Thinking of taking it easy during Chinese New Year, with a quiet few days to yourself, while everyone else skips town? Don’t count on it…
By Stuart Hill
Gone are the days when Taipei used to be like a ghost town during Chinese New Year. With no traffic on the streets you could guarantee crossing the road blindfolded was completely safe. With all the shops closed you also had to prepare 3-4 days of rations to make sure you didn’t starve. And given all your Taiwanese friends were spending time with their families, you had to stock up on DVDs or books to enjoy a bit of light entertainment.
But not anymore. Except on Chinese New Year’s Day, when many shops ARE closed, there are many places you can escape to eat, catch a movie or just past the time. In fact, these days, while places like Taipei are less crowded for a while, things quickly get back to the usual crazy. With so many people having time off from work at the same time, there are some places you should think of avoiding during the Chinese New Year holiday.
Here’s my list of top 5 places to avoid to ensure that you have a great Chinese New Year:
1. Highways — Unless you can travel counter to everyone visiting relatives or taking the kids out for a quick day trip to your nearest scenic spot, getting stuck for hours in a traffic jam half the length of Taiwan will quickly turn a good idea into an experience you will never forget. Second to highways, other places to avoid are airports, train stations, and anywhere else that requires a ticket to gain entry.
2. Taipei — It doesn’t seem to matter when Chinese New Year falls (and it moves according to the Lunar Calendar) the weather is guaranteed to be depressingly bad. The longer the break, the more days of rain you will get, and you quickly realize that even if you wanted to go out, you will get cold and wet as part of the package. Keep south of HsinChu and you should enjoy sunny skies and warm winter days, but be careful to plan your escape from Taipei wisely (and refer to point 1 above).
3. Department Stores — One of the great traditions of Chinese New Year is the giving (and receiving) of red envelopes hopefully stuffed with heaps of cash. So where does everyone go to relieve the pressure on their wallets? That’s right, to the nearest department store. Everything seems to look on sale, but expect crowds and long queues as part of the bargain deal.
4. Western Restaurants — Not everyone likes to eat at home over Chinese New Year. Making heaps of food which you spend days to finish is a lot of pressure to produce. So an increasing number of Taiwanese families like to give the whole family a treat and head out to have something special instead. Upmarket Chinese restaurants are an obvious target. So too are all kinds of western restaurants, which like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day have an annoying habit of limiting you to an over-priced set meal and a pretty boring menu. Look for a local restaurant that is open during the holidays, or a cheaper chain store-style restaurant to get you through the silly season.
5. Zoos (and anywhere that has the word “Children” in its name) — The zoo is almost each parent’s default option for amusing the kids after 2-3 days stuck indoors. Unfortunately when 12 million parents take the same option simultaneously, you might be questioning your decision to pay a visit to the pandas, koalas, or monkeys. Be warned, you will soon be imitating a flock of sheep being readied for shearing. Instead fly like a lone albatross on the high winds and get the heck out of there while you still have the chance. The other animals will thank you for it.
Let me know if you have other suggestions.