Welcome to Fantasy Island
By Elyse Glickman
Taiwan’s Population 23,046,177
Taipei’s Population 2,619,920
13,893 square miles, located 75 miles off the coast of Mainland China.
$1 U.S. = $31.50 Taiwan Dollar
G.D.P. (as of 2009)
“Marine tropical,” with the entire island experiencing hot, humid weather from June through September. The northern part of the island has a rainy season that lasts from January through late March. The middle and southern sections do not have an extended monsoon season during winter.
Eva Air (www.evaair.com.tw), China Airlines, US Airways, Delta and American Airlines offer daily flights from LAX to Taipei.
Taiwan High Speed Rail offers inexpensive, rapid travel from Taipei to other destinations around the island. For more information, visit
Those who have yet to discover 21st-century Taiwan should prepare to have their notion about “Made in Taiwan” shaken to its foundation. In the new millennium, Taipei is quickly catching up to sister Asian capitals Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, and Singapore as a worthwhile destination that holds the best of many worlds, including Japan and South Korea’s urban technical wizardry and shared penchant for global luxury. The rest of the country, from small towns to rural expanses, blend mainland China’s cultural influences and the laid-back vibe of Malaysia and Thailand’s beach and mountain areas.
The Executive Lounge at the Grand Formosa Regent Taipei
The Taipei Stay
Taipei City’s upscale hotels are fantastic showcases for the way Taiwan is leading the charge in Asian hospitality, especially when it comes to amenities catering to the discerning business traveler as well as space for large conferences and intimate meetings with associates from local sister offices. When it comes to comfort across the board, meanwhile, the less-is-more Asian aesthetic prevails. All the properties visited, in their own ways, are beautifully executed in rich hardwoods, luxurious bedding, and service-driven staff.
The Executive Lounge at the Grand Formosa Regent Taipei (www.grandformosa.com.tw/EN/) is outfitted with Apple computers, a well-stocked kitchen area, and conference rooms. However, its focal point is an intimate living room space with panoramic views and Assouline coffee table books. Though the Grand Hyatt Taipei bears Hyatt’s international hallmark of the towering and sprawling lobby, touches like the outstanding Pearl Liang Chinese Seafood Restaurant and one of the most imaginative, hands-on wedding-planning concepts make it uniquely “local.”
The Sheraton Taipei’s (www.sheraton-taipei.com/english) sleek guest rooms are accented with décor bearing Taiwanese floral patterns that impart warmth. It also boasts one of the best-organized and highest-quality breakfast buffets in town, especially with the Japanese selections. The Sherwood Taipei (www.sherwood.com.tw/en/) is an elegant old-school business hotel, right down to classical musicians performing in the lobby. However, it is anything but stodgy.
The W Hotel Taipei (starwoodhotels.com/whotels) set to open in December (at press time), not only will provide some of the most spectacular views and business travel amenities to their guests, but also a great excuse for a return visit. The new, state-of-the-art structure epitomizes Taipei’s status as a city of the 21st century, mixing the hotel group’s penchant for mod whimsy with furnishings that mirror the skyline and nearby landmark Taipei 101 (which was on record as the tallest building in the world from 2004-2010).
A feast for all senses
When I asked Don Shapiro (publisher of the American Chamber of Commerce’s TOPICS Magazine) about places he recommends to colleagues, he noted many sites listed on my itinerary also happen to be his personal favorites. These include the many temples dotting the city (including Longshan Temple and the Taipei Confucius Temple) and internationally renowned National Palace Museum, with its exquisite collection of treasures from Taiwan and Mainland China. The Silks Palace Restaurant, just next door, prepares an ingenious family-style Cantonese banquet thematically based on the National Palace Museum’s masterworks.
Though Taipei’s big draw is street food, its fine and contemporary dining options are worth seeking out. Prime examples include Chili House (upscale Szechuan food), Yuan Pot Restaurant (a favorite with top brass from the W Taipei Hotel) and AoBa. In all of these places, style and substance blend harmoniously, as do influences from Mainland Chinese provinces, Japan, and the West. Japan’s specific culinary and aesthetic impact on Taiwan is on full display at Shi-Yang Culture Restaurant, a half-hour drive from downtown. Painstakingly rendered small-plate dishes and locally grown fruits gorgeous enough for display in the National Palace Museum’s galleries are served against a spare, bucolic backdrop.
Though Taipei’s Museum of Fine Art is focused on visiting art exhibitions, the surrounding neighborhood makes it worth the trip. The modern art scene lives and breathes along the narrow paths crisscrossing Bo-Pi-Liao Historic Street. Those who regard baseball as art will be intrigued by the fact that the sport is as much Taiwan’s favorite pastime as it is America’s. Case in point: Kuo Hong-chih and Hu Chin-lung, who have proudly worn Los Angeles Dodgers’ blues. Top Hollywood director Ang Lee, known for his cinematic home runs, also hails from Taiwan.
Even with luxury and trendiness proliferating across the city, the riot of color and aromas at Taipei’s famous night markets (including Raohe, JingMei, Luodong and Shilin) are can’t miss experiences. Though Los Angeles has its own Din Tai Fung dumpling emporium, the original, bustling Taipei locations justify there is nothing better than the original (www.dintaifung.com.tw). If a more sophisticated scene is more your style, bee-line to Marquee and Indulge to sip some of Asia’s most inspired cocktails, blending purees of locally-grown fruit with top shelf spirits.
The Red House
Shopping: Baubles, Bargains, and Electronics
Gadget fanatics looking to feed their head will want to add Guang Hwa Computer Street, Nova Computer Mall, and Kwang Hua Market’s spread of high-tech goodness to their agenda. While the well-dressed and house-proud cannot go wrong at SOGO and Shin Kong Mitsukoshi department stores with their mix of international and local designer shops-within-shops, tiny local boutique jewels abound.
Hui Liu Teahouse (9, Lane 31, YungKang St., Taipei City) is not just a memorable spot for intimate business meetings, but also one-stop shopping for an eclectic assortment of artisanal teas, kitchen accessories, and handmade computer bags rendered by local artists. The Ximending neighborhood features a collection of funky bars, modern clothing boutiques, and offbeat accessory stands, including one selling glasses frames constructed of bamboo. The Red House (www.redhouse.org.tw), constructed in 1908 by noted architect Kondo Juro, anchors the neighborhood. The octagonal building, managed by the Taiwan Cultural Foundation, is home to a theater and an afternoon market showcasing up-and-coming fashion designers as well as beautifully packaged teas and accessories.
Southern cities Kaohsiung and Tainan offer museums, cultural sites, street markets, fine dining, and shopping opportunities found in Taipei, but at a slightly slower pace. However, those venturing beyond Taipei should not miss the splendor of Taroko Gorge, with its soaring cliffs and rope bridges.
In the middle of this national park, you will find the Silks Place (taroko.silksplace.com.tw/index_en.html), one of the most romantic resorts in Asia. Though there is great hiking, bike rentals, and temples to explore a stone’s throw from the front door, the resort is so gorgeously laid out you will probably want to plant yourself on the top level’s pool deck or lounge and just watch Taroko Gorge’s green expanse unroll before your eyes. The icing on this proverbial cake is the resort’s Mei Yuan Restaurant, prepared by India-born chef Ashish Deva. Though Deva’s dishes are recognizably Chinese, there is a defined intermingling between regional influences, as well as a much lighter and delicate use of sauce and spice.
The same goes for Hotel Royal Chihpen (www.hotel-royal-chihpen.com.tw), in Taitung County in southwestern Taiwan. Hot springs and day spa fanatics will be spoiled between the available treatments, the hotel’s sprawling expanse of spring water-filled pools with different Jacuzzi-jet placements, clothing-optional natural hot springs, and spring water that can be piped right into individual guest rooms through the Japanese-style shower and bathtubs.
Though the siren calls of other Asian capitals beckon, Taiwan is a wonderful package just waiting to be opened, with treasures that transform into memories that are absolutely priceless.