THE TAIWAN PRESIDENTIAL PALACE
Taiwan’s history is a bit less straightforward than that of the mainland. The island was not always on Chinese hands, and one of its last occupants (or colonists) was Japan, at the height of the Japanese empire’s expansionist ambitions.
Ironically, one of the best preserved remnants of that chapter in history is the current seat of power, the Taiwan Presidential Palace. Originally built as the Japanese governor’s residence, the building has an eye catching exterior complimented by a well maintained lawn/garden. As you go around the block you will see a lot of plain clothes as well as uniformed security, but the facade is not fenced, allowing visitors to take good pictures of the place.
The presidential palace is within 5-10 minutes walk from the Ximen MRT station on the Bannan line, and makes for a nice detour if you are visiting the Ximending shopping district.
Ximending is one of Taipei’s shopping districts. It looks like a younger and more rebellious version of Seoul‘s Myeongdong, or perhaps a “mini-Shibuya” – referring to one of Tokyo’s densest shopping districts, though I haven’t been to the latter (yet).
Like Myeongdong, which I can make a first hand comparison with, Ximending is a dense arrangement of shops selling the latest fashion, accessories and cosmetics, plus a smattering of food (both the fast and the traditional kinds). Both are also interesting to visit whatever your sexual orientation, though both markets are also primarily aimed at the female of the spieces.
However, whereas Myeongdong may appeal to the more matured fashionista, Ximending will probably attract a younger, more fashion-adventurous crowd. A cosplayer would not look out of place in the middle of Ximending.
Ximending is right next to the Ximen MRT station on the Bannan line.
Right in the old part of Taipei is one of Taiwan’s oldest buddhist temples, the Longshan Temple. Due to its heritage, and because it is in fact quite an old but beautiful structure – complete with a man-made mini-waterfall, it is a popular stop among tourists. It is however still a fully functioning place of worship, and you can find lots of locals offering their prayers at any given time, so please observe utmost courtesy and respect when visiting.
The temple is just a stone’s throw away from the Longshan Temple MRT station on the Bannan Line.
BOPILAO OLD STREET
Just a block away from Longshan temple is a set of preserved buildings dating back to the island’s Japanese era. Made up of red brick buildings side by side each other, the Bopilao heritage site covers an area around half a city block. Within these buildings are several artistic exhibitions, and the area itself seems to have become a refuge for people with an inclination for the arts.
While Bopilao may not yet be a full fledged tourist destination in its own right, it is a worthwhile stop after visiting the nearby temple.
Zhongxiao East road, in Taipei’s eastern district, is the city’s primary upscale shopping district. The stretch of road starting at the Daan district near Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT all the way to Xinyi near the City Hall station is home to several high end boutiques and department stores, like Sogo and Uni-President Hankyu, which has a large outlet of the Japanese clothing chain Uniqlo, where we did most of our shopping.
The stretch is similar in function to Singapore‘s Orchard Road, or Shanghai‘s Nanjing Road, though both are more visually appealing than their Taiwanese counterpart. Still, this is one stretch that will keep shopaholics sane.
East Taipei can be accessed through Zhongxiao Fuxing, Zhongxiao Dunhua, Sun Yat Sen Memorial and City Hall MRT stations (all on the Bannan line), with the heaviest concentration of shops near the first two.
* We were in Taipei last April 2012. Photos taken with Olympus E420 and Zuiko 14-54mm f2.8-3.5.