This week in Postcard, Shaquel al Balushi recommends Taipei, Taiwan:
The island of Taiwan lies roughly 170km off the southeast coast of China and its capital, Taipei, is a city of skyscrapers that is home to roughly seven million people. The economy has undergone rapid growth in recent years and Taipei, along with the special municipality of New Taipei and Keelung city together form the Taipei-Keelung metropolitan area, which collectively makes up the 40th most populous urban area in the world. Taipei is a huge city with several districts that would take weeks to explore in full. At the heart is Taipei City, a bustling hive of activity surrounded on all sides by the more modern New Taipei.
Situated on the northeastern tip of the island, Taipei lies on an ancient lakebed called the Taipei basin, surrounded by two narrow valleys of the Keelung and Xindian rivers, which join to form the Tamsui River along the city’s western border.
Taipei is an intensely modern city, but the sprawling nature of the wider metropolitan area means that there are plenty of opportunities to get in touch with nature, with activities on offer ranging from visiting hot springs to hiking.
My favourite place:
As a lover of architecture, my favourite place has to be Taipei 101. Standing at 508 metres tall, the 101-floor tower, which is officially known as the Taipei International Financial Center, was crowned the world’s tallest building when it was completed in 2004. It held the title for six years until the 829.8-metre tall Burj Khalifa claimed the honour. One interesting thing that I learned during my visit was that Taipei 101 has no fourth floor. The number four in Chinese culture is considered to be unlucky and so the fourth floor has been labeled the 43rd, while the 43rd floor is called 42A. There are two observation decks, an indoor one on the 89th floor and an outdoor one on the 91st. Needless to say the views from up there are breathtaking – you can quite literally see for miles. The indoor observation level is also home to regular art exhibitions and it can be really exciting to see work displayed in such a novel environment.
With bright neon lights and oriental aromas wafting from food stalls, Raohe Street Night Market is a feast for all the senses and a must for any tourist in Taipei. The 600-metre long market runs along a pedestrianised walkway that is bookended by two ornate gates and offers all sorts of culinary delicacies as well as souvenirs. The clusters of small cafés and restaurants can be judged by their queues (tip: join the longest) and make sure you sample the various flavours of broth and noodles, as well as spare ribs stewed in herbal soup. Foodies on the hunt for authentic oriental fare really are spoiled for choice in Taipei. Another top place to visit is the National Palace Museum, which is home to arguably the greatest collection of Chinese art in the world, including calligraphy, porcelain and paintings. The impressive exhibits make essential viewing for any with an interest in Far Eastern heritage and culture.
The air quality in Taipei is rated excellent compared with a lot of Asian cities, but it can still feel quite polluted at times.
There are plenty of places to buy souvenirs in Taipei, whether it’s at one of the many night markets or at the fantastic mall found in Taipei 101.
Where to stay:
The Grand Hyatt Taipei is certainly one of the best places to stay if you’re after a bit of luxury, as is the Mandarin Oriental. Alternatively, if you are on a tighter budget, there are numerous hostels to choose from.
Top five things to do:
1. Visit Taipei 101 and its observation deck
2. Visit the National Palace Museum
3. Browse for bargains and get something to eat in the night markets
4. Take a trip to Taipei Zoo
5. Discover the history of Taipei before the Japanese and Chinese occupation at Fort Santo Domingo