Travel - Taipei’s eight wonders 

Understanding Taiwan’s capital to a T

Taipei: Seven million people live in and around Taiwan’s capital, which is spelled in our alphabet with six letters. Eight isn’t just a lucky number for the citizens here. It’s also the number of essential things to see, do or know about Taipei and each begins with the letter-T.

Temple

Find the cloud of incense hanging over a full city block in the Manka district and you’ll find the 265-year-old Lungshan Temple.

A welcome respite from the city’s hustle and bustle, worshippers pray before the shrines to various Buddhist and Taoist deities as tranquil music fills the air. The goddess of mercy, Kuan-in, gets the most attention for it survived allied bombing during World War II when Japan occupied Taiwan.

The adjacent Huashi Street Night Market is as chaotic as the temple is orderly. Vendors aggressively hawk a variety of items, from poodle puppies to lingerie and jewelry. Known in English as Snake Alley, camera-shy restaurateurs one-up each other by playing with dangerous snakes to the amusement of curious onlookers. The serpents become meals for customers with exotic tastes. Fear not, there is plenty of fare for the less-adventurous eater, like fried fish, ice cream or fresh Taiwan-grown pomelos and papayas.

Taipei 101

The world’s tallest office building and Taipei’s first skyscraper opens Dec. 31 with a New Year’s Eve celebration bound to grab the world’s attention.

Taipei 101 stretches 508 metres above the Xinyi district, dwarfing city hall and the convention centre. A street-level shopping mall opened last fall – complete with a Roots franchise.

Architect C.Y. Lee designed Taipei 101 to appear as a stack of eight pagodas with panes of green-blue glass. The 91st floor is a circular outdoor observation deck from which to gaze at the green ring of mountains in the Taipei basin. The last 10 storeys are telecommunications antennas inside a narrow, buttressed tower.

The 88th floor offers an indoor viewing deck where the 660-tonne, Canadian-made "tuned mass damper" is the centrepiece. The giant, golden steel ball is a pendulum that cushions the building from earthquakes and typhoon winds.

Tea

Tea is an obsession on this island shaped like a leaf. Chu Li Kuan tea house, tucked behind the Sherwood Hotel in the Songshan district, is a great place to savour the taste of the scented leaves.

More than 30 kinds of tea are served in the bamboo house, including the proprietor’s choice: locally grown Oolong. Here, tea isn’t just a warm drink. It’s used as an ingredient in all manner of dishes, from tea-marinated salmon to a gelatin tea dessert.

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