Taipei is so busy, congested and dirty it has been described as "the least inviting city in Southeast Asia." Buzzing motorscooters dominate the streets and take up all the space on the sidewalks; pollution from industrial complexes share the air with exhaust fumes and grimy humidity; construction projects create nerve-grinding traffic jams; and human waste stinks up the Tanshui River which provides the drinking water for much of Taipei.

But despite all this, Taipei is worth a visit. It is a vibrant city with a lot to do. There are many good restaurants, atmospheric temples, exciting night markets, lively nightclubs, cafes, tea houses, herbal medicine stalls, and pocket temples. Chinese culture is often more evident here than on mainland China, and Taipei's pride and joy, the Palace Museum, is one of the world foremost cultural treasures. On days when a cool wind blows through the city you can even see the beautiful tropical mountains that surround Taipei.

Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times: “Taipei, the vibrant capital of Taiwan, distills the best of what Asian cities have to offer — great street food, crackling night life, arguably the world's best collection of Chinese art, and hot springs and hiking trails reachable by public transport. With interest in mainland China surging, Taipei — one of the most underrated tourist destinations in Asia — offers a look at a different side of China, one that escaped the deprivations of early Communist rule and the Cultural Revolution. Here is a Chinese culture (some contend that it is uniquely Taiwanese) that practices bare-knuckled democracy and has preserved traditions thousands of years old in a way that was impossible to do on the mainland.” [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, December 9, 2008]

Since the Chinese Revolution in 1949, it has grown from a humid tropical river town with about a hundred thousand people to a sprawling metropolis with nearly 30 percent of the island's total population. Situated in far northern Taiwan in a basin crisscrossed by rivers and surrounded by green mountains, it is the capital and largest city in Taiwan as well as its economic, political, and cultural center.

Taipei proper covers an area of 271 square kilometers and has a population of 2.7 million. The Taipei metropolitan area, which includes New Taipei City and Keelung, covers an area of 1,140 square kilometers and has a population of 8.6 million with a population density of 7,500 square kilometers. This is the 40th largest urban area in the world and home to about a third of Taiwan’s people. Almost six million live in Taipei’s suburbs. Within the basin are the Tamsui and Hsintein rivers in the southeast part of city, and the Keelung River in the northeast. The mountains north of the city include Yangmingshan National Park. The city's climate is characterized by a short, mild winter and a long warm-to-hot summer. Temperatures in Taipei reach an average high of 96 degrees F (36 degrees C) in July and an average low of 52 degrees F (10 degrees C) in February.

Modern Taipei is a thriving economic and industrial center. Taipei's industries produce a wide array of products including canned goods, handicrafts, machinery and household appliances, and electronic equipment. Taipei is the transportation center for northern Taiwan. Excellent roads, railways, and air links connect Taipei with other cities throughout the island. Most of Taiwan's institutions of higher learning are also located in Taipei. These include the National Chengchi University, the National Taiwan Normal University, and the National Taiwan University.

Taipei Vibe

Taipei is a modern cosmopolitan metropolis bursting with energy, diversity and exuberance. From the what was once the world's tallest building to the biggest collection of Chinese art, Taipei is a fascinating mix of the modern and traditional. The cultural kaleidoscope of Taiwan's capital city pulses wherever you go. Incense-veiled temples dating back to dynastic times blend seamlessly with a neo-street life of a decidedly more modern era. Taipei has dozens of world-class restaurants where gourmets can sample the best regional Chinese cuisine; and for the gourmand, there are plenty of night markets serving up scrumptious evening snacks in an environment of chaotic excitement and fun.

The polarities of Taipei are vividly present as well in the joining of the urban and natural. Just a few minutes from the heart of the city you can soak away the cares of the world in mineral-rich hot springs nestled in the lush mountain foothills ringing the Taipei Basin. And throughout the city there are plenty of trails, parks and other oases of tranquility to lift and invigorate your spirits

Douglas McGray wrote in the New York Times magazine: “Taipei these days is both cosmopolitan and mellow, thanks to three decades of prosperity that have benefited largely the middle class. (I used to associate the sound of Mandarin with the bumping, every-man-for-himself chaos of China's big cities — not anymore.) But there are echoes everywhere of the turmoil that shaped the city, and signs of an uncertain future. Which makes now a pretty interesting time to explore. [Source: Douglas McGray, New York Times magazine, March 23, 2008]

History of Taipei

In ancient times the basin in which Taipei in now located was a lake. Four hundred years ago the area was occupied by swamps and grassy lowlands: the only people were Pingpu aboriginals who lived in the elevated areas around the basin and moved around in canoes. Only when Han Chinese traders arrived to buy fish and other commodities did the Pingpu establish settlements in the lowlands.

In 1709, a Chinese farmer from Fujian province established a farm in what is now central Taipei. Later more Chinese immigrants arrived and a village called Manka was founded. Later, other settlements were founded by Chinese from different parts of mainland China and these helped Taipei develop into a prosperous trading center by the mid-19th century. The Chinese prefecture of Taipei was established in 1875. A wall was erected around the city in 1882.

When the Japanese colonized Taiwan in 1895, they established their headquarters in Taipei. The city grew rapidly in size and population. By 1932, Taipei had over 300,000 residents. The Japanese were forced from Taiwan in 1945. Chiang Kaishek and his Nationalist Army fled to Taiwan from China in 1949 after being defeated by Mao Tse-tung's Communist forces during mainland China's civil war. Taipei was designated as the capital of the new Republic of China.

One generation grew up speaking Taiwanese — related to the language of China’s Fujian Province — as children in the 1930s. But were required to learn Japanese when the Japanese occupied Taiwan and tried to eliminate native and Chinese influences. When China reclaimed Taiwan after World War II, Japanese was banned, and people had to learn a new national language, Mandarin Chinese.

Cleaning Up Taipei

Chen Shui-ban, who was president of Taiwan from 2000 to 2008,, has been widely praised for fixing up Taipei. After he was elected mayor of Taipei in 1994, he took concrete actions to reduce Taipei's notorious traffic jams, he got the city’s subway on line, and generally tried to make the city more liveable. He banned cars on Sundays, created bus lanes, placed traffic police at major intersections, opened expressways to cyclists and joggers, knocked down ugly apartment buildings to make room for parks, opened up luxury shopping malls in garbage dumps and helped earn Taipei high rankings in Asian livability surveys.

Chen cleaned up Taipei by making it illegal to leave trash on curbsides and requiring trash trucks to arrive at a fixed time every day. As part of the “the garbage will never touch the ground” campaign, trash trucks, playing the jingle, Maiden’s Prayer, drove through a neighborhood as people rushed out of their homes with trash bags and threw them in the back of the truck

Chen was also given credit for combating crime and prostitution. He closed down government-run brothels, imposed a midnight curfew for youths 18 and under, cracked down on illegal gambling, and closed 4,000 unlicenced gangster-run v ideo game arcades by shutting off their water and electricity. Roadblocks were set up to make sure cars and motorbike drivers obeyed the laws.

Citizen’s groups have also been instrumental in cleaning up Taipei. They have planted trees, picked up trash, pressured the government to build more parks and develop the city with long-term residents in mind rather than businessmen after short term profits. Among other things they convinced the government to create Tan-An Forest Park instead of a sports stadium. The completion of the $9 billion subway system in 2000 greatly improved the traffic situation. With more commuters taking the subway there were less vehicles on the road and with less vehicles there was less pollution in the air. Between the mid 1990s and the early 2000s, suspended particles in air were reduced by 50 percent.

Tourist Information in Taipei

The head office of the Tourism Bureau of the Republic of China, Address 9F, No. 290, Sec. 4, Zhongxiao E. Rd, Da’an District, Taipei City 10694, Taiwan (R.O.C.), Tel: [886]-(2)-2349-1500 24-Hour Toll-Free Travel Information Hotline Tel: 0800-011765. There are good tourist offices at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. The tourist office at the Sungshan Domestic airport isn't very good.

Visitor Centers: Taipei Main Station, Tel: [886]-(2)-2312-3256, No. 3, Beiping W. Rd, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City (East of the Main Hall at 1F)
Taipei Songshan Airport, Tel: [886]-(2)-2546-4741, No.340-10, Dunhua N. Rd, Songshan District, Taipei City (Terminal 2)
East Metro Mall, Tel: [886]-(2)-6638-0059, Room 4-2, B1F, No.77, Sec. 1, Da-an Rd, Da-an District, Taipei City

MRT Beitou Station, Tel: [886]-(2)-2894-6923, No. 1, Guangming Rd, Beitou District, Taipei City
MRT Jiantan Station, Tel: [886]-(2)-2883-0313, Right Side of the Entrance, No. 65, Sec. 5, Zhongshan N. Rd, Shilin District, Taipei City
MRT Ximen Station, Tel: [886]-(2)-2375-3096, Exit 5, B1F, No. 32-1, Baoqing Rd, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City
MRT Tamsui Station, Tel: [886]-(2)-2626-7613, No. 1, Zhongzheng Rd, Tamsui District, New Taipei City
MRT Xindian Station, Tel: [886]-(2)-2918-8509, No. 2, Beiyi Road, Xindian District, New Taipei City
MRT Yuanshan Station, Tel: [886]-(2)-2591-6130, No. 9-1, Jiuquan St, Datong District, Taipei City
Taipei City Hall Bus Station, Tel: [886]-(2)-2723-6836, No.6, Sec. 5, Zhongxiao E. Rd, Xinyi Dist, Taipei City
Banqiao Railway Station, Tel: [886]-(2)-2965-7806, B1F, No. 7, Sec. 2, Xianmin Blvd, Banqiao District, New Taipei City
MRT Yuanshan Station, Tel: [886]-(2)-2591-6130, No. 9-1, Jiuquan St, Datong District, Taipei City
Taipei City Hall Bus Station, Tel: [886]-(2)-2723-6836, No.6, Sec. 5, Zhongxiao E. Rd, Xinyi Dist, Taipei City

Miramar Visitor Center No.20, Jingye 3rd Rd, Zhongshan District, Taipei City, Tel: [886]-(2)-8501-2762
Plum Garden Visitor Center No.6, Zhongshan Rd, Beitou Dist, Taipei City, Tel: [886]-(2)-2897-2647
Maokong Gondola-Taipei Zoo Station Visitor Center No.2, Ln. 10, Sec. 2, Xinguang Rd, Wenshan Dist, Taipei City, Tel: [886]-(2)-8661-7627
Maokong Gondola Visitor Center No.35, Ln. 38, Sec. 3, Zhinan Rd, Wenshan Dist.,Taipei City,Tel: [886]-(2)-2937-8563

Orientation and Lay Out of Taipei

Taipei is spread out over a large area. There are twelve urban areas and vast suburbs that include the county-size New Taipei City. The downtown area and business district of Taipei is in the eastern part of the city in Zhongzheng, Daan and Xinyi districts. Old Taipei is located in Datong and Wanhua in West Taipei. The Palace Museum and parks are in the southern part of the city. Taipei is difficult to negotiate on foot or using public transportation. The light rail MRT is useful but doesn’t reach many parts of the city. For many destinations you are best taking a taxi, and they are not that expensive.

The Chungshan Road divides the city into east and west sections, and the Chunghsiao and Pateh Roads divide it into north and south sections. Addresses should always contain a “direction” notation. The layout of the city is fairly straightforward but the streets have similar sounding names so be careful. And, like many Asian cities, Taipei has no Western-style system of street addresses. The easiest way to get where you are going is to take a taxi and point to a location on a map or have the destination written down in Chinese.

Early Chinese and Japanese planners laid out Taipei according to the principals of feng shi. The rectangular walls of the city converged in the direction of Mt. Chihsing, with Mt. Hatun at the back of the city and the required body of water—the Hsintein River—in the front. The main axis of the city pointed to north star and four main walls were penetrated by five city gates. Today it is hard to believe that the city was designed to harmonize with its surrounding and with nature. The walls are gone, and the temples and old building that remain have been swallowed up by busy shopping districts, crowded neighborhoods, congested streets and high-rise office building that have been thrown up with little planning and few parks.

Most places of interest to tourists are west of the Tamsui River. Many hotels are located near the main train station. The main shopping and entertainment districts are off of Chunghua Road. The Palace Museum, the Palace Hotel and the Martyr's Shrine are located in the fringes of the city near the mountains. Some of the older parts of city are in the western part of city around the Tamsui River

The Taipei address system is very logical and user-friendly. The hub of the city is the corner of the east-west running Zhongxiao and north-south running Zhongshan Rds, however while the north/south divide is made at Zhongxiao here, further east it is made instead at Bade Rd, something which confuses even people who have lived in Taipei for years. The east-west-running Zhongxiao (Chunghsiao) Road divides Taipei into northern and southern sections. The north-south-running Zhongshan (Chungshan) Road divides the city into east and west. All major roads that cross Zhongxiao Road are labeled and have north and south parts (i.e. North Chinshan Road and South Chinshan Road). All major roads that cross Zhongshan Road have east and west labels.

The major roads are usually divided into numbered sections that are generally about three blocks long. Section (; duàn) numbers begin at 'one' near the two defining roads and increase at intersections of major highways. For example, Ren'ai Rd (which has only an east location and therefore does not have a direction suffix), Section 1 will be close to Zhongshan South Rd. The section number will increase as one moves further away from Zhongshan Rd. So, for example, when Ren'ai Rd reaches Dunhua South Rd far in the east of the city, a typical address could be: 7F, 166 Ren'ai Rd, Section 4. The house and lane numbers begin at zero every section. Lanes (; xiàng) lead off roads (; lù) and streets (; jiē), while alleys (; nòng) branch off lanes. [Source: Wikitravel]

Transportation in Taipei

There are taxis and buses in Taipei. A subway-metro system — the mass rapid transit system (MRT) — opened in 2000. A year later 40 percent of of Taipei’s citizens were using it. Congestion on the streets was greatly reduced. People that used to spend more than an hour negotiating through traffic to get work were able to make the same trip by subway in 20 minutes. The traffic in Taipei is often slowed by double-parked cars. The mass rapid transit system (MRT) and the bus route network make traveling constitute an excellent public transportation system. Most attractions can be reached by MRT.

Taipei Metro:
Beitou - Taipower Building Line, Beitou - Taipower Building
Tamsui - Xindian Line, Tamsui - Xindian
Luzhou - Nanshijiao Line, Luzhou - Nanshijiao
Fu Jen University - Nanshijiao Line, Fu Jen University - Nanshijiao
Nangang Banqiao Tucheng Line, Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center - Yongning
Wenshan - Neihu Line, Taipei Zoo - Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center
Xiaonanmen Line, Ximen - Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
Xiaobitan Line, Qizhang - Xiaobitan
Xinbeitou Line, Beitou - Xinbeitou

Auto ticketing machines are be found in all MRT stations, providing ticketing services. Single-journey ticket prices range in price depending on travel distance. A one-day pass purchased from A service booth allows unlimited travels on all MRT lines within one day. 1) MRT running hours: 6:00~24:00. 2) To provide passengers a comfortable and safe ride, smoking, drinking, and gum chewing are strictly prohibited in MRT trains and stations. 3) Using cellular phone is prohibited in the first and the last coaches of the train. 4) Tickets are valid on the day of purchase. 5) Please place pets in hand-carry cages, except for police dogs and guide dogs. For further information, please call the Taipei MRT customer service line: Tel: [886]-(2)-2181-2345 (24 hours); Tel: [886]-(2)-2536-3001 (8:30a.m. ~ 5:30p.m.)

There is a very extensive regional and city bus service. There are four major bus terminals, called the North, South, East, and West Stations—which surround the main train station in Taipei. There is an international airport in Taoyuan, located near Taipei. There is also an international airport near Kaohsiung.

Main Train Station and Bus Stations: The main railway station is east of the Tamsui River. There are four major bus station near the railway station. The West Bus Station (three minute walk west the train station on 173 Chunghsiao W Road) is probably the most useful. It has government-operated (Taiwan Bus Company) buses that serve the major west coast cities and a few resorts. The East Station is next to the West Station. The North Bus Station (4 Cheng The Road) is on the north side of the railway station has buses to the resort areas in the east including Hualien and Sun Moon Lake. The Tonglein Bus Station (one block north of the North Bus Station) is the leading private bus company. It has frequent departures to west coast cities. The Chunglun Bus Station (2 kilometers for the railway station on Pateh and Fuhsing Roads) has service to Chinshan Beach, Keelung, Yehliu band Fengyuan.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Taiwan (Republic of China) tourism and government websites, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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