Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Taipei, Taiwan

We found Taipei to be a fun, delicious and remarkably kid-friendly city. Taiwan is the birthplace of my parents, so I happened to be well-versed in the language and culture, but even if you're not, the locals won't hesitate to try and help you enjoy their city.

What to Do

While it's not the most cultural attraction, No. 1 on any kid-centered itinerary in this city should be Baby Boss, a sort of role-playing theme park where kids can dress up and do a variety of jobs, like construction worker or pizza maker or hairdresser. The park is set up like a town, and at each shop or section are attendants who help your kids get dressed in uniforms and teach them to do a task, like work a forklift or roll out pizza. The kids earn "baby bucks" for each completed task, which they can then spend at the shops in the town. The whole attraction is incredibly realistic and well done (you can even eat the pizza you make!), and the kids get really into it.

For awesome views of the Taiwan countryside, spend a day taking the Maokong Gondola to its various stops, which include the Taipei Zoo and Zhinan Temple. The ride itself is an attraction  you can choose to ride in a glass-bottomed gondola and peer down as you make your way up the steep mountain (regular gondolas are available, too). The zoo is large, inexpensive and worth a visit to see the animals, which include pandas and koalas.

The other gondola stop, Zhinan Temple (also known as Chih Nan Temple), is both a cultural must-visit and a nice little hike. To get to the temple you have to climb a series of stairs and walk along many scenic pathways.

Zhinan is sometimes called the "temple of a thousand steps," and there are definitely a lot of steps. Still, it's worth it to climb to the top for the breathtaking views of the city.

Dizzying heights seems to be the theme of this city, which is also home to Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world until 2009. We took a trip up to the observatory. The building also houses the tallest and most exclusive Starbucks in the world  you actually have to make a reservation to get in!

Where to Eat

Out of all the cities I've visited in my lifetime, Taipei has got to be the tastiest. Not only are the noodles, dumplings, breads and dim sum the best I've ever had, but the Taiwanese do international cuisines really well, too, from spaghetti to tacos. Everything is just super fresh and flavorful. If you eat nothing else in Taipei, make sure you at least have some soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung (there are many branches throughout the city, including at Taipei 101). Their beef noodle soup, a Taiwanese staple, is also excellent.

Bubble Tea was invented in Taiwan, and there are no shortage of shops and stalls selling it. I'm sure there are variations between the different shops, but all the versions of milk boba that I tried tasted about the same. All were delicious. Same goes for Taiwanese pastries. There's a bakery on every corner in downtown Taipei, and the breads are the softest, most delicious I've had anywhere in the world.

Taiwan is famous for its night markets, and if you don't mind braving the crowds, it's an eating experience you'll always remember. We visited the Shilin Night Market, which is actually open during the day as well and sells everything from freshly squeezed sugar cane juice to roast pork buns to squid on a stick.

What's Nearby

On my original itinerary was the Beitou Hot Springs, which sounds super relaxing and is popular among locals and tourists alike, but unfortunately we didn't have a chance to go. Next time!