City Guide

Four Hours in Taipei 2012

21 May 2012

Reggie Ho spends a leisurely afternoon in the Taiwanese capital for food, culture, shopping and a walk in the park

Evergreen Maritime Museum

If you love the history of sailing then this is as close to heaven as you can get. In the lobby, you are greeted by a life-size model of a carvel-built boat of the Taos, one of Taiwan’s aboriginal tribes, and a dhow. Inside, records from both West and East – and from different eras – are documented and carefully presented with exquisite model ships in the permanent exhibition, with themes such as “Chinese Ships”, “Sailing Ships” and “Primitive Boats”. There are miniatures of grand dames such as HMS Sovereignty of the Seas, powerful battleships such as Aurora and, of course, the Titanic. English guided tours can be arranged with two week’s advance notice. Full adult entry fee is NT$250 (US$8.5); open 9am-5pm Tue-Sun, closed on Mondays and Chinese New Year’s Eve.

Lao Wang Ji Beef Noodles King

This may be the name of the place, but it’s not going to help you much, even if you know how to read Chinese characters – this noodle shop is apparently so famous among locals that it has not even bothered to put up a sign. Tell the taxi driver to take you to “Tao Yuan Jie” and you will be taken to a small street lined by eateries. The only queue in the street will be at this place, whose entrance is tucked away in a small side alley called Lane 11. No one speaks English here, so hand signals are the way to go. While queuing up, when a member of staff shouts out something at the door, gesture how many people you have with your fingers, as this might help you get a table more quickly. Once inside, just do the same thing to indicate how many portions you want. Yes, they do serve kimchi, pig’s trotter, pork ribs and so on, but you will soon realise very few people are going for those. Stick with the beef noodles, for NT$150 (US$5). Tel +886 937 860 050.

National Taiwan Museum

This museum near the Presidential Palace often slips under the tourist radar but it should not be overlooked: established in 1908, this house of history is the oldest in Taiwan and the only museum still in operation since the Japanese colonial era. It was set up as the Taiwan Governor Museum to commemorate the inauguration of the North-South Railway, and many of the regular exhibits are related to trains. There are five departments – anthropology, earth sciences, zoology, botany and education – where you can learn about the island’s indigenous animals and plants as well as the life of its early inhabitants. Unfortunately, a lot of the information boards are in Chinese with only token English descriptions, but coming here to admire the architecture alone is worth the time. Also, other than the special exhibitions, entry is free. Open every day 10am-5pm except Mondays.

228 Peace Memorial Park

Right across the street from the National Taiwan Museum is an open space of historic significance: it reminds people of a brutal chapter in the island’s modern history, and at the same time represents the openness of today’s Taiwan. On February 28, 1947 an uprising against the newly established Kuomintang government was violently suppressed, leading to the death of tens of thousands. The incident was taboo for years until, in 1995, President Lee Teng-hui became the first government leader to address what happened publicly, opening the subject for discussion. If the purpose of this park is to set the souls of those victims to rest, it has truly succeeded – this park feels peaceful and serene, and the Chinese pagoda in the middle is, unsurprisingly, a popular spot for photos. The Taipei 228 Memorial Museum is located at the southeastern corner of the park. Open 10am-5pm every day except Monday and the day after national holidays; entry NT$20 (US$0.7). (Chinese only)

Guang Hua Digital Plaza

Taiwan is famous for its electronics, and other than its own brands, it also makes components for many famous international companies. Every local will tell you that a visit here is imperative for those into gadgets. But the name Guang Hua has a deeper meaning for the Taiwanese: the mall had humble beginnings when it opened in 1972 under a flyover at the intersection of Xinsheng South Road and Songjiant Road – in 1979 it was where second-hand electrical appliances were left behind by the retreating American military. It then morphed into a place where local Taiwanese, many of them students, made a living by selling electronic goods to foreign buyers. The current six-storey behemoth of stalls selling hardware, software, DVDs and used books was founded in 2008 and it is the largest market for technological products in Taiwan under one roof. Prices are competitive.



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