Before Taipei 101 was built in 2004, CKS Memorial Hall was probably the most iconic structure in Taipei. Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall (中正紀念堂) was built in the 1970s to commemorate the late leader. In a way, it’s similar to the Lincoln Memorial, with a large statue being the center of attention. But it’s also much more than that.
The blue-roofed monument is flanked by (& perfectly complemented by) two shiny orange roofed buildings on the other end of the park, the National Concert Hall and the National Theater. And all of the cultural buildings live within a 25 hectare green campus, a walled public garden that serves the daily lives of locals as much as it does the cameras of travelers.
Growing up, it was my sprawling playground, just steps away from my grandma’s home. Its large, half offset tiles perfect for hopscotch; its regal steps perfect for chasing my brother up and down (much to the dismay of whoever our chaperone was that day). It’s changed a lot over the years (including a politically controversial name change), seen a lot of rallies and concerts and festivals along the way. But it still continues to be an indisputably beautiful recreational park and gathering place in the middle of Taipei for all to enjoy.
|Address||No. 21, Zhongshan South Road, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan 100|
|Hours||9am to 8pm for the hall, 5am to midnight for the park|
|Price||Free, though there are also ticketed exhibitions|
|Aesthetic||Traditional, symbolic architecture, with traditional, symbolic gardens|
There are three gates leading into the park, from the north, south and west (main gate). Surrounding the entire park is a walled corridor of sorts with a path around the park, a popular path for exercising in the shade, or shelter from unexpected rain. If you walk in from the main gate, you’ll see the National Theater to your right, and the National Concert Hall to your left. At the center, leading up to the memorial, is Liberty Square, often used for public events (lots of fun during Lunar New Year, with the Lantern Festival).
The ground floor of the memorial houses the permanent museum of Chiang Kai Shek’s life and legacy, as well as ticketed visiting exhibitions (they’ve hosted everything from Dalí to Hello Kitty). They also have a few different souvenir shops, a restaurant, and snack shop with a rest / tables area.
Up on the 4th floor is the main hall with the giant bronze statue of Chiang Kai Shek. Throughout the day, they have guard changing ceremonies.
The park itself is made up of completely human-designed gardens and ponds. It’s basically a curated collection of flora and fauna that serves the purpose of convincing visitors that they’re not in the middle of a congested city. The two carp ponds (one on each side of the square) are fun for all. Kids can feed the fish (they have vending machines with fish food) while millennials can get the perfect shot of the bridge reflected in the water, while bird lovers gawk at the exotic birds that hang out there.
Even if you don’t catch a performance in the National Theater or National Concert Hall, it’s still worth taking a peek inside. There’s a café on the mezzanine terrace of the Theater (the one on your right if you’re facing the Memorial Hall), great for soaking in the view. Both buildings have gift shops and eateries. There’s a Chun Shui Tang for traditional bites, and a MOS Burger if you’re feeling fast food, both in the National Concert Hall.
Like most national monuments, CKS Memorial Hall is full of architectural symbolism. The colors represent the blue sky and white sun, freedom and equality. There are 89 steps leading up to the bronze statue, one for each year of his life.
The roof is octagonal, the lucky number 8 in Chinese culture. Each side represents one of the eight moral principles: loyalty (忠), piety (孝), altruism (仁), love (愛), trust (信), knighthood (義), harmony (和), and peace (平). The shape of it makes the form of the character 人, or people, and symbolically reaches toward the sky, uniting people with heaven.
The surrounding garden is beautifully designed in a traditional Chinese style. The walls have latticed “windows” with 26 variations in motif. The roof extends over a path around the park (great for shade and for when it rains!). It’s worth taking a walk around the gardens and finding unique perspectives.
Go here for: Some peace and quiet in the gardens (& the obligatory ‘gram)
Don’t miss: Particularly if you’re with kids: don’t miss feeding the carp in the pond, seeing the guard changes (which happen at the top of every hour from 9am to 5pm).
Amount of time to spend: give yourself an hour or two to walk through the hall (check out the exhibitions, grab a souvenir, send a postcard), and also see the gardens and National Concert Hall / National Theater too.
When to come: Any time weather permits! Maybe avoid the hottest hours of the day during the summer, save yourself. If you want to see the guards change, make sure you’re at the top of the hall at least 10 minutes to the next hour.
Getting here: Take the red or green MRT line to CKS Memorial Hall Station, use exit 5 to be dropped off right at the corner of the park.
Other things to note:
Last visited: October 2019
Last updated: October 2019