As Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei is the political, financial, and cultural center of the island. Taipei is a modern metropolis with world class shopping, dozens of museums, a wide variety of excellent restaurants, and history, all connected by one of the best public transportation systems in the world.
The Metro Rapid Transit (MRT) system, which was completed just a few years ago, is clean, reliable, convenient and made me have major public transit envy. The MRT is 1000x better than the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority). If you are staying in Taipei for more than a day, I would suggest buying an Easy Card. Easy Cards are available at all MRT stations and convenience stores in Taipei. They cost NT$500, which include a NT$100 deposit and NT$400 in transit credits. With this card, you can easily swipe in and out of MRT stations and not have to worry about calculating your fares. MRT fares are based on distance. If there is any money left over at the end of your stay, you can get the amount remaining on your card refunded and the NT$100 deposit back at any MRT station booth.
After purchasing our Easy Cards, Charles and I decided to get out and explore Taipei. Since I first heard about the food court at Taipei 101, I have always wanted to go. Dinner time was a’calling so we made our way over there. We took the MRT from our hotel in Ximending and alighted at the Taipei City Hall station in the Xinyi district. The Xinyi district is one of the most modern districts in Taipei, and home to the Taipei World Trade Center, Taipei 101, Taipei City Hall, and tons of shopping, movie theatres, and restaurants.
Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world until July 2007, when it was surpassed by the Burj Dubai in UAE. Designed by C.Y. Lee, Taipei 101 is mostly office space except for the observatory on the 91st and 89th floors, restaurants on the 85th floor, the large shopping mall at the base, and of course the wonderful food court in the basement. The building was designed to look like a tall sheaf of bamboo. When I first saw this building being built, I thought it was really ugly. After learning a little more about its architecture, I’ve grown to appreciate the design a little more. I like the idea that it represents a bamboo stalk that is strong and flexible at the same time. The building is built to withstand strong winds and earthquakes.
We visited the shopping mall and food court, but decided to forgo the observatory. Taipei 101 is considered the nicest/poshest/most expensive shopping mall in Taiwan, and international brands such as Gucci, Prada, and Louis Vuitton are well represented. Since we didn’t have any interest in this kind of shopping (not to mention we can get international brands cheaper in the US), we bee-lined to the food court. When we arrived and saw the huge, clean food court featuring every kind of Asian food possible (and Subway, KFC, and McDonald’s) we were in food heaven! Just circling the area to decide where to eat was an adventure in itself. We were surrounded by Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, and Indian stands, each specializing in a certain kind of food. There was a curry stand, a shave ice stand, a juice stand, a hot pot stand, and many many other varieties. The prices were a little higher than normal street stand prices, but did not seem as expensive as US prices.
I am compelled to take pictures of every KFC I see in a foreign country.
After dinner, we walked around the Xinyi area to help us digest. Xinyi is considered the high end shopping district, similar to Michigan Ave in Chicago (or Fifth Avenue in NYC).
This is the New York New York shopping center, which features casual American brand name stores such as Toys R’ Us, Apple, Marks & Spencer (not American as far as I know), Cold Stone Creamery, and, of course, Starbucks and McDonald’s.
Here is a view of one of the many buildings in the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi mall complex. Shin Kong Mitsukoshi is a high end Japanese department store with stores all over Taiwan.
The Warner Village Cinemas – where you can catch all the top American flicks.
Interesting Public Art: It’s like a thumbs-up but with your toe.
I don’t have a picture of it, but the flagship of Taiwan’s Eslite Bookstore is also located in Xinyi. With 7 floors of books, magazines, and mini specialty bookstores within the larger bookstore, it is reading heaven. We stopped by briefly intending to return, but we never did. Next time!
After walking around for a bit, we decided to head home. It seemed silly to shop for American products in Taiwan, where they are much more expensive, when we live in one of the biggest shopping cities in the US. However, it was nice to see that Taipei offered these kinds of beautiful and expansive shopping and entertainment areas for its residents and visitors. Not only are these areas good for the city’s image, but they are also revenue generators for the city. If I lived in Taipei, I would definitely shop here.