The centre of the mass of urbanity that has come to define Taiwan in the eyes of people around the globe, Taipei is a city-lover’s dream come true, with endless experiences in the realms of skyscrapers, food, culture, and cutting edge modernity. Taipei’s growth really took after World War II, as it was largely fuelled by refugees from the communist regime that took over in mainland China in 1949, and to this day, Taipei’s wealth is derived from its status as a high tech hub, manufacturing and innovating high value electronics for many multinational corporations around the globe.
Despite this intense focus on modern and high tech things in the present day, much of the city still maintains its connections to the past, with many temples and museums to visit. Also, with its location on the Pacific Ring of Fire, there are many nationally famous hot springs within easy reach of the city centre, and many inspiring mountain views to take in wherever you may happen to be in the area. During the several days that may happen to be in Taipei, you will likely not be in want for things to do … just stand downwind from us when you’re trying out the stinky tofu, will ya?
Traditionally, one of the better known symbols of Taipei has been the sharp looking National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, a whitewashed tribute to the first president of Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek. The former leader is memorialized by a giant bronze statue at the centre of the pavilion, with two guards switching out every hour in ceremonial fashion. A popular public gathering place, those wishing to get their tai chi on can come here and practice with the locals, as it is a common pastime for many Taipei residents.
Those seeking out some truly precious Chinese artifacts and antiquities should put the National Palace Museum on their list of places to visit. When the Chinese civil war was playing out in the aftermath of the Second World War, the nationalist forces of the KMT moved many of the precious jewels and antiques of Beijing (which had already been moved out of the capital earlier in the century due to the Sino-Japanese war) to Taiwan. Doing so likely saved them from destruction during the Great Leap Forward (China’s Cultural Revolution), and it has made for an impressive display for unaware travelers stumbling upon them here. There are many exquisite pieces carved from jade stone that make the trip out here well worth the effort!
Those looking to delve into the religious life of Taipei should make tracks for the Longshan Temple, the antithesis to the intense and sometimes alienating modern malls and skyscrapers found on the east side of the city. A Buddhist temple, it is dedicated to Guanyin, the Buddhist representation of compassion or Goddess of Mercy, making it a place where many residents of this bustling city come to seek spiritual guidance in their hectic and stressful lives. After admiring the traditional architecture here (which is sorely lacking in much of the city due to a modernization drive when the Japanese owned this island pre-World War II), treat yourself to a massage by the many blind masseuses offering their services within the temple grounds.
As referenced in the previous paragraph, there aren’t many old bones left in this city due to the intense focus on knocking down the buildings of previous generations and replacing them with the new, but mercifully, the city planners here had the sense to leave the City Gates intact. These stone arches can be found in four different places throughout Taipei, with the best remaining one being the North Gate, the only one that wasn’t modified from its Southern Chinese origins by the original KMT administration.
In the modern age of Taipei, the soaring skyscrapers of this bustling city have become the new face of Taiwan. Taipei 101 is the exclamation point on that statement, sticking out above the rest with a creative design that has attracted admirers from all around the world to see it. Head to the observation deck on the 91st floor, with some of the world’s fastest elevators whizzing you up there in a dizzying 37 seconds, and be treated to sweeping views of the Coruscant-like cityscape that unfolds beneath you. The best suggested time to visit during the day is around lunch hour, naturally because that’s when tour groups … have lunch. Go figure.
As mentioned earlier, this area of the world is mountainous due to the plate tectonics of the area, so take advantage of this fact and go for a hike without having to leave the city. A short distance away from Taipei 101 is the trailhead for Elephant Mountain, a 200 metre high forested peak that gives excellent and cheaper views than the previous destination. From here, there are paths to higher peaks in the area, if you are a more serious trekker.
Finally, all that physical activity will likely have you feeling sore. Take your battered body to the hot springs located in the outer suburbs of Taipei, where hot pools in Wulai, Beitou and Yangmingshan National Park await you. One thing to note: unless you are in a mixed-sex pool, clothing is NOT permitted for hygienic reasons, so if there’s any time to face your fear of public nudity, now may be the proper time to do it!