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Taipei with Lisa Ling

Xin Beitou district, Taipei, Neil Wade

Photos by Neil Wade

Taipei's peaceful Xin Beitou district.

       
Dihua Street.

       
       
 Shilin Night Market.

       

Taipei has always felt like home to me. My family came from there, but it’s more than that. Among the large, bustling Asian cities, Taipei, Taiwan, manages to be friendly and welcoming while staying on the cutting edge of culture and cool. You can wander century-old streets and then step effortlessly into the ultrachic world of fashion-forward Asian culture and not miss a beat.

Start with dumplings at the popular Din Tai Fung, the only restaurant in the world for which I’m willing to wait in a line around the block. If you don’t want to wait (as long), go to Jingding Restaurant, where they make delicious oolong-flavored steamed buns. Then head to Eslite Bookstore on Dunhua South Road, a unique Taipei institution that houses four floors of music, fashion, films, books and food courts. There’s nothing like it in the States, but it’s not alone in trend-setting Taipei. Case in point: Taipei Spot, a cinema/café/boutique opened by Taiwan’s leading filmmaker, Hou Hsiao-hsien, in the former U.S. Embassy mansion.

The best approach to Taipei is to choose a district and wander the smaller lanes behind the avenues. The east side off Chunghsiao East Road offers endless alleys of small shops. Dihua Street is the traditional riverside center of Taipei, full of 19th-century stores selling herbal medicine and seafood. And Qingtian Street offers further glimpses into the history of the city, which was once colonized by the Japanese.

When night falls, I head to the Shilin Night Market. Taipei comes alive here, bustling with cafés, food stalls, nightlife and bars. These are some of my favorite places on Earth, where I can get BBQ squid on a stick and shop for shoes at the same time!

If all this gets too frenetic—and it will—there are a few escapes. Rent a bike at one of the many kiosks and see the city from the extensive riverside bike paths. You can also hike up to the National Palace Museum, which houses important Chinese art and artifacts. And don’t miss temples such as the Longshan Temple, which dates back to the 18th century and continues to draw locals who come to burn incense for their ancestors.

Farther afield but still an essential visit is Xin Beitou, a relaxed area 45 minutes outside of the city where you can enjoy hot springs, hillside walks, colonial architecture and a stunning eco-designed library. And if time allows, Hualien is a two-hour train ride away, boasting some of the most beautiful scenery anywhere, with coastal cliffs and temples nestled in verdant mountains.

Though it’s a 21st-century city of more than 2 million people, Taiwan’s capital can feel surprisingly small and intimate—so much so that it might just feel like home, if only for a few days.

 

 

 

> Get there via Taiwan Taayuan International Airport (TPE)

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