Friends of mine had been touting Taiwan as East Asia's most exciting destination, so on a recent trip to Bangkok, I arranged a long weekend in Taipei.
I should've stayed for a month. A prosperous generation that has seen the world and wants to bring it home is energizing new neighborhoods, restaurants and shops. Hong Kong, they say, is old-fashioned, and Shanghai is a work in progress, but the time is right for Taipei.
The new subway system, which stretches to the city's southern edge, has created the opulent Xin Yi district with Taiwan's showy centerpiece, Taipei 101 (45 Shi Fu Rd.), now the planet's tallest building. Its 101 stories house Socié (011-886-2-8101-7788), a luxury Japanese spa, and designer boutiques like Issey Miyake. Nearby, at the chic restaurant People (191 An Ho Rd., Section 2; 011-886-2-2735-2288), Helmut Lang-suited businessmen wear ski caps like hipsters and the menu is avant-Chinoise, with foot-long salsify chips and tender short ribs in lychee beurre rouge. The knobless, fortress-like doors open when you place your fist into the nearby sculpturea gimmick that playfully reflects the restaurant's exclusivity. The more populist Din Tai Fung (194 Xin Yi Rd., Section 2; 011-886-2-2391-7719) packs in everyone from high school kids to movie stars like Jackie Chan for steamed dumplings and noodles.
Dong Chu, the eastern district, is best known for its nightlife and its restaurants. You can be vegetarianor notat 100 Mushroom Garden (17 Ren Ai Rd., Section 4; 011-886-2-8773-3160). Hotpot meals start with a pungent broth, to which you add wild or farmed mushrooms (don't ask me for namesexcept for shiitake, they're all unique to East Asia). A tableside timer chimes when cooking is done. You can also order meat and seafood accompaniments.
When Dong Chu's clubs finally close, insomniacs head for the tony Eslite Bookstore (245 Dun Hua South Rd., Section 1; 011-886-2-2775-5977), which has a charming coffee shop and stays open all night. Eslite has what might be the world's best magazine store, with international fashion publications, newspapers, university press journalsand (if you're feeling homesick) F&W. Ah, the triumphs of globalized culture!