Taipei Things to Do Tips by AKtravelers
Taipei Things to Do: 646 reviews and 1,454 photos
A sentry stands motionless at the Martyr's Shrine
In northern Taipei near the Grand Hotel, you'll find the Martyr's Shrine, dedicated to the many who gave their lives in the Republic of China's 20th century struggles. The honored fought to overthrow the Qing Dynasty, defeat warlords, thwart Japan's invasion, prevent Communist domination or keep Taiwan under Kuomintang rule. Most of the names are unfamiliar to westerners but their actions leave one with the impression that the 20th century was a violent and tragic hundred years for China (an impression that would be accurate).
The architecture of the building is beautiful, but the most important event here is the changing of the guard because children have taken to goose-stepping alongside the stoic soldiers. When I find my pictures from that visit, I'll add a tip on the changing of the guard.
The crowd at Snake Alley
Taipei is loaded with night markets, the most interesting of which is known as Snake Alley. Here, vendors sell snake products, including fresh blood cut from live snakes for imbibing on the spot. The snake's blood is supposed to improve a man's sexual prowess, but I didn't test it because it's also been known to contain some nasty parasites.
Unfortunately, it is said that tourists have discovered this place though I haven't ever really seen that many here in a few visits. The bad thing about that rumor is that there are signs everywhere prohibiting photography so I don't have any photos of the snakes or any snake-related activity. Depending on your view, this could be considered cruelty to snakes or justice (if you hate them).
Besides the snakes, make sure you walk around the rest of the night market, too. There's lots of atmosphere to soak up.
Chiang Kai Shek's downtown memorial
Though Chiang Kai Shek has rightfully gone out of fashion in Taiwan, his memorial is still a "can't miss" sight in Taipei. Built right after his death in 1976, the memorial encompasses a huge swath of downtown Taipei, providing a welcome respite from the crowds and buzzing scooters in the streets. The main focus is the marble monolith housing Chiang's statue, where he sits Lincoln-like presiding over hourly changes of the guard (definitely worth seeeing). I also recommend touring the museum, which gives a hagiographic history of Chiang's life and accomplishments -- not bad for a guy who essentially lost two major wars! My personal favorite part of the narrative is the part that isn't there -- there's no mention of the United States' role in defeating Japan in the Pacific war. In fact, the only mention of the U.S. at all is to note that we continued to trade with the Japanese after the 1931 Dalian Bridge incident. So, bring your sense of humor and a little knowledge of Chinese history and you'll enjoy the exhibit immensely.
By the way, Chiang Kai Shek is his Cantonese name. I'll have to post his Mandarin name so you can ask locals for directions.
Now that Chiang has been dead for 30 years, most residents of Taiwan have a more realistic view of their corrupt, draconian former leader. No monument like this would be built to him today. At the same time, however, his successor and son began laying the foundation for democracy in Taiwan and Lee Teng-hui finally delivered it, so it can be said that Chiang Kai Shek left his side of the Taiwan Straits in better shape than Mao Zedong did when he died in Beijing around the same time.
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