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Taipei—the city of night markets, bubble tea stalls, endless queues at Din Tai Fung, and... weird museums? It‘s true; the Taiwanese capital may not strike travellers as off-beat, but there is plenty hidden in its folds to make you do a double-take as you plan your itinerary. Give the National Palace Museum and Taipei Fine Arts Museum a miss—these weird museums in Taipei are the ones to check out.
A whole museum dedicated to paper! It’s a bibliophile’s dream. Tiny by traditional museum standards—it’s packed into a four-storey tenement building—the Suho Memorial Paper Museum opened in late 1995 with the purpose of putting an educational spotlight on the paper-making traditions of China. Not only can you marvel at displays of papers crafted from a variety of sources and a working paper mill on the ground floor, but you can also try your hand at making your own at a DIY workshop on the rooftop. Be sure to pick up one-of-a-kind, handmade souvenirs from the museum gift shop on your way out.
Suho Memorial Paper Museum, No. 68, Section 2, Chang’an East Road, Zhongshan District, Taipei City 10491
This is by far one of the most intriguing museums you’ll come across in Taiwan. Tucked away in a bland and nondescript building just around the corner from the Suho Memorial Paper Museum (and in a dinky, low-ceilinged basement, no less), the Miniatures Museum of Taiwan is filled from floor to ceiling with dioramas upon dioramas, with cut-away views into dollhouses and room boxes. From Southern Gothic bedrooms and country kitchens to a scene out of Gulliver’s Travels and glimpses into Greek ruins, the sheer amount, diversity, and painstaking details of the miniature displays will make your head spin—in a good way.
Miniatures Museum of Taiwan, B1, No. 96, Section 1, Jianguo North Road, Zhongshan District, Taipei City 10489
Combining pleasure with an informative educational session, the Beitou Hot Spring Museum is located in the flourishing hot spring district of Beitou, just a little outside of Taipei’s city centre but easily reachable via the metro. Initially built as the Hokutō Public Bathhouse during the Japanese colonial era, its original construction began in 1911 and it was the largest bathhouse in East Asia at that time. The imposing and eccentric Tudor-style building may stick out like a sore thumb in the sea of austere high-rises, but its brick-and-wood façade and black-tiled roof blend in seamlessly with the immediate surroundings of lush trees and shrubbery.
Divided into two storeys, the lower floor houses an out-of-use public bath and exhibition on the history of hot springs, its facilities, and the appliances used in hot springs, as well as the Beitou stones and bathing space. The exhibitions continue on the upper floor with Beitou history displays, a lookout balcony, a multimedia room, and a large tatami recreational area for visitors to take rest.
Beitou Hot Spring Museum, No. 2, Zhongshan Road, Beitou District, Taipei City 112
Feeling thirsty? The Museum of Drinking Water is—you guessed it—a museum dedicated to exploring how drinking water supply and sanitation developed in Taiwan and it’s located at Taipei Water Park (where else?). Housed in a former pumping station, the Baroque-style facility was built in the early 1900s and listed as a national Grade III historic building. It’s actually a lot more interesting than it sounds—visitors can peruse historical documents regarding Taipei water and examine some of the original pumping equipment on display. The well-maintained and gorgeous exterior of the building alone is worth a visit. After your tour of the museum, feel free to continue your exploration of the area with upcycled pipe sculptures and the Kuanying Hill walk.
Museum of Drinking Water, No. 1, Siyuan Street, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City 100
Now for a museum that you never knew anyone needed, here’s the Customs Museum of Taipei. The most glamorous of public archives it is not, but its establishment serves the purpose of promoting the important role that customs service plays in a country’s modernisation. Visitors get to examine historic customs documents and learn more about customs clearance procedures, as well as what goes into an anti-smuggling inspection.
For example, did you know that Taiwan is the only country in the world where lighthouses are administered by the customs service? Making a trip down to the Customs Museum will reward you with a collection of small-scale marine lighthouse models dotted around a topographic map of Taiwan to ooh and ahh at, as well as historical uniforms and artefacts relating to the customs services of this small and curiosity-filled island. Currently, the museum is open to groups by reservation only, so make sure to plan your trip ahead of time.
Customs Museum, No. 13, Tacheng Street, Datong District, Taipei City 103
Built in response to the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995 that devastated Kobe in Hyōgo Prefecture, the Fire Safety Museum hosts exhibitions to teach citizens what to do in the event of a natural disaster. From a children’s safety training classroom to storm and quake simulation areas, visitors can go through demonstrations of how to evacuate their homes in emergencies and receive fire fighting exercises, all in the hope that they will make preparations accordingly for fires, floods, earthquakes, typhoons, and other types of calamity. Though the facilities are certainly reminiscent of mid-1990s aesthetics and it’s hard to say when the simulations were last updated (if ever), the Fire Safety Museum is a good choice to visit with kids for an educational trip.
Fire Safety Museum, No. 376, Section 2, Chenggong Road, Neihu District, Taipei City 114
More than 10,000 Asian puppets are on display at this fascinating private museum, bringing to light the cultural importance of puppetry and performing arts in the hearts of Taiwanese people. Learn the difference between glove, shadow, string, and water puppets through their interactive showcases or participate in workshops to see how puppets are made and manipulated (different techniques for are used scholarly, martial, and female characters for example). There are also several hands-on areas for visitors to play with puppets or try them out if you want to give puppeteering a whirl.
The museum’s theatre also plays host to regular live performances of Taiwanese and Chinese shows, as well as modern productions paired with live music and singers, with opportunities for the audience to see the puppets and their puppeteers at work up-close. International puppet troupes are invited to stage performances as well. There is an entrance fee for adults and children, but tickets for live performances, usually on Saturdays, cost extra.
Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Museum, No. 79-1, Xining North Road, Datong District, Taipei City 103
Note: The Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Museum is temporarily closed in preparation for its relocation to Dadaocheng.