Taipei & Beyond

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Art buffs, meanwhile, can check out the Taipei Museum of Modern Art, located in the north side of the city near the historic Grand Hotel. This building is as modern as its contents and, unlike other museums, is open until 9:30 p.m.

Visitors can also find Asia’s largest collection of “miniatures” at the Miniatures Museum of Taiwan. With more than 150 doll houses and all manner of recreations of such icons as Buckingham Palace and palace rooms, a Colorado mountain street scene circa 1912, the ruins of ancient Rome, the salon of the French King Louis XV, even a scene from the Phantom of the Opera, the displays do not hail from China or Taiwan but warrant a visit nonetheless.

Taipei, however, is not the best stop when it comes to shopping. Prices at malls and boutiques go toe-to-toe with their counterparts in the U.S. in quality and pricing. The Saturday Jade Market should not be missed, however, for those looking to pick up a suitcase of souvenirs at bargain basement prices. Recommend clients offer a quarter of the asking prices and move up from there.

accommodation choices Hotel choices should include the Grand Hotel, a ghostly and atmospheric hold over from the days of Chiang Kai-Shek, Taiwan’s former president. Rack rates start at $200 night. Eva Air’s Evergreen Laurel operates a 100-room, non-smoking hotel in downtown Taipei with a health center and spa. The plasma TV comes with 24 free movies to watch and most rooms have jacuzzis. Rates start at $240 per night.

The centrally located United Hotel is a cost-effective option with clean and modern rooms, all with Internet and marble bathrooms. Although many of the rooms do not have views, the convenience and comfort of the property more than make up for that. Rooms start at around $200 per night as per brochure rates, with breakfast. Additionally, clients looking for more familiar hotel chains, will like the fact that Westin and Hyatt have properties in Taipei.

beyond taipei Outside Taipei, a wonderland of nature, tradition, beauty and enjoyment spreads out in all directions and much of it is one to three hours away by high-speed train. A must-do to any visit to this “Ilha Formosa” includes Taroko Gorge: a marble fissure in the rocks and the hand-hewn bridge that takes visitors into the gorge and through a famous tunnel. Walking trails abound in Taroko National Park, as do hot springs and temples. The popular spot can be accessed by a 2.5-hour ride from Taipei to Hualien by train.

Similarly, Sun-Moon Lake—the largest freshwater lake in Taiwan—attracts the attention of romantics for its beauty, boat tours and hiking paths. On the other side of the lake is Itashao, a charming aboriginal settlement.

Active travelers will want to cycle the 20-mile circumference of the lake if it is a weekday and the roads are not busy. The area requires a car or bus to get there from the city of Taichung at the center of the island in Western Taiwan and a 2- to 3-hour train ride from Taipei.

tour option Pacific Delight Tours’ 8-day Taiwan Discovery program begins with a visit to Taipei, and then continues on to less-traveled areas of Taiwan.

Tour participants will enjoy fascinating cultural and architectural sights in Taipei, such as the hourly changing of the guards at the classical Ming Dynasty-style Martyr’s Shrine and a visit to the National Palace Museum. But this unique program places emphasis on some of the more exotic and less traveled of Taiwan’s treasures. The tour includes visits to the Taroko Gorge; an authentic encounter with the Thao tribe, found on sacred Lalu Island in the middle of Sun Moon Lake; a meeting with the Rukai aboriginals in the village of Maolin; and an overnight visit at the Fo Guang Shan Monastery, where travelers can be a “monk for a day” during their stay in this Buddhist temple. Such an experience includes waking before dawn, lots of meditation, eating healthy vegetarian cuisine, learning the art of calligraphy, plenty of quiet time and time to talk with other monks, many of whom have traveled widely and speak a variety of languages.

Other highlights of the tour are the opportunity to soak in the Chihpen Hot Springs, a stop in Taiwan’s old capital, Tainan, rich with historical sites and cultural heritage, including Chi-Kan Tower and Fort Anping, remnants of Taiwan’s Dutch colonial past, and sightseeing around Sun Moon Lake, including to the Confucius-dedicated Wen-Wu Temple with its colossal pair of awe-inspiring lion statues. There are also stops at the towering Tse-En Pagoda in the village of Tehua, and at the one-of-a-kind Folk Street of Lukang, with a history that goes back to its days as a 17th century colony under the Dutch Republic.