Asia-bound? Try Taiwan. It’s off the beaten path (from North America) and provides a unique mix of ancient China, cosmopolitan cities, Polynesian influences, and a hint of Japan.
Different from, say, Beijing, where hutongs (old residential alleyway neighborhoods) are being replaced with high-rise apartment buildings; Taiwan is preserving its past and building an ultra-modern state right around it. You’ll see colorful temples dwarfed by residential and commercial towers.
The street markets provide everyday shopping but there is no shortage of big name houses: Fendi, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Yves Saint Laurent and more.
The Huaxi Street Night Market, otherwise known as Snake Alley, is in the Wanhua District, the oldest district in Taipei. The entrance is a welcome traditional Chinese gate with red lanterns leading to a roofed mall. The two-block long market is a great place to see local culture. This is where you can try snake or turtle blood, snake penis or deer penis wine (I believe this is the only place in the world that sells it – such a shame!)
Although this is an interesting attraction for tourists (hoards of them from Mainland China) locals still look down on the market as it was once a legal red light district. Up until 1991, peasants could sell their daughters to work in the brothels here. The Taiwanese government has since outlawed the practice, hence the markets are safe places to visit now. (Oh, there still is prostitution in Taipei, just a little harder to find, if that is what you’re looking for.)
The market also specializes in fresh fish and shellfish, and the popular oyster omelette. Dim Sum is available in a lot of the restaurants, but one thing we didn’t see a lot of was rice and/or stirfries.