Okay, so it took me months to write this. Sorry, life happened. I was very busy last December until early February that all I can do is start this post with excuses. 😛 ANYWAY, I meant to write about my
arguably recent holiday experience here in Taiwan because I think this beautiful island has come a long way when it comes to celebrating Christmas since the first time we spent it here—2014.
Fast forward to almost three years later, everything was like whoa Taiwan you’re now into this too?!
My dad’s first Christmas in Taipei was underwhelming. He said it wasn’t celebratory enough. Christmas is treated as an ordinary day in Taiwan since it isn’t a Catholic country like the Philippines. If December 24 or 25 falls on a weekday, expect offices to be business as usual.
But last year, I noticed there’s been a little more Christmas sprinkling in the air and lots of decking the halls and falalalala-ing. Was it because more foreigners now reside in Taiwan? Did Santa open an overseas branch somewhere this side of the planet? Whatever it is, based from our latest seasons greetings, I think Taipei, if not the whole of Taiwan, is starting to become a formidable merrymaking destination that the only thing missing is snow and well, a non-working holiday.
So if you’re looking for an out-of-the-country destination this year for Christmas and New Year, I think it’s time to put Taiwan in your list. Be here for a week, or two if you want to go full-blast thisisreallyit kinda Taiwan trip for the whole family.
1. The Christmas towns
Xinyi district has transformed itself to be the Christmas capital of Taipei. Each major shopping mall in the area created their own version of a Christmas town and managed to cap ’em off with Christmas classics that got me creating an album on Spotify to cure my overwhelming LSS (Last Song Syndrome).
And last year, this Christmas spirit wasn’t just concentrated in Xinyi. It actually spread out to other shopping areas all over Taipei, even outside of it. Another notable place to be is Banqiao’s Christmasland which is smack in the middle of the New Taipei city hall’s open space.
It’s so easy to reach via MRT or local train, and it’s been happening consecutively since 2014. I wonder what surprises they’ll come up with this year. Last year, it was all about those 3D-ish presentations that they’ve projected right on the glass walls of the city hall. By the way, the New Taipei city hall is massive and grandiose at day time.
Also worth checking out is the Miramar mall and SOGO mall (yes it’s a mall here) for their own Christmas centerpieces.
2. Taipei 101 fireworks
If you can’t be here on Christmas, then make it a point to be here on New Year’s eve instead. If you can only spend a few days here in Taiwan, I would recommend that you come to Taiwan on December 31st so you can witness the Taipei 101 fireworks that only happens once a year on New Year’s eve. BUT, you have to plan this way ahead of time. Like at least 6 months ahead of time. It’s crazy popular that you won’t be able to book a hotel near the fireworks festivities a month before.
If you ever get to book a hotel an MRT away from Taipei 101, be prepared to walkathon when the fireworks are over. No kidding. Our group had to walk 5 kilometers after because the MRT stations (we had to pass three stations!) were clogged with passengers. Only foot traffic was allowed within the distance that we walked on an otherwise, very big, definitely able to accommodate taxis and buses, major roads. Despite all that, I still think even the walkathon itself is part of the whole experience. Now I know why locals say seeing the Taipei 101 fireworks in person is like your baptism of fire
works in Taiwan.
3. Night markets galore
A lot of Taiwan first-timers gawk at the price differences of most branded items, especially sporting brands, when I take them to night markets. Truth is, locals don’t usually buy stuff from malls unless there’s a season-ender sale. If you want to get them Jordans, Adidas, etc. you have to get them at the night market and haggle your way into a new pair of kicks. And it gets easier to do this during winter because there aren’t too many folks visiting night markets.
During December, winter sales also start to happen and go on full swing during the first week of January. Since most night markets are also peppered with boutique brands as well as malls, you can check out their items on sale. Don’t worry about the food though, because night market food is the bomb that you also have to try.
4. Traffic? What traffic?
Every Filipino’s bane of Christmas existence is the holiday traffic especially in Manila. There’s none of that in Taiwan, even in Taipei, during the 25th nor on the 1st of January. You can freely go to places you want to visit and the only thing that’ll probably take your time is queuing up to get a ticket…but then you can also just buy it online days before so you don’t have to line up. FYI, the high speed rail (HSR) actually offer early bird rates for tickets purchased waaaay before your intended trip.
Most shopping districts also have extended hours during Christmas and New Year’s, and if you’re lucky, you might just be able to catch a special exhibit happening at the Taipei World Trade Center or at the hip quirky Huashan Creative Park. Last year, we’ve been treated to Team Lab’s amazing light exhibit.
Not sure yet what’s up this 2017 but even if you don’t get into an exhibit in Huashan, the entire place is great enough to explore. I mean, IKEA House!
5. Authentic hotpot experience
The essence of eating hotpot is to enjoy it during winter. Taiwan has perfected its broths, infusing Chinese herbs that are often medicinal but equally yummy in nature, to the point of you’re-gonna-get-addicted-as-fudge. There are so many broth choices ranging from traditional, to milk, to vegetable, to chicken, to infinity and beyond.
There are lots of hotpot places to try, from high-end to local eatery-esque. And even with those many choices before you, I still get pretty amazed with how easy it is to whip up your own hotpot at home if you don’t fancy lining up for a table. But, okay, granted you’re not staying at an AirBnB, you just have to Google for the best hotpot place near you and you’re pretty much good to go. But just to let you know, the best experience would be in a buffet hotpot. Yep, you heard it. UNLIMITED MEAT OMG YES. With a dessert of Häagen-Dazs. Check out this one at Ximending and I kid you not when I say you can go home after coz that’s pretty much it, zenith of your Taiwan experience.
So, there you have it. My personal top five reasons to check out Taiwan during Christmas/New Year. Though the winter here is snowless, it’ll still be a great opportunity for you to experience winter fashion sans muddy wet boots. Tourist spots are also less crowded during these months.
As icing to the cake of all these, December to February is also off-peak season to visit Taiwan so you’d probably chance upon cheap tickets. Around October last year, I was able to spot 5,000 pesos worth of roundtrip tickets from Philippines to Taiwan for my mom. And it was via Philippines Airlines’ coach. So if you’re planning to check out Taiwan for the first time, give it a try during these winter holidays.
It’ll be so much more than you’d expected it to be.