On a recent trip to Taiwan with Goway Travel, I discovered the bustling city streets and quaint mountain towns of the country. Beginning in Taipei, I ventured into the gold-rush town of Jiufen, eventually making my way back to Taipei to explore the many street markets in the region. Whether trying delicious local street snacks or getting lost in a mountain market where temples surround, there's no wrong way to experience Taiwanese culture. Although sharing cultural similarities to the People's Republic of China, Taiwan is indeed its own country, comprised of an independent island State. In the following Instagram tour, learn more about the unique Taiwanese culture, the landscape and get to know what makes Taiwan a mecca for both city-life and quaint country living.
Xiao Long Bao at Din Tai Fung
One of my first stops in Taiwan included a visit to the famous restaurant Din Tai Fung. Located in Taipei 101, Taiwan’s tallest skyscraper, the restaurant was teeming with people vying for a lucky spot in the crowded restaurant. Thankfully, we were able to skip the 80-minute wait time. We immediately sat down to a choreographed masterpiece of waiters and chefs artfully making the perfect dumplings. Served in circular wooden cases, the dumplings were delivered to our table, steaming with the fresh heat that makes the dumplings so special. I tried everything from vegetable dumplings to traditional pork dumplings, known as xiao long bao in Mandarin. The restaurant is specifically known for achieving one Michelin star, a well-deserved accolade for the beautiful production the restaurant puts on each evening.
In order to get the perfect shot of a dining room table setting, prop your camera above the table or stand to ensure you have a full frame below. Don’t bother your dinner mates with waiting to eat before you take your photo, as motion and movement in a dinner scene adds a level of complexity and liveliness that’s reflective of mealtime scenes. If a hand makes it into the shot, even better. Capturing a chopstick in an image adds even more cultural significance to the image.
Wander the Stalls at Raohe Street Night Market
Raohe Street Night Market is one of the oldest night markets in Taiwan. Located in the Songshan District of Taipei, the market is almost half a mile long, full of vendors serving everything to the typical to the bizarre. The best way to navigate the market is to try small bites of everything. Whether it’s fried chicken or a water cake, you can enjoy all the flavors of Taipei in one centrally-located market.
In order to capture the night market, make sure to adjust your camera to the appropriate settings for night photography. Another note to keep in mind is that the night market is fairly well lit, so you probably don’t need to adjust settings too much from the day, as most food is illuminated with lamps to keep the dishes warm. This is a great place to try a smaller lens, as to not be too intrusive to the local scene at bay.
Look for Street Signs
The Raohe Street Night Market isn’t just for food. Here you can find bright blue wigs available for purchase, a salon where you can get your eyebrows threaded, and even a station to buy a divine white dove for good luck and good fortune. Due to its eclectic mix of offerings, Roahe is a great place to experience Taipei culture in once concentrated location. Sit and have a beer with your friends and enjoy the shuffle of the market. Watch as locals browse stalls for their perfect treat and enjoy a symphony of motorized scooters weaving in and out of the tiny streets.
Keep an eye out for images that will envelop a sense of place. Although just an image of a street sign, it’s immediately clear this image was snapped in a Mandarin-speaking country, just as the characters symbolize. Whether you see street signs in Peru that warn of llama crossings or see Vespa turn signs in Mandarin like the image seen here, traffic markers are always a great way to capture a sense of place.
Visit a Mist-Shrouded Mountain Town
A mist shrouds Jiufen, adding to the ethereal allure of this mountainside retreat. Originally founded during the Qing Dynasty, Jiufen began as an isolated village, free from contact with the outside world. But all of that changed when the Japanese discovered gold here in the late 1800s. A rush of people fell on the small town, changing it from a remote paradise to a booming gold rush town. Although the Japanese occupied Taiwan during this time, most of the cultural monuments remain intact. The architecture is relatively unchanged, reflecting a genuine sense of culture still present in the town today.
While visiting the town, seize the opportunity to photograph the mist meeting the mountainside temples. It adds to the mystery and spirituality o an already beautiful scene.
Explore Jiufen's Historic Commercial District
The heart of Jiufen resides in the Historic Commercial District, home to a variety of stores and restaurants. In what seems like a maze of streets, you can explore a special merging of the old and new: Here, shops are a pleasant mix of local eateries offering specialty snacks to modern stores promoting a new twist on ancient handicrafts. Whether you seek to explore a specialized oil and soap shop or want to try a famous local recipe, this district is home to prodigious special moments, all the way to a grandmother making her famous recipes. Stay on the lookout for teahouses, as these offer a unique lens into the merging of Taiwanese and Japanese culture.
The Jiufen Historic Commercial District may be one of those areas where it's better to experience than photograph. While taking the occasional market snap, be sure to stop and soak in the hum of life that's unique to this special seaside town.
Harbor Views in Jiufen
The Jiufen Historic Commercial District is also a great place to enjoy the panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and harbor below. After you snap the perfect image, retreat down the winding cobblestoned staircase to capture the cascading market above.
There's no need to wait for people to clear the steps, as people walking in and out of the scene is reflective of a real-life scenario. It also adds scale and dimension to the scene.
Hikes Near Jiufen
For the more adventurous, opt to hike one of the two peaks near Jiufen. Mount Jilong is on the dividing line between the city and Jinguashi, and if you summit this peak, you can see a panoramic view of the Neihu district below. Nearly 2000 feet above sea level, you can also see all the way to Taipei City, with Keelung and the northeast coast also visible. Another great hike is to the top of Xiaojingua Peak, where Jiufen's gold digging history began.
Insider tip: Using a lens hood is always great for sunny outdoor photography.
Visit the Lungshan Temple of Manka
Located in the Wanhua District of Taipei, Lungshan Temple of Manka is a true work of art. Before entering the temple, locals sell specially crafted lotus flowers that you can present as an offering to The Buddha or whatever God you choose to serve. If you're lucky, the purveyor will also clip a special leaf to your shirt or bag, so you can carry peace with you throughout your journey. Built in 1738, the temple's first entrance is adorned with a high waterfall: a pond of coy fish swim peacefully in the pond below. When you enter the second gate, you'll notice the many people - both locals and travelers alike - lighting the ends of a red incense stick. After you light the edge, walk to the main center where you can place your offering after you pray for your blessings to come true. Don't miss rolling the boards near the entrance. Ask a local to help you interpret which number you rolled, and select that fortune from the box. You may be surprised what life can have in store for you!
Photography is permitted in the temples, but do be courteous of your fellow worshippers. Avoid taking pictures of people, as this is their special moment to savor; rather, take time to enjoy the beautiful architecture that surrounds.
See the Changing of the Guard at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
A not to miss experience in Taipei is the changing of the guard ceremony at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Erected as a monument to the former President of the Republic of China Chiang Kai-shek, the entire complex is an architectural masterpiece.
Luckily, photography is permitted, and this may be a fun time to play with travel photography apps like Boomerang, that let you capture movement in a fun way when the guards eventually step down from their post.
Get Lost in the Beautiful Taipei Alleyways
Last but not least, enjoy getting lost in Taipei City. Ditch the map and wander the streets, as spontaneity lurks at every corner. This approach often yields the most palpable photography as well. While temples and mountains are beautiful, street scenes are often indicative of cultural undertones that often go un-photographed. During my trip, I found a small alley where a coffee shop served local Taiwanese brews and the best cappuccino I had the entire trip. I also discovered a small bookstore with beautiful journals. And I even stumbled upon this street scene, full of character and charm reflective of my time in Taipei. Take the spontaneous photography route and get to know a city your way — take the turn that feels right.