Fun Taipei Layover: Vegetarian Food, Traditional Massage and Shops
I have just returned from six weeks of study at Nagasaki University and before I attempt several blog post about graduate study and my time in Kyushu, let’s do the somewhat easier posts – how I got there, and my very entertaining Taipei layover, compressed into less than twelve hours.
I have written a bit about my flying China Airlines and my first Taipei layover in previous posts, this Taipei-themed post is about stopping on my way home, more relaxed and rested, yet braving the Taipei weather with about 33C and 80-90% humidity.
I started my day very early. Unable to sleep all night, I got up at 4am, hailed my 50kg of luggage to the Highway Bus stop, and waited an hour for my reserved coach. Which turned up a bit late, but there were quite a few people waiting for the same bus, so I was reassured it would come. Now, Highway buses in Japan are my final experience of Japanese efficiency and clean public transport, so no surprise that just a few minutes late, I was dropped at Fukuoka Airport International Terminal just a few minutes late, finally got rid of my heavy luggage and three hours later, I was en route to Taoyuan Airport.
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Taipei layover: Taoyuan Arrival and Transfer to central Taipei
After landing in Taoyuan around noon, I went through immigration easily and hopped onto the MRT. I have written more about the (very easy) immigration procedure here. This time, I had trouble finding a luggage locker in Taipei Main Station – eventually I found a large bank of lockers near the High-Speed Rail Terminal.
Once out of the dark and humid station, the heat, noise and pollution of central Taipei hit me really hard. I ducked into the air-conditioned and crowded Q Mall in search of some food and a rest. The mall was super busy and crowded with people and shops on a Saturday lunchtime. Also, it had about four (!) underground floors so it took a while to eventually find what I was looking for, Minder Vegetarian Cuisine. A tiny buffet in a crammed food court where you help yourself to food and pay by weight.
I skipped the rest of the mall which did not appeal to me at all, and braved the streets again.
A walk through Datong
Definitely be prepared for super hot, super humid conditions when visiting Taipei between March and November. It lies just above the Tropic of Cancer and has a humid subtropical climate.
After getting away from the four-lane major roads, walking under arcades in the smaller streets, the heat became much more bearable, though! I basically walked a large loop north, from Q Mall back to Taipei City Mall. My intention was to eat at Ningxia Night Market before heading back to the airport, but then, I simply ran out of time.
I started my Taipei layover with lunch in Q Square Mall. The mall wasn’t anything special, very busy, a food court deep in its basement with what I thought was quite pricey offerings. However, I found the vegetarian buffet and had a very tasty lunch – details below.
So, crossing some busy roads was the next challenge of my Taipei layover. It was really hot, and the traffic crazy. Traffic lights stayed on red for ages, but at least there are plenty of pedestrian crossings with traffic lights… or tunnels.
Once in a smaller street and only the occasional car or motorbike to deal with, began to relax and actually enjoy my Taipei layover. Taipei did not seem overly touristy to me, and no one is batting an eyelid at wandering tourists in this part of town. I was also really pleased to see that many main streets, like Chongquing Road, are extensively planted and offer some nice shade.
Unlike on my first trip, where I wanted to see Longshan Temple and found the surrounding area quite dull, Datong is full of interesting side streets, food stalls and little cafes, as well as a few shops. The larger streets are lined with larger buildings, whereas in the side streets buildings are older and more traditional.
Not all buildings are in great shape but Taipei appears to be really fertile – with trees growing out of evidently inhabited buildings.
And there is food, so much food everywhere. Unfortunately, if you cannot read Chinese, it is tricky to work out what’s what. Prices are super reasonable, perhaps 30-100 NTD (1-3 Euro) for a dish and if you are not fussy about what you are eating and don’t mind perching on a tiny stool, you can probably eat really well in Datong – and probably anywhere in Taipei.
After some very pleasant walking, despite the killer heat, a waft of incense signalled my arrival at the Taipei Xiahai City God Temple. It is so tiny, I don’t even have a good picture from the outside. This temple is close to the river and dates back to the mid-19th Century, when it was the major temple for the city of Da-Dao Cheng, which by now is part of Taipei. It is said to have the highest statue density of any temple in Taiwan, and you can imagine it is the home of many deities, but mainly people come to pray for prosperity, peace and a good marriage.
Just my luck that I managed to capture a picture of the City God and his wife, out of the many statues. Any one, regardless of religious beliefs, is welcome to visit and pray. There is very little etiquette – be quiet and don’t disturb people praying, everything else is optional.
After a bit of dinner from a vegetarian buffet just round the corner from the City God temple, I became a bit conscious of my time left, and quite full and happy, decided to slowly return to Main Station and then the airport. My plan was to visit the Ningxia Night Market and try an oyster omelette, but I had eaten so much nice vegetarian food and had a bit of fish in Japan, and wanted to get back on track with my veggie diet – and a crowded night market with eating while walking wasn’t my kind of jam that night before a 14-hour flight.
So I strolled, very casually, along Dihua Street, looking at coffee shops and bubble tea stores, and, of course, managed to stop at several fabric shops, where I purchased a small length of printed cotton fabric as a souvenir.
An hour later, I was back in the airport, laden with tea and a tea pot, ready-ish for my long flight home. And by this time extremely excited to return home!
Traditional Massage Salons
After receiving a very thorough foot and leg massage on my previous visit, which, though painful, made my feet feel really strong for weeks, I definitely wanted to rejuvenate my feet and, if possible, my back again.
So I did a bit of online searching beforehand and marked a few places that appear to accept walk-ins on my map. After walking about 3kmin the searing heat, I came to the Royal Massage Salon (皇廷莊園南西店). It looked spick and span and not super busy, so in I went. Some staff usually speak English, so it was the case in this very tidy salon too.
Some people have remarked that a traditional massage in Taiwan can be very painful, but in this case, my foot massage was just right – firm with just a few ouchs. A blissful 45minutes, followed by a really good back massage. I find it hard to describe. Traditional Chinese Massage can be like reflexology and follow the meridians, or be more muscle manipulation. The reflexology was a lot of acupressure and meridian work, with a good muscle kneading as well, and the full body massage, which was mostly back, neck and shoulders without oil, felt more like a Western Massage with some manipulation and pushing and pulling – it is called tuina and reminiscent of techniques I know from Europe. Both massages, applied by the same therapist, were extremely good.
You can also get gua sha and cupping, as well as pedicures in this salon – most salons offer reflexology and full body massage.
I think I got to thank them for a relatively tolerable 14 hours in an uncomfortable Economy Class seat. No sleep, but no pain either, not even after hauling 50kg of luggage through Frankfurt Airport the next morning. Taiwan is a great place for a massage if you ever have a stopover there – and you get on the MRT so easily, and probably won’t even have to go into Taipei proper for that.
The place where my feet were thoroughly and painfully rejuvenated is called 李炳輝足體養生館西門館 and is near Ximen MRT Station – see map below. it is also spacious, clean and friendly. Seeing the little old ladies there getting their legs massages, I was mentally prepared for a nice and gentle massage, but how wring I was! I had a friendly middle-aged lady with an iron grip. I had actual bruises. But… my feet felt good for weeks after that.
For something truly unusual, you could also opt for a knife massage. I have never seen it anywhere else but in Taipei. A convenient location is near the City Mall Tea shop called 中華世界刀療協會. It’s a bit pricier than the standard massage, but definitely quite unusual. I haven’t tried it. And if you don’t want to go far away from Taipei Main Station, there are about 4 highly rated salons about 100m away from the Z8 exit.
Vegetarian Food in Taipei
After unwittingly eating beef intestine and not being terribly enamoured with Taipei’s culinary offering, I researched my route a bit better this time to find decent vegetarian food. Chances are, if you pitch up at a random food stall that isn’t desserts, you will get meat and/ or seafood.
So, with a few veggie buffets and stalls marked I felt a bit safer. But if you are out and about, you can look for signs in green colour – and a reverse swastika. Yes, that’s right. It’ is an ancient Buddhist symbol which has been adopted by vegetarian restaurants in some Asian countries. Often, they are even vegan.
What looks like bits of liver here are actually tofu and seitan in various permutations from the stall above. For 80NTD, less than 3 Euro, this made a very tasty filling meal, as I was heading off towards the airport again. You cannot see it here, but the stallholder had actually set up a tiny buffet in her stall, and you could sit down and eat under an awning next door. The only thing missing was some water or a drinks fridge.
Often you can find these impromptu vegetarian restaurants near temples. Tofu and seitan feature heavily and if you are into that, Taiwan is a place you must visit. Small street cafes are plentiful – definitely in Datong, but unless you understand Chinese characters or use a translation app, there is no way to tell what you are about to eat.
And food stalls are literally everywhere in Datong, making it an easily accessible place for food from Main Station.
If you want some more refined vegetarian food, there are quite a few vegetarian cafes which do mostly fusion or Western style food. Grassland is a cafe with a pretty decor and consistently good reviews, and an easy walk from Taipei Main Station. And, most importantly, a very cute cat!
Last not least, my first great meal in Taipei – from a vegetarian buffet called Minder Vegetarian in the bowels of a shopping mall. It is a small Taipei-based chain and was worth wading through floors and floors of mediocre mall. Here, there were also nice salads, and tons of mushroom. You put whatever you want on a plate, and pay by weight.
Again, differently spiced and cooked tofu features very heavily.
Shopping in Datong and near Taipei Central Station
Honestly, as much as I like to look at shops, especially local goods and food stuff and souvenirs, I was quite shopped out from six weeks in Japan, with 50kg of luggage to haul around. Fortunately, most of this was resting at Taoyuan Airport during this stopover, but I had no intention of adding to the load, thinking of my train ride across Germany the next morning.
I was quite pleased to see a lot of Japanese printed cotton, at prices similar to Japan or cheaper, not brands I recognized like Kokka or Echino, but the quality felt nice, Not sure of these fabrics are made in Taiwan or imported. But altogether, the lower end of Dihua Street held quote
But one thing I wanted was tea. Good oolong and Pu Erh Tea, to be precise, as I had enough green tea from Japan. I visited three tea shops on my walk, only to go back to the first one I saw for variety of goods, freindly dervice and decent prices.
If you want good Taiwanese or Pu Erh Tea (which hails from Yunnan, PR China) look no further than Taiwan Tea and Oolong Tea (full name楷鳳茶業茶行 Taiwan Tea Oolong Tea お茶 台湾茶 ウーロン茶 紫砂壺 Teapots 急須) , in Taipei Main Station. To find it, you need to negotiate the warren of underground corridors of Taipei City Mall. It is easiest to find coming from the station, look for Taipei City Mall exits Y15 or Y17 on the Lower Ground Floor, the shop is between those two exits.
Taipei Layover Map
Practicalities and Small Print
I visited on this Taipei layover on a flight on China Airlines from Frankfurt to Fukuoka, having paid for all flights and services.
My route from on this Taipei layover was as follows: Taiyuan Airport was: Airport MRT to Taipei Main Station – then a lot of walking, first to Q Square Mall, then to Chongqing Road via Huayin Street (lots of street food stalls here in the daytime) – massage at Nanjing W Road – Taipei Xiahai City God Temple, Dihua Street and back to Taipei Main Station – Airport MRT to Taiyuan Airport. Altogether, my little outing took about six hours, and I made it back to the airport with plenty of time to spare.
This is by no means a complete guide. Although Taipei has a good MRT, it is very spread out, and I had to prioritize. You will possibly see more if you do a tour, but then, you can’t just stay and explore as you please. If you are into more glitzy shopping opportunities and upmarket restaurants, you will not find much in this post.
There are no affiliate links in this post. I visited Taipei in May and in June 2023. All information in this post is correct as of 16 July, 2023.
Taipei layover Pin