There’s much to love about central Zhongshan, and it isn’t just because it once was Taipei’s centre for business and pleasure. Glamorous hotels, international dining, and large shopping centres may still grace the district, but it is the winding alleys full of boutique stalls and cafes that make this place perfect for a day of moseying about. From Japanese sites of yesteryear, to hidden hubs of art and entertainment, Zhongshan can cater to all interests. Here’s my top 10 alternative spots of areas predominantly west of Zhongshan and Shuanglian MRT station.
Musings of Architecture and Culture
Zhongshan is home to a number of well-respected art house spaces with interesting historic anecdotes, and it would be a shame to miss these for boutique-shopping alone.
Rose Historic Site and Tsai Jui-Yueh Dance Foundation used to be a dormitory for Japanese civil servants during Japan’s occupation of Taiwan, but was converted to a home and dance studio when Madam Tsai Jui Yueh, a well-known contemporary dancer, took over. After years of oppression of the arts, and even at one point, forced demolition and arson, the site is now a renowned research and rehearsal centre for Taiwan’s performance arts. It has been restored to its original architecture and charm, with most of the site open to the public. Take your shoes off before you enter.
Spot Film House was an embassy site which once housed then Vice President Nixon during his visit to Taiwan. The American colonial mansion with accents of Greek decor is now well over 100 years old but is regal enough to be used as a space for exhibitions and workshops, as well as housing a boutique gift shop and cafe. Most importantly, its cinema screens indie movies from around the world. A general ticket costs 260 NTD, but if you head there before noon for the first screening of the day, early bird prices are reduced to 200.
If your legs are willing, head towards Chang’an East Road for two very different boutique museums. Suho Memorial Paper Museum is a wonderful space to learn and admire Taiwan’s once thriving paper industry. Here, you can also have a stint at making your own paper and hand-bound diaries amongst other artefacts, or find unique gifts designed and made in Taiwan.
Not far away is the Miniatures Museum of Taiwan that was the first of its kind in Asia. Unassumingly located in the basement of a commercial building, the museum can be easy to miss along Jianguo North Road. The museum houses a collection of tiny objects for your musing: from monuments to whole villages in miniature. It’s most prized collection is The Rose Mansion, which took 4 years to complete and is seen as one of the most significant miniature artworks.
Rose Historic Site-Tsai Jui-yueh Dance Research Institute
Alley 46, Section 2, Zhongshan North Road
SPOT Film House Taipei (SPOT 光點台北電影館)
No. 18, Section 2, Zhongshan North Road
Suho Memorial Paper Museum (樹火紀念紙博物館)
No. 68, Section 2, Chang’an East Road
The Miniatures Museum of Taiwan (袖珍博物館)
Basement 1, No. 96, Section 1, Jianguo North Road
If you’re hungry then just opposite Spot is Two and a Half Months 二月半そば 蕎麦麺, one of the best hand-made soba noodles you could get in your belly. The place is almost always full, but is well worth waiting or booking ahead for. Soba dishes comes in soup or dip options with the choice to upgrade or downsize as you wish. After your meal, enjoy complimentary hot buckwheat tea which is actually the broth leftover from the cooking of soba.
If ramen is more your kind of noodle, there’s plenty to choose from in Zhongshan, but one of my favourites is two forms of spicy at Kikanbo 辣麻味噌拉麵 鬼金棒. Modeled from Tokyo’s Kikanbo (which translates to demon iron club), this place is all about kara and shibi spice. The two combined gives a numbing heat which can be hair-raising spicy, yet addictive. Order from a vending machine before being seated, but expect lines at dinner time.
Two and a Half Months (二月半そば 蕎麦麺)
No. 1-1, Lane 20, Section 2, Zhongshan North Road
Kikanbo Spicy Ramen 辣麻味噌拉麵 鬼金棒
No. 1-35, Alley 2, Lane 19, Chang’an West Road
Coffee with a Difference
Taipei may be known for its coffee culture, but it can be hard to avoid novelty cafes with no substance. Scout around the alleys for hidden ones, or venture to Zhongshan North Road for two guaranteed favourites:
Give your patronage to Japanese architecture once again at The Island, a refurbished wooden home from the 1930s which once belonged to a Japanese photographer. Warm, ambient decor and decent black coffee will set you in a good mood, but don’t forget to venture to the second floor study.
For when your body wants to relax but your brain doesn’t, then 朋 丁 pon ding is the inspiring space you need if it is not yet your favourite haunt. Bright, full of books, with rotating exhibitions on different floors, the cafe will keep you mentally stimulated while you sip that decent cup of joe or peruse around for a nice gift.
朋 丁 pon ding
No. 6, Lane 53, Section 1, Zhongshan North Rd
The Island (2條通一號店)
No. 1, Lane 33, Section 1, Zhongshan North Rd
Sing your Heart out at Hidden Karaoke Lounges
Finish your mosey with the favourite Taiwanese pastime of KTV. But if you want to belt out to more English tunes, forget the likes of Partyworld and HolidayKTV. The ones hidden away in quasi commercial-residential buildings may give you the heebie jeebies at first, but they’re the best unassuming place that will become your go-to KTV spot in Taipei. Despite being predominantly Japanese KTV, the music collection is plentiful and diverse; they’re also cheaper, less crowded, and more than make up for their lack of a food menu by allowing you to bring in whatever you please.
Seisyunhu Karaoke (青春譜歡唱天地）
2F, No.16, Section 1, Chang’an East Road
Feature babycino photo courtesy of Pon Ding.