Taiwan is a land of amazing food and endless shopping options that are open until the wee hours.
When the sun sets, visit the Shi Ling Night Market, which is one of the biggest in Taipei. It’s a bit outside of the city center, but the trip is well worth it. Situated at the corner of Ji He Road and Wenlin Road, this market has it all until well past midnight. Massage? You got it. Famished? No problem (just don’t let the stench of stinky tofu turn you off).
And there is, of course, a seemingly endless supply of cheap but trendy clothes and accessories on offer. The slow pace through the jam-packed alleys provides ample time to check it all out.
WHERE TO SHOP
For an introduction to local fashion designers, check out Idée Department Store at 40 Nanjing West Road. On the first floor are feminine, hip designs by Huang Shu Chi, Fu Zi Qing and Isabella Wen. They share the area with Vanessa Bruno, Issey Miyake and Ralph Lauren, among others.
Cross the street to 15 Nanjing West Road to peruse the newer version of Idée, which caters to a younger set with brands such as Miss Sixty and Fornarina. It’s one of the hippest department stores in town.
WHERE TO GO OUT
The newest addition to the city’s scene is Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world, standing at 101 floors. It has everything from an office tower and mall to clubs and restaurants, which are on the fourth floor of the mall. Beyond Chinese cuisine, there are Thai and Japanese options. For a quiet, sit-down Thai lunch or dinner, try Crystal Spoon (fourth floor, No. 13, Taipei 101 shopping mall).
The best place to begin a culinary journey, however, is at Din Tai Fung (194 Xin Yi Road). The crowds milling around the entrance waiting for a seat to become available are testament to the great eats.
Peek into the sauna-like kitchen for a glimpse of the rolling, stretching and pinching that goes into making the perfect steamed dumpling. Be sure to drop the morsel into a bath of vinegar and fresh shredded ginger before devouring. Locals insist that consuming ginger with the dumpling is key not only for the taste but for good health. The restaurant must agree, because refills of ginger are always on hand.
Dessert is just around the corner at the packed Bing Guan, or “Ice Monster” (15 Yong-Kang Street). The specialty: shaved ice with bits of fresh mango and a dollop of ice cream.
Or, for something more low-key, go for a soothing herbal tea in a non-smoking environment (a rarity in Asia) at Hui Liu (No. 9, Lane 31, Yong Kang Street).
The latest evening hot spot for drinks and dancing is also at Taipei 101. Mint Bar and Club (lower ground floor, Taipei 101, 45 Shifu Road) is the place to start the night and mingle with movie stars and models. For a quiet drink, be there before 11 p.m. But locals say the place starts hopping on Friday in particular and after midnight. Five-hundred New Taiwan dollars, or about $15 at current exchange, gets you in with a complimentary drink.
The new Room 18 (Basement, 22 Song-Shou Road, Neo 19 building near Taipei 101) is the after-hours spot. With international guest DJs often in the house, the cover charge can be as much as $46, but there will be plenty of models and stars jamming to the latest masters of spin.
WHERE TO SLEEP
Driving into Taipei from the airport, it’s hard to miss the regal Grand Hotel nestled in the hills. The hotel is a decades-old, palace-style landmark that was inspired by Beijing’s Forbidden City.
It’s a bit out of the way at 1 Chung Shan North Road, Sec. 4, but it’s worth the trip to find something out of the ordinary. The lavish 12-story landmark overlooking the city from Yuan Shan Hill has 650 rooms and balconies offering views of the downtown, with thousands of lights sparkling at night, or lush mountain scenery to the north. Its array of restaurants serve Western fare, from a European buffet to English afternoon tea and a Sixties-style bar, as well as Chinese cuisine, including specialties from Cantonese, Szechwan/Yangtze and northern Yuan Yuan provinces.