We arrived in Taipei at night, just before the last train left the airport to head into the city center. About an hour later, we pulled into Ximen station. We had booked an Airbnb nearby at the advice of an American backpacker we met elsewhere, and whom we spoke to for only minutes. Because we knew so little about the city – and the country, for that matter – we didn’t want to overthink it.
When the escalator finally reached the street level and we exited the station, our eyes grew wide. In the darkness, the neighborhood was aglow. Thousands of people, mostly 20- and 30-somethings, milled about. Motorbikes beeped through the streets and the storefronts were electric. At first, it reminded us of Japan, but this definitely wasn’t Japan. We fought the urge to make any comparisons. This was Taiwan, and we wanted to experience it with a totally open mind.
That same night, we headed into the streets to take it all in. We spent the next several days with Ximending (commonly known as “Ximen”) as our home base, and we never grew tired of what it had to offer.
The food. The first thing we noticed about Ximen, especially at night, was the ubiquity of food stalls and carts lining the streets. We were drawn to vendors who featured photographs of their offerings, as well as those who prepared food with flair. The first vendors that caught our eyes were making flaky, crispy, slightly chewy scallion pancakes filled with pork chop, Chinese basil and egg. Other snacks that piqued our interest (and that we eventually ended up trying) were oyster omelettes, dumplings, “wheel cakes” filled with sweet and savory fillings, fried chicken and octopus balls. (For more on Taiwan’s incredible snacking culture, read our post here.)
The energy. Day and night, the streets of Ximen were bustling, mostly with tourists and groups of young adults. The center of the neighborhood fittingly resembles an octopus, with several streets jutting out from one central intersection. The area was packed with pedestrians around the clock, but during the daytime, we dodged service vehicles; at night, it was taxis that forced us to the side. Nonetheless, the vibe was upbeat, making it easy to stay on our feet even after hours of walking.
The nightlife. As a hub for Taipei’s youth, Ximen had no shortage of nightlife. From nightclubs to beer bars to cocktail hotspots, the neighborhood transformed into a party destination at night. Even for those not there to party, there was a lively feeling that came with the emergence of street performers. On our first night, we watched a young man playing electronic music do tricks with a giant light-up yo-yo. He tossed it hundreds of feet in the air, drawing a huge crowd around him.
The shopping. Known as a cheap shopping destination (some call it the “Harajuku of Taipei”), Ximen had a ton of hip clothing, shoe and accessory stores. We saw a lot of fast fashion – H&M, Forever 21, Uniqlo and the like – but also locally owned boutiques and name brands like Nike, Levi’s and New Balance. Most of the shops opened in the early afternoon and stayed open until about 10 p.m., luring customers by placing their most on-trend merchandise outside. The salespeople were friendly but not pushy, and we liked being able to browse at our own pace.
The location. Of course, where you should stay depends on your interests and itinerary, but we loved that Ximen is in the Wanhua District of west Taipei. In addition to a robust shopping and nightlife scene, it was also close to the Red House, known for its cabaret shows; Lungshan Temple, the most well-known temple in Taiwan; and Huaxi Street Night Market (also known as “Snake Alley”), the only place in the world where certain delicacies are served. (Snake meat and deer-penis wine, anyone?) With its own MRT station, we also had easy access to other parts of the city.
The next time we visit the city, it’s likely we will have outgrown Ximen – but for our first time, we couldn’t have chosen a better anchor in Taipei.