THE TAIPEI EXPO PARK
Back in 2011, Taipei hosted an International Flora Exposition that cut across four large parks close to the city’s riverbanks. It was over by the time we visited in April 2012, but they had another, smaller, event in Yuanshan Park, one of the former exposition venues. It was called the Taipei Bloom Art, and it was still big enough to fill half the Expo Dome (which was actually a converted football stadium), and fancy enough to draw a lot of people.
The Taipei Bloom Art featured displays from various horticulturists in the country, the way they executed it was just so clean and refined, you would forget that you’re in a concrete stadium in a concrete jungle of a city. Had it not been for the thick crowd, it would have been a romantic place, but alas, no one could keep a place as nice as that a secret. We roamed around the expo for a couple of hours, and it was time well spent, even for someone like me who has no passion for flowers and plants whatsoever – the place was just awesome, period.
The Expo Park is right beside the Yuanshan MRT station on Taipei MRT’s Danshui (Tamsui) line.
THE SUN YAT SEN MEMORIAL
Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the founder of the Chinese nationalist movement that brought the Qing, China’s last dynasty, to an end, and planting the first seeds in rekindling China’s glory. Both sides of China, the Republic and the People’s Republic, may not agree on a whole lot of things, but this is one of the few things where they do. Sun Yat Sen is a hero on both sides.
Though he played no direct part in establishing Taiwan, he is greatly honored there, and a monument in his name can be found, in the form of the Sun Yat Sen memorial. Like the Chiang Kai Shek memorial, the Sun Yat Sen features a large, seated statue of the leader inside the hall, with similar honor guards, and both are surrounded by a park, though the former is larger. Unlike the Chiang Kai Shek however, the Sun Yat Sen is less imposing, but also less touristy, and we saw many locals spending time in the park – flying kites or doing other such things.
Incidentally, Sun Yat Sen has many similarities with my country’s national hero, Jose Rizal. Both were well educated, well travelled, and both were physicians. Both also lived at the same time period, and both had a passion for exposing the ills of society at their time, though they had different ways of going about it, and life ended for the two of them differently. Still, I personally hold an admiration for Sun Yat Sen, much as I do for my national hero.
The place can be reached through the Sun Yat Sen Memorial MRT station on the Taipei MRT’s Bannan Line.
Just a block or two away from the Sun Yat Sen Memorial is Taipei’s most “modern” district. Most of Taipei is an amalgamation of the old and new, but Xinyi is just new and new, period. The district forms part of “East Taipei”, and its most popular occupant is the imposing Taipei 101 which towers over everything else in its vicinity. The district also holds some of the city’s administrative offices including the city hall, as well as the Taipei World Trade Center with its large exhibition hall right next to the 101. Apart from these, the district is also dotted with high rise office buildings and high end malls.
With the Taipei 101 as its centerpiece, Xinyi is hard to miss for a first time visitor, and if you are one who likes high-end shopping in a very “westernized” atmosphere, then this part of the city might be just for you.
Xinyi at present can be reached through the City Hall MRT station (on the Taipei MRT’s Bannan line) which sits at the northern end. Once the new Xinyi MRT line opens some time next year though (2013), it will bring visitors right to the doorstep of Taipei 101.
The Taipei MRT
Taipei is far from having the most extensive rail network I have seen. It doesn’t have the mind-boggling number of lines of Seoul and Hong Kong, and wouldn’t even come close to the likes of London‘s tube, or Zurich‘s tram network. Heck, even Kuala Lumpur has more lines. But where Taipei has an ace over everyone else though is in ease of access. Every station is so well planned, it is actually possible get from street level to platform level, and transfer from line to line, without ever having to lift a child out of his stroller or pram, something we could not do a hundred percent of the time even in HK or Seoul. Since I always travel with my little toddler, this is something I trully appreciate, and for that I would rate Taipei very high in commuter friendliness. The city’s MRT system though is still expanding, at a pace that a Manila resident like myself could only envy. As I write this they are getting ready to open a fifth major line, the Xinyi line, and they’re not stopping there. A few years from now I wouldn’t be surprised if the first sentence of this paragraph would no longer be relevant.
Like most developed cities, paying for transportation is a breeze. With the use of an “Easycard”, which can be bought and reloaded on machines at every station, one can ingress and egress from any station quickly,and it could also be used for buses. Like HK’s Octopus, the Easycard can also be returned and the unused amount refunded, which is very helpful for visitors.
MRT stations are also strategically placed, so there’s one in almost every place of interest, and where the MRT doesn’t reach, there’s a good bus system that can take you there. Their bus route information system is still not as visitor friendly as Singapore‘s (still my benchmark for the best bus system in Asia), with the lack English signage as its biggest drawback, but a prior research for routes in the internet will do the trick.
* We visited Taipei last April 2012. All photos taken with Olympus E420, with Zuiko 14-54mm f2.8-3.5.