If Day 1 of my three-day Trip to the Taiwanese capital Taipei was quite a relaxed one, Day 2 was meant for some strenuous exercise.
The Elephant Mountain (Xiangshan) near Taipei was the first destination in the morning. I took the MRT and then walked along a street leading to the mountain. Fancy apartment buildings on one side and hills on the other kept me company. I realized it must be a high-end neighbourhood. The road went uphill, downhill and then uphill before we hit the Mountain.
The climb was strenuous and brought a good sweat out. One should wear comfortable shoes and clothing (I saw some climbing wearing branded clothing with fancy shoes and handbags and then show regrets). There are seats and vantage points at various intervals to give a the panting hearts a break and also to snap some good shots.
At the ‘top’ of the mountain, I took some time to enjoy the view in front of me. While one could see buildings of all sizes, and some greenery, the eyes do not fail to get stuck in the predominant building in the entire city – the light blue Taipei 101 Tower. It is there, jutting out of earth and as if trying to touch the sky, and no other building comes closer to this human marvel.
The climb went further up, towards a shrine, but I decided to climb down.
From the Elephant Mountain, I walked back to the MRT station and my next destination was just one station away.
The Taipei 101 Tower
The Tower, which shoots into the sky like a bamboo stem establishing a symbolic connection between the earth and the heaven, and held the distinction being the tallest building in the world from 2004 till 2010 when the Burj Khalifa Tower in Dubai overtook it, houses restaurants, spas and offices. There is an indoor observation deck on the 89th floor and a partially opened outdoor deck on the 91st.
The 91st floor is the highest the public can go; the floors from 91 to 100 are designated as communication floors and apparently host, well, communication equipment but no one is ure.
Equally mysterious is the 101st floor which itself contains three floors and hosts Summit 101, a top notch exclusive and secretive club with very rare access to the public. Apparently, only foreign dignitaries and other equally important people are allowed into the floor.
Between the 92nd and the 87th floors lies a giant mass damper to absorb the movement of the building due to high winds.
With such notable features, the Tower is obviously one of the most popular destinations for visitors with hundreds waiting in line to get in after buying the tickets. The wait is too long, but the ride in the elevator to the top of the world takes literally seconds. In fact, the digital display inside the elevator even displays the seconds as it sped through the floors. It took just 34 seconds to reach the 89th floor from the 5th floor.
The 89th-floor deck is covered with glass to allow you a view of the city and beyond from all sides. It was a cloudy day when I went so it was not the best day for photos but still it was an experience not to be missed; The 101 dwarfs all other highrises in the city and there are enough tall buildings to the end of vision. Roads of all sizes skirt through the densely packed buildings and here are there, there are patches of green. And then, in the distant, rise mountains covered by the clouds.
A walk up to the 91st floor should not be missed, either, provided the floor is opened to the public. One cannot miss the mass damper in the 88th and then I came back to the 5th floor.
Earlier, on my way to the Tower’s elevator I had noticed a large queue lined up outside a store; initially, I had assumed that to be the entrance to the Tower’s ticketing office but after a closer look I realized it was the branch of the world-famous steam dumpling restaurant Din Tai Fung. This was on my bucket list because of its rich history and fame.
The Din Tai Fung History
The restaurant was opened by a couple early seventies as they were forced to find a new way to survive after their cooking oil business took a hit due to changing market conditions. Almost fifty years later, this has become a global empire with branches in the far-flung corners of the earth and has earned such accolades as a 1 Michelin Star restaurant status for one of its branches in Hongkong, one of the world’s top ten restaurants by the New York Times etc.
But the long queue waiting to eat had worried me; however, as I came down from my tour to the top of the Tower, I saw that the lineup had vanished and I could just walk into the restaurant. How lucky!
The Din Tai Fung Dining Experience
The first dish to be ordered was a no-brainer: steamed dumplings. I also ordered spicy cucumbers and sticky rice.
One of the best things in this restaurant is the postcard-sized guide on how to enjoy the steam dumplings.
However, it appears that there is no one ‘right’ way to enjoy these steam dumplings. The gelatinized meat broth turns into liquid as it is steamed inside the fine wheat flour encasing. Another method often prescribed is to take the dumpling in a spoon and bite off the top. Once it has cooled down a little bit, suck the broth and then eat the rest.
I decided to go with the guidebook in the restaurant.
Needless to say, the dumplings were fantastic; the meat was of the right consistency and the broth, hot though it was, rightly delicious – all enclosed in a fine, thin wrapping that was a piece of artwork, with delicate folds.
The restaurant has a partial open kitchen concept for guests to see how the dumplings are made. A tireless work indeed.
The service was very friendly and professional and, to top it off, the bill was not that fat either.
It was time to return to the hotel.
In the evening I enjoyed the hotel lounge and its ample food.