Located at the north of the island, the capital of Taiwan is a mix of the modern metropolis and the former third world. Street vendors in Taipei sell food along side upscale restaurants and the culinary scene has something in it for all. Taipei is known for its extensive shopping venues, its culinary excellence, and the friendly attitude of its residents.
For the culinary inclined, the streets of Taipei are filled with night markets. Some of the most famous are those in Shi da and Shilin. Shi da was my favorite to visit because of its international, eclectic feel and for the shopping that could also be done within the area. This night market is located next the Shi da University and is a favorite among the universities students.
A unique night market to go to is just off of the MRT stop at Longshan temple and bears the forbidding name of Snake Alley. Although I lacked exact directions on my trip, it can be easily found by asking locals. I found that looking confused and making snake motions with my hands was enough for them to figure out what I was wanting. This alley is famous for the snakes that are butchered there in view of an admiring crowd. The snakes are then drained of their venom and blood and the venom and blood is offered for sale mixed with alcohol. The snake meat is cut up and made into a soup. Although I was hesitant to try the soup, I managed to down shots of snakes blood and venom on my trip. The taste is sweet and within ten minutes the venom warms your body. Men often like to drink this because it is rumored to enhance male virility.
The capital of Taiwan is also famous for shopping. At any night market you can find hundreds of cheap, fashionable clothes. There are also several underground malls by Taipei Main Station and Zhonshan MRT station. I found these on accident as I searched for the MRT and I was happy I did. Hundreds of stalls dot the area selling anything from clothes to souvenirs at cheap prices.
For upscale clothing stores, the area around Taipei 101-currently the second largest building in the world-is full of them. Sodo department store is nearby, Eslite’s four story book store is just down the street, and the New York New York building is just across from Taipei 101. Within Taipei 101 is also a multitude of expensive designer stores ranging from Armani to Gucci to Chanel. Best of all, for the price of 400 NT or $12, visitors can take the elevator up to Taipei 101’s observation deck and see the view of Taipei.
Although the capital of Taiwan is famous for its food and shopping there are also many other activities that can be done within the city. Tea houses dot the slopes behind the Taipei Zoo and the National Palace Museum is always an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon. Taipei has truly risen from its third world image and become a metropolitan city comparable with any westernized nation.