In fact, Gongguan is comprised of so many different elements that it’s almost impossible to write about as a whole, so here it is, piece by piece.
The first thing you need to know about restaurants in Gongguan is that there are more Thai eateries here than anywhere else this side of Bangkok. In truth, it’s hard to tell most of them apart as they all seem to offer decent food at decent prices, but for me, there is one that stands out. It’s called 泰國小館 and you’ll find it on Ting Zhou Road. The décor really isn’t that great – it actually looks a bit like a cross between a poor person’s front room and a dirty backstreet shop – but you should overlook that, as they serve up cheap and fairly authentic food.
Over the last few months, brick oven pizza shops seem to have sprung up all over Taipei, so it should be no surprise to find one in Gongguan. It’s not the easiest place to find as it’s located down a little alley – Roosevelt Road, Lane 12, but it’s worth tracking down because the pizzas are fairly tasty and, at just NT$100 each, represent great value.
As you might expect, Gongguan has its share of restaurants selling hot pot, steak, and what passes in this country for curry. Now, I’m prepared to say it’s a cultural thing, but I don’t understand curry in Taiwan. I’ve grown up with good Indian cuisine, so Taiwanese curry houses with their dishes of chicken, breaded pork chop, or chewy bits of beef served in either a yellowish-brown or chocolate-brown sauce are a source of constant disappointment to me.
Anyway, on a slightly more elevated note, there are a couple of airline-themed restaurants on Ting Zhou Road, where diners sit on airplane seats and are served by waiting staff dressed as flight attendants.
As if all of that wasn’t enough food, there’s also all the food stalls. Gongguan does have a pretty big and varied nightmarket where you can buy everything from sweet and savory snacks right on up to full-scale meals. As well as the inevitable dumplings, fried chicken, and spring onion pancakes, you’ll also find deep-fried breaded cheeses, sushi, Vietnamese cuisine, and, for some reason, barbecued duck’s head. It’s always good to sample local delicacies, but you also have to know your limits, and there are some foods that it’s probably better just to walk away from.
With these stalls, the attraction is generally the food rather than the vendors, but there are a few exceptions, and it’s hard not to turn your head and look when some girl with a squeaky voice keeps on saying “can can oh” (take a look). It’s not that these girls were born with squeaky voices; they just try to sound like pre-pubescent cartoon characters because, apparently, Taiwanese guys like that kind of thing. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
It might not be the most obvious aspect of the neighborhood, but Gongguan does have a good bar scene. As seems always to be the case with Gongguan, there’s a wide range of places to choose from, and no matter how you like to drink your beer, you should find something to suit you.
If you head into the lanes behind XinSheng Road, you’ll find a few lounge bars where you can relax and enjoy a good Belgian beer. The best is probably Café Bastille, which has a good atmosphere, a great choice of imported premium beers, and a pretty good menu as well. For something a little bit cheaper and livelier, check out the beer garden near to the Water Park just off Ting Zhou Road. On summer evenings especially, there’s a great atmosphere, and it’s the perfect place to go with a big group of friends. Finally, there’s The Wall, which must rank as one of the city’s best live music venues. It’s located on the intersection of Roosevelt and Keelung Roads.
This is primarily a student area, so it’s probably not the best to come if you’re after high-end goods, but otherwise, there’s not much you can’t find in Gongguan. There are clothes shops and boutiques, sportswear stores, places to buy new and second-hand books, glasses, fashion accessories, and countless other things as well.
There are so many different things that could attract you to spend the night in Gongguan. In addition to everything written about above, there’s also a movie theater, a riverside park, and university grounds to wander around in. More important than any of the individual elements, though, is the fact that the area is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. Almost everywhere you go, there’s be a fresh assault on your senses with interesting people and things to see, foods to smell and taste, and music pouring out of shops. Why not add to the variety, drama, and excitement and take a trip down there for yourself?