Photo Credit: Kaizer Bienes on Upsplash
by Agnes Chung
Taiwan remains a hidden travel gem, likely because it’s overshadowed by its high-tech industry. Beyond towering skyscrapers and technology, the destination bubbles with a rich cultural heritage, stunning natural wonders, fabulous food and captivating attractions.
Officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), Taiwan is slightly larger than Vancouver Island in land area, and home to nearly 24 million people. Here, Chinese culture mingles with Aboriginal, Dutch, Japanese and American influences.
It’s a safe destination for a solo woman traveller, easy to get around with English widely-spoken. The first impression on arrival at Taoyuan Taipei International Airport is its efficient immigration service, friendly staff and cleanliness.
Taipei: See, shop and eat
Taipei, the capital city, is a 35-minute rapid transit ride from the airport. The bustling metropolis is packed with historical sites, bustling street markets and boasts some of the best places to eat and shop on the island.
The Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour is a great way to explore the city. Onboard services include unlimited Wi-Fi and a headset. If you prefer guided tours, LikeItFormosa.com offers three types of free walking tours around Taipei: historic, modern and golden age. Free tours are tip-based with no minimum tip requirement. Here are some of Taipei’s top attractions.
National Palace Museum: Deemed ‘Le Louvre’ of Taiwan, it’s a must-see for art or history buffs. The best Chinese treasures are not in China but at this grand museum.
One of the world’s largest (nearly 700,000) and most impressive collections of Chinese imperial artifacts and artworks from the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties are housed here.
From calligraphy, painting to porcelain and carvings, the relics feature 8,000 years of Chinese history and culture preserved by emperors in Beijing’s Forbidden City.
During China’s civil war in 1949, Nationalist forces took the treasured pieces to Taiwan when their leader Chiang Kai-shek retreated to the island state. With Mao Zedong’s Communist Party in power, the artifacts remained in Taiwan.
Taipei 101: Enjoy a spectacular vista of Taipei. Once the world’s tallest building, it’s one of Taiwan’s most impressive structures that has survived many earthquakes.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall: Watch the changing of guards at the national monument built in honour of Taiwan’s former ROC president.
Ximending: A very popular Japanese-inspired hip-hop cultural hub in Taipei. The pedestrian shopping district is a favourite for youth fashion, trendy restaurants, colourful street art and performances.
Shilin Night Market: Taiwan’s street food paradise offers reasonably-priced traditional Taiwanese cuisine such as giant fried chicken steak, tempura, bubble tea, oyster vermicelli, oyster omelet, fried buns and stinky tofu. The most popular dish is oyster omelet, a pan-fried omelet filled with small oysters and served with a savoury sauce.
Taiwanese cuisine is a hodgepodge of Chinese with local indigenous, Japanese and other foreign culinary influences. Braised pork rice, beef noodles and oyster omelet are among the most renowned dishes. The petite pineapple cakes make great dessert treats and snacks.
Bubble tea, the ‘Starbucks’ of Taiwan
Street food has also gone chic with traditional Taiwanese beverages like bubble tea re-imagined with a more artisanal presentation. Bubble tea is perhaps Taiwan’s best known culinary exports, hence the name ‘Boba Land’. The sweet, sticky thirst quencher made with black tea, tapioca pearls (boba), brown sugar and milk is served hot or cold. A fun drink sipped through a large straw.
Over time, the beverage has evolved to include exotic fruits and other ingredients. YiFang Fruit Tea is a Taiwanese bubble tea chain with several stores in Metro Vancouver. Ingredients are sourced directly from Taiwan and their juices like passion fruit, pineapple and cane juice are made fresh, according to a store server. They pride themselves in not using powdered ingredients or artificial flavouring.
Teahouses are cultural establishments in Taiwan. The best teahouses are in Taipei and Taichung, the birthplace of bubble tea.
Places steeped in culture and natural beauty
In 1542, Portuguese sailors noted the island of Taiwan as Ilha Formosa meaning beautiful island on their maps. Five centuries later, the island’s beauty remains, from sweeping mountain vistas to amazing seaside towns, breathtaking beaches and bubbling hot springs. Some of these spots include:
Taroko Gorge: Jewel of Taiwan’s natural wonder, and reachable via a scenic, coastal train ride from Taipei.
Penghu: Pearl of the Taiwan Strait, the county comprised of 90 islands with plenty of fun, sun and sand. A must-visit for seafood lovers.
Kaohsiung: Home to a diverse range of temples and pagodas.
Maolin National Scenic Area: Virgin forest sprinkled with hot springs, waterfalls and gorges. The Purple Butterfly Valley attracts about one million Euploeini butterflies every winter.
Tainan: Remnants of the Qing Dynasty and Dutch era.
Sun Moon Lake: Taiwan’s largest alpine lake, famous for its natural beauty and cultural heritage.
Yehliu Geopark: Unique mushroom-like geological formations.
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