Bangkok (BKK) to Taipei (TPE)
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Modern, energetic and confident, Taipei epitomizes the Taiwan Miracle that has seen the country's economy boom since the 1990s. It's a futuristic metropolis of soaring towers and neon lights that can't fail to impress. But the Taiwanese capital is also the keeper of much of the traditional Chinese culture and history that has been swept away since the Communist era in mainland China.
To get around Taipei, you'll need an EasyCard. It gains you access to the city's integrated public transport system, including the metro and buses. The card also works on local trains in the north, and even some taxis, while it brings a discount for the Tourism Shuttle Buses, too. The metro runs until midnight and covers much of the city.
Leading the Taiwanese economy forwards to the extent that it has become one of Asia's major economic powerhouses, Taipei is a startling city to newcomers. It's one of the most densely populated metropolises on the planet, and tends to baffle at first with its whir of cars, scooters and sprawling street markets. Used as a base by exiles of the Chinese Civil War, who planned to take back the mainland from the communists, Taipei's new leaders built up much of the city quickly and unsentimentally.
More recent constructions are nothing short of breath-taking. Foremost amongst them is the Taipei 101, a striking needle bursting high above the rest of the skyline with subtly staggered levels that remind of a pagoda. At the time of its construction in 2003, it was the world's tallest building, though that accolade has since gone.
Beyond the glitz and glamour, Taipei's museums are extraordinary. The defeated Chinese exiles of the civil war brought with them a treasure trove of traditional Chinese culture, much of which has been done away with over the last 60 years on mainland China. The spectacular National Palace Museum is based on the Imperial Collection itself, and has the finest collection of Chinese art and artefacts in the world.
To take a break from Taipei's urban madness, head to a nearby beach. In Sanzhir, a rural part of New Taipei City an hour's drive from Taipei itself, there's a curious beach resort that was abandoned back in the 1970s and has recently been redeveloped. The white sands and clear blue waters, as well as restaurants and coffee shops, make it a popular retreat for local families. You can also get away from it all via the Maokong aerial gondola, which takes you up to the picturesque Maokong mountain. There you can enjoy vistas of the city while sipping local-grown tea.
Anyone who knows Taipei will tell you that this city revolves around food, no matter the time of day or night. Be sure to try a Chinese breakfast of steamed dumplings, fried crullers with soya milk and egg wraps. Hotpots are much loved for lunch or dinner: the Taiwanese-style variety features shacha sauce and raw egg; the Japanese-style version has shabu shabu (boiled slices of beef) and sukiyaki (like stew).
Late-night snacks are all about so-called stinky tofu and ice cream wraps. Taipei today boasts many fine restaurants catering to its affluent and business-minded inhabitants, while good drinking spots can be found on Anhe Road and the university area.