Taipei is dramatic – animated crowds, wild traffic, vivid signs that leap out from every angle along the streets of Jhongjheng District where our Taipei M Hotel is situated! Around each corner are eatery selections galore, convenience stores, a short walk to some of the city’s fine sites and to the main metro station.
Each day of exploring begins with our hotel’s morning buffet…with Rick displaying strange behaviour heaping his plate with noodles, veggies, fish, and such. As long as I have known my husband, these are NOT breakfast foods. I would be less surprised if a cat barked! “Did you see the bread and toaster?” I mention. “Who wants boring toast?” he grins, grasping another chunk of deep-fried tofu with his chopsticks.
Our first walk takes us to the Presidential Office. The grounds around this impressive building have military vehicles and plenty of soldiers about. Plain clothed security stand just outside the low fence. One rushes over to us as we stop for a photo op directly in front of the building. With gestures he indicated picture taking is only allowed from the extreme right or left of the Office… which is okay by us.
Further along is Liberty Square with its imposing entrance archways.
The remaining three sides are flanked by the National Theatre, the National Concert Hall, and the National Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall.
The latter landmark monument honours the former president and military commander who served as leader of the Republic of China or ROC (Taiwan’s official name) from 1928 until his death in 1975. The white structure is topped with a blue octagonal roof symbolizing the number eight, traditionally associated in Asia with abundance and good fortune. We climb one of two sets of stairs, each with 89 steps to represent this esteemed ruler’s age at the time of his death. In the shadow of a large statue of Chiang in the main chamber, we are privy to a ceremonial changing of the guard.
It is onward for about 5km to Taipei 101, the financial/shopping skyscraper shaped like a gigantic stalk of bamboo. It’s the tallest building in Taiwan at 508m, and was the world’s tallest when completed in 2004. We zero in on the large food court on the lower level and enjoy a bowl of mystery soup, before unanimously agreeing to take the metro back to our hotel.
Tamsui, New Taipei
For all more distant city districts, the metro is the way to go. We ride to where the red-line ends at Tamsui, a sea-side district of New Taipei. We follow the crowd to Old Street along the Tamsui River (the name means fresh water). The day is perfect with the sun framing the backdrop of mountains. Street food sellers offer samples of deep fried sea food, kids fill the game stalls, fishermen throw their lines into the river, singers and buskers draw an audience. A fabulously entertaining time!
Beitou Hot Springs
On the way back we have a few stops in mind. The first is Beitou to visit the famed hot springs. It is a gentle uphill slope past some resorts, a museum and some public hot spring pools, to an area named Thermal Valley. Steam rises upward toward a hilly backdrop of lush greenery. I can easily imagine how 300 years ago the Ketagalan plains tribes called this “the place of witches” their sorcery bubbling in the fumes of sulphur erupting from the earthy caldron. Then during the days of Japanese occupation (1895-1945) hot spring inns sprung up, rail lines were built to this treasure, which has blossomed into the flourishing resort area of today.
Stop number two is the famous Shilin Street Market. Everything imaginable for outer body wear is for sale along the endless line of vendors, but – where’s all the inner sustenance! We are weak with hunger. I mimic eating to passers-by. They point ahead. Onward we forge, and hark – food stalls begin, just in time. We are soon digging into deep-fried chunks of delicious cuttlefish, followed by huge steamed buns with meat and red bean fillings, and roasted spicy chicken legs.
We now can focus on some peculiarities, such as meat being heated with a blow torch. And what is this? The biggest loaves of something I have ever laid eyes on with a fellow using a metal ruler to make sure the buyer gets the correct amount paid for. The line is about a block long for chunks of what we learn from a girl in the line-up is a sponge cake, with a choice of two flavours – original or cheese. Our tired legs convince us to forego this treat, and it’s a good thing, as there is nary a seat available for our metro ride back to our cozy hotel-home.
It is a scorcher of a day when we tackle Elephant Mountain (Xiangshan), a lengthy hiking trail of steps. Determined, we huff and puff upward, taking breaks at platform areas for spectacular views of Taipei 101 and eastern city-scape. How many steps? I have to rely on others who claim around 500 to get to a flattened space known as the exercise area (as if one needs more). The trail goes on, but like most people, we stop here and begin the easier downward trek. Guzzling iced tea at the small café at the bottom has never been more refreshing.
Taipei has a multitude of temples, some of which are Buddhist, Taoist, Confucius.
Standing in the city’s largest temple dedicated to Confucius, my favourite saying of this legendary sage comes to mind, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” The gift of travel fits this sentiment for us, and our wonderful Taiwan experience was heightened by gracious hospitality at every turn.
Taipei M Hotel has 283 well-appointed rooms. Staff aim to please. Super breakfast buffet (just ask Rick), fill stations for purified water, coffee available all day in outdoor lounging area.