We recently realised in the Getaway
office that after all these years of travelling the globe, Taiwan was one place in Asia we'd missed! Well, Catriona Rowntree went on a guilt trip and was pleasantly surprised.
First stop Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. She discovered a vibrant city with all the exciting elements of Asia.
Taipei is on the northern tip of the island, and while it is chaotic and crowded, it is clean, efficient and intriguing. Finding your way around is not hard public transport is cheap and reliable and heads to all the main attractions.
For so long Taiwan has been overshadowed by China, its nearest and very powerful neighbour. While they split in 1949, China still claims sovereignty.
The country is a melting pot of cultures with its indigenous people, southern Fujianese from early China, Hakka immigrants, Dutch, Spanish, Japanese and recent immigrants from mainland China. They have successfully blended and are extremely friendly and hospitable people.
Officially Taipei International Financial Centre 101, this 508m-tall building will hold the title of world's tallest building until Burj Dubai is completed. Pressure-controlled lifts travel at 17m a second and it takes just 37 seconds to get from ground level to the 89th floor observation deck.
Unfortunately, Catriona struck a cloudy day, but if you plan your visit on a clear day you will have fantastic 360-degree views of the city and mountains. Stop for a meal at one of the restaurants on the 85th floor or visit the basement food court. The lower five floors have swanky shopping malls and banks, a convenient combination!
National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall
This 25-hectare green escape in the centre of the city is well worth a visit. See the Memorial Hall (formerly known as the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall in honour of the former dictator president), National Theatre and National Concert Hall. A museum on the Hall's ground floor is dedicated to Chiang's life with military uniforms, medals, paintings, manuscripts and two gigantic black, bulletproof Cadillacs.
The grand plazas and gardens are loved by locals and are used for shows, fairs, public activities and folk performances. Visitors climb two sets of white stairs, each with 89 steps (Chiang's age when he died) to the main entrance. They are met by a 16m-tall, 75-tonne bronze statue of Chiang, smiling and seated and wearing traditional Chinese dress. Try to time your visit to see the daily changing of the guard.
All of the well-known hotel chains are represented in Taipei, but the daddy of them all if the Grand Hotel. The Chinese-style high-rise across the Keelung River is a 1970s reconstruction of the original 1952 building and was built at the suggestion of Chaing's wife, Soong May-ling. It's all vermilion pillars and stately archways with spacious rooms decorated in the old-style Chinese way. It hosts many political leaders and is equipped with escape tunnels, just in case.
Each of the eight levels represents a different Chinese dynasty with appropriate murals and décor. The presidential suite has pieces owned by the Chiangs. Elsewhere in the hotel are objets d'art, wall panels, paintings and carvings. It truly is a showplace.
There are eight in-house restaurants, driving range, tennis courts, pool, fitness centre and sauna.
Taiwan has more than 5000 temples, more per capita than anywhere else in the world. But Longshan is one of the oldest dating to 1738 and is the largest and most beautiful. Religious life is very important and it is not unusual for families to be split into devotees of Buddhism or Confucianism.
Many people go to Longshan Temple for answers to weighty questions. They gather in the courtyard to burn incense and cast red, crescent-shaped pieces of wood to help determine their fortunes. If you visit at 6am, 8am or 4pm you will see worshippers and hear their hypnotic chanting.
Villa 32 Hot Springs
Natural hot springs have lured people as far back as the country's Japanese period. Beitou has many options with springs ranging between 55-58°C. They range from simply soaking your feet in roadside creeks to glamorous baths in resorts. The sulphuric waters are said to heal skin ailments.
Villa 32 has tow ultramodern Japanese tatami suites and three elegant Western rooms, all with private hot-spring baths. Open-air public baths overlook the mist-covered Yangming Mountain. Spa treatments include massages on heated tables that warm bodies between pre- and post-treatment plunges.
Outdoor pools with different temperatures are shielded by wooden awnings. Rent a private room or bath with others in the outdoor pools separated by gender. Villa 32 has a policy of restricting children under the age of 16 from the site.
Five Dime Restaurant
Eating out is a favourite pastime in Taipei and Five Dime is a quirky and imaginative tree-house style restaurant of sprayed concrete, driftwood and clay sculptures. It's the work of local artist Hsieh Li-Hsiang whose work is reminiscent of that of Spain's Antoni Gaudi.
It could be the wackiest restaurant you've ever been to but food is well recommended and it's not expensive. Choose between Chinese, Japanese and western dishes.
Shilin Night Market
The king of Taipei's night markets, as soon as the sun sets, this place turns into a frantic buzz of food and shopping and even games of skill. Food is cheap and delicious and servings generous. People queue for Shanghai fried buns, filled with vegetables or meat. Also very popular is pearl milk tea, made with tapioca.
Don't be overwhelmed by the size of the market; it's alley after alley of shops, many with identical stock, so competition is great. Bargaining is expected and Catriona has offered a couple of phonetic ways that may help with your bartering. "Kachoy, kachoy" for "cheaper, cheaper", "batoi, batoi" for "please please" and finish off with "hola. hola" for "okay, okay".
Taipei, capital of Taiwan (also known as Formosa) in east Asia, off the coast of China.
Advance Olympic Travel has packages including return flights with China Airlines, three nights at the Grand Hotel, breakfast and a night shopping tour and visits to Taipei 101, Longshan temple and the Shilin markets. They start at $1490 per person twin share from Sydney and Brisbane.
This offer ends on May 10, 2009 and is valid for travel until November 13, 2009. Don't forget to ask about their children stay offer.
China Airlines flies 10 times a week to Taipei.
Prices correct at April 9, 2009.
For further information
Ph: (02) 9231 3336 or 1300 668 052
Advance Olympic Travel
2nd Floor, 64 Castlereagh Street
Ph: (02) 9264 5222
Fax: (02) 9264 5228
No 7, Sec 5, Xin Yi Road
National Taiwan Democracy Memorial
21 Zhong Shan South Road
Ph: +886 2 2343 1100
1,Chung Shan N Road, Sec 4
Ph: +886 2 2886 8888
221 Kuangchou Street
Ph: +886 2 2302 5162
Villa 32 Hot Springs
32 Zhongshan Road
Ph: +886 2 6611 8888
Five Dime Restaurant
No 8, Lane 32, Neihu Road Section 1
Ph: +886 2 8501 1472
Shilin Night Market
Near Jiantan MRT Station
Chung Shan North Road
Ph: +886 2 2349 1635
Visas: Australians do not require a visa for Taiwan if they are staying 30 days or fewer. Passports need to have at least six months' validity.
Electricity: 110V/60Hz with two flat pins as used in the United States.
Time zone: GMT+8.
Currency: New Taiwan dollar.
International dialling code: + 866.
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