Thursday, April 14, 2011

Xinyi - Inside Out

Written for "Verve" - the Eva Air magazine

With its department stores and elegant restaurants, street performers and inviting avenues, the Xinyi district is the perfect place to spend your downtime in Taipei. And as the refined and oftentimes luxurious interiors contrast so perfectly with the vibrant, exciting atmosphere to be found outside, there are really two Xinyis for you to explore and enjoy.


Taipei 101

Standing an incredible 508 meters high, 101 is the world’s second tallest building, and it dominates the Taipei skyline. It’s not just the magnitude of the structure that captures the eye, but also the design features that make is so reminiscent of the bamboo that grows throughout Southeast Asia.

As with most of the world’s tall buildings, one of the chief attractions here is an observatory with excellent views of the surrounding city. There is a large, indoor area with souvenir shops, and if you’re lucky and the weather conditions are right, you’ll be allowed up onto a higher, outdoor observation deck.

The 101 complex also has an adjoining shopping center, where the vast majority of the stores are distinctly upmarket. You’ll find internationally recognized designer labels and a range of luxury items. There’s also a great bookshop with thousands of English titles, some fantastic restaurants, and one of the best supermarkets on the island – Jason’s. It stocks a wide range of imported produce, so if you’re in need of some home comforts, this is the place to come.

Taipei World Trade Center

Right next door to 101 is the main building of the Taipei World Trade Center, which hosts a number of internationally important exhibitions and trade fairs. Although it’s primarily a center for business, many of the events held there appeal to members of the public just as much as to industry insiders. The biggest exhibition on this month is Computex – Asia’s largest computer show. From May 31 to June 4, the biggest IT companies from around the world will join local manufacturers like Asus and Acer to display their latest products and innovations. For a complete list of exhibitions taking place during your stay, visit the TWTC website at

Eslite Bookstore

It doesn’t matter if you’re not an avid reader, the Eslite Bookstore has so many non-book-related stores offering such a wide variety of products that you’re bound to find something here to interest you. It’s definitely the place to go if you’re buying gifts for people back home, as there are dozens of quirky or high-end outlets offering everything from luxury writing tools to herbal teas to clever novelty items.

That said, it’s not called a bookstore for nothing, and if you are looking for reading material, Eslite should be your first stop. In addition to a wide selection of English-language books, there are also sections for French, Japanese, and simplified Chinese literature. There’s an entire floor of children’s books, and, if you’re after something a little lighter, there’s even a huge range of magazines from around the world.

Wining and Dining

Shinyeh 101

When in Taiwan, eat as the Taiwanese eat, and there’s no better place to sample the local cuisine than Sinyeh 101. Not only is the food sumptuous, but as the restaurant’s located on the 85th floor of Taipei 101, you’ll also be treated to some spectacular views.

Address: Floor 85, Taipei 101, 7 Xinyi Road, Section 5 Tel: 02 8101 0185

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon

No introduction to Taipei dining would be complete without mentioning the restaurant opened by “Chef of the Century,” Joël Robuchon. The food here, which is largely modern French cuisine, is simply exquisite, but what else would you expect from a man whose restaurants have picked up 26 Michelin stars? To avoid disappointment, make sure you book well in advance.

Address: Floor 5, Bella Vita, 28 Songren Road Tel: 02 8729 2628

Brown sugar

Brown Sugar is one of Taipei’s best nightspots. As a restaurant, it offers an international menu and an excellent choice of wines, and as a venue for live jazz music, it hosts sets from the cream of the local talent and musicians from around the world.

Address: 101 Songren Road Tel: 02 8780 1110

Eslite Beer Cellar

This is a fun and lively place with an overtly German theme. The waiters and waitresses dress up in traditional German costume, and the furnishings are simple and rustic. As well as the obligatory sausage and sauerkraut, the menu is packed with fairly unhealthy cheesy, meaty snacks. The real draw, though, is the locally brewed, German-style beer.

Address: Floor B1, Eslite Bookstore, 11 Songgao Road Tel: 02 8789 5911


Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Department Store

The Xinyi district is home to some of the finest city scenery you’ll find anywhere in the world. There’s a genuinely eclectic mix of architecture that looks great in the daytime and simply stunning at night when the buildings are tastefully lit up with LED and neon light displays. The best places to take all this in are the broad walkways around Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Department Store’s four buildings.

These spaces are also home to an array of street performers and craft stalls. There’s a fantastic range and variety of people plying their trade here, and on any given evening, you could see singers, portrait painters, gymnasts, and vendors selling all manner of interesting keepsakes.

The Vieshow Cinema Complex

The space outside the 18-screen Vieshow movie theater attracts a much younger crowd than is typically drawn to the walkways around the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Department Store. While those areas have a relaxed charm and toned-down atmosphere, this one all about youthful energy. The street performers are louder and a little cockier, and with their clever and well-rehearsed dance routines, they generally attract a large audience. The crowds might be a problem in other parts of Taipei, where some people seem more than happy to push, jostle, and elbow you out of their way. In Xinyi, though, you’ll rarely see – or feel – this kind of thing.

Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall

With its yellow-tiled, sloping roof and meticulously ordered grounds, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall looks more like something you’d expect to find in an Eastern Bloc country than on the outskirts of the Xinyi district. But then, it was built in honor of republican China’s founding father, and work finished on the site around 40 years ago – 40 years in which Taiwan has developed almost beyond recognition.

History lovers should get a kick out of the exhibitions inside the building, and the hourly, changing-of-the-guard ceremony is well worth watching. More than all that, though, and the reason why the locals come back here again and again, is the fact that it’s just a lovely place to spend a few relaxing hours. There’s a real family feeling to the venue, and as it attracts the full cross-section of Taiwanese society, it’s a great place to people-watch and learn a little more about the culture in this country.

Stretch your Legs on Elephant Mountain

No matter where you go in Taiwan, you’ll never be too far away from lush, green mountains or hills, and Xinyi is no exception. Just a short walk or an even shorter taxi ride from the commercial center is Elephant Mountain. Despite the name, it’s not really a mountain as it’s only about 180 meters tall. That’s still high enough, though, to give you an incredible vantage point over the city.

Although the short, paved trail is fairly easy to walk, even for those who don’t do a lot of exercise, it is steep along the majority of its course, so climbing Elephant Mountain will be too strenuous for some. If you do make it to the top, you’ll find the views, especially at sunset, are well worth the effort.

Elephant Mountain is just one part of Taipei’s Four Beasts Mountain, the others being Tiger, Lion, and Leopard Mountains. It never gets very high – just 350 meters at the highest point – and there are paths leading from Elephant Mountain to the other peaks. Unfortunately, the signs and maps you’ll find en route are mostly in Chinese, but you can always ask one of the locals if you’re unsure of which direction to head off in. You will find bathrooms and resting points along the way, so afternoon- or day-long hikes are possible; just make sure you take enough food and drinking water with you.

The walking trails will also give you a good chance to see a selection of the local wildlife. It’s incredible how many different species can be found so close to the city, and birds, colorful spiders, frogs, bats, lizards, and even snakes can be seen on the slopes of Elephant Mountain. And as fireflies are still active in June, don’t be surprised to see a few glowing orbs flying around if you’re there after dark.

To get to Elephant Mountain, turn onto Songren Road from Xinyi Road, and then take the first left onto Songqin Road. Follow the road around a corner and past a small park, and when you reach the end of the road, turn left up a small hill, and you should find the trail head. It’s a lot easier than it sounds, and there are signposts to help you find your way.

The rapidly developing Xinyi district offers visitors to Taiwan a glimpse of the country’s future. It’s clean, convenient, and has bags of character; it is the perfect place to spend your downtime, and could easily become one of your highlights, too. Whether you want to shop and dine in air-conditioned comfort or hit the streets to take in the sights and sounds of the city, Xinyi has it all – inside and out.


Vicki said...

Great pics! Brings back great memories!

Janelle said...

THanks for the great post! Helpful information as I set out tonight to check out Bella Vita. :)

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Leo said...

Certainly should give those restaurants a try when I visit :-)

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