HAS Repulse Bay, the legendary Peninsula Hotel afternoon
tea and a bevy of upmarket malls. Tokyo has the Ginza. Singapore
has Raffles Hotel and Orchard Road. Seouls sprawling downtown
is an explosion of status label boutiques and ornate salons dedicated
to weddings. Many high rollers and and frequent fliers up on whats
happening in Asia are probably aware that Taipei 101 (briefly the
worlds tallest building a few years back) goes beyond being
a crash course in modern retail.
Those who have yet to discover 21st-century Taiwan should
prepare to have their notion about Made in Taiwan shaken
to its foundation. A writer for an upscale airline magazine likened
his experience of Taiwan to what China might have been like had
it developed as a democracy. Though that description is apt and
poetic, it only tells part of the story. Taiwans old image
(i.e. a nation of factories, inexpensive products and historic turmoil)
has been upgraded to a shining new one blending global Asian
tiger commercial success and state-of-the-art architecture
with historic Chinese legacies that thrive because the island escaped
the grasp of Mainland Chinas Cultural Revolution and picked
up Japanese influences during its post-World War II occupation.
In the new century, Taipei is fast catching up to its
sister Asian capitals as a worthwhile destination that holds the
best of many worlds, including Japan and South Koreas urban
technical wizardry and their penchant for global luxury. The rest
of the country, from small towns to rural expanses, blend mainland
Chinas culinary influences and the laid-back vibe of Malaysia
and Thailands beach and mountain areas.
When I asked my friend Don Shapiro (publisher of Topics
magazine for the American Chamber of Commerce) about places he would
take friends and family visiting Taiwan, he looked at my itinerary,
and noted many of the hotels, restaurants and cultural sites also
happen to be his personal favourites. These spots include the many
temples dotting the city (including Longshan Temple and the Taipei
Confucius Temple) and the National Palace Museum, with its vibrant
and exquisite collection of dynastic treasures from Taiwan and mainland
China. Its museum store is excellent, stocking an assortment of
gift-worthy items that lean more tasteful than kitschy. The Silks
Palace Restaurant, just next door, prepares an extraordinary and
ingenious family-style, multi-course Cantonese banquet thematically
based on the National Palace Museums masterworks.
Though Taipeis Museum of Fine Art is focused primarily
on visiting art exhibitions, the surrounding neighbourhood and people-watching
opportunities make the visit worth the trip. Its museum shops sell
fun, locally made home accessories and coffee table books.
The modern art scene, meanwhile, can be enjoyed along
the narrow paths crisscrossing Bo-Pi-Liao Historic Street. Japans
culinary and æsthetic influences on Taiwan are on full display
at the elegant Shi-Yang Culture Restaurant, about a half-hour drive
from downtown. Against a spare, romantic backdrop, youll be
served painstakingly rendered small-plate dishes, artisanal teas
and locally grown fruits gorgeous enough for display in the National
Palace Museums galleries.
Even with all of the visual stimulation, most locals
will tell you the heart of Taiwans culture lies in its food,
from the street markets upwards. The riot of colour and aromas at
the various night markets (including Taipeis Raohe, Jing Mei,
Luodong and Shilin and Kaohsiungs Liuhe) are indeed fulfilling
on many levels, mixing savoury street foods and budget fashion finds,
while random stands serve up all kinds of wonderful surprises in
If a more sophisticated nightlife is what youre
after, head to top Taiwan cocktail bars Marquée and Indulge
to sip some of Taipeis most inspired cocktails, blending purees
of locally-grown fruit with top-shelf spirits from the west.
Taipei Citys upscale hotels and higher-end restaurants
(e.g. the Sheraton Taipei, the Sherwood Taipei, the Grand Formosa
Regent Taipei, Grand Hyatt Taipei and its Pearl Liang Chinese Seafood
Restaurant, the Shi-Yang Culture Restaurant just outside the city
and the very trendy spots Yuan Pot Restaurant, AoBa and the Chili
House) are fantastic showcases for the way Taiwan is leading the
charge in Asian gastronomy and hospitality. W
Hotel Taipei, opening this month, will provide a great excuse
for a return visit, as it epitomizes Taipeis status as city
of the 21st century.
Techno-geeks and gadget fanatics looking to feed their
head, meanwhile, will not want to miss Guang Hwa Computer Street,
Nova Computer Mall and Kwang Hua Markets spread of high-tech
goodness at great prices.
While a fashionista cannot go wrong at Sogo and Shin
Kong Mitsukoshi department stories, mixing international and local
designer shops-within-shops, tiny local boutique jewels abound,
such as Hui Liu Teahouse (9, Lane 31, YungKang Street, Taipei City),
with its darling assortment of artisanal teas, kitchen accessories
and handmade computer bags rendered by local artists.
Cat lovers, meanwhile, should keep an eye peeled for
boutiques stocking high-end leather goods and fabric totes emblazoned
with Dayan, the lead character of Taiwans beloved Wachifield
childrens books, which could be described as a creative
mingling of Beatrix Potter and Hello Kitty.
If your pockets run deep, head towards boutiques housing
fabulous frocks and flattering knitwear by such designers as Shiatzy
Chen, Angela Chen, Stephanie Dou and Isabelle Wen. The Ximending
neighbourhood, on the western edge of the city, features a funky
collection of high-street stores and offbeat accessory stands, including
one selling glasses frames constructed of bamboo. Ximending is anchored
by the Red House, constructed
in 1908 by noted architect Kondo Juro. The octagonal building, managed
by the Taiwan Cultural Foundation, is home to a theatre and an afternoon
market showcasing up-and-coming fashion and accessory designers
as well as beautifully packaged teas and tea accessories.
Southern cities Kaohsiung and Tainan, meanwhile, provide
all of the big-city amenities, street market, dining and shopping
opportunities of Taiwan, but at a slightly slower pace. However,
those venturing beyond Taipei should not miss the splendour and
sublime hiking opportunities within Taroko Gorge, with its soaring
cliffs and rope bridges.
In the middle of this national park, you will find the
Silks Place luxury resort,
which is certifiably one of the most romantic resorts in Asia. The
icing on this proverbial cake is the resorts Mei Yuan Restaurant,
prepared by India-born chef Ashish Deva, which is emblematic of
how modern Taiwan cuisine continues to be shaped by Asian and global
influences outside of China. Though Devas dishes are recognizably
Chinese, there is a defined intermingling between regional influences,
as well as a much lighter and delicate use of sauce and spice.
Though there is great hiking, biking and temples to
explore a stones throw from the Silks Places front door,
the resort is so gorgeously laid out, you will probably want to
plant yourself on the top levels pool deck or lounge and just
watch Taroko Gorges towering peaks unroll before your eyes.
The same goes for Hotel
Royal Chihpen, located in Taitung County in southern Taiwan.
Hot springs and day spa fanatics will be spoiled, between the hotels
sprawling expanse of spring water-filled pools with different Jacuzzi-jet
treatments, clothing-optional natural hot springs and spring water
that can be piped right into individual guest rooms through the
Japanese-style shower and bathtubs.
If great things come in small packages, Taiwan is a
gift when it comes to destination luxury travel, with so many ways
to appreciate Chinese and other Asian cultures in a country that
boasts great inter-urban high-speed rail and ultra-efficient and
inexpensive subways and taxi services. Though higher-end restaurants
and shopping abound, you will stumble across a variety of bargains
and finds that will make for memories that are absolutely priceless.
For travel information, visit www.go2taiwan.net,
and www.evaair.com.tw for
Regent Taipei executive lounge.
Grand Regent room.
W guest room.
The Royal Chihpen Hotel, with hot pools.
The Red House, Ximending.
Elyse Glickman is US west coast editor of Lucire.
Longshan Temple, Taipei.
Confucius Temple, Taipei.
Raohe Street night market, Taipei.
The Xenyi night market.
Taroko Gorge Temple.
Angus in action at the Marquée.
Chous shrimp roll.
Where to stay
Taipei city dining
Tea and desserts