Kansai Scene Magazine
 

 

Taipei


A MUST-SEE city with the energy of a power station–but beware the smelly tofu!

With Taipei only a couple of hours from Kansai, it seemed the perfect destination for a long weekend. By chance, my visit coincided with “Double Ten Day,” the national day of the Republic of China (now Taiwan, and not to be confused with the People’s Republic of China on the mainland), which meant I could expect an eventful start to my stay. I wasn’t disappointed.

On my first morning in the city, thousands of locals poured onto the streets to take part in the celebrations and enjoy the high-spirited, colourful parade. Once it was over and the crowds had cleared, I could start exploring the city for real. Taipei has its temples and museums, but I thought I’d save those for another day. I wanted to see the city and its people.

Wherever you are, the awesome Taipei 101 building never seems far away. I felt like I was in a game of Red light/Green light. Every time I looked over my shoulder, it’d be there, stock-still but somehow looming a little larger. It’s currently the tallest completed building in the world (soon to be surpassed by the Burj Dubai skyscraper in the UAE), and at 509 meters, towers way above everything else in the city. From the ground to the 89th floor observation deck takes a matter of seconds, thanks to the world’s fastest elevator that travels at an ear-popping 55ft per second.

It took a moment to adjust to the feeling of being in a manmade structure seemingly on the edge of space. The view was fittingly dramatic, and I counted myself lucky, because 101 is so tall that the upper levels are often lost in the clouds.

If big name brands tickle your fancy, then you’ll be spoilt for choice in the opulent mall at the base of the tower–but with prices almost as high as the building itself, you’d do well to save your cash for shops back in the city centre.

Night markets are big in Taipei–big in size, popularity, and atmosphere. A visit to the city without experiencing one would be as barmy as omitting Tsukiji from your Tokyo itinerary. I made my way to Shilin night market, and soon enough, lost myself in the ensuing chaos. There were food stalls selling things I recognised and a fair few things I didn’t, numerous souvenir shops pedalling their wares, and a smattering of funfair games to boot. There was also a stall where some women were sitting, resting one side of their head on a cushion. In their ears were the ends of funnels, on top of which were burning candles in plastic bottles. I still haven’t worked out what that was about.

If you find the friendly bedlam of the night market overwhelming, head over to the trendy Zhongxiao district. Just off the main drag, it is a neat little area with unique cafes, restaurants and boutique stores. There are also a few noodle shops where you eat at rickety tables by the roadside. The portions are generous, the food tasty, and the cost low. Another lively area, bigger and more crowded than Zhongxiao, is Ximen. This is Taipei’s main shopping area, popular with the city’s youth.

Getting around Taipei is a breeze, thanks to the city’s efficient subway system that comprises seven lines snaking out from the city centre. It’s spotless, and kept that way thanks to a bundle of rules–among them, no eating or drinking on trains, or even in the station.

That’s one thing you notice in Taipei: rules. There seem to be rather a lot of them. Public parks have signs with a list of 15 things you can’t do, including “no clothes washing,” “no private desks and chairs,” and even “no destruction of park facilities”… just in case you thought it’d be OK.



On the contrary, there seem to be no rules on the odour levels of food. Having travelled from Japan, a place where the cuisine can be described among other things as subtle, my nasal lining was in for a shock. Powerful smells leap out at you from everywhere, some more eye-watering than mouth-watering. If you dare, try the fermented tofu. The taste was actually pretty good, but the smell caused havoc inside my nostrils, and it’s about the whiffiest thing I’ve ever sniffed.

Feeling like a break from the crowds and noise of the city, I ventured out to the coast to Danshui, located at the end of the Danshui subway line. Upon leaving the station, hopes of peace and tranquillity were quickly dashed; I realised I was now experiencing the crowds and noise of the coast. (I’d heard that it was a popular, but I didn’t realise it was that popular.) The atmosphere of the seaside town was lively and fun, if not a little hectic. Many people, me included, headed for the walkway by the water, eager to catch the sunset. And a beautiful sunset it was. A fitting finale to an enjoyable trip.

As I returned to the station, passing the numerous street stalls, the smell of fermented tofu once more wafted up my nostrils. There are a lot of things to like about Taipei, but that, quite possibly, isn’t one of them.

JAL, ANA, Eva Airways, China Airlines, Northwest, and Cathay Pacific all fly to Taipei direct from Kansai airport. For more transport info see www.trtc.com.tw/e/ and for a great blog devoted to food in Taipei see http://hungryintaipei.blogspot.com/

Text and photos by Trevor Mogg

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