DAY TRIP: KEELUNG

Just a short train or bus ride away, Keelung is an easy day trip, or even half day trip from Taipei. This rainy port town is known for it's yellow lantern-adorned night market and fresh seafood. Here's a sample itinerary of how to spend a day in the northern city.

TRANSPORTATION

It's super easy to get to Keelung from Taipei. The most direct ways would be to take a train from Taipei Main Station, or to take a bus from either Q Square (next to Taipei Main) or from the Taipei City Hall bus station (adjacent to Uni-UStyle). Note that there are the fast direct trains, and slow ones that stop at every town and village on the way, so be sure to double check the time-table before purchasing. There are dozens of daily trains and buses, so you do not need to purchase tickets ahead of time.

BASIC ITINERARY

LUNCH AT THE EVERGREEN LAUREL HOTEL HIKE AROUND ZHONGZHENG PARK EXPLORE THE HARBOR BUY PINEAPPLE CAKE EAT YOUR WAY THROUGH THE NIGHT MARKET

Take the MRT to either Taipei Main Station or Taipei City Hall, whichever is closest. Catch a bus or train around 11am to arrive in Keelung around noon.

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12:30 LUNCH AT THE CAFÉ LAUREL BUFFET

Located on the 18th floor of the Evergreen Laurel Hotel, the Café Laurel Buffet offers panoramic views of the city and beyond. Lunch is served between 11:30a and 2:30p, and is buffet style, featuring Taiwanese and Japanese-inspired dishes. From generous cuts of fresh sashimi to self-serve local beer, the same quality food would surely be triple the price if it were a Vegas buffet. Good thing it's in Keelung! Sure, the hotel looks like a shadow of glamor from a previous generation, but it's a chill atmosphere, and a nice place to take in the views.

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14:00 HIKE AROUND ZHONGZHENG PARK 基隆中正公園

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After eating way too much, this is the perfect place to walk it off. This lush park winds up a mountain that takes up most of the XinYi district. Take the trail up from Xin Er Rd and go all the way to the top, where you'll find 大佛禪院, a Buddhist temple with a large white statue of the Maitreya Buddha. Along the way, there are several Buddhist buildings, a Totoro Bus Stop, and panoramic views of the harbor.

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16:00 WALK AROUND THE HARBOR

Then, wander back down the mountain towards the harbor. Stop by 泉利米香 and pick up some crunchy rice cakes. These put those Trader Joe's popped brown rice cakes to shame. They come in sweet and savory flavors - but definitely try the "old fashioned" flavor. It has both sweet and savory notes (sugar and fried shallots) that are very traditional Taiwanese flavors but hits the same sweet spot as kettle corn. They taste even better if you pop them in the freezer.

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Then, continue on toward the water. There's the Keelung Cultural Center and the Harbor Bureau on this side, and then the Oceanic Culture and Art Museum and historic Customs Office Building on the opposite side. If anything, just walk along the water and enjoy the view.

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18:00 PICK UP TRADITIONAL PASTRIES AT 李鵠餅店

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Next, wander back into the Ren Ai district. This pastry shop might not seem impressive, but if it's been in business for over 100 years, who cares about the packaging? I swear by these pineapple cakes. The filling is on the sweeter side and aren't as tart or "pineapple-textured" as newer renditions and the outer pastry isn't as buttery as others I've had. But maybe because I grew up on these, nothing measures up. One thing that is indisputable is the price. These are half the price as fancy ones from bakeries in Taipei. Buy a box (or eight) to bring home. They freeze well, and if you toast them for a few minutes, it is a heavenly treat.

18:30 FEAST ON EVERYTHING AT THE MIAOKOU NIGHT MARKET

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Finally, finish off the day at the center of it all: the night market. "Miao kou" in Chinese literally means at the entrance of the temple. The temple in question is 奠濟宮, and all along the street it's on, you'll notice rows of yellow lanterns and matching metal signage for all of the stands (with questionable English translations). In fact, I'd recommend not reading the translations at all, because nothing sounds appetizing. Just follow your nose and go wherever is most crowded.

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With a fish market right around the corner, all seafood is cheap and fresh. If you see large piles of glutinous rice, that would be "oil rice," a savory chewy rice dish steamed with meat, mushrooms, dried shrimp...a Taiwanese paella, if you will. Food snobs everywhere are probably going to kill me for even drawing that comparison. If it's summer, definitely cool off with some "bubble ice." It comes in various flavors from fruity to chocolatey to the Asian favorite red bean, but all of them are made to order and super fluffy. My favorite is chocolate and peanut - together, it tastes like a fluffy frozen Reese's.

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And once you're absolutely stuffed and tired, walk back to the train station or bus hub (right next to the train station) and snooze on the ride back to Taipei.