There are many ways to explore and travel Taipei
"If you get lost, just look for the 101 and start again," advised the policeman I had stopped to ask for directions. "The building is the centre of Taipei!"
And he had been right. I rotate my map a few rounds to get my bearing, aligning the little picture to the tall, bamboo like building on my right, I knew instantly where I should be going next.
Taipei 101, what used to be the world's tallest building before being surpassed by the rapid building projects of the Dubai, is beautiful. Layers of flooring were distinctively designed to symbolize the segments of bamboo, a combination of modern architecture with oriental ideas. Despite losing its title in height, the lifts that take visitors to the observation deck are still the world's fastest elevators with perhaps also the world's friendliest elevator service.
"Welcome to Taipei 101," greeted our smiling attendant. The doors closed silently and the room darkened with the ceiling sparkling with blue and white lights like stars in the night. As the elevator hummed all the way up to the 89th floor where the observation deck was, the attendant had already finished giving a small introduction to the Taipei 101, in four different languages.
I didn't expect this experience to be any different to all other observation deck experiences from visiting other towers in the world, however it gave me a chance to have a good look at the surrounds of the Taipei basin.
Standing on the edge of the room and looking down beneath me I saw a labyrinth of closely constructed buildings separated by streets of various sizes stretching out in all different direction; parks small and large dotted around the city where many people gather in the morning for their Tai-chi and exercise sessions; thrones of taxies, all painted in yellow move slowly in and out of streets like water being neatly managed in an irrigation system; traffic didn't seem as chaotic as one would imagine for a city with 272 squareÂ kilometersÂ of land inhabiting almost three million people, and I think I know why.
Travel Taipei by the efficient MRT
Taipei has one of the most efficient Mass Rapid Transport (MRT) systems in the world. The first line of the metro opened in 1996 and the network has since then expanded to ten lines providing frequent, inexpensive and reliable service across the greater Taipei area. Â This has been a success in managing the city's traffic and eased the transport options for residents and travelers alike, making it easier to travel Taipei.
I took the MRT to Muzha Zoo and found the system easy and friendly to use. I was reminded in four different languages: Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka (not the New Zealand Maori version) and English, that my station is coming up next, and when we do reach the station, neat lines of commuters wait patiently by the door until the last of the passengers are off the carriage. The Muzha line is connected with the Maokong gondola, conveniently for travelers to the city to visit the tea plantations and tea houses before heading back to the city centre for its vibrant nightlife.
The Taipei nightlife
The Taiwanese work hard. From the young to the old, most people spend on average ten hours a day in schools and offices, and life is especially busy in this busy financial hub. Yet, Taipei dwellers still know how to have fun, and it is common for most people to head straight to shoppingÂ centersÂ night cafes or the nearest night market to unwind and relax. At one of the night markets I watch a group of college youth huddling around a stall holder selling baby ducks, they laugh and share a joke, leaving a day's hard work behind them so they can enjoy the couple of hours spent in leisure.
Reflecting on this on top of the 101 I decide this must be a city to be admired. I slurp on my cup of bubble milk tea and head back down to ground level in search of dinner. I did not have to look far; around the corner is a small eatery selling the popular beef noodle soup. A plump man with a large white apron greets me as I take a seat and promptly throw another roll of noodles into the large pot of boiling water, while I consult my MRT map for corners of Taipei to explore the next day.
Story by Amy McPherson
Based in Sydney, Australia, Amy is a writer stuck in the corporate world. A Business Analyst by profession, she works her life around travelling and has managed to squeeze in postgraduate studies in writing somewhere in between. Amy met her husband in 2006 while working on a community development project in Peru, and the travel-holic pair celebrated their love by getting married in Vanuatu in 2010. Amy keeps a blog on various travel topics at www.footprintsandmemories.com.