To understand why Tianmu is the eclectic neighborhood in Shilin District that it is today requires a brief trip back in time. In the 1950s and 1970s, members of the US Armed forces that were stationed in Taiwan resided in Tianmu with their families. In fact, Taipei American School (TAS), virtually a landmark in Tianmu, originally served as a U.S. Department of Defense contract school to provide an American education for children of these military families. It wasn’t until later that TAS was restructured into a private international school. The presence of two additional international schools as well as several foreign embassies has led to a steady population of foreigners living in Tianmu, hence its reputation of being an expat hub in Taipei.
Over the years, Tianmu has evolved from a sleepy neighborhood–longtime residents recall the numerous rice paddies that have all been replaced by apartment buildings–into a dynamic melting pot with its own culture. Like much of Taipei, Tianmu is a hybrid of cosmopolitan and traditional flavors, host to shiny new shopping malls as well as local Taiwanese markets. Geographically, Tianmu is also a hybrid, simultaneously urban and outdoorsy: its alleys are chock-full of cafes, restaurants, and stores, but it is nestled between Beitou and Yangmingshan, and it is not serviced by any close metro stations. Below, we take you through our picks for a complete experience of Tianmu.
As all the major department stores in Taipei begin their anniversary sales, month-long shopping festivals that rake in the year’s biggest profits, you can rest assured that Tianmu is in no shortage of stores for you to spend your latest paycheck – or did I mean, support the economy? Here are the big three: Sogo, Shin Kong Mitsukoshi, and Dayeh Takashimaya. The former two are simply additional branches of their respective popular chain department stores and offer the usual high-end, international fashion, and luxury boutiques. The latter, however, is the only store of its kind in Taiwan, and it offers traditional Japanese books and food. Be sure to stop by the expansive aquarium in the basement with all its colorful fish.
Not interested in shelling out the big bucks for some imported goods? Head on over to some markets that offer local goods at much more budget-friendly prices. Hosted by the Tianmu Marketplace Development Association, Tianmu Market offers a treasure-trove of trinkets and gadgets on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. There’s always an eyeful for you to take in and for those with the time and patience to peruse, affordable handcraft merchandise can always be found.
If you’re in need of some groceries, then look no further than Shidong Market. Opened in 1992, Shidong Market is located in the heart of Tianmu in a two-level, air-conditioned building, complete with free wi-fi. Okay, so it isn’t really like the traditional wet markets you find in Taiwan, but it still offers all the usual foods and local delicacies one would expect plus many more international goods – to accommodate Tianmu’s population of foreigners. In fact, the diversity of products available at Shidong Market is a reflection of the people who frequent it. On any given day, you can find Japanese, Americans, Europeans, and Taiwanese browsing the numerous stalls. The first floor offers fresh produce, presented in a cleaner and more modern setting than that of most local markets; a perfect stop for those looking to prepare a home cooked meal. The second floor of Shidong Market provides a range of jewelry, artware, and fabrics, in addition to snacks to whet your appetite, from Vietnamese spring rolls to braised tempura.
With your stomach full of food, now might be a good time to take a stroll through the Tianmu Baseball Stadium and its neighboring park. Basketball courts, a rubber track, several grass fields, and a playground are all open to the public. In the mornings and evenings, it isn’t uncommon to see elderly men and women taking their daily walks while in the afternoon, you’ll certainly hear the sounds of shrieking and laughing children before you even see them.
Perhaps you’re looking to get away from the traffic of people and cars, and if so, walk up Zhongshan North Road, past the bus circle, where you’ll find hiking trails that lead up to Yangmingshan. Alternatively, you might choose to walk along the canal parallel to Tianmu West Road, across from Shidong Elementary, which extends for miles.
If all this exercise has worked up your appetite again, then take your pick of Korean, Japanese, American, Chinese, Indian, Italian, German, or, of course, Taiwanese cuisine. Restaurants line Sections 6 and 7 of Zhongshan North Road and Tianmu East and West Road.
We recommend Saffron for fine Indian cuisine, Fang’s for Shanghai soup dumplings, Dao Xiao Mian (一品山西刀削麵) for their knife-cut noodles and fried rice, Song Jiang (宋江餡餅粥) for some xian bing (Taiwanese pies) and local dishes, and Eddy’s Cantina for some Mexican.
Top off that meal with some dessert from the newly opened Yoppi Frozen Yogurt, a pay-by-weight froyo store that brings us flavors from San Francisco. New flavors come out on Wednesdays, and we can’t wait to return for the salted caramel!
Clearly, we had difficulty keeping the list of where to eat concise, so you’ll just have to take our word for it and do some exploring.