TAIPEI, Taiwan Taipei’s night markets literally assault one’s
senses. There are the ubiquitous bright neon signs and colorful
mountains of unfamiliar fruits and vegetables.
Pungent fish stews, Aboriginal-style barbecued pig, oyster
omelets and fried and steamed dumplings tempt tourists to throw
caution to the wind and dig right in.
The noisy hawkers, one after another, scream into their tinny
microphones, creating a cacophony as they entreat passersby to
verify the virtues of their wares everything from electronic
equipment to knock-offs of expensive Swiss watches. Shiny house
wares and rock-bottom-priced apparel $5 for a stylish white cotton
blouse, $3 for a kid’s sweatshirt with Chinese characters scream
“Buy me!” Several stands sell inexpensive suitcases, conceivably to
cart the bargains home.
This exotic carnival is frequented nightly by tourists and
locals alike and filled with Taiwanese teenagers with chopped and
dyed hair, their slim limbs clothed in fashion as progressive as
anything you’d see on London’s Portobello Road. Prowling the night
markets has got to be some of the best and least expensive
entertainment in Asia.
Taiwan boasts 10 night markets; they open for business around 7
p.m. and go until past midnight. Shilin is the most famous and
boisterous, but the Tonghua Street, Raohe Street and Huaxi Street
markets are definitely close runners-up. Other more traditional
places to shop in Taipei include:
The tree-lined Zhongshan North Road, where the upscale
Europeans, such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci, have set up shop. This
is where the wealthy Taipei ladies “do lunch” and check out the
Office workers and young city dwellers shop on Dunhua South
Road, where one can find everything from street vendors to
department stores selling brand merchandise. Cantonese teahouses
line the street and stay open 24 hours. The young and the trendy
shop in the new Xinyi shopping zone, which with its multiplexes is
the Taipei equivalent of a mall. On the weekends, there are often
outdoor live performances by local pop stars.
Big and Little Luxury
Are luxury hotels in Taipei really more sumptuous than their
counterparts elsewhere? Or is it that after a 14-hour trans-Pacific
flight, one is so much more appreciative?
Take the Grand Formosa Regent, whose English-speaking management
team will arrange to whisk clients from the airport in a Mercedes
and seamlessly check them into one of the 538 guestrooms (including
All the rooms in the 21-story hotel measure almost 500 square
feet travelers won’t find that in Paris or London and have
extravagantly appointed marble bathrooms with double sinks, a
Jacuzzi tub and separate shower.
The Grand Formosa Regent has a marketing and consulting contract
with Four Seasons/Regent International Hotels and Resorts and was
the only hotel in Taiwan to make the 2002 Conde Nast Traveler Gold
It’s easy to see why.
In addition to outsized rooms all the amenities one expects from
a five-star property great linens, fax machine, two International
Direct Dial (IDD) lines, VCR, in-room safe, etc. the Grand Formosa
Regent also has a 24-hour butler service and an “Executive Club.”
For an additional $38 per day, club members get complimentary
breakfast, all-day beverages and hors d’oeuvres, exclusive computer
facilities and express check-in and check-out services. Plus
there’s a rooftop pool and the hotel’s Wellspring Spa. What more
could a client want?
While the Grand Formosa Regent may seem like the obvious choice
for clients demanding the best, some clients just don’t like huge
hotels, no matter how many stars. Fortunately for them, there’s a
five-star boutique hotel, also smack in the middle of Taipei’s
The Evergreen Laurel, with its 100 luxury suites (albeit often
one-room “suites”) offers many of the amenities associated with its
While the Evergreen Laurel features the standard five-star bells
and whistles large desk with multi-functional office machine,
dual-line IDD phone and voice messaging system, 110- and 200-volt
power supplies, elegant decor, dual-sink bathroom with separate tub
and shower it also has a few features that go beyond the norm.
First of all, the hotel boasts an exclusive soundproof
construction that reduces ambient noise to under 40 decibels.
Translated: When you’re lying in bed the only thing you hear is
And all rooms have a 42-inch wall-mounted plasma TV that allows
free broadband Internet access. While the wireless keyboards aren’t
the easiest or fastest to operate, they make retrieving e-mail
possible if a client happens to be traveling without a laptop.
Another plus is the bedside control panel that regulates nearly
everything from the television to the thermostat to the lights.
The ultrasound massage tub in the marble bathroom fills in
seconds flat, and spa suites also feature a steam shower.
The Evergreen Laurel has two restaurants offering Western and
Chinese cuisine, 24-hour room service, business center, gym and the
full-service Being Spa. The Evergreen Laurel proves that sometimes
bigger isn’t necessarily better.
Ting Tai Fung restaurant is as popular with the locals as with
tourists. The specialty here is dumplings and the place is as funky
as any dim-sum joint one might find in San Francisco’s or New
The restaurant has four narrow floors, each accommodating about
30 diners. There is no English menu, though a few of the waiters do
speak English. But apparently, the item numbers have never changed
No. 2 is still the restaurant’s famous chicken soup made with
black-skinned chicken, which is blanched and steamed with ginger
For dessert, try the red bean dumpling, which features sugary
sweet mashed red beans. This one was discovered by accident alas,
its number remains a mystery. Open 8 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5 p.m.-8:30
p.m. Closed Mondays and Jan. 22-28 for Chinese New Year. A meal
will run about $20 per person.
Ting Tai Fung, 194 Hsin-I Road, Section 2