Dine on top of an incinerator, sightsee using pedal power and sip tea in a bamboo grove. Simon Burns reveals a Taipei with a twist
Visit the Prez
With the unstable relationship between Taiwan and China, decisions made in the office of Taiwan’s President have global significance. You can visit that office (www.president.gov.tw) and may even catch a glimpse of the President at work. Reservations are required, except on certain Sundays, when the office is open to the general public.
Watch the world go round
Eat at a restaurant with a twist: the Star Tower is the world’s only municipal garbage incinerator with its own revolving restaurant (it’s built into the top of the smokestack), boasting wonderful views of the city, rivers and mountains from 120m high. The food isn’t all that bad – but, to be honest, it isn’t great either.
Aficionados recommend the afternoon tea, from US$7, because it’s the cheapest way to relax and take in the view. Buy a US$1.50 ticket to get into the observation deck – and get a refund at the restaurant (271 Zhoumei Street, Beitou District, Taipei, tel 886 2 2837 7122; the nearest metro station is Chilian, 1.5km away).
Smell the flowers
On a Sunday, take a stroll through the Taipei Holiday Flower Market on Jian Guo Road between Xin Yi and Ren Ai roads. Its shady halls are great for people watching. Thirsty? Enjoy a cup of fresh espresso from a stall, or a free sample of herbal tea from tea merchants.
What’s there to buy? Flowers, of course, and you’ll also find anything else you could imagine in a garden, from hand-painted flowerpots to bizarre ornaments. Check out the curious miniature fountains with their own fog generators and disco lights. Alternatively, walk north along Jian Guo Road to the adjacent jade market.
Bike the river
Steer a rented bicycle away from the bustle of the city and follow the leafy paths alongside Taipei’s three rivers. Couples can test their teamwork with a tandem. Tip: arm yourself with Taipei Metro’s Guide to Hiking and Cycling, a free booklet obtainable from a metro station.
The most convenient bike rental booth is located under Hwa Zhong Bridge, 1.5km south of Longshan Temple metro station. From the junction of Wan Da Road and Huan He South Road section 3, walk under the bridge towards the river and spot the booth by the hundreds of identical bikes parked together.
Mountain bike rental costs from US$0.46 an hour to US$8 per day on weekends. Non-resident foreigners have to pay a US$61 deposit. Staff speak no English. During summer, bring a hat and slap on the sunscreen.
Once you’ve rented that bike, try cycling up the Shin Dian River to Treasure Hill (Bao Zang Yen). This former squatter village is transforming itself into an artist’s community. A jumble of makeshift dwellings – some inhabited, some semi-derelict – encrusts the hillside. Views of surrounding greenery provide a leafy respite from the city’s concrete monotony. Explore the labyrinth of paths that burrow into the hillside, then down a beer and watch the sun set over the river. The laidback Treasure Hive café serves simple drinks (from US$3), and snacks.
From the river, you’ll find Treasure Hill next to Fu He Bridge. Otherwise, reach it with a 10-minute walk down Lane 230 on Ding Zhou Road Section 3, a short distance from Gongguan metro station.
Enjoy high tea
Mountainside teahouses in Maokong provide a perfect afternoon or evening’s relaxation. Pair a refreshing cup of tie kuan yin (a local variety of oolong with a strong, sweet fragrance) with tea-leaf fried rice, and be mesmerised by the spectacular views of the city, mountainside and misty tea plantations below you.
To get there, take a taxi or minibus number 15 across the road from Taipei Zoo metro station. For only 46 cents, the bus takes you past several different teahouses (there are at least 20). Board the same vehicle anywhere to return to the station. Beware, the area gets very busy on weekends. A map of the Maokong hilly area can be found in Taipei Metro’s Guide.
Set amid bamboo groves dotted with butterflies, the Zi Zai Tian teahouse (27, Lane 45, Lao Chuan Street, Taipei, tel 886 2 2938 1113) serves fuss-free Chinese dishes with organically-grown rice. The Xiao Mu Wu teahouse (28, Lane 38, Zhinan Road Section 3, Taipei, tel 886 2 2939 0649) offers seating inside its incongruous Swiss chalet and on balconies. Here you’ll find good-quality western food from the English-speaking owner and coffee for a change. Afterwards, hike to the mountaintop where the towering Zhinan Temple sits.
Explore the past
Taipei’s renowned National Palace Museum (www.npm.gov.tw) is home to thousands of unique artworks “salvaged” from mainland China in the late 1940s when the Nationalists lost the civil war.
Feast your eyes on its breathtaking collection of perfectly preserved jade, lacquer ware, ceramics and paintings – but more often than not, it’s unclear if you’re looking at originals or replicas. However, much needs to be done to improve the museum’s sterile, gloomy atmosphere and lousy café and other amenities.