City: The Tallest Building Taipei 101 & Kaohsiung's Love River
This year Taiwan has short-listed eight of its most popular and famous tourist spots as flagship attractions, each with its own unique allure. In addition, Taiwanese hospitality, the fine cuisine, the night markets, the safe environment, and annual events such as the Lantern Festival, the many aboriginal and Hakka festivals, as well as many other religious ceremonies and rituals all combine to make Taiwan one of the most fascinating travel destinations in the world. This month we introduce the first two flagship tourist attractions in Taiwan's two biggest cities: Taipei's 101 Tower and Kaohsuing's Love River.
The Pride of Taiwan: Taipei 101
Currently the world's tallest building, the 508-meter tall Taipei 101 Tower combines the thousand-year-old wisdom of feng shui and Chinese cultural traditions with cutting-edge design and construction. Shaped like a bamboo, a symbol of growth, the building is made of eight units of eight floors each. The number eight symbolizes prosperity in Chinese culture. The three decorative features on the exterior of the building are considered to bring good luck: the ruyi (symbolizing good luck and promotion), the coin (symbolizing fortune and wealth), and the Chinese dragon (a benevolent mythical creature that brings success and good luck). Inside the building a gigantic metal ball weighing 800 tons is suspended between the 88th and 89th floors. This sphere acts as a stabilizer against earthquakes, typhoons and strong winds. The building also boasts the world's two fastest elevators, running at a top speed of 1,010 meters per minute, taking visitors from the main floor to the observatory on the 89th floor in less than 39 seconds.
Taipei 101 Mall, housed in a no-less mpressive building around the base of the tower, includes outlets for various international and local fashion brands, beauty care salons and counters, electronics stores, a premium supermarket, fine restaurants, cafés, lounge bars, and a bookstore with Chinese titles and maybe the largest stock of English language titles in Asia. Near Taipei 101 is Taipei's new booming commercial and shopping district – Sinyi Commercial Area. Within walking distance of Taipei 101, places such as Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Sinyi New Life Square, New York New York Department Store, and the Neo 19 shopping complex offer non-stop shopping opportunities. In addition, the Warner Village Cineplex shows movies from around the world. For shoppers in need of a break and refreshment, there are restaurants offering different national cuisines, cafés, bars or tea houses in the shopping malls, and the Grand Hyatt Taipei, offering first class wining and dining is just nearby. There are also well planned and managed outdoor leisure areas surrounding all the major buildings in the neighborhood, with frequent outdoor performances by street performers.
For business travelers, the Taipei World Trade Center, Exhibition Hall and International Convention Center are just a 10-minute walk away from Taipei 101. All year round there are numerous exhibitions, trade shows or international business conventions. For those who wish to keep up with the fast moving pace of business in Asia, these exhibitions are not to be missed.
As he financial and political center of Taiwan, Taipei has many interesting historical sites to see. Chief among these is the Presidential Office Building, situated in the heart of the city. The building was completed in 1919 by the Japanese and first used as the Office of the Governor-General of Taiwan during the Japanese rule. When first completed, the architecture with its 11-story central tower was then Taiwan's tallest building. During the Second World War the building suffered heavy bombing from the Allied Powers and was severely damaged. An American raid on Taipei on May 31, 1945 literally destroyed most parts of the building, which burned for 3 days. The Japanese surrendered 45 days after the raid. The building was not repaired till 1947 when a restoration plan funded through private donations was initiated by the Taiwan Provincial Government. The restoration was completed in 1948. It was first used as an office for military affairs. In 1950 after the KMT government's retreat to Taiwan, the building became the office of President Chiang Kai-shek.
Close to the Presidential Office Building is the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Together with the National Theater, the National Concert Hall, and the huge plaza which lies between them, the Memorial Hall constitutes one of the city's most defining landmarks. The Memorial Hall is in white and blue, while the Concert Hall and Theater are mainly in red and yellow, the two most often used colors in traditional Chinese palace architecture. The three buildings are surrounded by a huge ornamental Chinese garden.
Not far from the Presidential Office Building and the C.K.S. Memorial Hall lies Simending, Taipei's historical commercial district. Close to Taipei Main Station and a major traffic hub for the city, the area has experienced ups and downs in the past 200 years. Recently it has been the beneficiary of one the biggest and most extensive urban renewal plans in Taiwan, and is now a delightful mix of trendy fashion boutiques, historical buildings and narrow pedestrianized alleys. Simending is a magnet for youth fashion and culture in Taipei, especially for memorabilia, CDs and DVDs of the wildly popular Western, Japanese and Korean pop stars and soap operas. In addition to the latest music videos and street fashion outlets, shoppers can sometimes find bargains and pleasant surprises such as traditional puppet theatres, temples and old tea houses tucked away in the back alleys. On weekends and holidays, there are often live outdoor performances featuring the latest pop phenomenon. When you get tired or have had enough shopping, there are cafés, tea houses, bars, movie theatres and games arcades to relax in; and to satisfy your hunger, there are hundreds of restaurants and food stalls.
When visiting Simending, make sure you leave some time for nearby Dihua Street, which is one of Taiwan's best preserved and historically significant old market streets. For generations, countless stores selling fabrics, traditional Chinese medicine, and dried goods have traded and prospered in the old houses here. A stroll through the neighborhood gives you a great opportunity to experience an authentic traditional Taiwanese market. It is especially worth visiting during Chinese New Year if you can handle the crowds. During this period, most stores on the street are open 24 hours and thousands of people flood into Dihua Street to buy all kinds of things for this important festival. It's a shopping experience that is not to be missed.
On the other side of the city is the East Taipei shopping area, within walking distance of the Sinyi Commercial Area. Situated on the intersection of two of the city's main boulevards, the area is home to a huge variety of stores, from big department stores such as Sogo, the Breeze Center and Core Pacific City Mall, to more unusual and specialist fashion boutiques, trendy hair and beauty salons, gyms, audio and video shops, bookstores and electronic mega-stores. The main roads and back alleys here are a fascinating warren of restaurants, cafés and bars. Street-side stalls selling cheaper goods and foods are also very popular here, making the whole area a gigantic open-air market. These street-side stalls also give visitors a chance to experience the authentic flavor of Taiwan's commercial vitality. The nightlife here is just as vibrant as the daytime. Many of the pubs, bars and discos are open all night long with DJs or live bands providing entertainment. And if you want to sing, there are also numerous and highly popular karaoke bars and KTV centers.
For visitors interested in Chinese culture and tradition, temples in Taipei are well worth visiting. Among them, the Longshan Temple and the Singtian Temple are two of the most famous. In the old days it was common practice for immigrants from mainland China to bring with them to Taiwan the deities from their home town. It was believed that this would bring them peace and protection in their new home. This is the origin of Longshan Temple. In 1738, immigrants from Fujian province living in Taipei raised funds to build the temple. The temple's main deity was the goddess Guanyin, who originated from the immigrants' hometown. In the war of 1884 against the French, a volunteer army was organized under the name of the temple, which helped to successfully defeat the French army. Since then, the temple has not only become a religious center, but the goddess has also become deeply interwoven into the daily life of the people. Adherents come to the temple for arbitration over all kinds of disputes.
At the Singtian Temple, built in 1967 in a simple yet stately style, the main deity is Guan Gong, the God of War. Guan Gong was a great warrior in the Han Dynasty. After his death in 219 A.D., people of later generations deified him in memory of his righteousness and unmoving loyalty to his king, his kingdom, his people and his subordinates. It was said that Guan Gong was very good at managing finances during his lifetime so he is also deemed the protector of commerce. This has made the Singtian Temple one of the most popular and often visited temples in Taipei, especially among businessmen. They come to ask for Guan Gong's blessing for prosperity and success in their business. An interesting sight to observe at the temple is a ritual called Shoujing, in which people line up in front of older women clad in blue. These women, who are mostly volunteer workers, hold burning incense sticks and they perform ritual hand gestures and chanting over the supplicants. This is said to be able to dispell people's fears and restore their inner peace. When visiting the Singtian Temple, make some time for the fortune tellers' stalls in the neighborhood. A lot of Taiwanese go to the temple to pray for good luck first and then visit the fortune teller to get specific answers or instructions.
The National Palace Museum in suburban Taipei, last but not least, is a must-see when you are in Taipei. Set in the hills to the north of the city, it is ranked as one of the world's top four museums, along with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louvre Museum in Paris and the British Museum in London. The museum boasts a collection of around 650,000 pieces from China's five-thousand-year history, including painting, calligraphy, tapestries and embroidery, rare books, precious documents, bronzes, ceramics, jades and curios. These cultural and historical treasures were all transported from China when the KMT government prepared to retreat to Taiwan in 1948 and 1949. To the east of the museum sits Chih-shan Garden, modeled after a traditional Chinese garden and well worth a visit after your tour of these museum treasures.
In addition to these selected highlights, Taipei is known for its great food, open-air shopping at the busy night markets, the old fashioned tea houses, and the hot springs in the surrounding mountains, the hospitality of the people, and various round-the-clock activities. It's truly a city that never sleeps and perfect for visitors of all ages and interests.
Kaohsiung's Diamond Belt: The Love River
Kaohsiung is the second largest city in Taiwan and home to one of the biggest commercial ports in the world. Located south of the Tropic of Cancer, the city is hot and sunny throughout the year.
Kaohsiung boasts many modern shopping malls and department stores. In the Sanduo Commercial Area there are the Sogo Department Store and the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Department Store, both of which have been the driving force behind the rapid development of the area. Another shopping mall in the area is Fe 21 Mega Shopping Mall in which the Warner Village Cinema is located. Kaohsiung's tallest building, the 85-story Tuntex Sky Tower, also stands in this neighborhood. This landmark building is about 378 meters tall and was Taiwan's tallest building until the completion of Taipei 101. The unusual prong design of the tower consists of two separate 35-floor lower towers merging into one central tower rising to a spire. From a distance it looks as if the central tower is being held up by the two lower towers. The architects are said to have been inspired by the shape of the Chinese character “Kao” from the city's name. An observation deck is located on the 75th floor with many restaurants and cafés, allowing visitors to appreciate the fine views of Kaohsiung City and Harbour while they enjoy great food and drinks. Needless to say, it is a perfect place to spend the evening after a full day's shopping. Due to the area's rapid development, many fashion boutiques, hair and beauty salons, restaurants and cafés cluster in the neighborhood, all within easy walking distance.
In addition to shopping, food occupies a very important place in local life and culture. For a fairly reasonable price you can enjoy great food at five-star hotels, fine restaurants or the many street-side stalls. However, for a true Taiwanese culinary experience, nothing beats the night markets. Kaohsiung's Liouhe Night Market and Guanghua Night Market are two perfect examples. Here visitors can sample authentic Taiwanese delicacies as well as feel the pulse of Taiwan's after-hours energy.
Kaohsiung's suburban area also has much to offer visitors. The Lotus Lake in Zuoying is surrounded by numerous temples, which make it the religious and tourist center for the Kaohsiung area. Visitors to Lotus Lake Scenic Area should make time to see the nearby, the Spring and Autumn Pavilions, the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas, and the Confucius Temple.
Another place worth seeing is Cijin. Cijin's Tianhou Temple was first built in 1691 and is one of Kaohsiung's oldest buildings. Taiwan's second lighthouse, Cijin Lighthouse in Houshanding, was built in 1883. The octagonal lighthouse is snow-white and fairly petite (only about 16 meters tall). Cijin Coastal Park and Cijin Beach are two other places worth visiting here. On practically every street in Cijin there are seafood restaurants or stalls selling their catch fresh from the sea. The air here is usually filled with the salty sea smell and the sweet fragrance of grilled seafood. Make sure you bring a good appetite on your trip to Cijin!
Some other attractions in Greater Kaohsiung include the Chengcing Lake Scenic Area, the Shoushan Scenic Area, and Taiwan's biggest Buddhist center – Foguangshan (Light of Buddha Mountain). Foguangshan is widely recognized as one of the world's most important Buddhist centers. The central feature of the site is a huge golden statue of Buddha 40 meters high surrounded by 480 smaller Buddhas, all replicas of the Great Buddha. Their raised right hands symbolize guiding lights while their lowered left hands represent a receiving gesture to all living beings. These gestures symbolize Buddhism's philosophy of giving light and unconditional mercy to all living things.
With ready access to Taiwan's two international airports, Taipei and Kaohsiung can easily be your first stop when you visit Taiwan. Make sure you set aside some time to explore the two main cities of Taiwan and sample what they have to offer. You are sure to have a great time!