Ximen Ding (西門町) is the epicentre of youth culture in Taiwan. The first and still the largest pedestrian-only area in the country, it's a thriving commercial district featuring countless fashion outlets of all descriptions, movie theatres, restaurants, bars, bubble tea stores, tattoo parlours and any and all other enterprises targeting young people. If youth consume it, you'll find it here. It's best to come during the late afternoon, evening or on a weekend or public holiday.
Ximending is home to hundreds of buxibans (privately owned "cram schools") where students endure extra classes after an already-gruelling school day, and during weekends and school holidays, to supposedly improve their odds of entering top universities, which is considered far more important than getting enough sleep or time to grow up. Good or bad, buxibans are a way of life for young Taiwanese, often starting from early elementary school, and Ximending is the heart of this highly lucrative industry.
|Taipei's equivalent of the world's busiest Starbucks overlooking the famous Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo.|
Ximen Ding also has a very Japanese feel,and is known as "Taipei's Harajuku (or Shibuya)". This connection dates back to the late 1800s, when the Japanese, who then ruled Taiwan, decided to establish an entertainment district similar to Asakusa in Tokyo on what was then unused land. Even the name is a Chinese pronunciation of the original Japanese name, Seimon Cho. The word 町 (pronounced 'ding' in Chinese or 'cho' in Japanese) means town, and is common in Japanese names but very rarely used in Chinese.
With Taiwan slowly and deservedly finding its way onto the tourist and backpacker trail, Ximending is shaping up to be a (cleaner, safer, more pleasant) Taiwanese version of Thailand's infamous Ko Sarn Road, with an ever-growing fleet of taxis touting day-tours of Taipei or to Taroko Gorge and hotels and hostels aimed at foreign travellers on a budget.
Take the blue line to Ximen, one stop from Taipei Main Station. Take Exit 6 and follow the crowds. There isn't a 'best route' - just get lost among the crowds.
Consider a look (or a tour) of the nearby Presidential Palace, or walk back to Taipei Main Station via 2-28 Peace Park and Museum, and the National Taiwan Museum (reports coming soon).
Is something out of date? Please let me know.