The bare, aged ladies attempt to shoo me out, saying one thing in Mandarin that I assume means the place is closed. I present them my watch and make the worldwide gesture for ‘please, just five minutes’. It appears to work; the self-appointed arbiters of the recent springs wave me in and resume dressing as I swiftly do the other, moving into the stone-lined pool, the place only one different bather is defying the opening hours, soaking herself within the blissfully heat water.
I’ve spent hours climbing via Yangmingshan National Park to get to the general public baths at Lengshuikeng and have been it not for the high-rises seen from the hills as I walked, I’d virtually have forgotten the place I’m. I’m nonetheless inside Taipei’s metropolis limits, only a bus and metro experience from the skyscrapers, visitors jams and bubble tea outlets of downtown.
When you’ve visited cities in China or Japan, you’d be forgiven for lumping the Taiwanese capital in with them. A sophisticated relationship with the previous and a 50-year interval of occupation by the latter (up till 1945) imply each cultures have left their mark on Taipei. There’s the 24-hour buzz, avant-garde trend sense and enduring love for karaoke you’d affiliate with Tokyo, combined in with the Qing-era structure, shared language and enthusiasm for luxurious manufacturers you’d discover in Beijing.
But, this can be a place with its personal distinct id and quirks, whether or not it’s the very fact you’ll be able to spot wild turtles within the metropolis centre’s Da’an Forest Park, or that MRT (metro) stations have stands filled with communal umbrellas for when the climate turns. Or that typically ‘bookstores’ appear to promote extra garments than books, and whereas sure streets are lifeless by day, they rework, superhero-like, into night time markets serving fabulous road meals.
A former World Design Capital, Taipei has a robust artistic spirit, with an enormous focus of unbiased designers, makers and entrepreneurs. Current years have seen a brand new wave of espresso outlets, bars, eating places and motels arising in areas resembling Songshan and Da’an, alongside houses and the stalls of old-school road distributors. On this metropolis, the hip and historic fortunately coexist, so you might simply as simply end up sipping a cocktail in a back-room speakeasy as sharing a scorching tub with an octogenarian. In the event you get there in good time, that’s.
See & do
Taipei 101: For 5 years, this 101-storey skyscraper was the world’s tallest constructing — and though it misplaced that accolade in 2010 (to Dubai’s Burj Khalifa) it nonetheless presents unbelievable metropolis views from its 89th-floor statement deck. You may as well take a look at the seismic damper — an enormous weighted sphere that balances out the constructing within the occasion of an earthquake.
Taipei Advantageous Arts Museum: Housed inside an eccentric cubist constructing, that is the town’s prime modern artwork gallery, that includes every thing from early 20th-century work to edgy installations. Till the center of March, you’ll be able to catch the Taipei Biennial exhibition, displaying a number of the nation’s greatest trendy works.
The National Palace Museum: One of many world’s most-visited museums, the huge National Palace is house to a set of Chinese language artwork, calligraphy and ceramics (hunt down the Ming vases). You would spend an entire day right here and nonetheless not have seen all the things — fortunately there are prompt ‘trails’ taking within the highlights, lasting between half an hour and 1hr 40minutes.
Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Corridor: This hulking white constructing celebrates — and takes its identify from — the person who dominated Taiwan for nearly 50 years. There’s an exhibition on Chiang inside, however the primary attracts are the bombastic structure and the hourly altering of the guard. Can’t get sufficient of guards swapping locations with each other? There’s additionally an hourly ceremony at Solar Yat-sen Memorial Corridor, which is devoted to the Republic of China (as Taiwan is formally recognized).
Maokong: Perched on a hill on the southern fringe of city, this village is house to dozens of conventional tea outlets serving cuppas made with regionally grown leaves. Take the scenic Maokong Gondola to get there, earlier than settling down for a scorching drink overlooking the tea fields.
Yangmingshan National Park: To the north of Taipei correct, this nationwide park has climbing trails that take you up mountains, via forests and previous painted pagodas. You may spot rivers and effervescent scorching springs alongside the best way, too — and whereas these are off-limits for bathing, some hikers do probability an unlawful dip. Alternatively, there are two free public bathhouses that utilise the geothermal water.
Like an area
Pearl jam: Taiwan is the birthplace of bubble tea — chilled milky tea with tapioca ‘pearls’ you suck up by means of a straw — and also you’ll discover cafes serving it everywhere in the capital. A tip: until you need your drink sickly candy, request it with ‘half’ (and even much less) sugar.
Sing-along: Karaoke, or KTV because it’s recognized, is massively common in Taipei, and the place to do it’s Ximending, a vigorous district that by no means sleeps. Begin with a night stroll amid the neon-signed shops and eating places earlier than late-night drinks and late-late-night caterwauling in one of many many KTV joints.
Candy treats: Pineapple desserts are an area speciality, and the perfect present to deliver residence. Most Taiwan-dwellers will inform you Sunny Hills makes the most effective; the flagship cafe and store is in Songshan, however there’s additionally a department at Taoyuan Airport.
Taipei is a gourmand’s dream: the town’s first Michelin Guide launched in 2018, so there’s ample high-quality eating, but in addition a wealthy road meals scene.
Night time markets: Taipei has dozens of night time markets; Raohe Road is the oldest and most vigorous, with an enormous number of low cost, scrumptious eats, however Ningxia and Da’an are additionally value visiting. Look out for dishes akin to gua bao — steamed buns with braised pork, mustard greens, coriander and peanut powder — and beef noodle soup.
Gen Artistic: They’ve received the ‘creative’ half proper. The menu of imaginative sharing dishes at this hip eating spot modifications seasonally, however there’s all the time superbly plated seafood, together with a daily favorite: cracker-like puffed beef tendons.
Shoun RyuGin: With a sister restaurant in Tokyo, Shoun RyuGin combines Japanese methods and ceremony with Taiwanese components. It’s one in every of simply two Taipei eating places with two Michelin stars, and deservedly so — the tasting menus are issues of magnificence.
You’ll discover all forms of lodging right here, from homegrown design motels which are straightforward on the attention and the pockets, to high-end addresses with worth tags to match.
Folio Daan: Tucked down an alley within the hip Da’an district, Folio is a finances boutique lodge that pulls a cool crowd — not least the resident artists whose works are proven right here. Visitor rooms are trendy and minimalist. Doubles from NT$2,484 (£63), room solely.
Mandarin Oriental Taipei: Dripping in old-school luxurious, the Mandarin Oriental has opulent rooms (anticipate chandeliers), plus a spa and an outside pool. For Michelin-starred dim sum, go to the lodge’s Chinese language restaurant, Ya Ge. Doubles from NT$9,500 (£240), room solely.
Lodge Proverbs: This industrial-looking constructing bears greater than a passing resemblance to a multistorey automotive park, however inside are seductively trendy rooms filled with darkish wooden and leather-based. The lodge’s crowning glory is the rooftop pool. Doubles from NT$15,000 (£379), room solely.
The Taiwanese capital is a 24-hour metropolis, whether or not you fancy a spot of midnight buying or a snack within the early hours. There are many bars to prop up, too.
Longtail: Cocktails are the factor at this stylish bar, with concoctions incorporating house-made infusions reminiscent of pandan rum and oolong whisky. Feeling peckish? It’s additionally a late-night restaurant, and a Michelin-starred one at that (attempt the kaya French toast).
Driftwood: Wooden-clad, with a seashore bar vibe, Driftwood is considered one of a number of craft beer specialists which have lately sprung up throughout the town. A part of native Taihu Brewing’s mini-empire, it serves a altering roster of draft and bottled beer, together with loads of Taihu.
Ounce: A speakeasy-style institution hidden away inside one other bar; from the road, you’d be forgiven for considering you’d come to the fallacious place. When you’ve rung the buzzer and been let in, don’t anticipate a menu; bartenders will combine any basic cocktail to order, or create one thing new for you.
Datong: Within the historic, low-rise district of Datong, you’ll discover cafes, unbiased boutiques and galleries alongside Qing-era structure and household companies stocking medicinal herbs and Taiwanese foodstuffs. Go to ArtYard for tea-related presents and paraphernalia, and Yongle Marketplace for all types of cloth.
Huashan 1914 Artistic Park: Having began life as a vineyard, this concrete complicated now homes boutiques promoting Taiwanese-designed garments, equipment and homewares. There are many locations to eat right here, too.
Fujin Road: The town’s most trendy purchasing road, Fujin has tree-lined pavements and photogenic shopfronts. Decide up every little thing from upmarket toilet equipment (at Unipapa) to data (at Beans & Beats), and native fashions (at Fujin Tree).
Eslite: Of the a number of branches of Eslite bookstore, the one at Dunnan is open 24 hours a day. Apart from the apparent, anticipate to discover garments, equipment, presents and ornaments, lots of them designed and made regionally. No. 245, Part 1, Dunhua South Street.
Getting there & round
China Airways operates the one continuous flights from the UK to Taipei, flying from Gatwick. EVA Air flies direct from Heathrow, however stops to refuel in Bangkok, whereas Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Turkish Airways, KLM and Air China supply one-stop providers from numerous UK airports.
Common flight time: 13h.
The MRT (metro) has 5 strains, plus an categorical route between the airport and Taipei Primary Station. It’s comparatively low cost and quite simple to use. Most locations of curiosity are inside a brief stroll of the MRT, however there’s an environment friendly bus community, too (which you’ll want for locations barely additional out, akin to Yangmingshan National Park and the National Palace Museum). There’s additionally the YouBike cycle share scheme, which many locals use.
When to go
Summer time is scorching and humid, up to 35C, whereas winters are dry and chilly, with lows round 10C. Go to in autumn when the climate is delicate, and there’s much less probability of the heavy rainfall seen in spring. Keep away from visiting throughout Chinese language New Yr (late January/early February) when many companies are closed, and lodging costs can soar.
How to do it
Expedia has every week at CitizenM Taipei North Gate for £717 per individual in March, together with Turkish Airways flights from Heathrow by way of Istanbul.
Comply with @nickytrup
Revealed within the Jan/Feb 2019 situation of National Geographic Traveller (UK)