Taipei is the vibrant super busy capital of Taiwan. The vibe in Taiwan is frantic akin to the vibe experienced in New York or Hong Kong where everyone seems to be super busy all the time. Known largely as a powerhouse for the manufacture of electronics especially computer hardware Taiwan is all that and more. Situated in the valley of the Danshui River Taipei was once had an agrarian economy characterized by rice and vegetable farmers, today is a bustling vibrant city which continues to be diplomatically isolated but populated by people who are up to speed and connected with all that goes on in the world.
Prior to the twentieth century, Taiwan was largely an agrarian economy. The Japanese colonized Taiwan in 1895. They set up their administrative head quarters in Taipei and developed much of its infrastructure as well. The native Taiwanese were very unhappy under the Japanese.
The Second World War saw the city annihilated by the bombing of the Allies. The Yalta Agreement signed at the end of the war ensured that the control of Taiwan would be handed over to China. Taiwan was subsequently administered by a corrupt Chinese general Chen Yi who was appointed governor. The Taiwanese revolted against Chinese rule and in 1947 there were anti-Chinese riots in which thousands of civilians lost their lives.
When the communists came to power in China in 1949, the Chinese ruler Chai-Kai Shek moved his government to Taiwan and the ‘Two China’ syndrome came into effect. As China got embattled in the Korea war of the 1950s the Mainland neglected its proposed invasion of Taiwan. The two China syndrome established the Mainland as the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan as the Republic of China (ROC). The ROC government rebuilt and vastly industrialized the country as a result of which Taiwan was one of the wealthiest Asian nations in the 1960s.
In 1971 Taiwan lost its UN representation to mainland China and the late 1970s saw Taiwan was being increasingly isolated. Unofficially though it does continue to be recognized by member states. Martial law was lifted in Taiwan in 1987 and since 1994 it has tried to get back its UN seat. This has been viewed unfavorably by the mainland which is keen to unite the two countries under their ‘One China’ policy. Recently in 2006 the Taiwanese got rid of their National Unification Council this has further displeased leadership in Beijing which views all these events as assertions of Taiwanese independence. The current political developments in Taiwan are being keenly observed by both China and the US and only time will tell what the future holds for this boisterous nation
The official language of Taiwan is Mandarin Chinese. However other Chinese dialects are also spoken such as Hakka and Taiwanese.
Taipei is characterized by hot humid summers when the average daily temperatures are a high 29.4°C or 84.9° F. Taipei receives much rainfall in the summer months. The winters are generally drier with cooler temperatures which hover around 14.9°C or 58.8°F.
One can fly into Taipei’s Chai Kai Shek international airport located just outside the city on the north east side in Taoyuan County. Many Asian and other international carriers serve this airport. A peculiarity which must be mentioned is that most carriers change their names when flying into Taipei’s airport. British Airways for instance is renamed British Asia Airlines this is done with the view so as to not offend mainland China. Apart from international carriers the airport is served by Taiwan’s own Eva air lines. One can get to the city from the airport easily by cab but since most cab drivers don’t speak English it is wise to get the name of your destination written in Chinese to show the cab driver. There is another airport located in the heart of city called Songshan airport which is used mainly by domestic airlines.
Taipei is served by an excellent regional bus service which operates out of four terminals located in the city. The government is trying to amalgamate all these four terminals into one central terminal to make it less confusing to navigate. Bus links exist to cities such as Taichung and overnight buses to Kenting or Taidong.
Taipei is very easy to navigate as it is served by an excellent public transport system .The MRT or Mass Rapid Transport system was the first to be built in Taiwan and it runs from 6am until midnight. An all day pass for the MRT which also can be used on the bus service costs Taiwanese $150. The trains operate at a frequency of four to seven minutes.
The Bus network in Taipei is also well developed with buses connecting areas not served by the MRT and tickets are dependant on the length of ones journey. Some buses require tickets to be bought when one boards the bus and others require tickets to be bought at the exit. Another mode of transport used not only in Taipei but all over Taiwan is the motor scooter. This contraption can weave in and out of traffic easily and is not regulated by the laws that govern vehicular traffic.
The Taipei train station is the largest train station in Taiwan and it is a terminus for the MRT as well. Intercity train travel is much more expensive than bus travel, thus most people prefer to use the excellent bus service.
Taxis also form a convenient mode of transport and initial flag fall is usually Taiwanese $70. However as elsewhere there are other charges for luggage and night journeys etc.
One of the most renowned hotels dating back to the times of Chai Kai Shek is the Grand Hotel. Once the epitome of luxury the hotel built in a traditional style has a somewhat dated feel to it. The Hotel can be accessed for rates and availability online at www.grand-hotel.org (886-2)2886-8888. In today’s scenario it is the Taipei Sheraton which is the hub of social activity. It was used as the locale for the wedding of the son of the President Chen Shui Bian. The Sheraton’s rates and availability can be accessed www.sheraton-taipei.com. Taipei also has a few interesting and modern boutique hotels worth checking out; one of these is Ambience with its Phillipe Starcke accents and ultra modern accessories such as flat screen televisions. The Ambience can be accessed at www.ambiecehotel.com.tw. Mention also must be made that Taipei is increasingly a wired city with WIFI access being available at most spots. This access costs merely Taiwanese $100 a day.
The National Palace Museum, 221 Zinshan Road
This museum houses the fabulous works of art annexed by the Chinese emperors since the 10th Century. The collection has traveled through many locations and has found its resting place in Taipei at any one time not all of the collection is on display. The treasures are stored in a vault carved into the mountainside.
Taipei 101, Xinyi Road
The Taipei International Financial center is currently the world’s tallest building at 508 meters. It is said to have been constructed on a fault line. There are observation decks at various levels, the first one is on the 89th floor, the access to this deck costs Taiwanese $ 350 as you go up further to the 91st floor you have to pay an additional Taiwanese $100.
If you do not want to go up to the observation decks you can indulge in the delights of the shopping mall and fantastic Asian food court on the lower floors. Both these attractions cater to the Taiwanese obsessions for eating and shopping.
Taiwan Storyland Zhongxiao Road
It is one of Taiwan’s newest and most popular attractions, located in the main MRT station. It depicts a street scene in a Taiwanese town circa 1965. It has the shops of yesteryear which dot the old street and gives one a sense of what life was in a bygone era. The entrance charge for foreigners is Taiwanese $ 80.
The Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Zhongzheng District
The magnificent memorial to the late leader stands in the National Democracy Park and it is built of marble. Well manicured lawns and Koi ponds are located all through out the memorial which has a statue of Chiang Kai Shek and a library on the ground floor which has photos and other memorabilia. Adjacent to the Memorial are the National Theater and the National Concert Hall both of which are exponents of traditional Chinese style.
Longshan Temple at Wanhua
The most famous temple of Taipei dedicated to the goddess Guanyin was built in 1738 by settlers from the Fuijan province of China. Over the years the temple has been destroyed by earthquakes, typhoons and even bombings by the Allies in the Second World War. The Taiwanese have rebuilt the temple time and again. This temple is symbolic of the resilience of the Taiwanese people.
Postal Museum, Chongging
This is a museum devoted to the mail delivery systems of Taiwan down the ages as well as 80,000 stamps from 120 countries. In addition it also has exhibits of postal uniforms etc. Indeed this museum is one of the most unique museums in the world.
Confucius Temple, Talung Street
This temple devoted to the great philosopher Confucius is generally a peaceful sanctuary except on October 28th each year when there are elaborate ceremonies held here to commemorate the great thinkers birthday.
Pao An Temple
Located in the vicinity of the Confucius temple is the 230 year old Pao An Temple.
The temple is a place of worship for followers to Taoism and the deities worshipped here are Pao Sheng (god of medicine),Ju Lai Fo ( god of luck) and Chu Seng Niang Niang the goddess of birth and fertility.
Martyrs Shrine Bei-An Road
This shrine is dedicated to Taipei’s fallen heroes. The shrine is an exponent of the architecture associated with the Ming dynasty. It is adorned with a splendid archway, tranquil paths and a changing of the guards which is quite like the one at Buckingham Palace and a major attraction.
Lin Family Mansion and Garden, Ximen Street
This home was built in 1853. It was converted into a museum in 2001. It is an example of the architecture associated with the Qing period. It is a grand mansion adorned with intricate carvings and gold leaf accents. It has a grand viewing gallery which was used by the family to observe the farmers as they worked in the fields. It has been constructed without the use of nails but by using a tongue and grove technology. It has ponds and gardens within its folds which add greatly to the beauty and charm of the mansion.
Sun Yat –Sen Memorial Hall
This is a monument devoted to the father of the Republic of China and adorned with an impressive bronze statute of the leader and other memorabilia such as photos. The memorial has a multi media presentation highlighting the events in the life of Dr. Sun Yat- Sen.
Shopping is a major recreational activity in Taiwan, one can buy almost everything a Taipei’s numerous and vibrant markets. Department stores and stores devoted to designer goods co- exist with traditional markets and night markets. Idée is a premier department store in Taipei while Dinghao market is an extensive market with restaurants, pubs, tea houses, bakeries and stores selling high end and casual fashion along with footwear and accessory stores. In Dinghao there are also street vendors selling a variety of goods. Shihlin Night market is the most famous night market of Taipei. It is a typical Chinese market populate by a host of vendors selling a vast variety of wares. The Kuanghua Market is known for its vendors of computers, software and peripherals. There is also a Holiday Jade and flower market which is held on Saturday afternoons and Sundays. Here the vendors specialize in Jade which is venerated by the Chinese and exotic blooms.
Restaurants and Eating
Taipei is renowned the world over for its excellent restaurants that serve authentic Chinese cuisine. Taiwanese cuisine is characterized by dumplings and dishes featuring fermented bean curd .Ay –Chung Flour Rice and Noodle of Er-Mei Street is an extremely popular noodle house. Kiki , on Guangfu South Road features dishes from the Sichuan province on its menu. Lu San Canteen on Yongkang Street is popular for its regional Taiwanese menu.