36 tantalising hours in Taipei

Cosmopolitan mix of the indigenous & urban in Taiwanese capital
/ New Delhi
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
36 tantalising hours in Taipei

A wonderful skyline meets some interesting hiking trails & a vibrant ethnic mosaic in Taiwanese capital Taipei

Night markets, lush hiking trails amidst an urban jungle of skyscrapers, Taiwan’s capital Taipei is framed with many vibrant adventures to be explored.
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Taiwan, an island nation in East Asia, is an interesting vantage point of lesser-explored deep indigenous legacy and urban glamour, nuanced with temples, culinary delights and many natural landscapes. Its capital Taipei is an urban agglomeration of about 4 million people, a wonderful skyline that meets some interesting hiking trails and a vibrant ethnic mosaic. While predominantly Han Chinese, the Taiwanese population is also inclusive of Austronesian ethnicity, with a deep influence by traditional Japanese culture, in particular highly regarding the military or samurai class. This multicultural fabric flourished wonders in art, architecture and a dynamic cultural landscape.

Although 36 hours may not be enough to experience all that this island nation has to offer, here are some of the many discoveries that await visitors here.

A cultural vantage point

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

The annual Taiwan Lantern Festival is also celebrated in Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

From red-carpet ceremonies when Taiwan‘s President meets foreign dignitaries to occasional festivals and concerts, Liberty Square or Freedom Square sprawls over an area of 240,000 sqm in the Zhongzheng District of Taipei. Since its completion in the late 1970s, the plaza has served as a site of major public gatherings. Its centrepiece and the main attraction is the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, a grandiose memorial dedicated to Taiwan‘s founder, former dictator Chiang Kai-shek.

On its either side is the National Concert Hall, that hosts classical music concerts, operas and theatre productions, and there is National Theater on the other, featuring traditional Chinese performing arts, such as Peking Opera. The annual Taiwan Lantern Festival is also celebrated in this square.

World’s tallest tower in an earthquake-prone zone

Taipei 101

Taipei 101 features a series of observation decks for a bird’s eye view of the bustling city

From the memorial hall, at about a distance of little more than six km, visitors can head next to the Taipei 101 Tower, which is shaped like a stalk of bamboo.

Although built in an earthquake zone, just 200 metres from a major fault line, this tower was once the tallest building in the world. However, Taipei 101 was surpassed by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai when the latter was completed in 2010.

At a height of 508 metres, Taipei 101 Tower was the first building on the planet to have broken the half a km mark and is designed to survive an earthquake of upto 9 on the Richter scale. The building features a series of observation decks where visitors can have an unparalleled bird’s eye view of the bustling city from 88, 89 or 91 floors. Its observatory on the 91st floor, at 392 metres, is the third highest open-air observation deck in the world.

Elephant Mountain and the Four Beasts

Elephant Mountain trail

Elephant Mountain trail offers scenic views of the city’s skyline both at day or night

A walk of about 20 minutes from the Taipei 101 Tower is Xiangshan, also called Elephant Mountain trail. It owes its name from its similarity to an elephant.

Located in the Xinyi District of Taipei, the elephant mountain is only 183 metres high and offers scenic views of the city’s skyline both at day or night, which makes it ideal for a walk.

It is a short but a bit steep and challenging hike, especially in the hot weather. Journey leading up to the viewpoints is marked by a series of stairs and well-maintained paths. Cherished views of the Taipei 101 Tower is popular from Xiangshan (Elephant Mountain), Hushan (Tiger Mountain) trails, Shishan (Lion Mountain) and Baoshan (Leopard Mountain), collectively known as Four Beasts Mountain, all connected by a circular trail. Some spots to explore here are Chaoranting, Six Giant Rocks, A Thread of Sky and Stonemill Garden.

A culinary fiesta

Ningxia Night Market

Ningxia Night Market is solely dedicated to food

After strolling through the subtropical forest trails, travellers may want to explore the famous Taiwan night markets next. Ningxia Night Market in Taipei is known to be a hotspot for authentic Taiwanese street food.

Many of the businesses are owned by second-generation proprietors. This night market embodies the lively and bustling atmosphere that is characteristic of Taiwanese night markets and provides a glimpse into the local culture and lifestyle. Visitors can indulge in an array of culinary delights here, from traditional favourites like oyster omelettes, stinky tofu and grilled squid to modern twists on classic Taiwanese snacks.

Unlike the rest of Taiwanese night markets which also host games parlours and shopping complexes, Ningxia is solely dedicated to food.

Unwind with a spiritual trail

Longshan Temple

Longshan Temple is inclusive of more than one religion

Ancient Taiwanese shrines are brimming in architectural, cultural as well as historic splendour, which visitors may explore for the final day.

In the Wanhua district, Longshan Temple is inclusive of more than one religion- a rare mix of the Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian faiths. At almost 300 years old and with many tales to tell, the temple has undergone multiple renovations and restorations to reflect a blend of traditional Chinese architecture and Taiwanese cultural elements.

Architecture of the temple features a captivating mix of intricate carvings, vibrant colours and richly ornate details. Its roof is adorned with dragon and phoenix motifs, while the interior features stunning artwork and decorative elements.

Just a nearby walk is one of Taipei’s oldest temples, which has even   survived World War II, the Qingshan Temple. Visitors may opt for completing the temple trio with the protected cultural relics in Qingshui Temple, which features elaborate shrines dedicated to Mazu, the God of Literature.

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