...

Veggie Creek is a remarkably simple affair, but is incredibly popular with visitors and residents alike. It was started by two young Taiwanese men after they returned to Taiwan from working holidays in Australia. Customers select fresh leafy vegetables off a rack on the wall, and small packets of chopped vegetables, tofu, fake meat or other raw ingredients, along with a choice of noodle, and bring them to the counter. The talented chef then whips them up into a one-pot wonder in minutes. Customers then enjoy their meal at a large common table. The restaurant has a slick and stylish modern minimalist vibe. Dishes are charged per item selected, with most meals being NT150-200. If you feel like dessert, consider going to the Guangfu Loving Hut, which is almost on your way back to the MRT, but don't let this be your only visit there: a hotpot meal is essential, especially during winter.

and it will look like this in a matter of minutes.

Yanji Street, Lane 129, Number 2
(02) 2778-1969
12:00–14:00, 17:00–21:00
Facebook, Vegan Taiwan, Happycow

I used to recommend the Jing Ping "Thai" restaurant here, however there are now serious reasons to doubt that their fake meat is vegan, or perhaps even vegetarian, so I no longer recommend it. For more information, please see my Happycow review. The best Thai meal in Taipei can be found at Mianto


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