Taipei, Taiwan - Stein Travel
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Taipei

Taipei, the capital of the island nation of Taiwan, is hot, crowded, chaotic and cosmopolitan, one of the Asian 'tiger' cities that throbs with life day and night. The city skyscrapers reach up from a basin in the north of Taiwan, which is separated from the Chinese mainland by the narrow Formosa Strait. For decades the recognition of the independence of Taiwan has been an issue domestically and internationally, and the dispute is still simmering. Taipei itself has grown from a swampy farming settlement into a modern metropolis in an extraordinarily short time, most of its development having taken place since World War II. The latest engineering feat to grace the city's ever-rising skyline is the soaring Taipei 101 tower (named because of its 101 floors), opened in 2004, which not only serves as an amazing tourist attraction for those with a head for heights, but is also the city's international financial centre. Down on the ground the districts of Taipei swarm with a conglomeration of cultures going about their business in streets choked with unruly traffic. The city is packed with excellent restaurants (it is renowned among gourmets), magnificent hotels, glitzy shopping malls, wonderful museums, temples, spas and peaceful gardens. As the sun goes down the night markets open up, usually packed with tourists and bargain hunters who throng the alleyways in the heavy humid night air, which is fraught with the tantalising aromas of the food stalls. Taipei is also crammed with bars and nightclubs, and its red light district in Zhong Shan is one of the most legendary in Asia. When the city becomes too stifling, visitors can head for the hills to the north west to relax at one of the spas built to utilize the Bei Tou area's hot springs, or take a hike through the Yang Ming Shan National Park.

Information & Facts

Climate

Taipei experiences a humid subtropical climate with average annual temperatures of around 74F (24C). Summers are warm with sunny and humid weather and average daytime highs reaching 90F (29C) while winters are cool and mild with temperatures of around 52F (11C). Due to Taipei's location, it is affected by the Pacific typhoon season which occurs between June and October.

Getting Around

Public transport in Taipei relies on the five lines of the MRT (mass rapid transit system) and the city's vast bus network. Auto ticket machines are prevalent in the stations, with prices ranging from NT$20 to NT$65 depending on the distance. There are day passes available. Metered taxis are available, but drivers rarely understand English so it is advisable to have your destination written down in Chinese.

Language

Mandarin is the official language of Taiwan, but Taiwanese is often spoken and English is generally understood.

Money

Taiwan's currency is the New Taiwan Dollar (TWD), which is divided into 100 cents. Foreign currencies and travellers cheques (American Express, Citibank or Thomas Cook) can be exchanged at government-designated banks and hotels. Receipts are given when currency is exchanged, and must be presented in order to exchange unused NT dollars before departure. Major credit cards such as American Express, Master Card, Visa, and Diners Club are accepted. Banks are open Monday to Friday. US dollars are the preferred currency. ATMs are plentiful but not all accept international bank cards.

Night Life

Taipei has a varied and entertaining nightlife scene for visitors to enjoy, with everything from tea houses and karaoke bars to jazz clubs, pumping nightclubs and 'bottle clubs'. (A Taipei phenomenon, 'bottle clubs' allow customers to buy alcohol by the bottle and keep it at the club for future occasions.) The most popular nightlife areas in the city are Anho Road in East Taipei and Shi Men Ding (West Side). Most venues are open very late, till at least 2am, and some stay open all night! Trendy Taipei bars include the Champagne Bar, a laid-back lounge bar, and the American-style Carnegies. 45 Pub on Hoping East Road and the Hard Rock Café on Tun Hua North Road are also good. There are a number of small bars, as well as tea and coffee houses and traditional night markets to try out in Shi Men Ding. Blue Note on Roosevelt Road, Brown Sugar on SongRen Road and TU on Fushing North Road are popular jazz venues, while more upbeat clubs include Room 18 in Hsin Yi, Plush on BaDe Road and Ziga Zaga on Sung Sho Road.

Shopping

Shopping in Taipei brings to mind the classic 'Made in Taiwan' label found on millions of products worldwide - so this is almost like going to the factory itself! Indeed, shoppers in Taipei can buy just about anything, and often at bargain prices. The most popular shopping areas in Taipei are Ximending, Jhongsiao and Sinyi, and most stores are open daily from 10 am to 10 pm. There are bargains galore to be found at the Shihlin Night Market, offering everything from local food to cheap clothes, DVDs and electronics. The Wu-fen-pu wholesale garment market, near the Hou-shan-pai subway station, is also a good stop, while the Chinese Handicraft Mart on Syujhou Road sells inexpensive traditional items. Guanghua Commercial Plaza has themed areas including a computer lane and the jade markets. Best buys in Taipei are jade and Chinese shou-shan stones, which can be bought at markets such as the Taipei Jade Market, held on the weekends in downtown Taipei, beneath the Chienkuo South Road elevated highway. Another great buy is electronic goods - 'computer lane' at Guanghua Commercial Plaza is the perfect place for boys to stock up on their toys. The main shopping districts include Simending, Jhongsiao and Sinyi, but one of Taipei's main attractions and the largest night market in the city is the renowned Shilin Night Market in the Shilin District of Taipei, which runs every day from around 4pm to 2am. Just about anything and everything under the sun can be found here along the sprawling blocks of vendors, stalls and eateries. Have dinner in one of the eateries in the new food court before browsing the labyrinth of stalls for some of Taipei's best bargains. The Chinese Handicraft Mart on Syujhou Road is another good place to pick up really cheap buys, bric-a-brac and souvenirs. There are many underground shopping malls at the metro stations and other trendy centres include the Living Mall on BaDe Road and the Taipei 101 Building mall. The Living Mall is known as the largest shopping mall in Asia, while fashionistas should visit the Taipei 101 Mall where designer names such as Armani and Luis Vuitton line the corridors. One of the best places to buy electronics is Nova Computer Arcade, in the Old Town Centre, with over 130 shops selling the latest computers, cameras and mobile phones at very competitive price. The annual Ximen Shopping Festival takes place during October and November in Ximending in the Wanhua District, which is locally referred to as the 'Shopping Paradise' seeing over three million shoppers per month, and is a must for all travellers looking for great bargains on electronic goods, toys, magazines, books, CDs and clothing.

Time

Local time is GMT +8.

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