By Simon Foster
As interest in the Chinese world grows, travelers are tuning into Taipei for a refreshingly accessible taste of Chinese culture. A fascinating combination of time-old tradition and ultra-modernity captivates at every turn and visitors will see businessmen burning ghost money outside their offices, whilst nuns whizz by on scooters.
The National Palace Museum's collection of Chinese art tops many people's list, but this diverse destination also holds mountain hikes, volcanic valleys, ocean boardwalks, and Asia's tallest building. And this is to say nothing of Taipei's greatest asset, her people, who are warm, friendly and keen to open the door to their city and culture.
Taipei's cuisine reflects the influences that have shaped modern Taiwan along with Chinese favorites, first-rate sushi is a reminder of the Japanese occupation, aboriginal dishes hint at the island's Pacific history, and trendy big ice stands highlight the city's youthful exuberance. Nightlife is equally diverse and ranges from traditional Chinese opera and modern dance to super-chic bars. With so much to see, it's easy to overdo it in Taipei, but respite is always on hand in the form of morning tai chi, restorative hot springs, relaxing foot massages and tranquil teahouses.
Recently, relations (and transport connections) with China have improved, and Taipei is now served by several budget airlines, making it easier and cheaper to reach than ever. Taiwan is one of the world's leading producers of orchids, and the Taipei Flora Expo (Nov. 6-Apr. 25, 2011) is yet another reason to visit now.
Simon Foster has lived in Taiwan for seven years and is the author of the forthcoming Frommer's Taipei online-only guide, and a contributing author for Frommer's China. When he's not writing guidebooks he leads cycling and adventure tours around Taiwan for Bamboo Trails (www.bambootrails.com) and Grasshopper Adventures (www.grasshopperadventures.com).