Feeling the pulse of the ‘Heart of Asia’

Azlan Othman in Taipei

Taiwan offers wondrous landscapes, lively traditions and is great for shopping. Its largest city, Taipei is only a three and a half hours’ flight away from the sultanate.

Members of the media in Brunei Darussalam visited Taiwan recently as part of a familiarisation trip organised by Royal Brunei Airlines (RB).

The moment we stepped out of Taoyuan International Airport, our tour guide Francis Hu greeted us, wearing a Taiwan cap carrying a tagline, ‘Heart of Asia’.

Taiwan recently changed its brand campaign to ‘Heart of Asia’ and is now all set to tap the international market. New initiatives have been undertaken by the Tourism Bureau of Taiwan to cover broader horizon worldwide. The campaign is on a move to the promote global tourism in the island.

A few minutes from the heart of the city you can soak away and enjoy lush mountain foothills with plenty of trails, parks and many natural wonders with its mineral rich hot springs.

The Chiang Kai-Shek Shilin Residence Park
Vibrant Xiamending, the so called Shinjuku of Taipei. PHOTO: AZLAN OTHMAN

Night markets serve endless feasts of snacks including oyster omelettes, shrimp rolls and shaved ice. For those who are thirsty, juices from the freshest fruits, bubble teas and, in a surprising twist, Asia’s best gourmet coffee and drinking chocolate are available plenty.

Incense and veiled temples dating back to dynastic times blend seamlessly with a neon street life of a decidedly more modern era.

Taipei is a modern cosmopolitan metropolis with a lively and diversified face, filled with exuberance. The best time to visit Taiwan is during December, January and February, as it is dry season with temperatures hovering around seven-eight degrees at night during winter and around 16-17 degrees during the day.

Stepping foot in Ximending Taipei, you could be forgiven for thinking you are in Japan. That’s why Ximen is officially called the “Ximending Youth Shopping District,” the “Shinjuku of Taipei”.

Ximending is a pedestrian shopping haven and one of the city’s culture centres, hosting a variety of fashion clothing shops, restaurants and more. Ximending is crowded, especially during weekend with street markets where Taipei youth gather. It also hosts street performances and exhibitions.

Another hotspot is Huashan Creative Park which was built by the Japanese in 1914. It was converted to a popular park in 1990. It is now an important event venue and as a new cultural event platform, many large-scale exhibitions, installations, theatre productions and performances take place for students to showcase their creativity.

Meanwhile, the Chiang Kai-Shek Shilin Residence Park has characteristics of a botanical garden. The park has a variety of flowers in bloom. It is a big and beautiful garden and definitely picture-worthy and an enjoyable place for a walk up to the official residence of the late President Chiang Kai-shek.

In 1996, it was placed under the care of the city government and partially opened to the public, lifting the veil of mystery that had hung over the estate for nearly half a century. The expansive and elegant garden has a romantic European feel, with rose beds and tree-lined paths, making it a popular place to take wedding photographs.

For the trip, members of the media stayed at the luxury Amba Shongsan Hotel overlooking Taipei 101 which is a landmark superstructure. The building was officially classified as the world’s tallest at its opening in 2004 until the 2010 completion of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Its elevators transport passengers from the 5th to 89th floor in 37 seconds.

This ‘Heart of Asia’ may be small, but it does indeed have plenty of heart and plenty to offer.