Taipei travel guide
Taipei, the capital of the island nation of Taiwan, is hot, crowded, chaotic and cosmopolitan, one of the Asian 'tiger' cities that throbs with life day and night. The city skyscrapers reach up from a basin in the north of Taiwan, which is separated from the Chinese mainland by the narrow Formosa Strait. For decades the recognition of the independence of Taiwan has been an issue domestically and internationally, and the dispute is still simmering. Taipei itself has grown from a swampy farming settlement into a modern metropolis in an extraordinarily short time, most of this development having taken place since World War II. The latest engineering feat to grace the city's ever-rising skyline is the soaring Taipei 101 tower (so-named because of its 101 floors), which not only serves as an amazing tourist attraction for those with a head for heights, but is also the city's international financial centre. Down on the ground the districts of Taipei swarm with a conglomeration of cultures going about their business in streets choked with unruly traffic. The city is packed with excellent restaurants (it is renowned among gourmands), magnificent hotels, glitzy shopping malls, wonderful museums, temples, spas and peaceful gardens. As the sun goes down the night markets open up, usually packed with tourists and bargain-hunters who throng the alleyways in the heavy, humid night air.
Taipei is also crammed with bars and nightclubs, and its red light district in Zhong Shan is one of the most legendary in Asia. When the city becomes too stifling, visitors can head for the hills to the north west to relax at one of the spas built to utilise the Bei Tou area's hot springs, or take a hike through the Yang Ming Shan National Park.
The Guinness Book of Records certified Taipei's grandiose financial centre, known as Taipei 101, as the world's tallest building until 2009, when it was superseded by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. However, at more than 1671 feet (509m) high, and designed to resemble a towering pagoda, this building will likely remain not only the city's major landmark, but also an awesome tourist attraction for generations to come. A trip up and down in one of the super-fast lifts takes only minutes, and the view from the top observation deck is predictably spectacular. The lower levels are crammed with shops and restaurants.
Address: 3/F 45 Shi Fu Road
Transport: Taipei 101 is connected to other Hsin-Yi Master Planned Area buildings by pedestrian skyways. Shuttle buses run to and from the City Halls MRT station.
Opening time: Daily from 10am to 10pm (last entry at 9.15pm)
Shilin Night Market
Taipei's biggest and best night market is not just for shopping - it is an entire cultural experience that should not be missed by any visitor to the city. The action lights up when the sun sets, with thousands of stalls and stores selling everything from clothing to pets, souvenirs and DIY tools. In addition there are games and plenty of fun to be had, and it is wise to go with an empty stomach because of the array of tempting treats on offer.
Address: Chung Shan North Road, Section 4
Transport: MRT Jiantan Station, or any one of numerous buses
Opening time: Late afternoon to early morning hours daily
National Palace Museum
Those who want to soak up some Chinese culture in serious style will be awed by the vast collection of ancient artefacts and artwork held in Taipei's National Palace Museum. The collection forms the bulk of what was once on display at the Forbidden City in Beijing, moved to Taipei as a result of the Chinese Civil War. Recently re-opened after extensive renovations, the museum houses some world-famous exhibits like the 'Jade Cabbage' (a piece of jade carved to resemble a cabbage head), and a valuable copy of the Qingming Scroll.
Address: 221 Chih-shan Road, Sec. 2, Shih-lin
Transport: MRT Danshui Line to Shilin Station and then bus R30 (Red 30). Other routes that will take you to and near the Museum plaza are buses 255, 304, Minibus 18 and Minibus 19
Opening time: Daily from 9am to 5pm. Free guided tours in English at 10am and 3pm daily
Of the many temples in Taipei, the Longshan Temple, dedicated to Guanyin the Goddess of Mercy, is one of the most popular and represents an excellent example of the architecture commonly seen in older buildings in Taiwan. It was built in 1738 to serve as a place of worship for Chinese settlers, and has had a troubled history, being destroyed several times by earthquakes, fires and even American bombers during World War II. Undaunted, Taipei residents have rebuilt it each time, and it remains very much in use.
Address: 211 Guanghzhou Street
Opening time: Daily from 6am to 10.20pm
Meet the local Taiwanese animals, like the flying fox, Asiatic Black Bear and the Chinese Pangolin, at the Taipei Zoo. All these species, and hundreds of others, are happily housed in the zoo, which provides a fun day out for visitors of all ages. Arranged in themed habitat sections, such as tropical rainforest, desert and even African savannah, the zoo, founded in 1914, covers 165 hectares and includes an extensive indoor area with a popular foodcourt. The Taipeir Zoo is the largest zoo in Asia, and travellers should budget at least three of four hours to take it all in.
Address: Hsinguang Road, Muzha
Transport: MRT Muzha Line, Taipei Zoo station. Cable cars connect the zoo with Maokong and Zhinan Temples
Opening time: Daily from 9am to 5pm (closed on Chinese New Year)
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Park
The pride of Taipei, the magnificent Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Park is a walled complex built in memory of the former Taiwanese President. It contains an impressive, pyramid-shaped white monument to Chiang Kai-shek, capped with a blue-tiled roof, as well as the National Concert Hall and National Theatre. All stand inside a lovely park, fronted by a vast plaza where there are often folk performances or other events being held. The Memorial is also the main venue for Taipei's famed Lantern Festival, Shang Yuan, which draws thousands of lantern-carrying revellers to mark the Chinese New Year.
Address: South Road, Chungshan
Transport: MRT lines Danshui-Xindian, or Beitou-Nanshi, alighting at the CKS Memorial Hall Station
Taipei has a varied and entertaining nightlife scene for visitors to enjoy, with everything from tea houses and karaoke bars to jazz clubs, pumping nightclubs and 'bottle clubs', where customers are allowed to buy alcohol by the bottle and keep it at the club for future occasions. The most popular nightlife areas in the city are Anho Road in East Taipei and Shi Men Ding (West Side). Most venues are open very late, till at least 2am, and some stay open all night. Trendy Taipei bars include the Champagne Bar, a laid-back lounge bar, and the American-style Carnegies. 45 Pub on Hoping East Road and the Hard Rock Café on Tun Hua North Road are also good. There are a number of small bars, as well as tea and coffee houses and traditional night markets to try out in Shi Men Ding. Blue Note on Roosevelt Road, Brown Sugar on SongRen Road and TU on Fushing North Road are popular jazz venues, while more upbeat clubs include Room 18 in Hsin Yi, Plush on BaDe Road and Ziga Zaga on Sung Sho Road.
The classic 'Made in Taiwan' label is found on millions of products worldwide - and often shopping in Taiwan can feel like a visit to the factory itself! Indeed, shoppers in Taipei can buy just about anything, and often at bargain prices. The most popular shopping areas in Taipei are Ximending, Jhongsiao and Sinyi, and most stores are open daily from 10am to 10pm. There are bargains galore to be found at the Shihlin Night Market, offering everything from local food to cheap clothes, DVDs and electronics. The Wu-fen-pu wholesale garment market, near the Hou-shan-pai subway station, is also a good stop, while the Chinese Handicraft Mart on Syujhou Road sells inexpensive traditional items. Guanghua Commercial Plaza has themed areas including a computer lane and jade markets. Best buys in Taipei are jade and Chinese shou-shan stones, which can be bought at markets such as the Taipei Jade Market, held on the weekends in downtown Taipei (beneath the Chienkuo South Road elevated highway). Another great buy is electronic goods - 'computer lane' at Guanghua Commercial Plaza is the perfect place to stock up on some new toys. The main shopping districts include Simending, Jhongsiao and Sinyi, but one of Taipei's main attractions and the largest night market in the city is the renowned Shilin Night Market in the Shilin District of Taipei, which runs every day from around 4pm to 2am. Just about anything and everything under the sun can be found here along the sprawling blocks of vendors, stalls and eateries. Have dinner in one of the eateries in the new food court before browsing the labyrinth of stalls for some of Taipei's best bargains. The Chinese Handicraft Mart on Syujhou Road is another good place to pick up really cheap buys, bric-a-brac and souvenirs. There are many underground shopping malls at the metro stations and other trendy centres include the Living Mall on BaDe Road and the Taipei 101 Building mall. The Living Mall is known as the largest shopping mall in Asia, while fashionistas should visit the Taipei 101 Mall where designer names such as Armani and Louis Vuitton line the corridors. One of the best places to buy electronics is Nova Computer Arcade, in the Old Town Centre, with over 130 shops selling the latest computers, cameras and mobile phones at very competitive price. The annual Ximen Shopping Festival takes place during October and November in Ximending in the Wanhua District, which is locally referred to as the 'Shopping Paradise', seeing over three million shoppers per month, and is a must for all travellers looking for great bargains on electronic goods, toys, magazines, books, CDs and clothing.
Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport
Location: The airport is situated about 25 miles (40km) southwest of Taipei city centre.
Time: Local time is GMT +8.
Contacts: Tel: +886 (0)3 398 3728.
Transfer between terminals: The Skytrain provides free transport between Terminal 1 and Terminal 2, and a shuttle bus also connects the two terminals. There are regular buses to Taipei's other international airport, Songshan.
Getting to the city: Several bus companies provide services to Taipei and other destinations around Taiwan. The journey to Taipei takes about 55 minutes and one-way fares are around TWD 125. Tickets can be bought at counters in the arrivals section and the bus platforms are located outside the terminals. Buses depart the airport roughly every 20 minutes. Taxis are available 24 hours a day, but are more expensive. Taxis are metered. There is a shuttle bus to the high speed rail service which connects travellers to various stations in the city. Note that there is a Visitor's Desk in the Arrivals hall with English speaking assistance; if you have missed your transport connection, they will make telephone calls for you.
Car rental: Car rental service counters are located in the Arrivals lobby of both terminals.
Airport Taxis: Taxis from the airport to downtown Taipei are available all day and night, but fares vary substantially depending on traffic, distance and route. Taxis are metered.
Facilities: There are banks in the airport with bureaux de change and ATMs, as well as a post office. There is an internet room, wifi and plenty of public telephones. Information desks are situated in each terminal, and a tourist services desk is located in the arrivals area of Terminal 1. Both terminals are well supplied with Asian and Western food outlets, including bars and restaurants. There is ample duty-free shopping and several boutiques stocking a wide range of goods. A business lounge offers VIP service. There are good facilities for the disabled.
Parking: Plentiful parking is available. It is free for the first half hour, thereafter rates start at TWD 30 for 60 minutes and TWD 20 per half hour thereafter. The daily rate is TWD 490.
Departure tax: NT$300 which is usually added to the ticket price.
Public transport in Taipei relies on the MRT (subway) and the city's vast bus network. Ticket machines can be found in the MRT stations, with prices ranging from about TWD 20 to TWD 65 depending on the distance. The MRT covers most of the areas of interest to tourists and is generally the best option for transport. There are day passes available and the rechargeable EasyCard is a good option for those spending more than a few days. The bus network is a bit confusing for foreigners and most travellers will get by without using it. Metered taxis are available, but drivers rarely understand English so it is advisable to have your destination written down in Chinese.
Taipei experiences a humid subtropical climate with average annual temperatures of around 74°F (24°C). Summers are warm with sunny and humid weather and average daytime highs reaching 90°F (29°C), while winters are cool and mild with temperatures of around 52°F (11°C). Due to Taipei's location, it is affected by the Pacific typhoon season which occurs between June and October.
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