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Taipei is a modern city with a busy contemporary vibe. As a city that has bounced back from a sometimes troubled history, Taipei has a tolerant and welcoming spirit that has won over many international travelers.
The centerpiece of the city's skyline is the iconic Taipei 101 skyscraper, a graceful 509-meter tall structure shaped like a bamboo tree. You'll find many Japanese and Southeast Asian influences in the city, such as Taoist temples and Japanese architecture.
Taipei is a city of over 6.7 million, but it's possible to escape from the noise and bustle in the many parks and green spaces. In the Beitou neighborhood, you'll find a number of hot springs, along with lush Yangmingshan National Park, a popular spot particularly during cherry blossom season. With so many experiences to offer, it's no wonder Taipei is a popular destination.
The National Palace Museum is a must-see, housing the world's largest collection of Chinese art and artifacts. There is everything from paintings and statues to pieces in jade, ceramics, and bronze, and gorgeous works of calligraphy, with some pieces dating back to Neolithic times.
Taipei is truly a people-friendly city, with everything from extensive public transportation to parks and riverside walks seemingly at every turn. There are walking paths that cover virtually all areas of the city, and in contrast to most other large cities of the world, clean, plentiful public washrooms every few blocks.
The night markets of Taipei are rightfully famous and they represent an experience unlike any other. You can buy everything from clothes and jewelry to household goods and a delicious choice of foods at the many markets located throughout the city, including the Shida night market in the Gongguan neighborhood.
The beauty of Taipei is that you can experience authentic traditions while enjoying its distinctly modern flair. There is a vast teahouse culture to explore, along with Taoist temples like the Xiahai City God Temple where you can experience the celebration of age-old rituals while you check out the many striking works of traditional arts.
In Taipei, you'll find everything from a thriving street food scene to the best of fine dining available. The foodie scene is also how you'll bump shoulders with locals; as a point of fact, many of the city's small apartments don't even include a kitchen area because eating out is that popular.
The weather in Taipei usually varies between warm and wet weather. Summer is hot, and it's also typhoon season, making late October through January, when there is also less rain, a popular choice for visitors. There are many festivals around the "Ghost Month" in July and Chinese New Year in late January, although many businesses also close at that time.
There are two airports in Taipei. Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) is the main airport for international flights, located about 30 miles from the city center. There is a frequent bus service available, but the quickest way to town is a shuttle bus to the high-speed train. The bus is NT$30 and the train is NT$160. The train is scheduled to extend directly to TPE in late 2016 or early 2017. Taipei Songshan Airport (TSA), just under four miles from the city center, is used primarily for domestic flights along with some international carriers. You can get to the city by subway from Taipei Metro Neihu Line's Songshan Airport Station. Tickets are NT$30 for the 20-minute trip. There are also several city bus lines that make the trip. A taxi from TPE to the city typically runs about NT$1,000-$1,200. From TSA to Taipei a taxi is about NT$220 and takes about 10 minutes.
Taipei Railway Station or Taipei Main Station is a major hub that connects with the public transit system. It also connects with the Taipei Railway Administration for regular trains and Taiwan High Speed Rail that in turn connect Taipei to the rest of Taiwan.
Freeway No. 1, also known as Sun Yat-sen Freeway, and Freeway No. 5 both begin in Taipei, and as the capital city, it is a hub for routes at the city and regional level as well. Freeway driving in Taiwan is fast and reliable, although the weather can be a factor at times, and drivers are advised to keep an eye out for the many trucks on the highways.
The Taipei Bus Station is located next to the train station, connecting with many intercity routes to the western part of Taiwan and Yilan, along with TPE, as well as the municipal system. Major carriers include United Bus (UBus,) Kuo-Kuang Bus, and KML Bus, among many others.
You'll find a wide variety of accommodation in Taipei. At the high end of the scale, you'll find properties like Shangri-La's Far Eastern Plaza Hotel Taipei. For all-out contemporary glamour, you can try the fabulous 6-star Mandarin Oriental. At the lower end, a clean, comfortable room at the Meander Taipei Hostel can be had for less than NT$600 per night.
Xinyi – called the Times Square of Taipei, this is where you'll find world class dining, chic patios, a hot nightlife scene, and upscale shopping opportunities in a sleek, ultra-modern neighborhood. It is home to the the upscale Taipei 101 Shopping Mall, accessible via a thrilling high-speed elevator ride up the iconic skyscraper.
Ximending – this is the hub of Taipei's pop culture scene and a mecca for tourists looking for reasonably priced shopping. It is also home to a Taipei icon, the Red House Theater. A cultural and arts center built in 1908, it hosts performances of various kinds, along with a market and the ubiquitous teahouse.
Shilin – the Shilin Night Market is the big draw in this neighborhood, with a reputation as the city's finest and certainly the largest. This area is also home to the National Palace Museum, a must-see on any Taipei itinerary. It's also where you'll find the the Yangmingshan National Park with hiking trails and hot springs for an outdoor excursion in any season.
With a system of both buses and Taipei Metro subway trains, virtually every corner of the Taipei is accessible by public transit. A metro pass good for unlimited travel during the same calendar date is NT$150, and a 24-hour unlimited pass is available for NT$180. A 72-hour unlimited pass is NT$380.
Taxi service is available 24 hours a day, with fares in Taipei starting at NT$70 for the first 3/4 mile or so. Each additional eighth of a mile is NT$5. Night charges involve a surcharge of NT$20. As with buses, many drivers will not speak English, so the best advice is to have your addresses written in Mandarin, and to negotiate any fees in advance.
Car rentals are available at both Taipei airports from companies like Hertz and Thrifty, and begin at about NT$1,900 for a compact model. However, parking is only allowed in certain designated areas and is limited, with an average hourly parking fee of NT$200.
In the East District or Dong Chu, you'll find the Sogo Department Store and multinational brands like Cartier and Chanel on Zhongxiao East Road, and smaller, unique shops and restaurants on the side streets like the Eslite 24 Hour Bookstore and Hello Kitty Cafe. For bargains and local items, you'll want to check out Taipei's night markets. Along with the huge Shilin Market, the Tonghua Night Market in Da'an is also very popular, with everything from housewares to fashions and jewelry to an enticing selection of street food options.
There are a number of supermarket options in Taipei, including the Wellcome Supermarkets and City'Super are chains that features huge stores where you'll find quite literally anything you'll need at reasonable price points. Matsusei is a smaller chain with higher end goods and prices. A liter of milk will run about NT$81, and a dozen eggs NT$83.
Even the humblest-looking establishment in Taipei will be serving superlative food - this is a city where you virtually can't go wrong when it comes to cuisine. Chamonix Teppanyaki, with multiple locations throughout the city, is on the fine dining side, with a menu of modern fusion that mixes traditional Teppanyaki and French cuisine. Prix fixe menus range from NT$1,000 to NT$2,900. For a more scenic experience, you can stroll on the boardwalk along the Danshui River and enjoy a delicious array of food choices from street vendors like "stinky tofu" - fried tofu strips like French fries - red bean cake or dorayaki, and "coffin bread," a specialty that is something like a chicken pot pie, with menu options starting at a mere NT$45.