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Taipei,Capital Of Taiwan has It All. It is the largest city

I’m lucky. I’ve been traveling to Taiwan since the early 1980s And since then, Taipei, along with Beijing and Shanghai, has changed even more than I have. Paris, with its tree-lined avenues and many parks, was the world’s first “Green City.” Taipei has caught up. In 2010, Taipei’s many broad avenues are also tree-lined. Taipei also has many parks. Almost every museum is in a park. The Peace Park is home to the Taiwan Museum. The Taipei Fine Arts Museum is in Taipei Art Park.Instead of revealing the “Greening of Taipei” boulevard by boulevard, I save time by taking my press groups up to the observatory of the world’s second-tallest building, Taipei 101, where the entire “Green City” of Taipei unfolds beneath.{{more}} You’re also surrounded by beautiful green mountains, one of which has the finest museum of Chinese art in the world – the National Palace Museum. Though Taiwan is known to be industrialized – there isn’t a smokestack in site.Something else has happened to travel to Taiwan. And it happened within just the past two years. There are now nonstop direct, regularly scheduled flights between cities in Mainland China and Taiwan. For the first time in 60 years, Americans can get the total Chinese experience – Taiwan and China.Now there’s the perfect “Golden Triangle” – Taiwan/ Beijing/Shanghai. The Forbidden City in Beijing is a must-see. The residence of the Ming and Qing Chinese emperors was also the center of government. The complex is so large you can spend weeks and not see everything.Unless you also visit Taipei’s National Palace Museum, you definitely will not see the entire Imperial collection. Most of the most precious artifacts were removed from Beijing in 1949 and brought to Taiwan by Chiang Kai-shek.To fully see and appreciate all the art and architecture of the Forbidden City, you must visit Taipei.The National Palace Museum was like visiting someone’s attic. The heirlooms were there, but the presentation was not up to international standards. In 2006, after a four-year renovation, the National Palace Museum reopened as a totally new museum. It reminds this architecture professor of another world-famous museum – the Louvre. (I call the National Palace Museum the “Chinese Louvre.”)Like the Louvre, the National Palace Museum is now bright and airy due to window-panel construction similar to that used by I. M. Pei’s Louvre. The new shops and restaurants are worthy of being tourist sites in their own right. Multistory sculptures now cut through floors. And the finest Chinese painting scrolls can be completely unscrolled. Like Shanghai, Taipei has some of the best modern architecture in the world. Shanghai’s best skyscraper is the Jin Mao Tower. Side by side, Jin Mao looks almost identical to Taipei 101. Both took their inspiration from Chinese bamboo. In both stunning buildings, 8 floors are articulated into a unit pattern. Many Chinese consider 8 a lucky number. And it’s also lucky for those who tour both buildings.Shanghai and Taipei both venerate the leader who overthrew the corrupt Qing Dynasty: Sun Yat-sen. Not far from Taipei 101 is the Sun Yat-sen Memorial with the dignified and memorable changing of the guard. And in Shanghai’s French Concession is Sun Yat-sen’s former home, now a museum.It’s difficult to find an old temple remaining in Shanghai. Taipei has two dating from the 18th century – Longshan Temple and Boaon Temple (a UNESCO World Heritage site). Shanghai and Beijing are well known for the colonial art and architecture left by many countries that had trading “concessions” in both cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, Taiwan’s colonial influences are unique – and older.Many people are under the false impressions that Taiwan is over-industrialized – and that before 1949 Taiwan was a deserted island. The Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and British had all settled the island by 1895. And their roots remain in the form of ruined forts scattered throughout Taiwan. Just outside Taipei is Danshui (reachable via MRT, Taipei’s modern Metro), with its Spanish Fort Domingo dating from 1629! There are perfectly preserved 19th-century British consulates in Danshui and Kaohsuing (Taiwan’s dynamic second city in the South).Taiwan has colonial art and architecture that’s unique in all the world. The Japanese colonized most of Asia in the 20th century. However, Taiwan was colonized by Japan as early as 1895. And there is much remaining majestic late 19th and early 20th-century Beaux Arts/Japanese Asian architecture (what I call “Japanese Colonial Architecture”) all over Taiwan.Taipei’s Presidential Office is an example of that unique Japanese Colonial Architecture – which is found only in Taiwan. One of the best examples is the government guest house (only a few blocks away) – combining Beaux Arts with Japanese turned-up eave roofs. (Many Japanese architects experimented with more flamboyant forms in Taiwan – something they could not do in conservative Japan.)If you love the Japanese city of temples – Kyoto – you’ll love Tainan – Taiwan’s city of temples. Tainan temples were founded as early as the 17th century by the royal exile, Koxinga, from China’s Qing Dynasty (yet another China tie-in).Taiwan is modern where it counts – infrastructure. A bullet train whisks you cross-country in just 90 minutes. It takes a half day just to get to China’s Three Gorges from Beijing. An equally gorgeous gorge is Taiwan’s Taroko Gorge, just 180 miles from Taiwan on the island’s east coast. As in southern Central America, you can be “bicoastal” in minutes.
Taiwan’s natural beauty overwhelms. Relax in spas and natural hot springs across the island. Hike in mountain and lake trails. Sip tea just harvested from plantations. See natural rock formations sculpted over millenia by wind and sea on two coasts – Yeliu (north, near Taipei) and Xiaoyeliu (east).Taiwan’s hotels and resorts are first-rate. In the 1980’s the Grand Hyatt Taipei was a trailblazer in a deserted area. Today it’s the anchor of Taipei 101. (One of my favorite sweets for noshing is free in most of their lounges – chocolate-covered cornflakes.) Taipei becomes even trendier and chicer later this year when its first W Hotel joins the other deluxe Starwood properties: the Westin, the Meridien (opening this fall) and the Sheraton, whose shopping arcade even includes a fine tailor.When Chiang Kai-shek came in 1949 – besides bringing art – he brought Shanghai tailors. Discover that Taiwan’s tailoring is as good as, if not better than, Hong Kong’s. Some of the best Chinese chefs came over with Chiang, making Taiwan’s Chinese food – according to many foodies – the best in the world. And because Taiwan is an island, you know fish dishes will be plentiful and fresh. And if you’re tired of Chinese food, remember that Taipei is an international city with food from all over the world. And if you get hungry after midnight – there are always Taipei’s renowned night markets. No matter what your desire – culture, food, nature, excitement, relaxation or shopping – you’ll find it in Taiwan. As they say about shopping, “Good things come in small packages.” The best vacations, likewise, come in small packages – notably the Island of Taiwan.

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