After getting a major tourism boost from Luc Besson’s film Lucy in 2014, Taipei has been receiving even more attention from travelers. It’s the best of a few worlds: it’s not as expensive as Hong Kong, not as far as Japan, and doesn’t have the language barrier (for Mandarin speakers at least) of Seoul.
Taipei isn’t a particularly pretty city, but it is a pleasant one. There’s plenty to see and lots to eat. For the weekend traveler who has been to Shanghai too many times, Taipei presents a nice alternative.
Environment: Taipei is like much of coastal southern China, hot and occasionally rainy in the spring and summer, with a drier autumn, and a chilly winter. Spring and summer aren’t bad times to go if you don’t mind hot weather, but bring an umbrella. The occasional earthquake shakes Taiwan – this author felt two of them during his visit.
Visas: Permits for travel to Taiwan vary quite widely. Americans, Canadians, and many European passport holders enjoy visa-free arrivals. Hong Kong passport holders and some citizens of Southeast Asian nations may apply for a visa on arrival. People’s Republic of China passport holders’ eligibility depends on location of hukou and other factors.
What to see: National Palace Museum: Think of it this way: if you want to see the architecture, the hardware, if you will, of the Ming and Qing Dynasty, then go to the Forbidden City. If you want to see the software, the dining vessels, the artwork, the treasures that dazzled and amused the emperors, then the National Palace Museum is the place to go. Located in the hills east of Taipei, visiting this museum should take at least a half-day. Open daily 8.30am-6.30pm. English guided tours are available.
Taipei 101: It’s hard to miss Taipei 101, the centerpiece of a central Taipei revitalization that took place about a decade ago. For six years, it was the world’s tallest building – it’s still pretty tall. Depending on the weather, it either makes a perfect observation tower for northern Taiwan, or its spire (and some of its upper floors) gets lost in the clouds. The 91st floor features an observation deck, with restaurants that offer spectacular views on the 85th floor. To get to the 101st floor, you’ll have to be a high roller or Hollywood star, otherwise access to the private Summit 101 Club will most likely be off-limits. Observation decks open daily 9am-10pm, weather permitting.
Where to stay: Stay at the W Hotel Taipei. The shopping in Taipei as not good as Hong Kong, so spend the money you saved on accommodation. About a 10-minute walk from Taipei 101, imagine your coolest friend just tossed you the keys to his/her flat in Taipei – that’s what the W feels like. It ain’t cheap – about RMB 1,700 per night – but it’s so cool you won’t need to go out.
What to eat: Dumpling lovers can trot over to the original Din Tai Fung and see how it compares to Beijing outlets. However, as is often the case, some of the best eating is to be done at night markets. It may not be the best, but Raohe Night Market offers the easiest access for visitors. Stick with the rules of night market eating – order what’s being cooked in front of you to ensure freshness.
Photo: Steven Schwankert/the Beijinger
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