Lush green hills, well laid out roads and balmy weather (if you choose to go during summer) will greet you as you travel along Taipei’s highways. But as you enter the city limits, the scene changes dramatically.
Home to some of the world’s most familiar electronic brands, Taipei boasts modern infrastructure, an efficient transportation system, lively shopping centres and an extraordinarily large number of two wheelers.
The streets of this teeming metropolis are packed with an overwhelming number of small shops; massage parlours and eateries – a good place to start for any tourist looking to familiarise themselves with the city’s culture.
Although make sure you have a travel app or a guide that will help you navigate the intricate but well-planned paths.
Some basic knowledge of local phrases will be helpful as an icebreaker in many places, although most shopkeepers in Taipei understand fragments of English.
For those who love to dabble in culture and heritage, a visit to Xingtian temple will be a treat. Located at a busy junction in Taipei, the temple is thronged by a large number of devotees and tourists eager to experience the local way of worship.
The city is also home to Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, a monument that was erected in honour of former exiled Chinese president and leader of Kuomintang Government General Chiang Kai-Shek.
Located in the city’s Zhongshang district the monument is surrounded by a park, a national theatre and a concert hall. Meanwhile, inside you can find a library offering insights into Taiwan’s political past.
The area has a romantic feel, having served as the venue for many prodemocratic gatherings.
If history and culture is not your thing then head down to Maokong Gondola, a cable car service that brings you breathtaking views of the city from the nearby hilltops. The ride is a good opportunity to see the unsullied greenery and scenic beauty that disappears within the city limits. Once at the top, visitors can opt to go to one of the many restaurants with a view. Taipei Zoo is also located nearby for those who prefer some more natural beauty.
As night falls, head to Taipei 101 – the previous tallest tower in the world until Dubai’s star attraction Burj Khalifa took the mantle in 2008. Despite the loss of the title, the tower manages to retain some of its glory with its upscale location and a luxury mall located at its base.
Queues to the observatory of the tower can be long but the wait is worth it.
From 509.2 metres up on the 91st floor, you are treated to a magnificent view of the city. It is particularly spectacular when lit up at night. You can also see the mass damper – a gigantic round ball that helps the tower weather strong gales and even earthquakes.
Any visit to Taipei is incomplete without a trip to one of the bustling night markets. A favourite is the massive Shilin night market. Wares include clothes, trinkets, cheap souvenirs, electronics accessories and various other delights. A multitude of appetising street food is also close at hand, with Ningxia night market, in Zhongshangdistrict, being one of the best for foodies.
Here, sign language may be the easiest form of communication but the local delicacies – including oyster omelette, mocha rice balls topped with sesame and the famous stinky tofu – are worth the effort. The latter, named because of its odour, is considered a delight provided you can get over the stench.
Once your feet are aching after an exhausting few hours eating, shopping or exploring in twilight be sure to head to one of the many massage parlours. An hour-long treatment for your hands or legs provides some welcome respite from the hustle and bustle going on around you. A word of warning though, the masseurs focus on your pressure points and stimulating the nerve endings sometimes making the whole experience feel a little intense. Regardless, the end result should leave your limbs stress-free and ready for another day of sightseeing.
Taipei’s variety of sightseeing, shopping and street food will leave many wanting to come back for more.