At dinner the other night with a new friend, a recent expat-transplant to this island, talk turned to the many amazing things to see and do in Taiwan. Although I’ve seen and done a lot in the past 3 years, I still have a lot left on my “To Do” list to explore. I began to view Taiwan through fresh eyes, the view of someone just off the plane, and it motivated me to get out of my “comfort zone” and start making room on weekends to explore more of the intriguing wonders of Taiwan.
Five amazing places I’ve seen and highly recommend!
Tamsui – Located only 45 minutes northwest of Taipei, this coastal village is a nice, easy escape from the chaos of the city. Like most Taiwanese villages, food is a major draw and Tamsui has no shortage of delicious eats along Tamsui Old Street. However, my favorite spot for a cold beer and sunset is this huge lounge chair with bright orange pillows at Rong Ti Restaurant located along the walking path heading north from the Old Street area. The beer is cold and the people-watching is excellent! (My “happy place”!)
Taroko Gorge – My visit to Taroko Gorge was brief but beautiful and I plan to go back for a longer weekend sometime soon. Taroko Gorge, comparable to Zion National Park in Utah, runs along a 19 km canyon and offers incredible views and tons of great hiking trails. Next time I’ll take the train instead of driving my scooter from Hsinchu and will explore the amazing hiking trails and hang out longer in the nearby coastal town of Hualien.
Tainan – One of the oldest cities in Taiwan, this place is famous for delicious food and interesting history. I spent a weekend there and we ate a lot, but eating is a requirement when visiting Tainan. The history of the town is also fascinating since it’s where the Dutch settled and discoverers began discovering the incredible beauty of the island they called “Formosa”. We wandered along the city’s old streets and took a step back in time…
Temples – There are temples everywhere in Taiwan, and one of the oldest and most interesting is Longshan Temple in Taipei. Built in 1783, this temple is a mixture of Buddhist and Taoist religions, as well as the worship of other deities like Mazu. It was beautiful and very peaceful the day we visited, even on a busy weekend. My Taiwanese friend explained that each of the Gods is responsible for a different topic – health, wealth, relationships, employment. On the day we were there, crowds gathered in front of the relationship God, praying for insight and direction. (It seems relationship “issues” are common in all cultures!)
Jiufen – This small village is so magical it was the inspiration for a movie – “Spirited Away”. Jiufen really feels like taking a step back in time, walking through traditional market streets and sampling delicious food. But as intoxicating as this village is, there is also a darker side to its history. Jiufen was a fairly isolated mountain village until gold was discovered in the surrounding hills in the late 1800’s and a gold rush followed. At the time, Taiwan was occupied by Japan who later used the gold mines as Kinkaseki prison camp during World War II. The POW’s were required to work in the gold mines and were brutally mistreated. (There is now a POW memorial site located just outside of town.)
Five places still on my “things I’ve gotta see” list – more to explore!
Kenting – Located on the southern tip of Taiwan island, this is the most popular beach area in Taiwan. Sun, sand, snorkeling, sunsets, cold beer…sounds like a list of my favorite things. Gotta get there soon!
Penghu Island – Part of an archipelago of 64 islands located in the Taiwan Strait, Penghu comes in at #2 on Trip Advisor’s Must See list. One of the big events on the island is the annual Fireworks Festival held every spring. There are frequent flights from Taipei to Penghu but they’re usually full during peak summer season or during Fireworks Festival. Another option (which I plan to do) is taking the ferry from either Tainan, Kaohsiung or Chiayi. (Only 90 minutes from Chiayi to Penghu.)
Sun Moon Lake – This is the largest fresh water lake on the island of Taiwan and is located in the mountains of Nantou Country, not too far from my home in Hsinchu. It’s a beautiful and very romantic spot, popular with Taiwanese honeymooners and tour groups from China. Every year during Mid-Autumn festival there is a 3km swim across the lake drawing thousands of people. (It’s on my to do list – better start training!)
Lanyu (Orchid Island) – Located in the Luzon Strait and not too far from the northern Philippine islands, Lanyu is populated by the aboriginal Yami people. The most primitive of Taiwan’s aborigines, they live simply, relying mainly on farming and fishing. Every March they celebrate with the popular “Flying Fish Festival”. Boats for Lanyu depart from either Kenting or Taitung and take about 3 hours. There is also a tiny landing strip for small planes, but the air service is unreliable, especially in the winter when winds make it difficult to land. (I think I’ll take the boat from Taitung…)
Taitung – Three hours south of Hualien along the scenic east coast of Taiwan, Taitung is a laid-back village that sees few tourists and no Chinese tour groups. Famous for surfing, seafood, and aboriginal culture, this village is also the jumping off point for excursions to Green Island and Orchid Island. Just north of town is a smaller village called Dulan that has become home to the art scene, with many art galleries and live music on weekends. (I may need a few weeks to explore the southeast corner of Taiwan.)
These five places are just the top of my very long “things I’ve gotta explore” list. There’s also Simakusi, Alishan, Yangmingshan, Green Island, Wulai…
Looks like I may be here a while!
Any travel tips or advice for the places on my “things I gotta see” list?