I love cats and Hello Kitty, so my friends’ photos from their Taipei trips inspired me to visit the cat-themed places there. It doesn’t hurt that Taipei’s a food and shopping heaven, too.

KITTY KRAZE
Minimal Cafe
This is the place to enjoy scones, sandwiches, pasta, coffee and tea while playing with about 30 cats adopted by the cafe owners. It’s hidden away in a maze of alleys in Taishun Street, in a sleepy residential estate. The slightly acrid smell of kitty litter hit me when I entered, but it didn’t bother me as I have a cat at home; non-cat lovers may need time to adjust. The cats roam throughout the premises, and will come up to nuzzle customers, or lie all over the tables, countertops and patrons’ bags. Even so, the place is clean. With hot tea, delicious baked pasta, bossa nova music playing, and a kitty (or four) snoozing on my lap, all was good in the world.

GETTING THERE: Ride the Metro to Guting Station. Take Exit 4, cross the street and walk for 15 minutes to Taishun Street.

Hello Kitty Sweets Cafe
You can’t miss the enormous Hello Kitty signboard – or the crowd of fans – at this two-storey cafe. It’s a popular spot, so each customer can only stay for up to an hour, and must spend at least NT$380 (S$18); you’re
gently reminded by the staff to make way for others once you’ve finished your meal. I was delighted with my surroundings (a sea of pink and Kitty insignia everywhere), but not the food – an ordinary tasting, palm-sized chocolate mousse cake and strawberry milkshake set me back by S$30. By the end of the hour, the novelty had worn off, even for this Hello Kitty fan.

GETTING THERE: Ride the Metro to Zhongxiao Fuxing Station. Take Exit 3, turn right into the first alley (Da-an Road) and walk until you see the cafe signboard.

GETTING TOURISTY
Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf
A picturesque spot at the western tip of Tamsui, a small city in northern Taiwan about an hour by Metro from Taipei, Fisherman’s Wharf has a fabulous sunset view. Stroll down Lover’s Bridge – a white bridge opened on Valentine’s Day 2003 – for a breathtaking view of the bay. In the evening, scores of people line up along the bridge to watch the sunset.

GETTING THERE: Ride the Metro to Tamsui Station and board the New Taipei City Bus (Red 26) to the Fisherman’s Wharf stop

Tamkang Senior High School (Tamsui)
An avid fan of Mandopop megastar Jay Chou since... forever, I had to visit the filming location of Secret – his 2007 directorial debut. Tamkang Senior High School is also Jay’s former secondary school, so I felt closer to him here. The grounds are open to visitors even when classes are on. The students are used to tourists streaming in to take pictures of places featured in the movie, like the red brick octagonal tower and clock tower.

GETTING THERE: Take the Red 26 bus to the Fort Santo Domingo stop. Walk uphill to 26 Zhenli Street.

FOOD OVERDOSE
Shilin Night Market
At the well-known Shilin Night Market – a sprawling maze of shops and food carts – I zeroed in on Ah Zong Mee Sua (No. 24, Lane 101, Wenlin Road) – legendary among Taiwanese street snacks, and unanimously recommended by my friends. The thick, savoury mee sua had a strong taste of pig innards.

I’d always wanted to try the famous stinky tofu, but I found the smell and taste too overpowering. Fortunately, I enjoyed my next snack: a deep- fried potato with filling (choose from smoked chicken, bacon bits, broccoli, octopus and more), doused with hot cheese.

And I had vegetable- and meat-filled fried buns (sheng jian bao), lightly pan-fried until the bottom is crunchy. GETTING THERE: Ride the Metro to Jiantan Station and take Exit 2.

Jiufen
A mountain town in northern Taiwan’s Ruifang District, about an hour by train and bus from Taipei, Jiufen, with shophouses selling traditional souvenirs and snacks, is famous for its old- world charm and great views of the surrounding hills.

I spent an afternoon sampling delicacies. I loved the soft, crunchy and sweet peanut candy shavings with ice cream wrapped in popiah skin, and also the taro balls – served hot or chilled – from the famous Grandma Lai’s Yuyuan (No. 143 Jishan Street).

GETTING THERE: Take the Taipei Railway train to Ruifang Station and board the Keelung Transit Bus (wait across the road from the station).

SHOPPING FIX
Ximending
Called the Harajuku of Taipei, Ximending is home to shops, restaurants and bars. With the huge variety of shoes, accessories and clothing here, be prepared to leave with a significantly lighter wallet. I did! GETTING THERE: Ride the Metro to Ximen Station and take Exit 6.

This article was originally published in Simply Her April 2013.

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