As one of the major hubs of East Asia, Taiwan has enough culture and beauty packed onto a small island that you could easily spend either a long weekend or your entire life exploring. I moved to Taipei in September of 2014 with my fiancé and, as an avid traveler and queer woman with a masculine style, I haven’t stopped falling in love with the city.
For starters, the food in Taipei is out of control in the best way. There is a thriving local night market scene and endless boutique restaurants and cafes that line every alley in this densely packed city. As a vegetarian, I’ve had no trouble finding delicious food absolutely everywhere, and if you feel like you could become a fan of pineapple ice cream spring rolls with peanuts and cilantro, you should make your way to Taiwan immediately.
Ice cream spring roll
I’ve been happy to discover that Taiwan has an incredibly open and visible queer community—I went to Taiwan’s Pride event in October, which is the largest in Asia—and along with the positive local queer presence comes some crazy cool masculine styles, from street to dapper to straight from the future. There is unbelievable shopping for the masculine-of-center individual of almost any shape and size, and with any budget.
Taipei Pride attendees
Taiwan is located just Southeast of China and it’s a quick hop from Taipei to Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and a handful of other worthwhile places. For the dapperQ who wants to make a pass at Asia, Taiwan is a can’t-miss and, though you could spend years here, I’d like to propose a 48-hour weekend schedule that would easily fit Taipei into a jaunt around the region.
1) The currency in Taiwan is the New Taiwan Dollar (NT) and the exchange rate hovers around $30NT to $1US, so be prepared to pull thousands out of the ATM and, if you’re like me, feel like a total baller for a little while.
2) The public transportation in Taipei is incredible. The MRT is the local subway system. It’s clean and efficient, and the cheapest way to get anywhere in the city. I recommend getting an MRT card right away and putting a few hundred NT on it so that you don’t have to worry about it for the remainder of your trip.
3) The national language of Taiwan is Mandarin Chinese, but don’t worry too much about the language barrier, as Taiwan is super accessible to English speakers. All major signage is in English and most people speak at least a bit of English.
Coming from the States, you’ll lose an entire day in-flight (a 16-hour difference from the west coast), but there is a 12-hour direct flight from San Francisco to Taipei that will definitely reduce jetlag and the time you have to sacrifice. Just be prepared, the time-change is rough. I recommend taking a flight out on a Thursday afternoon/evening that would put you in Taipei on Friday evening/night with a reasonable amount of time to get settled in a hotel and rest. You’ll need to take a bus or taxi from the airport into the city.
Maokong Gondolas: Maokong is in Wehshan, the southernmost district of Taipei, and is a beautiful, mountainous area known for its traditional teahouses and sweeping views of the city. From the center of Taipei (Taipei Main Station), it’s about a 30-minute MRT ride to Taipei Zoo Station where the gondolas (which are part of the MRT system) are located. Take a glass-bottom gondola up and over the mountain and enjoy the view along the way. Once you get to the top there are dozens of traditional tea houses and food carts, and some breathtaking Buddhist temples. Take a stroll and relax or venture further up one of the many hiking paths. Just be sure to stop and enjoy the clean mountain air and a pot of Tien Guan Yin tea.
View from Maokong
The Masculine Haircut of Your Dreams/Waffle Brunch: After a morning on Maokong, you could head down to Taipei 101 to check out the (formerly) tallest building in the world. It’s definitely a sight to see, but honestly, the view of the skyscraper from Maokong is better, so I’d like, instead, to recommend one of my favorite things to do on a Saturday in Taipei: get a dapper cut and have a waffle. Make your way to Zhongshan MRT station, just one stop from Main Station, and take exit R9. Here you’ll find one of the hippest areas in Taipei, with alley after alley lined with cute cafes, shops and hair salons. As a masculine presenting woman, I’ve had the most comfortable experiences of my life getting haircuts in Taipei. The pulse of the city is androgynous for much of Taipei’s Generation Y, so there’s no need to fear that same old awkward interaction. Just walk in to any of the salons along the main road (I recommend Hair Design, right outside the R9 exit), and get ready to be catered to. Generally, every salon will have someone who can speak a little English, though it may not be your stylist, so I always take a couple of photos of what I want as a backup. And the best part is, you’ll get two shampoos, a scalp and face massage, and the most meticulously hand-faded undercut of your life for 700NT (about $20). Once you’re killin’ ‘em with that cut, head a few doors down to the R9 café (or any of the other 600 cafes in the few blocks around you), and grab a fruit waffle and an iced Americano. I promise, it’ll make your day.
Post haircut waffles at R9
Shida: Here’s where things get fun for the dapperQ in you. In the afternoon, head to the area around Shida night market to shop for some great local queer-friendly clothes and accessories. One of my favorite stores in the area is Love Boat, an LGBTQ shop that boasts everything from jewelry and binders to queer tarot readings and holistic healing essentials. Love Boat particularly caters to slim/petite dapperQs who might find it difficult to get properly fitting masculine clothes without them being baggy in all the wrong places. After you get yourself outfitted, head around the corner to Witch House, a killer feminist café decorated with bras, and then to GinGin Books, one of the largest LGBTQ stores in Asia.
Ximending/Historic Red House: Once the sun has set and you’re feeling frisky, it’s time to make your way to Ximending night market and the Historic Red House area for some out-of-this-world food and a great cluster of LGBTQ-friendly bars, clubs and restaurants. Ximending is a large, pedestrian night market that will be swarming with thousands of people on a Saturday night, so be patient and make your way into the middle of it. There are delicious food and shopping stalls everywhere you look, so have some cash on hand and go crazy. I particularly recommend the scallion pancake with egg, the ice cream spring roll and, for the meat-eaters out there, leave room for famous Hot Star Large Fried Chicken and the oyster noodles at Ah Chung Mee Sua. As for the shopping, keep your eyes peeled for some of the masculine gems of the Taipei night market scene. Everything from snapbacks and denim drop-crotch pants for a few bucks, to major print sweaters, button-downs, shoes and accessories like you’ve never seen. And a lot of it will probably be sold to you by some of the fly-est masculine-of-center shopkeepers in the city. Once you’ve had all you can take in the night market and you’re totally lost, just look for the three-story KFC and you’ll find your way out.
Hot Star Fried Chicken
Then jump across the street to the area around the Historic Red House. The Red House itself is a cool cultural center/boutique shopping/music venue worth checking out, but venture around back and you’ll spot a rainbow and find a lovely row of queer-friendly bars with a ton of patio seating and great drink specials.
Taboo: Ready for some dancing? With a huge lesbian dance party every Saturday night, Taboo is the place to be. The party doesn’t really get going until midnight, and for 500NT (about $15) you’ll get entry and an all-you-can-drink stamp. Once you’re in, grab a cup of something blue and cut up. The venue itself is fairly small and gets pretty smoky once things get going, but fighting the crowd is worth it. One of my favorite moments at Taboo was with a drunken birthday girl named Lulu who whispered in my fiancé’s ear, “I like your husband, can I dance with her?” and then dragged me to the dance floor.
Tamsui—Sunday morning is the perfect time to hop on the MRT red line and take it all the way up to Tamsui, the sea-side district North of Taipei. Head toward the water and take a stroll up the boardwalk for insane amounts of fresh seafood, cooked every way imaginable. Grab a fried squid to nurse that all-you-can-drink feeling you’re still feeling, and soak up the sun. There are some restaurants and cafes along the way with great views of the water, and, if you’re feeling rambunctious, you can take a boat ride to the nearby fisherman’s wharf. Then, make your way to Tamsui Old Street. Push through the swarms of people and stop for some of Tamsui’s famous fish ball soup and check out one of Taipei’s beautiful and historic temples along Old Street. Tamsui is definitely worth spending a few quality hours by the water.
View from Tamsui
Me in Tamsui
Hangover cure all
Followed by a huge taro ice cream…why not?
Thermal Valley/Dihua Jie/Longshan Temple: Once you head back into town, there are a few great options along the red line worth checking out. Stop off at Xinbeitou station and follow the smell of rotten eggs (sulfur) to see some of Taipei’s beautiful natural hot springs. At Shuanglian station you’ll find Dihua Jie, one of the oldest parts of the city with a ton of shops selling spices and dried goods. You could wander for hours in this area, and if not hours, at least try the dried persimmon. Lastly, check out Longshan Temple at Longshan Temple station. The Temple was built in 1738 and it definitely offers a breathtaking and quiet moment in the middle of the bustling city.
Spices at Dihua Jie
Raohe Night Market: One of the can’t-miss stops in Taipei also makes a good last stop: Raohe Night Market. This market is older and has more traditional foods, so go hungry and with an open mind. There’s a beautiful temple right at the entrance, and the pedestrian area of the market is narrow so if you go with the flow, you’ll walk one-way down and one-way back up. Now’s the time for you to face your fears and try the stinky tofu that Taiwan is famous for. It’s basically very fermented tofu, cooked in a medley of spices and often duck blood (though there are vegetarian varieties), and served all by its self. Try it. You must, and if you’re like most intrepid explorers who pass through, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Also while you’re at Raohe, have an oyster omelet and blood cake. Why not? But no matter what, just be sure to have one more ice cream spring roll for the road.
Raohe Night market
You’ve done it all. Time to move on to another one of the beautiful countries in this part of the world and keep adventuring. Or, if it’s time to go home, take an early flight, say 8am, and with the time change, you’ll be back on the on the west coast before you even left.