Two and a half days to explore Taipei! First impression of Taiwan, Martyr’s Shrine, Taipei 101, and nightlife at Marquee and Spark.
Arriving around 2 pm I was a bit tired from the flight, but energized to explore this ‘alternate’ China.
Walking through Taipei’s Taoyuan Airport reminded me of landing in any random Chinese city, except I noticed a lot more usage of English embedded within the Chinese advertising.
My friend, Kat from LA, picked me up right from the airport and drove me into the city. We came across quite a bit of traffic on the way back but nowhere near as much as Beijing. The driving courtesy in general was slightly better but there were a lot more scooters and less bicycles which made for an interesting mix. We drove by the impressive Grand Hotel which looked like a palace nestled in the hills.
Our first stop was the Martyr’s Shrine built to honor those who fought against China and Japan. It is well known for the changing of the guards. These guards were pretty serious and famous for their ability to avoid distractions for any reason. I didn’t test their skills as they had shiny rifles with shiny bayonets at the end. After a brief look at the building, we headed into the city center towards Taipei 101.
From almost any direction the Taipei 101 dominates the skyline somewhat sinisterly. However up close, it seems a lot more massive and the funny cloud shaped decorative corners give it a distinctively Asian “I’m cute” feel.
The ride up was fun and short as it is the fastest elevator in the world. These Toshiba pressured cabs go up at 1010 m/min (coincidence?).
The view from the top is quite impressive since nothing else comes close to the skyscraper’s height. Unfortunately it was a bit cloudy, but clear enough to see the mountains surrounding Taipei, the various memorial halls and landmarks as well as the rivers running through the city. The sunset through the clouds looked surreal.
The observatory also impressed me by displaying the damper of the building on two levels with video explanations of how the contraption works. This huge metal ball, weighing 660 tons, is suspended in the middle of the building and acts as a counter weight to reduce the sway (up to 40% reduction!).
They also had an Olympics display for the London games including a showcase of different torches used in different host cities.
What I didn’t like was that the outside observatory was closed due to “weather” and that tourists are funneled through a ridiculously expensive jade shop in order to exit the attraction. They even covered the views with dark curtains so that tourists wouldn’t be distracted from the jade wares.
The bottom floors of the building consist of a mall of high-end stores and restaurants. After a quick browse, we settled on Din Tai Fung for some exquisite Taiwanese steamed buns and local beer for dinner.
Nightlife – Marquee and Spark
First stop was Marquee, a cool lounge with a nice crowd. My Taiwanese friend April worked there and made me feel very welcome… (with shots). I also met up with friends from New York, Beijing, and Taiwan. My US friend Yee invited me to the extra-soft-opening of the speakeasy upstairs.
Next stop was Spark. Ear-bleedingly-loud beats, masses of sweaty bumping bodies, and the signature ceiling light display was very familiar. The set up was almost exactly the same as Beijing’s Spark, but smaller. Smaller meant that by entering the club you were joining the mass of bodies like a bystander pushed into a riot. You moved as one with the crowd with no control your direction (or fate). Needless to say, this was too much for me, so I squirmed my way out and called it a night.
I was a very fortunate to have my friend’s empty apartment to stay at in Dan Shui, north Taipei. After a thirty minute ride, I was in bed and out before I knew it.
Stay tuned for day 2!