Thu, April 14, 2011
Lifestyle > Travel > 2011 Spring Sightseeing

Garden of earthly delights(2)

2011-04-14 03:29:34 GMT2011-04-14 11:29:34(Beijing Time)  China Daily

Clockwise from above:Wufenpu textile market is crammed with bargain-hunters but has a relaxed feel. Shin Yeh restaurant at Taipei 101. There's a temple on nearly every Taipei street corner. A plane flies overhead at Flora Expo. Cooking up a storm at Shihlin Night Market. Photos by Jules Quartly / China Daily

Taipei 101 rules the city's skyline. Niu Yixin / China Photo Press

By now, you should have had enough of shopping and it's time to smell the roses, at the Flora Expo (Yuanshan MRT).

I'm not a keen gardener so I wasn't blooming with anticipation at the thought of going, but it turned out to be a highlight of my recent visit. It's the city's biggest ever event and expects to have pulled in up to 8 million people by the time it ends on April 25.

There's more than just horticulture, of course, with 14 pavilions, highlighting Chinese culture, the torch singer Teresa Teng, fashion demos, an eco park and visits to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, among other draws.

Imagine walking around in fields of flowers surrounded by the buzz of a forward-looking 21st century city and you get the concept.

One stop away (Jiantan MRT) is Shihlin Night Market - one of the world's best in my humble opinion - and a great place to recharge on snacks and a juice drink, or simply enjoy the carnival spirit.

You will have to negotiate huge crowds, especially on the weekend, but try following your nose to Cicheng Temple, where you will find vendors selling smelly tofu, which you should try, if only to say you have. It's an unforgettable experience.

Your head should be swimming (after the tofu) and your feet aching by this point, so it's time to unwind in Beitou (Xin Beitou MRT).

One of the fortunate things about living in an active earthquake zone is sulfurous hot spring baths. Their health benefits were largely ignored before the Japanese invaded (1895-1945) and demonstrated they were pleasant to bathe in.

There are so many 24-hour hot spring hotels you can walk around and take your pick, and they range from five stars to bathhouse cheap.

It's late and you may be considering an early start next day, but for those of you revivified by the hot spring waters, head back downtown to find a lounge bar. It won't be difficult, the city is famous for them. My choices are Fifi's W Bar, Room 18, The Bed and possibly Champagne Bar.

Nightlife carries on till early morning most nights. If you fancy a late night snack before bed, try one of the all-night congee restaurants on Fuxing South Road.

Day 2

After the popular delights of the previous day and a street-side breakfast of youtiao (like doughnuts) and doujiang (sweet soybean milk), you will no doubt be champing at the bit for some highbrow culture and arguably there's no better place in the world for immersion in Chinese antiquities than the Taipei Palace Museum (Shilin MRT and bus R30).

It has a permanent collection of 677,687 Chinese artifacts and works of art, covering 8,000 years of history.

There's always something going on here as exhibitions come and go, but the real meat is in the permanent collection and it's certain you will be blown away by something, whether it's a painting by Zhang Daqian - China's Picasso - or a small piece of jadeite cabbage with insects crawling over it.

Looking around will take at least a morning and you are also recommended to get lunch or tea at one of the two cafes, while the elegant fourth floor Sanxitang Teahouse is well worth spending some downtime in.

After traipsing around the museum, get some wind in your sails with a bicycle ride along the riverside in Wanhua, one of the earliest settling points for seafaring traders in Taipei.

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