Travel with Style: A Taste of Taipei
● By Megan Wiskus
When it comes to first impressions, the airport is essentially a city’s front door. Though not always an accurate portrayal, it’s the initial sights, smells and sounds after exiting an aircraft that seem to form one’s initial opinion of a place.
A 45-minute cab (or bus) ride and you’ll be in the heart of Taipei’s city center. Though numerous upscale accommodations are available, nothing beats the luxurious Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel. The tallest hotel in the city, it’s also the plushest—each of its five stars shining through in the service, elegantly appointed rooms, award-winning restaurants, and overall feeling of comfort that’s immediately felt upon entering. Despite being grandiose in size, the staff makes it a point to give each guest the TLC and VIP treatment that’s expected at smaller, boutique-style inns. Peeling yourself away from the premises is at times near-impossible—thanks to a rooftop pool with panoramic city views, trendy gin bar that serves over 30 varieties of the juniper-infused delight, and upscale mall that’s adjacent to the property.
Tip: For a spacious, well-appointed room that’s teeming with natural light and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the bustling capital, an automatic motion-sensor toilet that’ll have you pumped to pee (seriously though!), in-room Nespresso coffee machine, and access to the exclusive Horizon Club Lounge—which offers a daily breakfast and evening cocktails and canapes—book a Horizon Club Premier Room.
Depending on your palate’s level of adventure, foreign countries and cuisine can be exhilarating or intimidating. Finding a tasty and authentic spot to dine at is oftentimes a long, exhausting feat, which is why Taipei Eats should be at the top of your to-do list. Arrive hungry and be prepared to dive, mouth first, into the region’s melting (hot) pot of cuisine. As an expert, English-speaking guide leads you on a gastronomical journey through the city’s maze of alleyways, you’ll stop at some of the best eateries in town—from traditional markets and modern dumpling houses to authentic noodle shops—and instantly become immersed into the local food scene. At the end of the approximately four-hour journey, you’ll have sampled savory delicacies like scallion pancakes and stinky tofu, along with “safer,” sweet delights like pineapple cakes and bubble tea, leaving you hungry to take on Taipei’s ever-evolving foodie’s paradise.
Tip: Book the tour on your first day in town; not only will it help you get your bearings, but you’ll garner a lengthy list of must-try restaurants and must-see sights.
Step away from the skyscrapers and fall in love with the subtropical volcanic island’s natural beauty on a single-day hike via Taiwan Adventures (TA). From mountains and hot springs to serene lakes, lush forests, craggy cliffs plunging into the Pacific Ocean and rushing waterfalls, there’s something to take every nature lover’s breath away. Depending on weather and level of fitness, TA will select a hike suited to your needs and take care of all the legwork (besides the actual leg work of hiking itself) including transporting, guiding and feeding you. Along with a great workout, you’ll learn all about the flora, fauna and culture of the ihla formosa (beautiful island).
Tip: Chasing waterfalls is always a good idea in my book, and you won’t be disappointed with the Sandiaoling hike. The full day, moderately strenuous trek takes you past four, increasingly beautiful waterfalls and allows you to visit Shifen, an old railroad town that holds tight to its old-world charm and is filled with snack stalls and souvenir shops aplenty.
Whether you prefer the bright lights and hustle and bustle of an urban playground or crave fresh air and dramatic landscapes, Taipei delivers. Its mix of Chinese and Japanese influences, with a tinge of Western flair, and friendly, modern vibe, make it a cultural hodgepodge that’ll leave you longing to return.
Tip: Take the MRT (trust me, it’s easy to navigate, squeaky clean and über safe) to the Taipei Zoo Station and hop on the Maokong Gondola. Though Maokong means “no cats,” you’ll see plenty of them at the mountaintop town that’s also dotted with tiny teahouses. Sit back, relax and enjoy a pot or two as you soak in beautiful views of terraced tea fields and the city skyline.
GETTING THERE: Direct flights from SFO are offered on United, China Airlines, and EVA Air, and take approximately 13 hours.
DID YOU KNOW? Taipei has more 7-Elevens, per capita, than any other place. Customers can pay their taxes, along with credit card and utility bills, book travel arrangements, get packages delivered, buy small electronics like iPods, and enjoy a hearty meal morning, noon or night.