10 Hour Taipei Stopover: Short and sweet Temple and Relaxation visit
Is it worth leaving the airport if you have a Taipei stopover? Absolutely! On my recent trip to Japan, I flew China Airlines and had a 10-hour stopover both ways. The first one was from 6.00 to about 16.00 on a Sunday. The second one was on my return leg from Japan, from about noon to about 22.00.
Both times, I ventured from Taiyuan Airport, which is about 50km from central Taipei, into Taipei and did a mixture of sightseeing, walking, restaurants, shopping and a fair bit of relaxation.
Here is what you can see – and let me preclude by saying that if you do not fancy venturing into Taipei on your own, you can join a FREE half day tour from the airport – find more information here. I must admit, the tour schedule looks great!
Table of Contents
Arrival and Immigration at Taiyuan Airport for a Taipei Stopover
Taoyuan is the Republic of China’s principal international airport and has two terminals. Check carefully which Terminal you will be leaving from – if connecting on international flights, it can be a different terminal, so you are better off leaving your hand luggage in a locker intown rather than in the airport.
The airport is relatively modern, with a glut of souvenir shops (good for last minute pineapple cake buying), but very little in the way of restaurants or relaxation. Both terminals have direct access to the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), a super fast subway system connecting Huangbei with the airport and Taipei Main Station. Always take an MRT headed for Taipei Main Station if you want to go to the centre. There is a limited stop “Express” and a “Commuter” service – both take under 1 hour.
Sadly, I did not take a picture inside the airport, hungover from a 13 hour flight and all – this is actually the first picture I took, having somewhat accustomed to the heat and humidity and being greeted with this view when I exited the MRT station
Anyway, Immigration was a breeze for the lucky EU passport holder here, and within 15minutes I was in the MRT station. On the way, you will find several ATMs and Exchange Bureaus and I advise to get at least a little bit of cash though credit cards are usually accepted.
A single ride costs about 4 Euro – not bad for 50km comfy ride – you can buy tokens or a cashless IC card from vending machines in all stations, credit cards are fine for payment.
Taipei Main Station
On my first ever trip to Taiwan, I was somewhat overwhelmed by the maze that is Taipei Main Station. MRT Hub, Railway Station and a busy bus station next door, connected by a warren of underground passages and an underground mall – Taipei Main Station is huge, humid and exhausting! I counted at least 20 exits, possibly more, all lettered and numbered.
As you leave the MRT, things look quite orderly. Follow one of the signs to luggage lockers and try to leave your hand luggage there – a guarantee you will be able to locate the lockers later. It costs about 1 Euro for 3 hours, you can pay with the MRT IC card as well. Later in the day, they are often full, so you need to venture further into the long station to find a locker at another location, There are three banks of lockers in the corridor near the High Speed Rail Station.
Mengjia Longshan Temple
On my first ever trip to Taiwan, arriving around 6 o’clock in the early morning, I just wanted coffee and then soak up a bit of culture. I thought I head to Mengjia Longshan Temple, a district a bit south of Main Station, which has also some traditional buildings, temples and then, the Ximending Walking District – plenty to occupy me for a few hours yet in easy walking distance to the airport MRT.
It took me awhile to find the appropriate MRT line – I must have sleepwalked about 1km through the underground tunnels of Taipei Main Stations – once I had located the correct MRT (Bannan/blue colour) line, it was a breeze and just two stations away, conveniently named Longshan Temple.
So, around 8.30, I pitched up in the small park that surrounds Longshan temple, amid tightly packed apartment buildings, Not the most charming area, and not a coffee stall in sight. The temple itself was full of visitors and really vibrant.
First of all, I loved the Taiwanese Temple architecture. The Southern Fujian style with upturned ornate roofs brimming with colourful dragons, with the colour red being dominant, except when you come to the main hall which is stacked with gilded deities. They often serve Confucian, Buddhist and Taoist faiths. Longshan Temple certainly does, and apart from silent prayer and the gifting of flowers and large fruit and sweet baskets, there is a lot of divination going on.
Most outstanding perhaps, because they are thrown about everywhere inside the temple, are the red wooden “Poe” blocks that are thrown after an appropriate intro and gift to a deity and asking a question. If they both land on their flat side. If they both land on their curved or flat side, the answer is “no” if one if flat and one curved (shèng jiao), the answer is “yes”. I also read somehwere if they both land on their rounded side and rock back and forth (xiào jiao) your wish is so ludicrous the gods are probably laughing at you.
A gentle temple walk to Ximending
Having had my first brush with Taiwanese culture at Longshan temple, I set out to explore a a historical street district and a couple more temples in the area.
I walked through Herb Lane with ;lots of traditional pharmacies which was pretty quiet ona Sunday morning, past a smaller temple to Bopiliao Historical Block. \To be perfectly honest, it was not that appealing either, so I went up Kangding Road. The only thing happening was the road traffic and nary a cafe in sight, I could feel my mood dropping.
I made it to Qingshui Temple, nestled down a lane of old and very spartan terraced buildings. It did not look like a well-to-do area at all, and the temple was really quiet – just two minders reading the newspaper.
Nevertheless, Qingshui Temple, small as it was, was also beautiful and well maintained. And as modest as it looks, it is considered one of Taipei’s three most important temples. It was built during the late 18th Century, making this one a bit more recent than the Longshan Temple. What I also learned is that all the deities face sin this one are black and their noses are said to droop if there are bad times ahead
Massage Time, Lunch, and fly on
Perhaps I was already jetlagged and disoriented on my Taipei Stopover, but after 3km walking with no coffee, I caved in and sat in a 7-11 convenience store. It was pretty perfect – nice coffee, air condition, free WiFi, a nice seating area. Not the traditional Taiwanese breakfast I had in mind.
I found the Ximen area quiet and fairly lacklustre on a Sunday morning. I think taking the MRT back from Longshan Temple or Ximen would be wiser if you are pressed for time.
The Ximending Walking District was only just opening, but it was not really that lovely – okay, some Bubble Tea stalls, stores with cheap clothing, some chain stores. Nice enough but not outstanding. I also happened to eat noodles with intestines by accident, which I wasn’t so amused about… first meat in a decade, probably. Chewy and weird but I survived.
So I am going to spare you the picture of the gut noodles, which I ate from a paper tub perching on a little stone bench and show you my veggie feast on the return leg. In fact, Taiwan is a great place for vegetarian food – with some pointers from a Taiwanese colleague and more sleep, I had a much superior culinary experience on my second day in Taiwan, which I will write about in another post.
However, there are many massage salons in the area and this is as good a place as any to have a nice massage. I went to a random place that looked spacious and airy in Hanzhong Street which had a bloke with an accordion as a poster which reminded me of some German folk singer – I found that quite funny, the staff spoke some English before I knew it, I had booked myself in for a foot reflexology massage at the princely sum of 500 NTD ( about 15 Euro) for 40 minutes. The name of the shop is 李炳輝足體養生館西門館 . Or look out for the bespectacled bloke with the accordion.
So, I was going to have a nice gentle massage in a comfy chair – or so I thought. They said I should go for the foot spa, and they would do a bit of shoulder massage. Definitely no upselling here -you pay what you agreed on, very fair, very straight. Now, the shoulder massage was quite grippy but when it came to the reflexology, my legs got such a pummeling I occasionally yelped with pain. But my painful feet were gone, and my feet felt great for weeks afterwards – and I did walk a lot in Japan. So, definitely worth the pain, and it looked like the masseurs are really well trained and know what they are doing.
And with this, I went back to Main Station to continue my trip to Fukuoka, Japan.
Also take note if you want to pick up some nice Taiwan souvenirs on the way to the airport, visit “Taiwan Oolong Tea” in the Taipei City Mall inside the station, You have to brave the underground mall for that – head to the area between exits Y15 and Y17 on the Lower Ground Floor and look out for a tiny shop displaying tea packets and tea pots outside.
They have Taiwanese tea, of which a lot is Oolong, but also an extensive range of Pu Erh Tea (which traditionally is from Yunnan, PR China) in raw and fermented variations. Most of all, prices are really very reasonable, starting at 400 NTD (12 Euro) for a brick, and 600 NTD ( about 17 Euro) for a wheel of of Pu Erh Tea. Really nice little teapots can be had for as little as 200 or 300 NTD. If you have tea lovers amongst people you wish to gift, this is the place to visit. Make sure you check opening hours beforehand, they tend to open in the afternoon only.
Also, if you fancy a traditional knife massage, there is a place nearby – you should find it easily walking around the block.
I made it back to the airport with plenty of time to spare on a super crowded express service. To be honest, I think even though I just got a fleeting glance at Taipei, it was totally worth going into town even as tired as I was!
Taipei Stopover Map
I created a map with places of interest from both my stopover – everything mentioned in this post will be in the map, as well as some places of interest I wanted to visit, but never made it there.
Practicalities and Small Print
I visited on two Taipei Stopovers on a flight on China Airlines from Frankfurt to Fukuoka, having paid for all flights and services.
My route from Taiyuan Airport was : Airport MRT to Taipei Main Station – MRT (Bannan Line) to Longshan Temple – walk to Qinshui Temple – walk to Ximending – massage (about 1 hour)- lunch – MRT 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.
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 2 July, 2023.