Vacations & Travel - - Contents - BY ROSHAN SUKHLA

The cap­i­tal of Tai­wan may just prove to be your new favourite Asian city.

Iam sit­ting on the lounge in my suite at the Grand Hy­att Taipei, dressed in my py­ja­mas. Re­laxed but wide awake, I peak through the cur­tains to see the mag­nif­i­cent Taipei 101 build­ing next door, lit up in all its glory.

I hear faint mu­sic and push a but­ton to open the cur­tains. Is that an Ed Sheeran song I hear? Where is it com­ing from? I see throngs of peo­ple walk­ing the streets be­low me.

It’s 10 pm and life is thriv­ing in the Tai­wanese cap­i­tal. Lights flicker on and off like lit­tle stars, and I see a gi­ant screen play­ing a video off in the dis­tance.

My FOMO (fear of miss­ing out) is real, and I just have to find out what Taipei has in store for me. I quickly change, grab my hand­bag, head down to the lobby and out into the night.

I walk a few blocks to the nearby Xinyi Shop­ping District and get dis­tracted by the still open For­ever 21 store. I stroll past a long line of young Tai­wanese wait­ing to get into a night­club, and then make a bee­line to­wards H&M. I re­sist the temp­ta­tion of late-night pur­chases and win­dow shop in­stead, cir­cling back fol­low­ing the sound of the mu­sic. I hap­pen upon Com­mune A7, a very hip din­ing area filled with all man­ner of food trucks and stalls. It’s here that the DJ is play­ing mu­sic, lo­cals are eat­ing and drink­ing, and the whole vibe is very chilled out. I’m up for a late-night snack and try an icy pole shaped like a wa­ter­melon. It tastes as good as it looks. I slowly make my way back to the ho­tel to get some sleep be­fore a day of ex­plor­ing to­mor­row.

The next morn­ing we head to Yoshan tea shop for some tea tast­ing. Yoshan Tea has been grow­ing and mak­ing tea in the moun­tains in the mid­dle of the coun­try since 1880. We try the tea-roast­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, each roast­ing our own, which we get to take home at the end. In be­tween mon­i­tor­ing our tea’s pro­gres­sion we taste va­ri­eties of Yoshan’s Dong Ding Oo­long Tea, Shan Tea and Ori­en­tal Beauty

Tea. I ad­mire the pre­ci­sion and the or­der of the tea cer­e­mony.

We visit Long­shan Tem­ple next, a Bud­dhist tem­ple built in 1738, and stroll through the Bopil­iao His­tor­i­cal Block hous­ing some of the city’s his­tor­i­cal ar­chi­tec­ture.

It’s then on to the mother of Tai­wan’s food scene for lunch, the world-renowned Din Tai Fung. I am an avid fan of this restau­rant chain back home, so to be able to eat it here in

Taipei where it all started has me champ­ing at the bit. Din Tai Fung be­gan as a cook­ing oil busi­ness in 1958, then, in 1972, it be­came the restau­rant spe­cial­is­ing in xiao long bao (soup dumplings) that we know and love to­day. With lo­ca­tions across Taipei and with 100 lo­ca­tions through­out the world, we visit the orig­i­nal lo­ca­tion at Xiny­ing Road. Peo­ple travel from all over to come here, and yes you can ex­pect a wait time.

The menu here is big­ger than the Din Tai Fung back in Aus­tralia, but the taste is just as ex­quis­ite. Fol­low the in­struc­tions on the ta­ble to try their world-fa­mous xiao long bao (dip it in sauce, poke a hole to re­lease the broth and be care­ful: it’s hot). The other dishes we try in­clude spicy pick­led cu­cum­ber, braised cab­bage, braised beef noo­dle soup, shrimp and pork pot stick­ers, and green squash and shrimp dumplings.

The fresh food theme con­tin­ues as we make our way to Taipei’s fish mar­ket, the Ad­dic­tion Aquatic De­vel­op­ment. AAD en­com­passes restau­rants, a seafood mar­ket, gro­cery and a very cool stand-up sushi bar. We visit Tré­sors de la Mer restau­rant up­stairs for a din­ner of fresh sushi and de­li­cious seafood cooked in a hot pot at our ta­ble.

Our last stop for the evening is Lin­jiang Street Night Mar­ket, not far from our ho­tel. The smells and sights of night mar­kets are al­ways in­trigu­ing – stinky tofu any­one? I pick up a few gifts here then it’s back to the Grand Hy­att Taipei to re­lax.

I’m stay­ing in a Grand Executive View Suite and it has one of the most in­cred­i­ble city out­looks I’ve ever seen. With views to three sides, you feel right in the heart of down­town Taipei. I fill the huge bath­tub, and turn on the TV (yes, there’s a TV in the bath­room), step­ping into the tub with the blinds open and the night lights of Taipei twin­kling be­fore me. It’s def­i­nitely a case of “I can see them, but I hope they can’t see me”.

I wake up ready to work off some of yes­ter­day’s food coma, and I’m in luck with Ele­phant Moun­tain first up on the agenda to­day. Ele­phant Moun­tain (or Xiang­shan), is named for its long nose shape. There are a lot of stairs but the view is worth it.

Af­ter get­ting quite sweaty from the climb, it’s back to the ho­tel to cool off in the out­door heated swim­ming pool where, af­ter swim­ming a few laps, it dawns on me that I can hear mu­sic un­der­wa­ter. De­light­ful.

Not far from the Grand Hy­att Taipei, you’ll find the im­pos­ing Na­tional Dr Sun Yat-sen Memo­rial Hall. The mas­sive struc­ture com­mem­o­rates the founding fa­ther of Tai­wan, Dr Sun Yat-sen. There’s an ex­hi­bi­tion inside where you can learn more about Tai­wan’s his­tory and Dr Sun Yat-sen.

As soon as I hear the words ‘creative park’, I know our next stop will be up my al­ley, and the Song­shan Cul­tural and Creative Park doesn’t dis­ap­point. Housed in a for­mer tobacco fac­tory, it is now the creative hub of Taipei and fea­tures art and design ex­hi­bi­tions, events and more. The Song Yun Gallery is home to mar­ket stalls in dif­fer­ent rooms from lo­cal de­sign­ers and cre­ators. There’s an in­cred­i­ble free ex­hibit in one of the

halls com­bin­ing cal­lig­ra­phy and fash­ion, and I even get to have a go at cal­lig­ra­phy my­self at the end of the ex­hibit.

Di­rectly op­po­site the Park you’ll find The Es­lite Spec­trum, a Tai­wanese book­store-cum-de­part­ment store. There’s fash­ion and jewellery on the ground floor but I rec­om­mend you head to the se­cond floor and browse the creative en­deav­ours from Tai­wanese de­sign­ers. Again, the fo­cus here is on lo­cally de­signed and made creative goods from shoes and beauty prod­ucts, work­shops where you can make-your-own leather goods and paint an art­work. If you are feel­ing hun­gry, make like a lo­cal and head to Ice Mon­ster for a mango shaved iced treat. It’s the per­fect pit stop to cool down af­ter shop­ping.

A visit to Taipei 101, next door to the Grand Hy­att, is a must for any trip to this city. It was the world’s tallest build­ing, at 508 me­tres, when it was built in 2004. Head to the indoor ob­ser­va­tory on the 89th floor for 360-de­gree views, up to the 91st floor for the out­door ob­ser­va­tory, and then back to the

88th floor to marvel at the mas­sive Wind Damper that is keep­ing the build­ing se­cure. It’s both the world’s largest and heav­i­est wind damper. The lower floors of Taipei 101 are home to a lux­ury shop­ping cen­tre fea­tur­ing high-end brands like Dior, Prada, Gucci, Burberry, Louis Vuit­ton and Chanel.

Back at the ho­tel, we head to Café for din­ner. This in­cred­i­bly pop­u­lar in­ter­na­tional buf­fet restau­rant of­fers ev­ery­thing from Asian and In­dian cui­sine, Western meals, make your own noo­dles, dumplings, and fresh sushi pre­pared by master sushi chefs. Make sure you leave room for the dessert bar, with cakes, pas­tries and an ice cream buf­fet with a va­ri­ety of top­pings.

Af­ter the past few days of sightseeing I need a time­out.

I take my­self down to the fifth floor and the Grand Hy­att

Taipei’s own Oa­sis Spa. I have a much-needed dip in the heated whirlpool be­fore my aro­mather­apy mas­sage. The Spa also has sep­a­rate men’s and women’s ar­eas, a sauna and steam rooms.

Reen­er­gised, I spend the af­ter­noon ex­plor­ing the city’s green space, Daan Park, be­fore head­ing back to the ho­tel for a fi­nal din­ner at Yun Jin, the Hy­att’s fine din­ing Chi­nese restau­rant. The Szechuan pork belly with gar­lic and home­made chilli sauce is divine, as is the Shang­hainese bean curd roll.

As a spe­cial treat I even get to hand-make dumplings with the chef – I think my love of dumplings must pre­cede me!

Think­ing back, I am very glad Ed Sheeran coaxed me out of py­ja­mas and onto Taipei’s streets to dis­cover a city that is not only thriv­ing, but mak­ing and creat­ing its own unique mark on the world. •

“It was the world’s tallest build­ing, at 508 me­tres, when it was built in 2004”

Open­ing im­age: Taipei city. This page, clock­wise from left: Taipei 101 looms over the Grand Hy­att Taipei; Dumplings are the star of the show at Din Tai Fung; A fash­ion ex­hi­bi­tion at Song­shan Cul­tural and Creative Park. Far right: Long­shan Tem­ple.

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