Tai­wan's Triple Crown

A trio of ur­ban des­ti­na­tions re­veals this is­land na­tion’s di­verse and dis­tinc­tive qual­i­ties

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE - By Cle­mente Huang and Va­lerie Ho

Once called Ilha For­mosa (Beau­ti­ful Is­land) by the Por­tuguese ex­plor­ers, Tai­wan is much sought after among trav­el­ers for its col­or­ful cul­ture and di­verse scenery. If you are more into ex­plor­ing ur­ban life in a for­eign land, the is­land’s ci­ties of­fer dis­tinct ex­pe­ri­ences, each en­joy­able in its own way. Cap­i­tal Ideas

Taipei, Tai­wan’s cap­i­tal, is lo­cated on the north end of the is­land, and the place to get the most iconic view of the city is Taipei 101. It was of­fi­cially the tallest sky­scraper in the world un­til the open­ing of the Burj Khal­ifa in Dubai in 2010. Its height, one bet­ter than 100, is sym­bolic of the city’s am­bi­tion of be­ing“one above per­fec­tion.”

For a 360-de­gree panoramic view of the city, visit Taipei 101 Ob­ser­va­tory. En­try is NT$500 ($17) per per­son and you can make use of the au­dio guide to di­rect your own tour. The tele­scopes around the perime­ter al­low you to view the city from on high, as well as ad­mire the ex­quis­ite view ofYang­ming­shan, a moun­tain which has been des­ig­nated a na­tional park.

Find a taste of the lo­cal cui­sine at Dian Shui Lou restau­rant (di­an­shuilou.com.tw) for a DIY work­shop on the mak­ing of xiao long bao (Chi­nese soup dumplings). This tra­di­tional food can be made with three dif­fer­ent fill­ings – meat, seafood and veg­etable – and the so­phis­ti­cated 19-fold tech­nique high­lights the care that goes into its mak­ing.

In the class I signed up for at the Huain­ing Street branch, I ob­served the chef demon­strate the time-hon­ored art of dumpling fold­ing. The dough, made from flour and wa­ter, was rolled and stretched into long ropes, which were then cut by hand into smaller

pieces resembling gnoc­chi. Each was then rolled into a cir­cu­lar, thin wrap, stuffed with pork filling, and folded 19 times.

While the chef was able to make per­fectly-shaped dumplings in a few ef­fort­less sec­onds, when it came to our turn, we found it much trick­ier. Still, it was a great op­por­tu­nity to laugh and bond with new friends.

There are two classes at 10:30 AM and 4:30 PM per day on Huain­ing (NT$715/ $23.50) and one at 2:30 PM at the Taoyuan branch (NT$275/$9).

Old Face, New Face

Walk­ing through the Song­shan Cul­tural and Cre­ative Park (song­shan­cul­tur­al­park.org), in the Xinyi Dis­trict of the city, is like tak­ing a step back in time. Ini­tially con­structed in 1937 as a tobacco plant, it sur­vived Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion and was con­verted into a pub­lic park in 2001 be­fore be­ing re­de­vel­oped in 2011 as a plat­form to en­cour­age cre­ativ­ity and cul­ture.

Old tobacco ware­houses are now used to stage con­fer­ences, per­for­mances and other events. His­toric build­ings sur­rounded by beau­ti­fully man­i­cured gar­dens and an eco-pond with marine life of­fer guests a tran­quil and wel­com­ing change from the hus­tle and bus­tle of Taipei.

In­door ar­eas are open daily from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM, while out­door ar­eas are open till 10:00 PM. There is no en­try fee to the park, but you do need to pay to get into the Tai­wan De­sign Mu­seum. The NT$120 ($4) ticket al­lows you to look at ex­hibits fea­tur­ing the is­land’s cre­ative in­dus­tries and achieve­ments in in­no­va­tion.

Go­ing South

Less than two hours away on the Tai­wan High Speed Rail is Kaoh­si­ung (Zuoy­ing Dis­trict), the is­land’s sec­ond-largest city along the im­pres­sive south­east­ern shore. A stan­dard adult ticket costs NT$1,630 ($54).

Both Taipei and Kaoh­si­ung fea­ture dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent iden­ti­ties. While the for­mer brims with life and en­ergy, the lat­ter is more in­dus­tri­al­ized with tra­di­tional el­e­ments. Upon reach­ing Kaoh­si­ung, I joined my tour group to visit Meinong, a fa­mous Hakka Vil­lage, to try my hand at a lo­cal ac­tiv­ity – craft­ing col­or­ful oil-pa­per um­brel­las.

An art in­her­ited from Ja­pan, oil-pa­per um­brel­las were a pop­u­lar ex­port un­til mass-pro­duced ones took over in the 1960s forc­ing many tra­di­tional man­u­fac­tur­ers to close. How­ever, Kuang Chin Sheng Um­brella (47 Min­quan Road; tel +886 9 2051 8349; even­ing +886 7 6813247) sur­vived and has gained an in­ter­na­tional pro­file.

Now run by the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion, the shop sells these works of art at prices start­ing from NT$600 ($20), with more com­pli­cated de­signs priced up to NT$4,500 ($148). Al­ter­na­tively, you can join an um­brella-mak­ing class for NT$100 ($3) per per­son.

Port of Call

Many port ci­ties of­fer sight­see­ing cruises, but Kaoh­si­ung of­fers one that’s like no other. In­stead of views of a city sky­line, pas­sen­gers are treated to mag­nif­i­cent sights of the con­tainer port with crates and cargo be­ing trans­ported around qui­etly and smoothly.

As the fourth largest con­tainer port in the world, and the largest in the country, Kaoh­si­ung Har­bor plays a vi­tal role in Tai­wan’s eco­nomic devel­op­ment. An even­ing cruise around the har­bor may lack the glam­orous city sights that peo­ple are ac­cus­tomed to, but as we sailed down the chan­nel it was im­pos­si­ble not to ap­pre­ci­ate the eco­nomic sig­nif­i­cance and sheer scale of the port.

Kaoh­si­ung City Ship­ping Co. of­fers a sin­gle daily cruise that de­parts from the Sin­guang Ferry Wharf at 5:30 PM. It in­cludes an in­ter­na­tional buf­fet, as well as a guided tour through­out the jour­ney. Stan­dard adult tick­ets cost NT$700 ($23) each. Tick­ets can be bought be­fore 5:00 PM from the ticket cen­ter at the pier.You can also re­serve your place by call­ing +886 7 2160668.

A Spring in Your Step

On the north­east­ern cor­ner of Tai­wan isYi­lan City, the seat of the county by the same name. While no­tice­ably qui­eter than Tai­wan’s coastal ci­ties of Taipei, Taichung, Tainan and Kaoh­si­ung, there is still an ur­ban feel to the re­gion. The north­ern part ofYi­lan is renowned for its plethora of ur­ban hot springs found in pub­lic parks, bath­houses and ho­tels.

Thus it was that I found my­self – clad in a ki­mono-style dress­ing gown and flip-flops – at Tang­weigou Park, a small, pub­lic hot spring

Above: Song­shan Cul­ture and Cre­ative Park; Hakka Vil­lage Right: male artist pains oil-pa­per um­brel­las

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