Even if Taipei doesn’t have the most romantic sunsets or breathtaking coastline views like Taitung (on Taiwan’s East Coast), there are still plenty of quaint scenarios you can insert yourself into that mimics a cheesy Taiwanese rom-drama.
Below are my 5 Taipei suggestions for a first date or date night with your partner.
Xiangse 香色 (https://www.facebook.com/xiangse/)
There are places you go for food and then there are places you go for atmosphere. Xiang Se is of the latter. This place is undeniably one of the most spectacularly art directed restaurants in Taipei. Every detail is thoughtful and every sprig of lavender is acceptably cliché.
I went with LC before she went off to London and she had made the reservation, which is highly recommended. If I remember correctly, we had something like a NT$550 minimum/person for dinner. It was an amount where we were forced to order drinks on the side since our food order didn’t reach that amount.
If you walked by Xiang Se, you wouldn’t even know it existed. The restaurant is encased inside a courtyard. The cement exterior is high enough that you can’t see into it and that you’d think it’s residential housing with a private yard. (Plus, the top few floors of this place was draped in tarp for construction or tear down when we went.)
The door for Xiang Se is on the side of the building. You must ring a unsuspecting doorbell for someone to get the gate for you. It’s mysterious and builds up the mood for your experience there.
After you enter the door, you must go through the pebble stone court yard to get to the inside of the restaurant. You can also choose to sit outside. (We were relegated to an outdoor seat in the heat of Taipei’s humid Summer. Thank goodness it was drizzling rain and we were under an awning.)
Even though we sat outside on communal picnic style benches, the rain sounds pitter pattering was serene.
Xiang Se is good for date night or a first date because it’s frou frou to the point you kind of have to sit up straight and speak in a muted tone. (Places like Xiang Se and Jean George make you dial down the diva behaviour and dial up the classy you.)
Zhanlu Coffee 湛廬咖啡 (http://www.zhanlu-coffee.com/)
Alright, you’ve got a first date coming up. You’ve done the social media creeping so you know your date as much as they’ve portrayed themselves online, to the best of their profile making abilities and sensibilities. Whether you met them on the Internet or your friend is setting you guys up a blind date, you’ve still got your crazy sensors on full alert.
And what perfect place to have a first date than at Zhanlu Coffee, a bustling cafe to keep the crazy at bay. This way, if the date goes awry, you can let the background chatter drown out the boring about me introduction your date is spewing or you can make an excuse to leave early.
Zhanlu Coffee has several locations, but my favourite location is their Zhongxiao store, off the Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT station and literally outside Zhongxiao Fuxing Exit 3 as you come up the stairs. (Taipei subway commuters often refer to places by their MRT exits. It’s easier for us to meet this way. We also emphasize whether we’re meeting inside or street level.)
This particular location is on the 2nd floor of an office building so don’t be alarmed if you don’t see a store on the ground level. Taking the stairs is much faster than the elevator that never comes, unless you are the elderly, pregnant or have limited mobility. Like many cafes in Taiwan, there is a minimum order and at Zhanlu Coffee it’s one drink per customer.
What I enjoy about this location in particular is that a) there are plugs at the “bar” for when you’re working b) there’s a “bar” (and there are also couches and regular tables and for larger groups) and c) they take reservations.
The food here is not very good – I’ve tried to order a variety of different things and tell myself I like it because it’s $$ for what it is.
Where they really shine is their tea and coffee selection.
I like getting their hot tea set – it comes on a breakfast like tray, equipped with a small hour glass to let you know your tea is done steeping. (Gimmicky and I like it!) There’s brown sugar for sweetening your tea because hello white sugar get out of here! The looseleaf tea is served in a french press so there’s more work to finally get to that cup of brew.
Grand View Resort Beitou 北投麗禧溫泉酒店 (http://www.gvrb.com.tw/)
Two words: hot springs. (And high tea.)
Grand View Resort Beitou is my go-to for when I want a soak in some scalding hot mineral enhanced water and lie naked on hot stone (allegedly rejuvenating) rock bed. It’s not a cheap treat, but so worth it. One time I was waiting for the free shuttle and was offered some kind of sweet tea in the lobby by their staff. The air is ostensibly scented with some calming aroma and lit like a Swedish massage room. (More on their afternoon set later in this post.)
The first time I went, my former co-worker/office mom directed me there on my day off with a voucher she bought that was about to expire. (I obviously sent my co-workers videos of me chilling, maxing and relaxing, while they were at work.)
From the Beitou MRT, there are fleets of free resort shuttles waiting, since Beitou is know to be one of the Taipei’s hot spring capital. It may not seem obvious, but the bus stop to wait for these shuttles is right outside the subway exit as you make your way down the stairs. You don’t need to cross the street. And if you happen to spot a bunch of people loitering around a bus stand, you’re in the right place. To distinguish themselves, resort shuttles have their hotel name and logo on their luxury vans. They come fairly often, leaving every 10-15 minutes. You can read the bus stop sign to see if your resort is on there and the frequency at which it arrives.
If all else fails, you can always cab over to your resort, as they are a dime a dozen especially outside MRT stations waiting in a nice line for you to hop in.
Grand View Resort Beitou offers day service and overnight accommodations as well, including public outdoor, public indoor and private hot spring houses within your hotel room.
I’ve only ever done indoor female hot spring facility – and it’s basically a glorified bathhouse with service like the Ritz.
For couples looking to celebrate anniversaries, engagements or general good spousal behaviour, there are rooms with private baths that draw mineral water from Mother Nature. If I wanted to ball out of control, I would book a room with a private hot spring tub that has an outdoor mountain view.
Inside the female public bath, there are pools of different temperatures and sizes. Unfortunately, the water is pretty still and it’s not like those “water spas” in Taiwan where you see the elderly enjoy immense water pressure hitting their lumbar from a projectile hose. The temperatures are extreme – from ice cold to scalding hot (38°C, 41°C). There’s also this hot stone bed, which is supposed to encourage healing energies. I laid there, naked (on my back and front), on a hot stone bed and let the air billowing in through the crevices of the bamboo shades dry my body. It was strangely zen.
You are given a locker to store your belongings and towels. Unlike the Japanese onsen culture, there’s no strict restriction from towels entering the water, but most people are altruistic enough to not contaminate the water. (And really, after a few minutes of being naked, you could really care less if an auntie is judging the size of your nipples cuz you’re way ahead of her and have already determined how many kids she’s breastfed with those jugs.)
By the pool, there are chairs for you to take a break if you’re feeling too heated. (I would suggest submerging your body slowly into the freezing cold water to cool down if you’re feeling faint.) A set up bar offers drinks and snacks – healthy things like fruit and more processed options like chocolate marshmallow cake things and crackers. Remember to keep hydrated as that hot spring water is FIRE to your skin. I was a little heartbroken they didn’t have a recycling bin for the water bottles – but this is Taiwan after all.
If you plan to spend an entire here dilly dallying, I highly suggest the afternoon high tea option in their cafe. They are quite strict with reservations and guests entering at a certain time so call ahead to ask for specifics. As for pricing, its NT$580/person on weekdays, NT$680/person on weekends with 10% service charge.
Compared to other high tea sets, I found the set at Grand View Resort Beitou to be well balanced between the savoury and the sweet – and quite affordable for those that don’t have a sugar daddy or poor freelance journalists that make their own money. The last time I had high tea was at The Ritz-Carlton in Toronto and I vaguely remembered how large the portions were. To fit the Taiwanese appetite, Grand View Resort Beitou portioned appropriately.
The set comes with fresh seasonal fruit, house made sweets and the savoury bites + your choice of coffee or tea + jams for your scone. I didn’t realize until after the table beside me did this, but you can take home what you don’t finish.
I was seated by the window with a great wrap around view of the green mountains – and the staff are courteous to pull down the shades if the sun starts bothering you. Never once did I feel rushed while I was enjoying my tea set and the service was polite and attentive. I also felt like I was worlds away from the stresses of Taipei, despite being a subway ride away. Lying naked on a hot stone bed in front of judgemental Taiwanese strangers must’ve helped.
4) [BE MERRY]
Hello Kitty Shabu Shabu (https://www.facebook.com/kitty.shabu)
Okay I’m gonna toot my own horn and re-post my article here about Taipei’s Hello Kitty Shabu Shabu restaurant for NBC News.
I feel like eating things that are Hello Kitty branded is one of those things that you can say you’ve done – and judge it after. It’s also safe to say, a majority of female Millennials loved this Sanrio kitty one time or another.
It’s excessively oozing cuteness, but the quality of the ingredients they use really inches out competition of hot pot restaurants in similar price range.
If you visit their Facebook page, you can see that reservations open a month in advance. If you’ve got patience and a strong will, you can also try going right when the shop opens and lining up for walk-in service.
Worried that it’s Summer and hot pot isn’t suitable for the weather? This is Taiwan – we eat hot pot 365 days a year, even when it’s 41°C and 70% humidity out. That’s what air conditioning is for.
5) [HAVE FUN]
Biking To Danshui
I don’t want to just throw out a suggestion like going to the movies, even though I know many couples enjoy their theatre time too. Since we’re in Taipei, it’s always nice to feel like you’re not in the city during the weekends or on your day off. With my suggestion of biking from a certain MRT station to Danshui, couples can enjoy the breezy night time stroll along Danshui’s old street after it gets dark, you can chill by the water and look across the water at the lights and have some Taiwanese street food.
My former coworkers and I had a great time biking to Danshui from the Gaundu MRT station. (Ok, I’ll fess up – we never made it that far since the queue for the ferry to Danshui was Olympic sized. We still had a lovely afternoon of outdoor activity and made it to Danshui via subway for a dinner of street food.)
The thing about Taipei and New Taipei’s MRT system is that there is a UBike station outside of every single station. You can download an app that shows bike availability, parking availability, closest UBike station etc. However, for most of these biking friendly areas, there usually are bike rental shops outside the station.
We rented bikes for the entire afternoon from a shop outside of the Guandu MRT station for I think NT$150. One thing to keep in mind is that a lot of these bike shops have wonky bikes – in my experience of renting bikes twice. Personally, I would stick with UBikes. I’m a daily UBike rider and I’ve never had any problems with the pedals, brakes or speed changers. (UBikes also have a basket upfront for you to place your backpack or water in.)
There are some tiny hills you may have to ride up, but nothing a UBike can’t handle.
Here’s the route we took for Guandu – > Danshui:
-Meet at Guandu MRT station on the red line
(Surprisingly there wasn’t any convenience stores around so we weren’t able to get bottles of water until a 10 minute ride away from the station.)
-There are UBike stations BEHIND the MRT exit and there are also bike rental shops once you foray away from the station.
-Looking like lost tourists, we were pointed in a few directions by different people. In the end, an old Grandpa riding his bike led us the entire way until we reached the bike path. He was laughing at us while zig zagging his bike through oncoming traffic.
The easiest way to get to the route is the follow the RED LANTERNS strung in the street. These lanterns lead to the very large and apparent Guandu Temple.
If you’re looking for water or snacks, you’re in luck. There are convenience stores all along the street and smaller mom and pop shops selling temple prayer necessities.
Once you get to Guandu Temple, it’ll be very easy to spot the bike path. (There’s really nothing else except but the temple, open road and bike path and a horse farm. Choose wisely.)
To get from Guandu Temple to and onto the coastal bike path that gets you to Bali, you need to first cross a bridge with lots of traffic. It reminded me a lot of SF since the bridge cables were fire engine red and you could see this cloudy/mist floating on the water.
Take caution if you’re riding with children. Although the path on the bridge is separated from the traffic, it’s horrendously loud. Traffic zooms by and you’re riding on metal sheets that makes loud noises. It’s about a 7 minute journey on this anxiety inducing part, but once you’re passed the bridge, most of the riding is serene and won’t have smog coming at your face.
The rest of the path goes along the water and is nicely shaded with some large trees. One thing is that there are families with children riding, who may just stop abruptly and can be a little dangerous for speed devils who want to really pump their quads like a spin class at 6 a.m. Just remember that we’re all trying to have a good time and enjoy the outdoor air! Relax. Take it easy. Have fun!