TAIPEI MAY BE THE best-kept secret in Asia. The capital city of Taiwan, Taipei is nestled among mountains at the northern tip of an island replete with dramatic landscapes. The Portuguese called it Ilha Formosa —Beautiful Island. Visitors will find here a taste of the rich traditions of ancient China, uninterrupted by cultural revolutions or Western colonialism. The city is a fast-paced blend of contemporary upscale life, with colorful ancient temples and monuments, dramatic scenery, and romantic teahouses perched on the sides of mountains. It is one of the few cities in the world where you can go from a modern metropolis of millions of people to lush green mountains in just minutes. In Taipei, you can find not only the best of the regional cuisines of China, but also first-class food from every part of the world.
Author Joanne Grady Huskey Photography James Whitlow Delano
DAY THREE / After an early breakfast at the hotel, drive to the weekend Jianguo Flower and Jade Market at the corner of Jianguo and Xinyi roads.
Thread through fields of flowers of every hue, including spectacular—and amazingly cheap—orchids. Continue into the Jade Market, where hundreds of vendors vie to sell you jade items of every shape, size, quality, and price. Remember, real jade feels cool and heavy to the touch.
Taxi to the tallest building in the world, Taipei 101, built like a stalk of bamboo with the flexibility to withstand the earthquakes and typhoons that occasionally hit Taiwan. Take the fastest elevator in the world to the observation deck on the 89th floor in just 30 seconds. Be sure to check out the giant “mass damper,” a huge steel ball suspended on wires and designed to counterbalance the building sway during earthquakes and high winds. If you are really adventurous, take another lift to the 91st floor and the outdoor observation deck. Looking straight down, you can see Taiwan’s ultramodern stores and shopping malls sprouting around 101.
Have lunch at one of the most elegant restaurants in Taipei, Shanghai Pavilion, at the top of the Far Eastern Hotel. The cuisine is made to perfection, and the views of the city are stunning on a clear day. After lunch, buy a few gifts at the Taiwan Handicraft Center on Shuzhou Road on your way to Dihua Road, one of the oldest and most colorful in Taipei. Here, along this cobblestone road, you can taste almonds, cashews, dried fruits, teas, and other Taipei specialties. Stroll around the corner at Minsheng Road to Xining Road, paralleling Dihua, and stop in at No. 79, Lin Liu Hsin Puppet Theatre and Museum. The theatre gives you an opportunity to go back to the days when the main form of entertainment was the village puppeteer. Before the show, the puppeteer would gather details about the events of the day and then incorporate local color and stories into his puppet show. The small Taiwanese glove (hand) puppets are one of the few remaining authentic art forms from early Taiwan history and are a delight to watch.
As evening nears, take a cab all the way up to The Top (Wuding Shan), an outdoor restaurant clinging to the mountainside on Dongshan Road just below the Chinese Cultural University. Although it takes about a half-hour to get there, it is a perfect spot to have a sunset drink and dinner overlooking the entire city. A cover charge ensures you a table at the edge of the world, well worth it for your last evening here.
On the cab ride back to your hotel, stop at the Shilin Night Market to cap off the full Taipei experience. Join throngs of people as you wind through stands of exotic food, clothing, leather goods, and shoes. Your hotel is only a quick drive from here. After you’ve had your fill of the boisterous night scene, retire back to your private balcony over Taipei and savor the peace after three perfectly busy and bustling days on this memorable island.
Joanne Grady Huskey is a writer and musician who lives in Taipei.
Taiwan’s subtropical climate resembles that of Miami in August. Highs top out in the lower 90s; morning lows settle into the upper 70s. May through September is the wet season, with the mountains and southern Taiwan receiving the most rainfall. Rain dampens roughly half of August days. On average, three or four typhoons affect the island nation each year, particularly from July through September. Precipitation tails off dramatically in the fall, as cold fronts usher in cooler and drier air. November through January is the dry season. In winter, highs still reach the 60s; lows hold in the 50s.
Weather information is provided by The Weather Channel. For more Taipei climatological details, visit weather.com.
Taoyuan International Airport is about 45 minutes from the city, NT$ 1,200 (US$36) by cab. The most economical way to get to and around Taipei City is by cab. They are inexpensive and fares start at NT$70 (US$2). Ask your hotel concierge to translate your day’s stops into Mandarin and write them down. Also bring along a card from the hotel to help you find your way back. Taipei’s metro system is safe, easy to use, and marked in English. The bus system is clean, convenient, and well-marked. For your trip outside Taipei, rent a car with an English-speaking driver.
A Miramar Ferris Wheel and Merry-Go-Round (Tel: 886-2-2175-3456) World’s third-largest Ferris wheel, in Miramar Shopping Mall
B Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines (Tel: 886-2-2841-2611) Handicrafts, pottery, and musical instruments
C Taipei Sea World (Tel: 886-2-2880-3636) Includes impressive fish and a wall of sharks