TAIWAN: MADE IN TAIPEI
THE TAIWAN CAPITAL MAY JUST PROVE TO BE YOUR NEW FAVOURITE ASIAN CITY.
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.