Top five destinations in Taipei

By Shandelle Battersby

At 508m tall the Taipei 101 building dominates the city's landscape. Photo / Getty Images
At 508m tall the Taipei 101 building dominates the city's landscape. Photo / Getty Images

1: Themed restaurants

Apparently novelty restaurants are a "thing" in Taipei. Sadly, the hospital-themed joint, where beer is served in drip bags, shots administered via syringe and waitresses are dressed as nurses, is no longer in operation (pun intended), but try Modern Toilet (where you sit on closed loos and eat themed food - think poo-inspired icecream - out of lavatory-shaped dishes at sinks or baths with glass tops), the A380 In-Flight Kitchen (modelled on the Airbus superjumbo, complete with meals served on plastic trays, waitresses dressed as flight attendants and boarding passes for those who need to wait for a table), or the car-themed P.S. Bu Bu Restaurant (where you can dine in an iconic car like a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air, a la the restaurant in Pulp Fiction).

2: Good eating

Like many Asian countries, Taiwan is famed for its cuisine, with Taipei particularly well known for its fabulous street food - from delicate scallion pancakes to chou doufu, known by Westerners as "stinky tofu".

You'll find seafood dominates restaurant menus here and it is excellent, from the freshest sashimi to plates of vibrant prawns and whole, fragrant steamed fish. Ginger, garlic and spring onions are typical ingredients so the food is not particularly spicy, but if you fancy something hotter there are plenty of Szechuan Chinese restaurants in the main cities, such as the excellent Szechuan Court atop the Ambassador Hotel in the Zhongshan District.

3: Taipei 101

The claim to fame of this impressive structure, which dominates the Taipei cityscape, is that, at 508m, it held the title of tallest building in the world from 2004 until Dubai opened its Burj Khalifa in 2010. The two fastest elevators on Earth shoot silently and impressively to the 89th floor (there are 101 floors but only 88-91 are observation decks), in an ear-popping 37 seconds. That works out at 1010m a minute. The bamboo stalk-inspired tower has been specially built to withstand typhoon winds and earthquake tremors common to the region and you can see the world's biggest "wind damper" - a huge gold iron ball which helps keep it steady - on the 88th floor.

4: Night markets

The city's plethora of night markets are also world famous, each one offering something slightly different. The biggest and best known is Shilin, which has it all - food, entertainment, games, massages, tattoos, pet and mobile phone accessories and shopping. Pop music blares from each narrow shop lining the market's sprawling streets and alleyways, which are closed to cars but not scooters. It's remarkably clean, the wares seem of reasonable quality and, best of all, no one hassles you to buy. The sizeable crowds, which you'll find on any night of the week, are polite and calm, and wandering alone I felt completely safe.

(NB: Unlike most Asian street markets bartering seems to be a no-go zone, with items selling for set prices.)

5: The sights

Taipei has had an interesting and tumultuous past and there are many historical spots around the city worth a visit. Top of the list is the National Palace Museum, which houses the world's largest collection of Chinese art, liberated from mainland China by former Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek, who later became President of Taiwan. There is a grandiose memorial to Chiang in Liberty Square atop 89 steps - his age when he died - and also in the square are the beautiful National Theatre and National Concert Hall buildings. Nearby is the tranquil 2-28 Peace Park, which houses a museum and memorial dedicated to those who died during an anti-government uprising which began on February 28, 1947.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: China Airlines fly via Sydney and Brisbane to Taipei.

Shandelle Battersby travelled to Taiwan as a guest of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

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