TRAVEL REVIEW: Wild Taiwan
Taipei is one of the liveliest cities in Asia, with 24-hour access to culture and entertainment. It’s a fusion of traditional Chinese culture shaken up with Japanese and Korean influences, creating a cocktail of adventure. Daytime thrillseekers can find themselves hiking steep steps up to a mountain temple one day and motorbiking through narrow alleyways the next, while night owls can have a go at karaoke or mingle with the decidedly international crowds at swanky rooftop pool parties. For those into living life in the fast lane, we uncover a city of wild possibilities.
FIRST, WHERE TO STAY...
Located in the buzzing central business district of Xinyi, the W Taipei (wtaipei.com) is the place to be and be seen in the Taiwanese capital. We stayed in the Fantastic Suite, which is the perfect balance of tranquillity-meets-energy. All rooms are inspired by nature, with furnishings of warm-coloured stones and burnished wood, accented with subtle lighting similar to that of Chinese lantern boxes. The best feature in our suite is the open-plan bathroom, offering a tub with stunning views for a comfortable soak – it faces the iconic Taipei 101 building (the tallest building in the world until the Burj Khalifa knocked it off the top spot in 2010). Breakfast in The Kitchen Table on the 10th floor is the best way to power up for hectic days ahead – there is a massive range of options, including our favourite, the fresh juice station.
NEXT, WHERE TO PARTY...
The W hosts some of the city’s best parties, so there’s no need to wait for an Uber home if you choose to stay there. Make note of the dates for the epic Summer Pool Party, when you can enjoy drinks while dipping your feet in the rooftop pool (or simply laze around on a unicorn-shaped inflatable, like us). It’s on every Sunday between July and September. For something more low-key, head to the 31st floor’s stunning Yen bar, where you’ll find glorious floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing the pulsating Xinyi district and the ubiquitous neon current that unifies the city.
Keen to venture out of the W? The district of Ximending is where you’ll experience trendy youth culture. The area is jam- packed with shops, restaurants, karaoke booths and bars. It’s here that you’ll also find the octagonal Ximen building, also known as the Red House Theatre (redhouse.taipei). Originally built in 1908, it’s a popular go-to for quirky shops, market stalls and cafes by day. Come dusk, it’s fabulous for nightlife. Begin with happy hour at any one of the massive array of outdoor bars and toast until the early hours under gorgeous architecture.
NOW, WHERE TO SHOP...
The Shilin Night Market (shilin-night-market.com) is the place to shop ’til you drop. This is the most popular after-hours shopping hub in Taipei, comprising a labyrinth of food stalls that sell all kinds of must-try Taiwanese snacks, including fried buns and stinky tofu (it’s as smelly as it sounds – go on, be brave). There is also a plethora of stores, selling just about everything to meet your retail needs, including cosmetics, souvenirs and jewellery. The whole experience is thrilling, even for those who are reluctant to part with too many Taiwanese dollars.
Being a bookworm can be a wild experience, too, believe it or not. The Eslite bookstore in Dunnan is open 24/7 and it’s even super-popular through the early hours (the busiest time all day is apparently between 10pm and 2am!). You can read to your heart’s content without actually buying. If that’s not your bag, then just know there’s also a bar, teashop, boutiques, food and various exhibits and film screenings there, too.
THEN, WHERE TO THRILL-SEEK...
For something off the beaten track, turn to KKday (kkday.com), a tour operator that connects travellers with authentic local experiences and activities both in and around Taipei. On our visit, we took a motorcycle tour that saw us zipping through narrow, busy streets to gorgeous vantage points overlooking the remarkable scenery the country is famous for. We took in one of Taiwan’s oldest and largest ancient buildings, the Lungshan of Manka, as well as Hunglodei – or Nanshijiao Mountain – the highest scenic point in the Zhonghe District. Here, you’ll find the Oven Ground Nanshan Fude, full of vibrant colours that pop out from the green surroundings. If motorcycles are a bit tame for you, then KKday also offers paragliding experiences in the East Rift Valley, Taiwan’s flourishing countryside, as well as scuba diving down south in Kenting. Meanwhile, hiking fans are spoilt for choice, but the staple climb in Taipei is the short yet challenging trek up the Elephant Mountain trail. In around 20 minutes you’ll reach the top and get sensational views over the city. Top tip: take snacks, as there are no stores or vending machines.
FINALLY, WHERE TO RELAX...
All that exploring can take its toll on the body. Thankfully, Taipei has plenty of R&R options at your disposal. Locals love going to hot springs, and the Beitou region in the north is devoted entirely to resorts. This is where you’ll find the famous Thermal Valley hot springs. Relax in the assortment of bubbling sulphurous waters, which vary in temperature – it’s a great way to get away from the madness of the city.
Too exhausted to take the 30-minute drive to Beitou? The W Taipei’s Away Spa offers special detox treatments to refresh your body from head to toe. There’s the SK detox qi ritual, a form of Chinese therapy to soothe your body via circulation techniques, and the SK detox anti-cellulite treatment, which includes a red pomegranate scrub procedure to exfoliate, followed by a heated body wrap and rubdown with SK horsetail body wrap. Soon enough, you’ll be ready and raring to dive back into the madness and make the most of your wonderful, wild trip to Taipei.
TOP TAIWAN TIPS
- “Thank you” in Mandarin, the o icial language of Taiwan, is xie xie (pronounced shay shay).
- That smell everywhere isn’t sewage – it’s Taiwan’s famous stinky tofu snack. It really is pungent, but giveitago–it’soneofthe country’s most popular dishes for a reason.
- Tipping is rarely expected, so there’s no need to worry about working out percentages when the bill arrives.
- Standing your chopsticks up in your rice bowl is a sign of food left for the dead, so leave them to the side when you’ve finished your meal.
- If you ever enter somebody’s home, always remove your shoes first.
- In the markets it’s customary to haggle. Aim for around three-quarters of the asking price.
- Taipei is a really safe place, with one of the lowest crime rates in Asia, but always remain vigilant anyway.