Taipei metro

By Jay Brunhouse

by Jay Brunhouse

Approaching my destination, I heard the recorded woman’s voice announce over the train’s loudspeaker, “Here we are in Danshui [MRT] station. Thank you for your patronage.” Is that polite or what?

When you ride the escalator into any of Taipei’s MRT stations for the first time, you will be impressed by the cleanliness of the station hallways, platforms and train carriages of Taiwan’s capital city. The Mass Rapid Transit administration (log onto takes pride in keeping everything spanking clean and efficient. An army of cleaning personnel is busy at work during the day, and, moreover, strict regulations prohibit littering, eating, drinking or smoking inside the stations and trains.

The MRT makes getting around Taipei incredibly easy and pleasant. The trains carry up to a million passengers daily over a total length of 40 miles and into 62 stations and reach deep into some parts of the county. It has been a boon to visitors for eight years and become an indispensable means of transport in busy Taipei city.

There are great things to see in Taipei. Number one is the National Palace Museum ( with is premier collection of calligraphy, paintings, documents and truly amazing antiques and handiwork that had been collected from all over China for safekeeping in advance of the occupying Japanese armies of World War II.

Signature tower

You will not miss visiting the tallest tower in the world, Taipei 101 (, Taipei’s signature tower that dominates the metropolis’ skyline. It is 1,671 feet high, with 101 floors (hence the name), surpassing in height the well-publicized Petronas Twin Towers of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was designed and built by Japanese interests because of their experience in designing earthquake-resistant skyscrapers. Taipei 101 was not damaged by the severe earthquake of October 2004, nor was the MRT.

Taiwan’s government expects Taipei 101 to give the city such prestige, it will attract investment, business and industry. The tourist office will appreciate additional tourism.

Taipei’s oldest and most popular temple, the ornate, 1738 Lungshan (Dragon Mountain) Temple (www., click on Taiwan, then Lungshan Temple), is on nearly everyone’s “must see” list. Colorful, intricately carved dragons and statuesque immortals guard the sacred nooks inside.

When you wish to explore Taipei on your own, there is no easier way than with the MRT. It is cheap and safe and easy to understand. The system is fully bilingual (unlike the railroads). Station names, maps, directions and signs are all written in Chinese and English. At MRT stations you find free printed materials, including maps and introductions to places of interest in greater Taipei. You can reach most of the major tourist sites from one of its stations.

Color-coded buses
For places that are not located close to one of the MRT stations, you can take one of the fleet of many MRT-connecting buses. The buses are color coded to the same color as the MRT line that they serve. “Red” bus 30 takes you to the main exhibition building of the National Palace Museum. The east-west Banqiao-Nangang line is the “blue” line, and buses serving stations of this line show blue as background behind the route number. With this handy, comprehensive service, it is difficult to get lost or miss the places you want to visit.

As everywhere, trains are crowded on weekdays during rush hours, but outside of these hours there are usually comfortable seats. In my experience, the MRT train serving the Taipei Zoo can be crowded with squealing children.

Women taking the MRT late at night can stand in one of the safe-waiting zones on the platform that are constantly monitored by video. Every station has escalators and an elevator for use by the handicapped and parents with baby buggies.

Many MRT stations show artistic features in their architecture as well as on-site artwork. You can see the works of local artists, photographers and painters, all of which lend the stations an artistic flair and create art corridors. A number of stations are connected with each other by malls of shopping streets containing many small retail outlets selling clothes, shoes, books, souvenirs and other items.

Yum yum

The gentle lady from the tourist office told me that they first focused their publicity to attract visitors to Taiwan’s magnificent scenery but that they changed their approach when surprising feedback showed them that visitors were more interested in the varied cuisines of the island than the landscape.

Taipei’s restaurants were founded by immigrants from the Chinese mainland who brought with them 5,000 years of customs, traditions and cooking techniques. Some chefs came when the capital of the Republic of China moved to Taipei. More chefs came to escape Mao’s Cultural Revolution. They came from all provinces of China and brought their distinctive regional cuisines with them. Now the restaurants of Taipei present a sampling of the best cuisines of the mainland.

The spectrum of Chinese cooking embraces Jiangzhe cuisine at Landis Taipei Hotel and Jiuru Restaurant; Shanghai cuisine at Dian Shui Lou Restaurant and at the Shangri-La Far Eastern Plaza Hotel; Taiwanese cuisine at Bando-8 and Really Good Seafood; Peking duck at Celestial Restaurant; Cantonese cuisine on the second floor of the Ambassador Hotel, and, of course, teahouses in the Japanese tradition like Chu Li Kuan Tea House.

“Street food is the most indicative of what Taiwanese food is,” says Carl Chu, author of the “Chinese Food Finder Los Angeles” and similar titles for San Francisco and New York (www.crossbridgepublishing. com). “Taiwanese home cooking isn’t really much of anything. If you consider the food at the night markets and the intricacies of cooking at home, it’s much easier to visit the night markets. It all happens on the street.”

There’s a Taipei night market in almost every neighborhood of this city of three million residents. The nightly carnivals of cuisine and commerce attract thousands of Taiwanese who come to street snack and shop.

At the Rao He Street Night Market, hundreds of food vendors line the middle of the street. You can purchase jeans, jackets, shirts, shorts, shoes and lingerie. You’ll find toys, blue movies, CDs, alarm clocks, cell phone covers and kitsch artwork. You can race turtles, buy goldfish and canaries, get a foot massage or play pinball. Food vendors stir big bubbling caldrons of tofu and offer fried chicken breast fillets, roasted cuttlefish and soy-braised chicken feet, duck tongues and gizzards. Puffed rounds of rice fly out of a frying machine like Frisbees.

I thank Taiwan’s Ministry of Transportation & Communications ( for arranging the choice of the best restaurants.

In my next column, we’ll ride the world’s fastest train: the Maglev from Shanghai’s airport.