Taiwan has been the easiest or most commonly visited place that I hadn’t been for a long time now. That fact always annoyed me so it was only a matter of time before I visited the island. Many people visit as a stopover en route to somewhere else but it had never worked out for me in all the times I’ve been to Asia. This time I made it work and went there directly from Hainan Island on Hainan Airways. I spent a full day in Taipei and then headed to Okinawa. Then I went back to Taipei for another 2.5 days, so I got a pretty good feel for the very cosmopolitan and new city of Taipei. So here is the Taipei 101…
Taipei is a huge, sprawling city of around 3 million people but it feels like a lot more. There is a lot of traffic getting into and out of the city but within the city there is an excellent subway system, they call the MRT. The city is very orderly and the people are exceptionally nice and happy to help. Although Taiwan is technically a Chinese territory or whatever you want to call it, they are clearly more influenced by Japan and the United States.
The way the people act and dress is much more western than anything you’ll see anywhere in China, even in Shanghai. Plus the Taiwanese are a lot more versed on manners and don’t have many of the disgusting habits mainland Chinese have with hacking, spitting just making some of the strangest sounds you’ve ever heard. There are shops and restaurants galore and all things in the country seem to begin and end within the very bright, big and fun city of Taipei.
I was very fortunate to have 2 friends help me out with my visit to Taipei. Both went to my business school. Phoebe lives in the States and gave me a very detailed and helpful itinerary of things I had to see and places I had to go to and eat at. Kayla lives in Taipei and was kind enough to show me around the local areas of the city. She brought me to a great little local place called Three Little Pigs which is what I was told the translation from Mandarin means. Apart from the ridiculously small seats (below), we ate a lot and couldn’t even finish our food with the local price tag being very affordable.
Another awesome place I ate was certainly the famous Din Tai Fung restaurant in the center of town where you can get some of the best dim sum and dumplings around. They also have killer soups and steamed buns as well. The only issue I had there was when I wanted to order hot and sour soup, the waiter told me it was excellent but there were intestines in the soup. I was confused why he would tell me that but ordered it anyway. The problem was of course since he planted that in my head, every time I would have a spoonful, all I would think about was that I was eating intestines and couldn’t finish it. Whatever!
One other place worth mentioning that I checked out was Modern Toilet. I only mention it because it is an interesting concept and done up pretty well. I went there for lunch one day and everything is toilet related and very brightly decorated. You sit on toilets (above), eat out of toilets and even drink out of urinals. We sat down to eat but nothing looked too great on the menu so we actually didn’t eat there but even so it is worth a visit if you’re in Taipei.
So aside from eating there is a lot to do and keep you occupied in Taipei. Taipei is of course home to Taipei 101 office building, which was formerly the tallest building in the world at nearly 1700 feet. It has since been supplanted by the unbelievably high Burj Khalifa in Dubai at nearly 3000 feet. However, I would argue that of all the world’s tallest buildings, Taipei 101 is the most impressive because of its designs relevance to the city and country it is in.
The building is inspired by a bamboo stalk as you can see from the shape and also like a pagoda. It is a massive structure and is the centerpiece of the new part of the city. I was told that 10 years ago there was nothing in this part of town but now it is the most chic area of the city. The base of the building is a massive and very fancy mall with all the usual shops that all new tall buildings apparently have at their base, i.e. Kuala Lumpur, Dubai.
Around Taipei 101 is a whole city of malls and outdoor entertainment area (above). They are all connected by a covered sky bridge kind of thing that runs throughout the whole complex and eventually connects to Taipei 101. It is covered because it rains a lot in Taipei. This area has become the hip new nightlife area and has mainly western style restaurants and bars along with like 7 huge department stores. It is Asia so there has to be malls!
The view from the observation deck of Taipei 101 is spectacular (above). If you get a clear day, as I did the first time I went there, you can see forever and get a great feel for the topography of the land and the layout of the city. You can also see how it has expanded and how pretty the surrounding mountains and hills are. If the rain comes which it did two days I was there, it’s not nearly as pretty a city and can be downright dreary to be honest.
There are several temples and museums that you can visit but there are essentially, besides Taipei 101, three other main sights that are must sees. First, the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial (above) for the father of the country which occupies an entire city block. It is a really big park with a massive yellow roofed memorial built for him. There is a huge statue of Dr. Sun (Below) that sits in a cavernous lobby guarded by two implacable sentries. The park itself is pretty nice and a very social place for the locals. Kids also practice dancing here and there was a Brittney Spears dance going on when I passed through which was highly entertaining. Additionally, the park has some of the most pleasant views of Taipei 101.
Another very cool memorial park to visit is for Chiang Kai-Shek. The place is massive and is flanked by the National Theatre (Below) and the National Concert Hall as you can see in the picture well above. You’ll notice a concert stage set up in the middle of the square in my picture; there was some kind of hip hop award thing going on although I didn’t stick around to watch much because it was raining…and they were speaking in Mandarin.
The 70 meter high monument to the former dictator (below) is very controversial to Taiwanese and may be taken down at any time apparently. But for now it still stands and there is a big statue sitting in the middle of the poorly lit memorial. It is slightly reminiscent of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. There is also a museum at the base and cool views of the city from the top of the stairs if you can avoid all the Chinese tour groups knocking into you constantly and taking pictures of absolutely everything! The Chinese must be the rudest tourists in the world as they have no spatial awareness or sense of waiting their turn. They tend to travel in herds by the dozens and they are easily the most prevalent tourists in Taipei.
The most famous part of Taipei is the night markets. Shilin is the most famous of the markets (below), easily reached by the MRT and you will have no trouble finding where to go; just follow the awful scent of stinky tofu. The markets are filled with every type of food you can imagine that you’ve never thought about or wanted to try. I felt obligated to try some of the local delicacies and I have to say I didn’t really like anything I tried although I did not try the stinky tofu as it was just an awful smell and looked filthy as well. I took a few pictures as you can see of some of the more edible looking meats (below) as I didn’t need to be reminded of some of the gross looking ones. If you’ve been to night markets in Asia before, it is fairly similar to be honest, just more expensive than you’ll see in Bangkok, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur for instance.
Taipei’s nightlife is supposed to be pretty good. I didn’t go to any clubs as I hate clubs but did check out two bars on different nights that are popular with both locals and expats alike. Like most bars like that in Asia, there are both locals and expats with a bunch of prostitutes populating the local watering holes. I went to Brass Monkey and Carnegies. Both were pretty fun and decent pub style places. Brass Monkey had a dance floor where strangely enough there seemed to be salsa lessons going on while we were there but the floor was packed-I didn’t partake! Carnegies was a fancier place that was recommended by the hotel. It was mainly an older expat bar where they would go to ogle the local young women and pretend they are in their 20’s again. Typical for Asia.
I didn’t stay long as I had some annoying weirdo Italian guy who wouldn’t stop chewing my ear off about how he loves Asian women, how he works for Armani and how he used to live in New York (New Rochelle which is not New York). The guy insisted at screaming into my ear about nothing as I couldn’t stop looking at his hideous linen shirt he was wearing with four buttons undone-both totally unacceptable. So I pulled the old, say I’m going to bathroom and splitting routine.
So Taipei was pretty cool. I liked it, I didn’t love it. It was a mix of Bangkok meets Tokyo but not nearly as cool as either of those two great cities. It is certainly a nice place to spend a few days but 4 days might be one or two too long, especially if it rains. By the way, the airport is a $40 taxi ride to and from the center of Taipei and can take 2 hours to get into town if you arrive at rush hour as I did which can be mentally taxing and annoying. However, there is a lot to do and see in Taipei and it is an easily navigated city and you can walk a lot as well if it’s not raining.
I am now on Air Asia to Bangkok and going to spend the night there at my favorite guest house, Sawasdee House near Khaosan Road, and see my buddy Kung, which I am excited about. So one night in Bangkok then off to Hanoi, Vietnam in the early morning for 5 days of great food and new places, which I am really pumped for. I have wanted to get up north in that country for years. I am especially excited about Ha Long Bay and staying on the boats there. CNN International said it may rain for a few days so I hope they are wrong, we shall see.
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