TAIPEI'S transformation from what it was in the early 90’s to what it has become today is remarkable. When I first set foot in Taipei a dozen or so years ago, I thought it was such a humdrum city with nothing much going for it...not a place to go back to, or so I thought. Wrong assessment!

Fast forward to Dec. 2009 when I joined a group of Cebu travel agents on a trip to Taipei. We took PAL’s early morning flight to Manila, had breakfast at the Mabuhay Lounge and were soon on our way to Taiwan’s capital city which was a short and smooth two-hour flight.

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Taipei is the political, economic and cultural center of Taiwan. It is on the wings of becoming a “Cyber City” with the soon-to-be implemented information techonolgy infrastructure, e-government, e-business, e-life, urban information exchange and information technology education.

The new face of Taipei is very visible in its wide and well-paved avenues, its contemporary buildings, and its modern transportation system. The most famous, innovative and high-tech edifice in the city is the Taipei Financial Center better known as Taipei 101 which until very recently was recognized as the tallest building in the world (Burj Dubai has now gotten the distinction). At its base is the Taipei 101 Mall housing the world’s leading fashion brands as well as a wide selection of cuisine.

Taipei 101, designed by Taiwanese Architect C.Y. Lee, has a total height of 508 meters and 101 floors. It has the fastest elevators in the world with a record 38 seconds to reach the observatory at the 89th floor. The structure has been designed to withstand the strongest earthquakes of the last 2,500 years.

All floors are equipped with computerized fire prevention and extinguishing systems, safety evaculation corridors and staircases. Everything about the building is impressive!

An old city landmark which remains a major attraction is the stately Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, constructed in 1976 to honor the late president Chiang Kai-shek, a political and military leader who ruled Taiwan with an iron hand as President of the Republic of China and Director-General of the Kuomintang until his death in 1975.

The Memorial Hall has two levels. The main statue hall has a large bronze statue of President Chiang Kai-shek.

From the outside it can be reached by going up to either of the two sets of granite stairs with 89 steps each, the number representing the age of the late president when he passed away.

From the inside one can take the elevator which we did.

The ground floor is a display venue with an exhibition hall showcasing memorabilia (among them, a Cadillac car donated by the Chinese in the Philippines), and photos of President Chiang Kai-shek and his wife Madame Chiang. An auditorium for assemblies, lectures and seminars is surrounded by three more exhibition halls and a spacious art gallery showcasing the works of acclaimed artists done in Chinese water ink and water color.

The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall stands not only as a tribute to a great leader, but also serves as a venue for education, art and cultural communications.

A “must visit” is Taipei’s National Palace Museum which houses the world’s largest collection of Chinese art treasures. The section on antiquities is most fascinating with exhibits tracing eight thousand years of cultural development starting from the Neolithic displays to the treasures of the different dynastic periods. Among the famous pieces is the Jadeite Cabbage (Qing dynasty, 1644-1911) made from a single piece of jade in graduated shades of green. There was also a small ivory piece from the Ming period (1368-1644) so intricately carved in eight layers, it was mind-boggling! With so many art pieces and historical treasures to see and appreciate, time flies fast at the National Palace Museum.

The “taste of Taipei” is addictive, yes, food, glorious food is one of the city’s attractions. There’s that special Taiwan flavor one can’t find elsewhere. Even the food at the chaotic Night Market is so-o-o good...think chicken barbeque with its unmistakable smoky aroma...envision fat oysters in an omelet...imagine a steaming bowl of beef noodles with its delicious thick broth (comfort food to most Taiwanese), and so on.

We also had our share of five-star dining, feasting on the freshest of shrimps and fish, the tenderest of beef and pork, the tastiest of veggies, and more. However what our group loved best was the Kiampang (the Chinese version of Arroz Valenciana), a sticky rice dish flavored with dried shrimp (hebe), chorizos, chicken, squid and all else that spelled delicious! It is no wonder that there are a lot of foodies who go to Taipei just to wine and dine.

Taipei today is a sprawling metropolis counted among Asia’s fast-developing cities... a far cry from the farmland it was several decades ago.