May 3, 2009
Have it all in Taipei
Admire nature, enjoy good food, shop till you drop or party all night in Taiwan's happening capital city
By Frankie Chee
IN TAIPEI WITH...
Occupation: Assistant accounts manager
Length of stay: Five years
Taiwan's capital city is one that truly never sleeps. With seemingly endless food choices and numerous all-night porridge places, coffee joints and karaoke lounges beckoning, it is no wonder Ms Jane Lim, 26, still has not exhausted her options, even after living there for almost five years.
On weekends, the singleton keeps busy visiting museums in Taichung, plucking strawberries in Miaoli and taking a dip in the hot springs of Ilan.
The best way to explore the city is...
On a bicycle. To reduce the city's carbon footprint, the Taipei City Government recently launched the YouBike Program, which lets people rent bicycles for as little as NT$40 (S$2) a day.
You can rent a bicycle from any of the many stations located throughout the city and return it at another station which is convenient.
There are also bicycle paths everywhere in the city, ensuring the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.
The best time to visit is...
From March to May, when it is spring. The average temperature during this season is 20 deg C - not too warm and not too humid. Flowers are in full bloom and people are generally in a better mood.
Your favourite eating place is...
Any of the night markets. You can find all sorts of affordable local Taiwanese delicacies just along a street, usually in front of a Chinese temple. That's how night markets started, they served hungry devotees after they prayed.
I frequent Raohe Street Tourist Night Market, which stretches from the intersection of Bade Road, Section 4, and Fuyuan Street to the Ciyou Temple on Bade Road. It has a huge variety of foods, including bubble milk tea, smelly tofu, Doraemon pancakes, grilled squid and fried mushrooms. Trust me, you will not stop eating.
The coolest place to chill out is...
Any of the tea places along Zhong Xiao East Road, which I call the 'Orchard Road of Taipei'. The Taiwanese love to drink tea, hang out and people-watch. Most tea shops have board games or poker cards for customers. Apparently, a lot of models or artistes are discovered in such places.
Where is the best place to go shopping?
Wu Fen Pu (between Zhong Po Bei Road and Yong Ji Road) is a place that sells men's, women's and children's clothes, handbags, shoes and accessories at wholesale prices. These things are imported from China, South Korea and Thailand.
They are cheap but you get what you pay for. I once bought a skirt for NT$200 and it shrank quite a bit after just one wash. Now it's my dog's favourite winter coat.
For those with cash to spare, go to Taipei 101 shopping mall (45, Shihfu Road, Xinyi District) and the Xinyi Planning District Area (Xinyi Road, Sectors 4 and 5). With eight shopping centres and more coming up in one area, you can shop till you drop. There, you will find upscale brands and impeccable service.
Where's one place you'll always take your friends when they visit?
The night markets. Many Singaporeans know about them from Taiwanese talk and variety shows. So visitors frequently ask to be taken to these places.
The night markets are also where you can experience Taiwanese hospitality at its best. If store owners know you're a foreigner, they will encourage you to try their food and give you bigger discounts or free gifts when you buy from them. They won't pressure you to buy or give you a black face if you decide not to buy from them after trying.
Which places in the city excite you?
The Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall (21 Chung Shan South Road, Taipei) boasts the best concert halls in Taipei. I spent one of my most memorable times at this place watching a free outdoor performance of Dream Of The Red Chamber by a famous Taiwanese dance troupe, Cloud Gate.
The hall is also near the presidential palace, where a lot of political activities such as strikes are held, so this area is never dull, and there's always something to see.
What is the one thing you must do in your city?
Skinny-dip in the natural hot springs of Wulai, Beitou and Yang Ming Shan. For as little as NT$500, you can enjoy private or public hot baths amid lush greenery.
What do you think Singaporeans will like most about your city?
Without a doubt, it will be the food and nightlife. I truly believe that Taipei has the most number and greatest variety of shops that are open 24 hours, seven days a week, all year around.
Feel like having porridge or some spicy mala hotpot in the middle of the night? Want a cup of coffee after a night of heavy partying? Or maybe you want to sing overnight at a KTV lounge? Taipei has it all, nobody stays home on a Friday or Saturday night.
What do you do on weekends?
I take my dog to the many dog-friendly parks in the city such as the National Dr Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall or the Da-An Park. It is great to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
I also go on short trips to nearby areas such as Taichung, Miaoli, Ilan or Hualien. These places are only a two-hour bus ride away from Taipei, yet they are completely different in terms of atmosphere and architecture.
You can pluck strawberries in Miaoli, soak in a hot spring in Ilan and enjoy nature in Hualien.
What is there to do or see outside of the city?
Plenty. Taiwan has many forests and mountains, more than 250 of which are 3,000m or higher. Alishan (Mount Ali) is the most famous. It will take you about half a day to get to Alishan from Taipei via a bus or train ride to Chiayi.ï¿½
For an old-town experience, visit Jiu-Fen, a well-known tourist destination. It was an old mining town which became popular because of the 1989 movie A City Of Sadness, which won director Hou Hsiao-hsien the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival.
Taichung, the third largest city of Taiwan, is affectionately called the artistic capital of the country. It boasts the most beautiful museums and uniquely themed restaurants. Just two hours away from Taipei by bus, it is also home to one of the most famous night markets - Feng-Jia Night Market, located just beside Feng-Jia University.