The Taipei Exchange

The Taipei Exchange

true beauty of a place is often revealed through its people.
Since launching SUITCASE Magazine in 2012, I have strived to create
a brand that moves beyond the limitations of a traditional
publication to become a platform with this message at its heart.
Through a global network of creatives and entrepreneurs, we’ve
explored destinations with insider knowledge, inviting our readers
along for the ride. At the end of last year, we decided we needed
another way to showcase the importance of travelling by people. We
decided to bring one of our city guides to life.

During this period of revelation, I met my match via Twitter:
Phoebe Lovatt, founder of The WW Club. From her base in New York, Phoebe is
connecting a network of ambitious women through events, workshops,
panels, features and podcasts. We got talking, and quickly
discovered a shared interest in Asian culture, wondering what the
life of a creative, entrepreneurial woman is like on the continent.
With the election of its first female president and its growing
presence in the fashion and food industries, Taipei caught our eye.
We decided we should visit and and most importantly, that we should
visit with a group of engaged, entrepreneurial women.

Hence, The Taipei Exchange was born, a real-life version of
SUITCASE Magazine: five days of discovering the city through its
pioneering females and locals. We chose three women from the US and
UK to accompany us on our journey to Taipei: Madeline Poole,
Founder of MP nails who travels the world as the global colour
ambassador for Sally Hansen, Olivia Lopez, travel blogger
extraordinaire and Founder of Lust for Life, and Alice Levine,
Radio DJ, TV presenter, and co-founder of food company Jackson

We partnered with W Taipei because of W’s global presence, its
strong female team and their focus on female empowerment across
their properties this year. The hotel group introduced us to a huge
network of Taiwanese women to help us create a complete cultural
programme and introduce us to their city.

Along with the W team – the most energetic, lively and hilarious
group of women – there were independent bloggers like Stephanie Hsu
of Thousandth Girl and Tina Fong of Taipei Eatsand, most
importantly our panelists: Leslie Sun, owner of one of Taipei’s
first concept stores Sunset Shop; Musée Wu, co-founder of A&M
creative (a consulting and digital agency in Taipei); Wei Shuan
Chang, founder of, a digital platform championing
women’s issues; Florence Lu, Editor-in-Chief of ELLE Taiwan and
Content Officer of Hearst Taiwan and Wina Chen, Director of
Operational Excellence at W Taipei and co-owner of trendy hot-pot
restaurant Mr. Meat. These were the women who we believed would be
able to give us an accurate insight into Taiwanese culture.

Our base for the week was the stylish W Taipei in the buzzing
Xinyi district. Set between some of Taipei’s top malls and historic
sites, W Taipei is 31-floors high and has one of the best views of
the city, which you can take in at the heated rooftop pool. With a
focus on fashion, design, and music, the hotel is a hub for
like-minded travellers from around the world and (very) trendy
locals. We dined on mouth-watering dim-sum at YEN Chinese
restaurant (some of the best soup dumplings we had that week), made
personalised cocktails with the mixologists from the WOO Bar and
burned it all off with one of their FUEL trainers at FIT. “We say
B&F here” said the head mixologist, “because beverage comes
before food.” It’s safe to say that we felt at home there and it
was a struggle to leave. But Taipei awaited us…

We spent our first couple of days getting to know the city,
moving through its past in Datong and Zhongzheng Districts and
present and future in the East District and Xinyi. Taipei is a lot
smaller than its neighbouring countries’ capitals with a population
of 2 million (for reference, Hong Kong is 7 million and Tokyo 13.35
million). It sometimes seems strangely empty until rush hour
arrives and thousands of local families, couples, businessmen and
the odd pet speed past on scooters. It’s fascinating to walk down
quaint alleyways towards towering high-rise buildings; architecture
doesn’t have much rhyme or reason here. But there’s no doubt the
streets are beautiful – tropical green plants burst out of every
corner and crack in the pavements while its palette of pastel
pinks, blues and greens softens the sombre cement structures. Much
to the local women’s delight, we found beauty in places they hadn’t
recognised – they couldn’t believe it when Madeline Instagrammed
their public bathrooms in the underground (with their perfect
pastel palette) – and it became as much about their discovery as

We visited the historic Xia Hai City God Temple, Dihua Street,
known as Old Taipei (Datong District) with dried food stalls and
Chinese medicine shops and Wang Tea House, now run by
fifth-generation tea makers. We rode up to Beitou to experience the
famous Hot Springs at Grand View Resort and ate dinner at STAY in
Taipei 101, Taiwan’s most famous landmark. We explored the
Mingsheng district, where leafy streets and cool concept stores
reminded us of La Condesa in Mexico, and met the Taiwanese man
responsible for its resurgence – Jay Wu of Fujin Tree, a chain of
shops with over 22 outlets.

We ate…a lot…at independent restaurants like Mr Meat and Fujin
Tree Taiwanese Cuisine and Champagne, as well as night markets and
street food around the city. We laughed – all day, everyday. It was
a welcome surprise meeting people who have might just have a sense
of sarcasm sharper than even the English.

But SUITCASE has long recognised that there isn’t one itinerary
for every type of traveller – that everyone has a different route
into the heart of a destination. For Alice Levine and our Managing
Editor, Emily, that route was food. The Taipei Eats tour, designed
by locals Mike and Tina and led by foodie Jeanne, was the perfect
way to navigate the complicated and untranslated trail of street
vendors across the city. Many of the dishes they tried were
legendary. Some, like the gua bao Taiwanese burger and
thousand-layer scallion cake, will be the stuff of dreams for years
to come – others, like stinky tofu, are more likely to appear in

Olivia Lopez and Phoebe Lovatt explored the burgeoning design
scene in Taipei at concept stores and cafés where young Taiwanese
locals set up for the day with laptops and lattes. They visited
studio Mano and met Yu-Chun and Min Ling who showcase the work of
Taiwanese and international craftspeople alongside their own
handmade jewellery, as well as The Good Design Institute Cafe in
Yong Khang and Leslie Sun’s concept store Sunset Shop. “People
couldn’t understand how I could have a coffee bar without seats…”
joked Leslie, who had transplanted the idea from LA where she lived
and worked for over a decade.

Beauty was an interesting entry point for both Madeline and me
to experience the city. It’s a huge industry in Asia and it clearly
works – 40-year-olds look like 20-year-olds (and great news, they
still drink). We explored Watsons, the local version of Boots or
CVS with Alice Shih at our side, a friend of blogger Stephanie Hsu
of Thousandth Girl. Alice told us about some of the most popular
and often surprising ingredients (snail secretion and horse oil,
for example) and helped us to choose the ultimate face masks – seen
as the fountain of youth, women here apply them at least twice a
week – and avoid whitening products, which were everywhere. We had
foot massages at Relaxing Trip and a shampoo hangover cure at
Sculptor barber (forget blowdrys; shampooing is where it’s at in
Taiwan). The focus on restorative treatments showed the care with
which the Taiwanese culture treat their bodies and wellbeing.

Our jam-packed week culminated in a large panel event run by The
WW Club and an intimate dinner cooked by Michelin-starred chef Wo
Hoi Ming. The panel was attended by local students from creative
and business universities, leading Taiwanese women and our friends
which we had made along the way. We explored various themes both
with our guests and leading Taiwanese female entrepreneurs,
including the impact of travel, the different working cultures of
the East and West and women in the workplace. The discussions
flowed over into dinner as guests from many different cultures –
Australian, American, Taiwanese, English – drank, chatted and
laughed about our terrible Chinese.

Xiè, xie Taipei (thank you, Taipei) for embracing us with open
arms, letting us take part in your wonderful traditions and take a
peek at your exciting future. Taipei may be a ‘small island’ but it
is bursting at the seams with innovation, new opportunities and
potential as a result of all the ambitious women and men who live

Stay tuned for our insider guide series from Taipei coming

Discover More
City Guide: Taipei, Taiwan