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Chiang Kaishek Memorial Building, with Taiwanese flags

Not too long ago, the valley of the Tamsui River was home to rice and vegetable farmers. Today it's the site of Taipei, the bustling centre of Taiwan's commerce, government and culture. As far as most people are concerned, this is the heart of Taiwan and the place where things happen.

Taipei is a boisterous and expensive city, and it lets you know it. It's packed full of people, cars and smog - a real hotbed of renao, or liveliness. It's not a relaxing stopover, but the food is excellent, the people are friendly and there are some top-notch sights.

About 6 million people live in and around Taiwan's capital, lured by the excitement of a bustling city on the move. Real estate is virtually unobtainable - Taipei residents have long dispensed with the dream of home-ownership - and the government is encouraging businesses to set up elsewhere in Taiwan. Despite this, the notion still prevails that to make it big in Taiwan, you have to set up in the heart of the capital - even if the air is perpetually toxic.

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