Growing up, I used to visit my aunts in Taipei every summer. I would frequent SOGO Department Store on a daily basis, exploring the toy section for the newest robots, Playstation games and comic books. Needless to say, the city has changed significantly since 1998.
I took a long weekend trip to Taipei earlier in the month to attend Jonas and Jen's wedding...part 2! Whereas their celebration in Kauai was a much more intimate affair, this go-around was a full-on banquet with hundreds of family and friends in attendance. Both weddings were equally fun and memorable but for entirely different reasons.
Although I hardly scratched the surface of Taipei during my whirlwind trip, I thought I'd share a few personal highlights and suggestions from Jen & Jonas - the local experts and newlyweds. What better way to do so than with a trip in the box? Follow the numbered image above and read on to find out more!
24 Hours in Taipei
1. Flying in style: OK, this is technically not about Taiwan but worth mentioning. I flew to Taipei on Cathay Pacific with a connection in Hong Kong. I've said this before, but flying on some of the top airlines in Asia and the Middle East is such a different experience than what jaded American flyers are accustomed to. Cathay, in particular, has one of the best business lounges in the world. Great service, fresh juices, showers for tired travelers and bountiful hot foods, including noodle soup. You can't ask for more. In flight, I opted for their Premium Economy class. For a few hundred dollars more than economy tickets (but still well under the cost of business class), you get wider seats, deeper recline, significantly more leg room, an amenities kit and dedicated food/beverage service. For long-haul flights, it's a no-brainer.
2. Michelin-starred dumplings: Din Tai Fung is one of my favorite restaurants in the world. Not surprisingly, it was also one of my first stops in Taipei. No matter which location you go to, whether it's in Japan, China or even the US, you can expect top notch Chinese fare. The growing chain, which originated in Taiwan, is renowned for its delicious xiao long baos (soup dumplings). You can watch through the kitchen window to see each dumpling crafted by hand to near perfect precision.
3. Fast food with a twist: For something more familiar (yet oddly different), grab a bite at MOS Burger. This fast food chain from Japan puts a spin on your classic burger by introducing variations like the yakiniku rice burger (grilled strips of beef in a crisp rice bun).
4. Shop 'til you drop: Taipei has plenty of great shopping destinations, from my childhood favorite SOGO to upscale department stores like Mitsukoshi, Bellavita and Breeze Center. This time around, I spent much of my time at the newest Songyan branch of the mega-bookstore, Eslite. Don't be fooled though. This isn't just an ordinary bookstore. Eslite is a multi-story shopping destination with dozens of fashion boutiques, stationary shops, cafes, restaurants and tea rooms. You can spend hours here getting lost in the maze of stalls. Between purchases, grab a latte at Akuma Caca. For the caffeine addicts out there, check out other local favorites like Woolloomooloo, Cafe Xiao Mijo, Cafe LakuLaku and Cafe 25. Can't fault the Taiwanese for memorable names :)
5 & 6: Taipei landmarks: If you're in the mood for some history and culture, check out the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial and Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall in central Taipei. Both are dedicated to men widely considered as the "forefathers" of Taiwan. In stark contrast to these landmarks is the soaring Taipei 101. Once the tallest building in the world, this skyscraper soars above every other structure in the city.
7: Rest for the weary: After a day out in the city, there's no better way to cap things off than with a massage. In Taipei, a typical night out could easily involve hot pot, karaoke, shrimp fishing and a trip to the massage parlor. In fact, there's nothing strange about getting multiple massages in one weekend (or even one day). There are dozens of great parlors throughout the city that offer really cheap, quality massages. Jen recommends Thousand Mile Massage Center and Villa.like.
8: Calling it a night: The Le Meridien Hotel in Xingyi District is the perfectly located rest stop for visitors. It also happens to be one of the nicest urban hotels I've stayed at. The interiors are classic and chic, and the rooms are spacious and beautiful.
Getting Hitched in Taipei
9. Second wedding: Same bride and groom but in an entirely different setting. Jen and Jonas's celebration in Taipei could not have been more different from their wedding in Kauai. This celebration catered to a much larger audience, allowing the newlyweds to share their joy with hundreds of friends and family from around the world. In fact, dozens of friends and parents we grew up with in Dallas made the long trip out. I think the fact that Jonas and Jen had two weddings sums up who they are as a couple. They frequently put others first and just want to make sure that everyone has an amazing time. I watched as they worked on a video montage late into the night before the wedding, just to make sure that all 400+ guests were included in the video.
10. Guests of honor: One interesting tradition I learned about is the politician's speech at Taiwanese weddings. It is customary to have a local representative attend the wedding and give a toast. Some peopled say that this is a demonstration of "guanxi" (relations). Their speeches can range from personal to politically motivated. Thankfully, the politician at this particular wedding kept his speech short and succinct.
11. Personal fortunes: To my earlier point, Jonas and Jen somehow managed to make a 400+ person wedding very personal. Many of the guests were given custom fortune cookies with personalized messages inside. My fortune said: You are the best godbrother in the world, and you will be supported in every way, with 100+ likes on each Instagram photo. Those 100+ likes haven't become a reality just yet, but I'm sure they will :)