Taiwan’s largest city is Taipei, which is located on the northern tip of the island.
Rejected by its former patron, and still surviving as something of an unacknowledged rebel state, it’s amazing that Taiwan has done as well as it has. Capital Taipei is a true international technological hub; the world-leader in microchips and computer technology, yet still steeped in plenty of tradition. A remarkable and seductive blend, and a model the former Chinese island – the part that escaped communism – is rightly very proud of.
Some of Taiwan’s greatest attractions, however, still date back to its Chinese years. If you’ve arrived from China, you’ll find the local customs officials can’t resist stamping their ‘Chinese Taipei’ stamp on the opposing page of your passport, and when you arrive in the city, you’ll see that when Taipei’s ancient leaders escaped Mao, they took plenty of China’s more moveable treasures with them. The National Palace Museum, for example, is home to a more impressive and significant array of ancient Chinese art than China can collectively lay claim to.
You can stare out over the entire city - and out over the tea plantations of the attractive hilly outskirts – from the vertigo inducing heights of Taipei 101, formerly the world’s tallest building, and also home to an intensely up market shopping center and the world’s fastest elevator. It’s modeled on a piece of bamboo, and even manages to sway in the wind.
Longshan Temple, an invariably misty old temple that’s home to lotus pools, waterfalls, tables full of donations and fortune tellers, is an astonishing multi-denominational effort that can’t fail to inspire, while the Museum of Jade Art gives visitors a glance at one of Taipei’s resident’s more traditional skills.
It wouldn’t be Taiwan without night markets that reek of fetid Tofu, but serve an affordable selection of succulent snacks and a quirky range of not-so-new technology. Then there’s the must-do early morning trip to the park, where you can watch rows of dedicated swordsman swing slowly and precisely, focused on their daily Tai Chi rituals. At the other extreme, Taipei’s famously slow nightlife is spiked by the sporadic fight clubs.
Taipei’s modern, but at the same time it couldn’t be more Asian. Dive in and absorb a fascinating culture.