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 December 06, 2004
Things To Do In and Around Taipei

 At the Wulai Hot Springs Spa and Resort, just south of Taiwan's capital city of Taipei, it's not a case of "bathing suits optional" -- it's "bathing suits not an option". Like the numerous hot spring spas that dot the island republic, the Wulai facility offers both locals and visitors the opportunity to soak in the therapeutic spring waters, which can range from slightly warm, to a toasty 40 plus degrees Celsius (well over 105 degrees Fahrenheit). The larger spas have several pools, each one set at a different temperature. For the business traveler with limited time, a visit to one of these spas is the ideal way to relax after a transcontinental flight, while getting immediately immersed in the local culture. But for the modest, be prepared - you have to leave literally everything in the change room, with the exception of a cell phone, which seems to be allowed and accepted despite the relaxing and soothing environment. The public baths are segmented into male and female, while some facilities offer private rooms that are designed for two people. Hot springs are so popular in Taiwan that there is a museum in Beitou, just north of Taipei, which is dedicated solely to this recreational activity.

A hot springs visit is just one of the many options in and around Taipei for business travelers with a limited amount of time to spare. The region offers cultural, recreational, dining, and of course, shopping opportunities for anyone who has a few extra hours, and a desire to mix with the locals.

Yangmingshan National Park, which is on the northern tip of the island, and not far from Taipei, is a good option if you want to get away from the fast-paced atmosphere of the capital city, which is home to 6 million people. Although you can still see some of Taipei's taller buildings from the higher elevations in the park, the hiking trails offer a tranquil environment for a light walk, while a restaurant in the former summer home of Taiwan's most famous statesman, Chiang Kai-Shek, serves excellent food in a relaxed setting. Chiang Kai Shek's former retreat, which is located within the park, now houses the restaurant, a gift shop, and a museum and art gallery dedicated to the former Taiwanese leader.

Not far from Yangmingshan National Park, is the Danshuei Fishing Village, which is situated on Taiwan Straight. This modern tourist attraction is Taiwan's version of the revitalized waterfronts that are becoming common in North American and European cities. Locals come here to fish off the long pier, shop for souvenirs, eat fast food, and buy local seafood right from the boat. If the weather is fair, Danshuei is an ideal place to mix with the Taiwanese, or take a trip on one of the area's colorful tourist boats.

Northeast of Taipei on the East China Sea, the Yeliou GeoPark is a great place for anyone interested in geology. Yeliou is a long cape formed by Datun Mountain reaching into the sea. The rock layer of the shoreline contains limestone, which is subject to erosion from the seawater. The area contains sea-water eroded holes, and a large number of rocks that have been sculpted by the natural environment. Many of these rocks take on the shape of common items, from sculpted candles to mushrooms. One of the most popular sculptures is called "the queen" because of its likeness to a bust of Cleopatra.

Within Taipei, there are numerous attractions that are easy to access on the city's modern elevated light rail system, or by one of the thousands of inexpensive taxis that cruise the city. The Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall has a frequent changing-of-the-guard ceremony, spacious grounds that are also home to the National Concert Hall and the National Theatre, and open views of the city skyline. Martyrs' Shrine, also offers a complex changing-of-the-guard ceremony that rivals the famous event at London's Buckingham Palace. The National Palace Museum is probably the most famous attraction in the city, and is well worth a visit. However, to do this magnificent museum justice, you need to schedule at least half a day. The museum boasts the largest collection of Chinese artifacts in the world, and contains 650,000 items from a number of dynasties. The museum features jade sculptures, miniature carved items, artwork, stamping materials, fabrics and various types of artwork. The gift shop has an extensive collection of books, cd's, dvd's, and other items for sale at reasonable prices.

For shop-a-holics, the brand new Taipei 101 Centre is a good place to start. The shopping arcade, which consumes the lower levels of the tallest building in the world -- Taipei 101, features over 150 retail stores with designer names that will be recognizable to visitors from most parts of the world. The Page One bookstore, which is also located in Taipei 101 and is Taiwan's answer to Barnes and Noble, WH Smith, and Chapters, has the largest English book selection in the country. Another good place for brand name items is the Sogo Department Store chain. It's worth a trip to the company's flagship store in Taipei, just to take in the volume of merchandise that fills the property's 11 floors. Sogo offers everything from clothing, to sports equipment and toys to household items. For the more adventurous shopper, the city's night markets make for a great outing. Street vendors have almost everything for sale, from socks to watches and food items to 45 minute foot massages. Taipei has several of these markets that open up after dark, including the famous Snake Alley where vendors still sell various snake products. For something a little more tame, ask the hotel concierge to direct you to Taiwan's garment district, where stylish clothing for men, women and children can be picked up at wholesale prices. If you do go to the garment district, plan for a late afternoon or early evening visit, as the vendors set their own hours, but most are open from mid afternoon to mid evening.

Whether you have a spare hour, or a day, Taipei and the surrounding area has lots to offer, and it's a good way to get to know the local people, customs, and traditions. The latest slogan from the Taiwan Tourist Bureau is, "Taiwan -- Touch Your Heart". If you have time to get out of the board room and mingle with the locals and experience this country, that is what is sure to happen.

Getting There: A number of international carriers serve Taiwan, including EVA Air, which has direct passenger flights to Taipei from five North American gateways -- Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Newark, and Vancouver. From the airline's brand new terminal in Taipei's Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport, EVA Air offers convenient and timely connections to more than 20 other destinations in Asia, including Bangkok, Manila, Jakarta, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Phnom Penh, Macau, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, In addition, EVA Air also offers scheduled service to destinations in Australia, New Zealand, and Europe.

By Bill Tice