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Business Travel Guide: Taipei, Taiwan

Taipei is the undisputed political and business capital of Taiwan and a major center for computer-related business, including peripherals, semiconductors and other hardware. If that's your business, there's a good chance that you'll find yourself in Taipei's brand new Taipei International Convention Center (TICC), located on the same patch of prime real estate as Taipei 101, Asia's tallest building. The city also hosts dozens of other conventions and events yearly, from bike shows to tea expos, making it a fairly major Asian business destination.

Taipei's charms as a tourist attraction tend to be lesser known than other Asian cities, due most likely to the city's less-than-ideal environment for travelers unable to speak Mandarin Chinese (especially when compared to former colonial outposts-cum-business/tourist cities like Hong Kong and Singapore). Despite the language shortcoming—or perhaps, because of it—most visitors leave with the impression that the Taiwanese try harder to make their guests' experiences as pleasant and trouble free as possible. Taipei's star on the travel map may well be rising as more people discover that the city offers world-class museums, a plethora of temples, good nightlife and some of the best food in East Asia.


Facts to Know Before You Go


Currency:

Taiwan's currency is called the New Taiwan Dollar, or NT for short, however most locals use the word "kuai" when stating price (as in, "that'll be 100 kuai"). Though in the dot-com heyday of the 1990s the NT was flirting with 25-1 (making the 100 NT note worth a neatly calculable $4 US), Taiwan's currency has been hovering at around 31NT to the greenback for several years. ATMs are ubiquitous in Taipei, and most offer English instructions and take international credit cards. A bank visit in Taiwan is usually a tedious affair (the Taiwanese love of bank-related bureaucracy gives the impression that this otherwise modern island is stuck in the 18th century), so your best bet for short visits is to change currency at the airport.


Transportation:

Taipei has two airports. Handling all overseas flights for the area, Taoyaun International (formerly Chiang Kai Shek International) is 40 miles out of the city. This two-terminal airport has a small bus station offering convenient and cheap service to downtown Taipei, Songshan airport (which handles domestic flights), and many hotels throughout the city. Bus tickets are around NT150, while a taxi from the airport costs around NT1000.

The introduction of Taipei's Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) in the late 1990s has greatly tamed a chaotic city once notorious for traffic jams, endless delay and pollution. Stretching throughout the city (and expanding every few years), Taipei's MRT is quick, cheap, convenient, and—most important to the foreign business traveler—multilingual. Single trip tickets can be bought from machines at each station. If you're in town for more than a few days, a stored value card is a good bet. Taxis are also readily available, though English-speaking drivers are rare. Have your hotel concierge write down relevant addresses for you before going out on the town.


Information:

Taiwan's three English language newspapers (The China Post, Taiwan News and Taipei Times) feature roughly the same stories told with differing political slants. All three have separate business sections, with the Times probably being the best of the lot. All English newspapers have a bevy of listings for bars, restaurants, and local happenings to help you plan your downtime, and there are also a number of free publications available at airport information kiosks.

International magazines and newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal and the International Herald Tribune, can be bought in most major hotels as well as at a number of bookstores around the city, including Caves, Eslite & Page One (the latter has a branch in Taipei 101, Taiwan's tallest building). One good locally produced magazine focused almost solely on business is Topics, published by the American Chamber of Commerce.


Where to Stay

Grand Formosa Regent
41 Zhongshan N. Rd., Sec 2
886 2 2523 8000
www.grandformosa.com.tw

 
Grand Formosa Regent

Listed as one of Conde Nast Travelers' "Top 20 Hotels in Asia," the stylish GFR offers unparalleled luxury, from the gold-leaf accents and exclusive shopping to the mountain views from the rooftop pool. Rooms are large and airy, and even the standard rooms offer deep tubs. The 20th floor of the hotel is taken up by one of Taipei's most decadent spas, the Wellspring, offering wet and dry saunas, jacuzzis, and massage therapists. Though deceptively decadent, the hotel has a solid commerce pedigree, offering full meeting space, catering and planning services for meetings of all sorts.

Grand Hotel
1 Lane 1, Zhongshan N. Rd., Sec 4, Shilin
886 2 2886 8888
www.grand-hotel.org

 
Grand Hotel

Though perhaps thrown around a bit too often, there's no better moniker for this Taipei landmark than "grand dame." Part political landmark, part tourist attraction, and all luxury hotel, this unmistakably Chinese-style structure overlooks Taipei city across the Keelung River, with the beautiful Yaming Mountain at its back. Resplendent with red columns and painted beams that harkens back to the days of Old Beijing or Shanghai, the Grand Hotel was, in the days of Chiang Kai-shek, the place in Taiwan for high teas and business deals between the West and China's old-money set. Rooms are spacious, airy, and done up old-world Chinese style; all have either city or mountain views. The Grand boasts its own golf driving range, tennis courts, year-round swimming, and a great fitness center and sauna. Eight in-house restaurants ensure that you won't go hungry, and the Shilin night market is right around the corner.

Sheraton Taipei
12 Zhongxiao E. Rd., Sec 1
886 2 2321 5511
www.sheraton-taipei.com

Sheraton Taipei

Luxury and style, with just a hint of political intrigue, this 650+ room hotel not far from Taipei's main train station is a mainstay with high ranking government dignitaries and other diplomatic types (both from the handful of countries that Taiwan has official relations with and all the others sneaking around behind Beijing's back). Due to its proximity to Taiwan's various seats of power, the Sheraton is a prime spot for power lunches between Taiwan's business elite and government ministers. The Sheraton's swimming pool and fitness center are top notch, featuring an aerobics studio, squash court and full gymnasium; the sauna facilities (separated by gender) features jacuzzis, steam rooms and a sumptuous dry-sauna known as a "Finnish oven." In addition to having its own health clinic, the hotel also boasts an "art promenade" filled with exquisitely crafted objects d'art. Sheraton's business center offers meeting rooms with full broadband access and full multilingual secretarial service as well.

Taipei Fullerton 315 Hotel
315 Fuxing N. Rd., Sec 2
886 2 2703 1234
www.taipeifullerton.com.tw

 
Taipei Fullerton 315 Hotel

One of three charming boutique hotels operated by the Fullerton corporation, 315 (named for the street number) offers a lower key experience than the more overtly luxurious venues on the list. 315's lobby is furnished like a classical British sitting room, giving visitors the impression that Rudyard Kipling might pop 'round to swap tales about the British East India company's dominance in the spice trade over a few gin and tonics. The rooms are comfortable, but more skewed towards clean functionality than luxury. The hotel offers both sauna and gymnasium, and has a small business center and conference room.

The Westin Taipei
133 Nanjing E. Rd., Sec 3
886 2 8770 6565
www.starwoodhotels.com

The Westin Taipei

A most "American-style" hotel, The Westin features only little hints of distinctly Asian flavor. However, what you will find at this high-rise hotel is a great piano bar alongside more than a dozen food and beverage venues (ranging from suit-and-tie to casual wear-type places). The hotel's location is a plus being in the middle of Taipei's main business district and ten minutes by taxi from Taipei 101 and the Taipei International Convention Center. The Westin also has a lovely indoor pool and health club. With nineteen meeting spaces of varying sizes, The Westin may well be one of Taipei's best-equipped hotels for business meetings.


Where to Dine

Fuxing South Road Restaurant District
South of Da'An MRT Stop

Taiwanese
17/20
$$$$$

In the southern end of the Xinyi district lies a stretch of Fuxing road that's known by all-night revelers as "breakfast alley"—it's easy to find, just south of Da An Station and underneath the Muzha elevated train line. With roughly a dozen restaurants open 24/7, the area's earned the moniker by being a popular spot for that all important post-barhop feed that precludes (or even prevents) a hangover. In recent years, the stretch has become a bit more upscale, its restaurants filled with a business crowd for lunch and families during dinner and weekend daylight hours. In addition to a wide variety of freshly made, spicy Taiwanese classics like hotpot, seafood and red braised pork, nearly every restaurant along the strip also caters to the after-hours crowd with stomach-soothing items like warm soymilk and qingzhoù, a thin rice porridge served with chunks of sweet potato.

Paris 1930
41 Minquan E. Rd., Sec 2
886 2 2597 1234
taipei-en.landishotelsresorts.com

French
17/20
$$$$$

Paris 1930
Though Paris 1930 is just one of the fine restaurants you'll find inside of the Xinyi District's Landis Hotel, this traditional French eatery serves undoubtedly unique fare. Most diners go for the set meal, including such traditional Parisian classics like seared fois gras, creamy seafood bisques, veal tenderloins and sweetbreads. Wine selection is, naturally, second to none. Consistently rated the best French Restaurant in town, Paris 1930 offers elegant dining in a refined atmosphere of delicate piano music amidst the Art Deco background of the hotel itself.

Shilin Night Market
Chientan MRT Station

Taiwanese
15/20
$$$$$

Shilin Night Market
Taipei has a dozen or so night markets, but Shilin is widely considered to be one not to miss. It's a sprawling outdoor fiesta of snacking and shopping, the best place in Taipei to get every manner of delectable edibles most beloved by the Taiwanese palate, from fermented tofu (called "stinky tofu" in Chinese, for reasons which become apparent once you're within 20 feet of the stuff) to sautéed crab to grass jelly soup and more. South of the market across from the Chientan MRT stop) is where you'll find a festive indoor food court with sit-down stalls serving fried noodles, teppanyaki, hotpot and other Asian goodies. If it's a genuine late-night meal on the run you're after, the Shilin Night Market is the place to be.

The Sweet Dynasty
160 Zhongxiao E. Rd., Sec 4
886 2 2772 2889

Chinese
18/20
$$$$$

The first thing you'll notice about this excellent restaurant probably won't be the rich Shanghai-style interior, but the line of people extending out the front door and down the sidewalk. But the line speaks volumes about the quality of food that awaits within, a mouth-watering variety of dishes like Shanghainese prawns, sautéed hairy crabs, braised beef ribs with bitter melon, and other Chinese classics. The Sweet Dynasty's name comes from the restaurant's local fame as a place for desserts, so leave room for a slice or two of taro cake or some mango pudding.

Yuan Shu Vegetarian
#2 Li Shui St. #2, Lane 14
886 2 2393 3489

Chinese/ Vegetarian
15/20
$$$$$

You can't come to Taipei without sitting down to at least one traditionally prepared Taiwanese vegetarian meal. Opened in 2005, this restaurant offers a more relaxed setting than most of the ubiquitous vegetarian buffets catering mostly to students at nearby Shida University. Yuan Shu specializes in more "new-school renditions" of traditional Taiwanese vegetarian favorites like pumpkin rice noodles and tofu hotpots. All meals are cooked in the classic Buddhist way, which means that it is not only free of meat, but garlic and pepper. English menus are available, though the only English on the sign outside is "Vegetarian."

Off the Clock

Beitou Hot Springs
Beitou District, Hsin Beitou MRT Stop

It is a fact that Taiwan has some of Asia's finest hot-springs is well known (sorry, Japan); less known is the fact that you don't even need to leave Taipei city to soak in some of the island's best springs. Taipei's Beitou (sometimes spelled Peitou) is where locals come after a hard day at the office to soak their cares away in healing, sulphorous waters and still be home in time for a late supper. There are plenty of hotels and spas offering private pools and even massages—some of the ritzier ones can be costly, so bring a business partner and put it on the company tab if possible. If you want a more down-home experience, check out the outdoor public bath inside of Beitou Park, where for around a dollar US you can enjoy a soak under the sky with the general public. Bring a bathing suit.

The Combat Zone
Minchuan W Road MRT Stop

Malibu West Bar

Once the most revered and infamous of Taipei City's bar zones, The Combat Zone got its name during the sixties when American soldiers flocked to the area in droves, both those stationed in "free China" and those on leave from Vietnam. Back then the neighborhood was a major red light district, and while times have changed considerably since, "The Zone," as it's known, is the closest thing to Bangkok you'll find in Taipei (though nowadays it barely gets an R-rating!). You'll find a number of places clustered in alleys around The Zone's Shuangcheng Street, including Malibu West, a California-style bar and restaurant catering to a primarily western clientele, My Place, a more upscale watering attracting visiting businessmen, and Waltzing Matilda's, an Australian pub with a live band most nights. To the south of the bar area is a small night market great for late night snacking.

Saints & Sinners
114 Anhe Rd., Sec 2
886 2 2739 9001


This fine club has long been a popular nightspot for locals and expatriates alike, boasting everything you might want in an urban Asian watering hole. Dart boards, pool tables, a big-screen monitor broadcasting the sports channel, and some of the loveliest bar-staff this side of the Yellow River. S&S has a full menu of well-cooked bar grub, and, of course, all the libations you'll ever need. The specialty of the house is called the Upside-down, a mixture of honey, vodka, plum powder and cherry brandy that's as good as it sounds.

Ximending District
Ximending MRT Stop

Ximending District

Taipei's answer to Tokyo's Shibuya, Ximending is a 24-hour consumer carnival of shopping, snacking and getting down with the city's young trend-setters. The area gets its name as the home of the western gate of the wall that once surrounded the entire city, and its importance as a shopping and social district stretches back into the 19th century. The heart of Ximending is a brick-lined pedestrian mall chock-full of shops offering everything from watches to mobile phones to tattoos. Right across from the MRT station are the major department stores where you can make a serious dent on the company credit card, while the smaller alleys west is where you'll find the edgier shops run by and catering to Taiwan's punk culture. It's a fun place to hang out and see how the other half lives, get your tongue pierced, or meet a wide variety of interesting locals.

Zhishan Cultural & Ecological Gardens
Tienmu District, Zhishan MRT Stop
886 2 8866 6258

www.zcegarden.org.tw

Zhishan Cultural & Ecological Gardens

Taipei has no shortage of parks, and you'll have no problem locating more well known ones like Da'An (which is as close to a "Central Park" as Taipei gets). But if you want to take a trek just a bit out of the city center, head up to Tienmu's Zhishan MRT station and walk east a few blocks. It's here that you'll find Zhishan Cultural and Ecological Gardens, a jungle-filled mountain park overlooking the Shuangxi River. As you walk (or jog) along the wood and stone paths, you'll pass numerous gardens and shrines. Make your way to the top of the mountain and be rewarded not just with a sweeping panoramic view of the city below from the courtyard of a Chinese temple dedicated to revered Chinese General Chen Yuan Kwang surrounded by carved stone representations of characters from the classic text "Romance of the Three Kingdoms." Tuesday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ticket sales stop at 4:30 p.m.). Closed: every Monday and Chinese Lunar New Year holiday.


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* Ximending District and Shilin Night Market images by Sengkang

PSG092208
(Updated: 04/14/11 CT)



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