Taipei offers plenty of delicious food and spectacular sights in and on the outskirts of the city.
The Straits Times
May 1, 2016
Who: Dr Chiam Chiak Teng, 32, an aesthetic physician.
Favourite destination: Taipei, Taiwan
Why: Taipei is a bustling city where there is something to do at any time of day or night. A five-hour flight from Singapore, Taipei is a perfect getaway for a long weekend and, from the city, one can easily arrange day trips to more scenic locations around the island.
Favourite hotel in Taipei
I have been to Taipei eight times and I usually stay at the Westgate Hotel (No. 150, Section 1, Zhonghua Road, Taipei; tel: +886-2-2331-3161; www.westgatehotel.com.tw) in the heart of Ximending, a vibrant neighbourhood buzzing with bars, street food stalls and shopping.
The hotel is a stone’s throw away from the Ximen MRT (Municipal Rapid Transit) station. It is also within walking distance of a few of my favourite eateries, such as Ay-Chung Flour Rice Noodle Restaurant, also known as Ah Zhong Mian Xian (No. 103, Hanzhong Street, Wanhua District), and Tao-Yuan-Street Beef Noodle Shop (No.15 Taoyuan Street, Zhongzheng District), both of which are famous.
The massive Party World Karaoke Building is right across the street.
Though I mostly eat the local street food in Taipei, my favourite dining experience was at J.W. Teres (No. 4, Lane 208, Siwei Road, Da’an District; tel:+886-2-2755-0660; www.facebook.com/bulgarianrestaurant), a fine-dining restaurant opened by a Bulgarian banker to showcase Bulgarian cuisine and wines.
The owner manages everything – from taking your order to cooking to serving you wine to getting the cheque. He has only one other staff member, so do not expect fast service and do make a reservation.
Bulgarian cuisine is very similar to Mediterranean food, with lots of barbecued meats and greens. A five-course meal for two with a bottle of wine costs about NT$3,500 (S$145). I typically tell the owner to prepare a five-course meal of his choice and it has never disappointed.
I also recommend the Uniqato Rubin, my favourite Bulgarian wine. It is made from the Rubin, a lesser-known Bulgarian grape variety that is a cross between the Nebbiolo and Syrah grapes.
Favourite tourist site
About an hour’s drive outside Taipei, the seaside city of Tamsui, also known as Danshui, is a place I visit almost every trip. It is a vibrant area where old streets are filled with roadside stalls selling delicious street food, local produce, small souvenirs and clothes at wholesale prices, as well as game stalls which bring me back to my childhood trying to win prizes at the fair.
The Fisherman’s Wharf and Lover’s Bridge provide a spectacular sunset view on a nice relaxing stroll by the pier.
Maokong is a quaint little village set atop a mountain, just on the fringe of Taipei City. It is readily accessible by a scenic 20-minute gondola ride from the Taipei Zoo MRT station.
There are many small teahouses serving a great variety of locally grown teas and local cuisine, with outdoor seating areas providing fantastic views of the city.
My favourite place for a typical Taiwanese breakfast is Fuhang Soya Bean on the second floor of Huashan Market (108 Zhongxiao East Road) next to the Shandao Temple MRT Station.
Apart from hot and cold soya bean milk (NT$25 to NT$30), which I think is the best in Taiwan, it also serves comfort food such as rice balls, fried dough sticks and omelettes (NT$25 to NT$55).
The queue often extends around the building, so be prepared to queue 30 to 45 minutes for breakfast.
Take a couple of hours to walk the Bitou Cape trail along the northeastern coast of Taiwan, which offers picturesque views of tall cliffs, crashing waves and the Bitou Cape Lighthouse looking out over the horizon where the East China Sea meets the Pacific Ocean.
Must-try local delicacy
The crab meat soup, a thick mushroom broth with a generous topping of crab meat, at Keelung’s Miaokou Night Market is to die for and costs only NT$45.
While you can find this dish in Taipei City and at many of the night market’s stalls, none is like the soup from Wu Ji (stall number 10). This stall has been around for a long time and it has a few branches in Taipei, but this is the original stall and, in my opinion, the best.
It is well worth the 40-minute train ride from Taipei Central Station to Keelung, a port city in the north-east of Taiwan.
Best day trips
A must-do day trip is to the scenic towns of Shifen and Pingxi. They are popular among tourists because of the number of stalls selling “tian deng” or sky lanterns. You can pen your wishes on the lanterns and release them into the sky.
My knowledge of Taipei and its surroundings comes from speaking to the locals, especially taxi drivers who can tell you the most efficient ways to travel around the city.
I also purchase local guidebooks at the bookstores or convenience stores. The title of my favourite guidebook literally translates to Strategy For The Conquest Of Taipei. The book (about NT$450) organises attractions and food stops by MRT stations and covers the outskirts of the city as well. It is available only in Chinese.
For travellers who do not read Chinese, I recommend guidetotaipei. com, a comprehensive website covering almost all the main attractions in Taipei.
Ideal length of stay
Four to five days is generally enough time to see most of Taipei, but I recommend a seven- to 10-day trip if you wish to explore places farther south, such as Hualien and Kaohsiung.
Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon offer flight deals to Taipei with seamless connections via Hong Kong. Find out more.
This article was first published on May 1, 2016.
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