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Saturday May 30, 2009

Talking about Taipei

Always wanted to go to Taiwan but worried about halal food? Well, rest assured that Muslim travellers are well catered for on “the beautiful island”.

For all Taiwan’s beauty and allure, Muslim tourists usually think twice about visiting the island because of concerns over the availability of halal food.

A musical treat from a member of the Amis Kakeng Musical Group;

But don’t fret; there’s ample halal food everywhere.

Taiwan (or Formosa in Portuguese) is worth the trip, especially if you pack your itinerary with visits to cultural spots, sunset appreciations and shopping at all the interesting places. Oh, and don’t forget the tallest building in the world — the Taipei 101 — until it was recently dethroned.

English novelist and travel writer Alec Waugh once said: “You can fall in love at first sight with a place as with a person”.

How apt. That was how we felt each time we set eyes on one of Taiwan’s more interesting places, like the National Palace Museum.

This museum has more than 700,000 artefacts, history books, historical documents, calligraphy and other priceless Chinese treasures that once belonged in imperial collections.

One of the most astounding artifacts here is a piece of jade carved in the shape of a layered cabbage head. This masterpiece is known as the Jadeite Cabbage, which boasts a little grasshopper and a katydid camouflaged within the layers of leaves. The detail is incredible.

The Jadeite Cabbage is said to symbolise the purity of a bride, with the insects signifying fertility, so that the new bride may be blessed with many children.

The Martyrs’ Shrine is situated at Bei- Ai Road.

We had the opportunity to visit the Taipei Grand Mosque to perform Friday prayers. The mosque, considered a historic site by the Taipei City government, is the biggest in Taiwan at 3,300sq m.

We also visited Martyrs’ Shrine, which looks almost like our own National Monument. Situated on Bei-Ai Road, it was built in 1969 in memory of the 330,000 soldiers who sacrificed their lives during the formation of the Republic of China in 1911, the Sino-Japan (1938-1945) and the Chinese Civil War (1945-1949).

The most talked-about feature here is the two police officers who stand guard at the entrance, come what may. Like statues, they stand here as if frozen, neither batting an eyelid nor showing any reaction whatsoever to what is going on around them. Requests from tourists to pose for a picture are naturally ignored with stony silence.

If you are lucky, though, you may catch them coming to life during the changing of the guards when the two new guards come to relieve their comrades in a little ritual filled with pomp and military pageantry.

Of course, when you are in Taipei you mustn’t miss Taipei 101, the skyscraper that is the pride and joy of Taiwan. Measuring 509.2m, it wrested the title of the world’s tallest building from Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Twin Towers in 2004. However, the title now belongs to the Burj Dubai, which is 818m tall.

Its design inspired by bamboo shoots, Taipei 101 combines the modern and the traditional and is a very distinctive-looking building. It has 101 floors and consists of offices shopping mall, restaurants and entertainment outlets. Visitors get to experience the fastest bullet lift in the world, which travels at a speed of 16.83m per second (63kph).

Going from the bottom of Taipei 101 to its 89th floor, where the public viewing gallery is, takes only 39 seconds. The view in the late evening of the city shrouded in fog is amazing. The most astounding thing about the building, though, is the way it’s lit.

Leofoo Village Theme Park

Taipei 101’s bright colourful display of lights, inspired by the rainbow, changes every day, giving inhabitants and visitors alike something new to look forward to as night falls.

Shopping is another thing the city is renowned for, especially the flea markets like Shinlin, Xinmending and Wudenfu. These come alive when the sun sets, offering a bewildering choice of clothes, accessories, mementoes, arts and craft.

Shinlin is famous for the latest fashion and trends. The prices are easy on the wallet, so don’t worry. The antics of the traders here will also bring a smile to your face. Each of them has a distinct way of selling their goods, like standing on a chair with a loud-hailer.

Every night, the place is packed to the brim, even on a working day.

The fashion conscious may want to check out the latest fashion trends from Japan and Korea at Wufenfu, a veritable shopping paradise offering bags, handbags, accessories and shoes of all brands and designs. Meanwhile, Ximending is known as the Harajuku of Taipei because of the many stores selling magazines, books and CDs from Japan. You are bound to come across groups of young kids doing their hip-hop dance routine.

If you are looking for a relaxing hour with the family, head over to the Leofoo Village Theme Park.

Leofoo is divided into two sections: wild life and theme park, with the latter being made up of four villages inspired by South Pacific, Wild West, Arabian Kingdom and Africa Safari.

For a quick tour of China, Taiwan and the world famous landmarks, drop in at Taiwan’s Window on China Theme Park. Imagine, in just a blink of an eye, you move from one world-famous landmark to another, from the Great Wall of China to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, from the Taj Mahal to the Statue of Liberty and more — albeit in miniature.

The mini replicas are meticulously built and accurate down to the most minute detail. They are so accurate that they are a dead ringer to the original. You might even fool people they are original with the photos you take.

Halal food on offer at the Taipei Grand Mosque.

If you want to relax and revitalise yourself, the place to be is in Taitung in the east of Taiwan, which is famous for its hot spring. Hotel Royal Chihpen, an establishment dedicated to the hot spring experience, is the place to stay. Whether you want your hot spring experience out in the open or in the comfort of your hotel room, the choice is yours to make.

Either way, you are bound to leave the place refreshed and raring to go.

  • Cathay Pacific’s Discover Taipei is a four-day, three-night package inclusive of flight and accommodation. Those who sign up get a voucher worth RM50. This offer is valid till Dec 31, 2009. Halal cuisine is offered on Cathay Pacific. For more information, visit www.cathaypacific.com

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