Quick Trip to Taipei

Free Half-Day Tour for Transit Passengers

Text: Owain Mckimm
Photos:Maggie Song, Twelli

In the last issue, Travel in Taiwan tagged along on the Taiwan Tourism Bureau's free morning tour to the small artisanal towns of Sanxia and Yingge, where we visited a temple, drank tea, and saw some impressive pottery. The Bureau's free tours, provided for transit passengers with layovers of between 7 and 24 hours, are operated daily from Taiwan Taoyuan Int’l Airport. This time around, we joined the afternoon tour to the heart of Taipei City, to see two of Taipei's grand landmarks – Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and the towering Taipei 101.

The drive from the airport into the city takes about 45 minutes, and on the way our tour guide, Edward, fills us in on the island's history. Our first stop is to be Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, and because Chiang was one of Taiwan's most significant figures, Taiwan's political history is the primary focus of the introduction.
It's fascinating stuff – Japanese colonial rule, retrocession to China, Nationalists fleeing to the island as Communists take the mainland, decades of martial law, and eventually, the establishment of a vibrant democracy. According to our guide, Taiwan's political history is a mystery to most casual visitors, who have never given much thought to the differences between the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People's Republic of China, or indeed noticed that there is any difference between them in the first place. We arrive at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, therefore, a little more informed and with our interest suitably piqued.
The complex is breathtaking, bordered with lush landscaped gardens and ponds as well as two, quite literally, palaces to the arts – the National Theater and the National Concert Hall. The memorial hall at the rear of the complex – a white cuboid with a blue octagonal Chinese roof – is fronted by a large plaza, which visitors enter through a multi-arched, Ming Dynasty-style gate. Climb the 89 stairs (Chiang's age at his death) to the hall's entrance and you're confronted with a 6.3-meter-tall bronze statue of the former leader, with the Chinese characters for Ethics, Democracy, and Science – which Chiang considered to be the essence of the Three Principles of the People – carved into the wall behind him.

We’re just in time to catch the hourly changing of the guard in front of the statue, and are afterwards whisked away to Taiwan's tallest building – Taipei 101. From 2004 to 2010 the skyscraper, standing at a whopping 508 meters, was the world’s tallest building (it is now the sixth-tallest). Jade-green in color and stretching toward the heavens like a giant bamboo stalk, the tower is nothing if not eye-catching. According to our guide most people find themselves in awe of the building's height, but don't let its great stature blind you to its less obvious charms. In fact, the structure and façade of Taipei 101 are steeped with symbolism – making it much more than just a particularly tall skyscraper, and adding much to the visual enjoyment for those in the know.
The main tower is made up of eight trapezoids – each containing eight floors – stacked on a truncated square pyramid. In Chinese numerology, the number 8 is considered lucky, symbolizing prosperity and good fortune. In addition, each of the eight trapezoids resembles an ancient Chinese gold ingot, while the circular protrusions at the top of the base resemble ancient Chinese coins. And finally, the building's total of 101 floors represents going one better than the best. The beauty is in the details.

To register for one of the two free transit-passenger tours, reserve in advance or sign up at the Tourist Service Center in the Arrival Lobby at Terminal 1 or 2 of Taiwan Taoyuan Int’l Airport. The tours are operated on a first-come, first-served basis. There are 18 places available per tour. The Taipei City tour starts at 1:30pm, and returns to the airport by 6:30pm. To pass through immigration you'll need a valid R.O.C. visa or be from a country eligible for visa-exempt entry. For more information, visiteng.taiwan.net.tw/tour/index.htm.


English and Chinese

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall中正紀念堂
National Concert Hall國家音樂廳
National Theater國家戲劇院
Taipei 101台北101


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