This is our first in our local guide -‘hood tours’ series. Stephanie Hsu takes us around Yongkang district in Taipei and introduces us to her favorite spots. While not busy writing her blog thethousandthgirl.com Steph is an expert in all things Taipei nightlife and cafes.
Intro. Why Taipei?
I came to Taipei four years ago on winter break and I just never left. The distinguishing character of my name, 怡 involves a heart radical and “tai”, the character in 台灣 or 台北. My grandfather gave me that name when I was born. He said that my heart would always be in Taiwan. I hardly spent any time in Taipei growing up, but when I came here as an adult for the first time, I just immediately knew: my life is here now. It felt right, like something I’d been searching for all along. Something that had been missing, but never found. Finding Taipei lent a new stability to my (formerly) nomadic life.
Describe your personality.
I like a bit of everything – from long cafe writing sessions to binge drinking weekends – which makes my “style” eclectic, but a bit contradictory. But ultimately I’m too lazy and complacent to whip it into a cohesive whole, so it’s just all a bit confusing and messy. In that way, I’m exactly like the city of Taipei!
What do you love most about the city?
I love the cafes and the leafy lanes. I love how friendly people are. They’re not such different things: the smile of the cab driver or the kindness of a random passerby – just as warming and filling as a well-made latte. What I love the most about Taipei is that it’s my home.
The Yongkang neighborhood. It’s very academic: there are three universities in the area, and the alleys are full of tea shops, small boutiques and cafes with a studious atmosphere. My family lives here and I see it as an escape from the ultra-trendy, commercial East District or Xinyi Districts.
Best places to eat, drink.
• Qintian 76 青田七六 : Japanese set meals in the former residence of a geology professor.
• Hui Liu: Preserving the tradition of Taiwanese tea. Quiet, reverent atmosphere.
• The Green Steps: A leafy courtyard hides a small afternoon tea paradise with excellent tiramisu.
• Cafe Libero: Coffee and whisky, and smoky debates about anything and everything within the dark, wood-paneled walls.
• Little Pearl 小珍珠: This bakery smells like home – and their amazing cinnamon rolls and butter-filled buns.
Where to shop.
I don’t shop much for clothing, but when I do, I get my basics from ZARA in the East District and then retreat back to Shida Night Market for the latest trends and cheap threads: so many great finds; they just won’t last you long. To shop for home goods or accessories I head to the traditional artisans and wholesale shops of Dihua Street, in the city’s older western side.
City must do’s, see’s.
Elephant Mountain pretty much any time of the day is stunning. I have done the 20 minute climb at 5a.m. after a night of clubbing, as well as a 5a.m. climb in a meditative mood. Taking a stroll around Dihua Street and seeing the retro storefronts; the Chinese medicine shops. Having a lazy afternoon tea in a cafe. Taipei is so much more about the small, secret pleasures than any kind of grandiose landmarks or sights.
Your best kept secret.
My favorite rechao in the city is a random one across from Da’an Forest Park. I always, always take visitors there, especially when the weather is nice. There are two 熱炒 stores right next to each other, but the one on the left is better. You sit outside in open-air and you can see across to the park. It’s so cheap – I’ve never paid more than 300 NTD (10 USD) a person, even with beer.