WL TRAVEL: Yes, Taiwan!

Big brother China sits next door, Japan is to the north, and the rest of Asia a short jaunt away – so, why Taiwan? The food to start with  – but the mountains, hot springs, delicious teas, and friendly window into both Chinese and indigenous cultures are nice perks too.

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Scooters are a way of life on Taipei’s busy downtown boulevards. (Photo Anchyi Wei)

Scooters are a way of life on Taipei’s busy downtown boulevards. (Photo )

Asia is synonymous with sprawling urban centers fueled by world-class  vibrant economic hubs. Taipei isn’t as supercharged as Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Kuala Lumpur; but, in many ways, that is part of its charm. Life zips nimbly by in Taiwan’s capital city like the ever-present scooters, which are as much a part of its culture as the soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung (No. 194, Xin Yi Road, Sec. 2). But the city has a quiet side too. Stroll along a riverside park and you’ll see septuagenarians idly sipping tea under the shade of a sleepy sub-tropical tree as the breakneck pace of life unfolds around them.

Taipei 101 lights up the night sky. It’s the world’s second tallest completed skyscraper. (Photo Anchyi Wei)

Taipei 101 lights up the night sky. It’s the world’s second tallest completed skyscraper. (Photo Anchyi Wei)

Beijing and Shanghai might be current beau monde Asian hot spots, but travel in the PRC can be frenetic and taxing. And have you ever tried to find your way through Tokyo’s tangled underground system? Headache! Not so in Taipei. The city is easy to navigate, drivers (mostly) follow traffic rules (even the scooters), the air is breathable, and there is order … and democracy.
Taiwan has a long history of immigration and colonialism; with each wave, it has adapted. The Han Chinese influence currently permeates style, cuisine, communication, and built environment. But unlike the PRC, which continues to redefine itself following the cultural revolution, traditional Chinese arts and customs have survived in Taiwan uninterrupted. Still, the country isn’t  defined solely by its Chinese roots; it has Western, Japanese, and indigenous cultural influences as well. Taiwan’s democratic ideals and close ties with Asian neighbors means Japanese cuisine, fashion, and “J-Pop” are as pervasive as high-end Italian restaurants, McDonalds, Gucci, and hip-hop, creating a uniquely flavorful, cultural, and less commercial Asian travel experience.

Taipei Must-Sees
Any trip to Taipei should include the National Palace Museum and The National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. You can’t understand what Taiwan is today without understanding where it came from. The museum has 650,000 works of art and antiquities dating back to 1400 B.C. but only shows 3,000 pieces currently. Chalk out a minimum of four hours to absorb as much as you can in the world’s most extensive and preeminent collection of Chinese cultural artifacts. While there, stop for tea at San-hsi-t’ang Tea Room, located on the fourth floor of the main exhibition building, or consume edible replicas of two of the museum’s most famous items – the Jadeite Cabbage with Insects and the Meat-Shaped Stone (both Ch’ing Dynasty, 1616-1911) – during dim sum at Silks Palace. This high-end restaurant is operated by Taiwan’s top luxury property developer, Formosa International Hotels Corporation. Reservations are recommended, even for lunch.
Just as fascinating, but with a modern twist, is Taipei 101. The pointed tower is an engineering marvel and must see. It also houses the luxury brand boutiques we’ve all come to love. However,  the items are just as expensive (if not more so) than in the U.S. – Taipei 101 is no bargain shopper’s paradise. What is amazing, is the view and the elevator, which rockets visitors from the fifth to the 89th floor in 37 seconds.

Eat, sleep, party
Some of the best Chinese food in the world can be found in Taiwan. Most visitors first stop at Din Tai Fung (which you can also find in Los Angeles). Order the xiao long bao “soup dumplings,” sample the pork and vegetable shumai, drink Taiwan Beer, and worry about your diet later. There are a plethora of dining options in Taipei. Focus on those serving dumplings or beef noodle soup, and you won’t be disappointed. Gems abound, like local favorite Hunan-styled Peng Yuan Restaurant. Street food is a must try as well. Don’t miss the street samplings at popular tourist destinations Snake Alley and the Shilin Night Market.
High-end dining in Taipei is still developing – there’s almost no mention of Taipei in Fodors; but who needs a Michelin Guide when there are so many delicious local restaurants to sample? Sonoma and Cha Cha The’ hold their own with discerning foodies. The latter is notable for its tea collection. Like wines in France and whiskies in Scotland, tea is serious business in Taiwan. There are countless locally-grown varieties, including notably darker teas such oolong. Search them out – they are delicious and make perfect travel gifts for friends and family. You’ll never drink Lipton again.
Nightlife in Taiwan is active but lacks the voguish mania of Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Shanghai. That’s all right – it also lacks the pretension and inflated drink prices. For a chilled lounge with top-notch cocktails and DJs, try Barcode near Taipei 101. For the full-on club scene, there is the venerable Room 18. If you’re an under-30 bottle service type and feel like a night of lemon drops, canto-pop, and hip-hop then Spark is right for you. Wednesday is ladies night – work it!

Taiwan6

The picturesque Taiwanese Pacific coastline.

Taroko National Park
It would be a shame to spend one’s entire trip inside restaurants, nightclubs, and museums. Taiwan’s mountains and miles of Pacific coastline offer perfect weekend escapes. Taroko National Park is a popular destination. To get there from Taipei, hop a one-hour flight to Hualien City  then take a breathtaking 45-minute car trip into the mountains. The Grand Formosa Taroko, run by the same hotelier as the Grand Formosa Taipei, is nestled into a scenic mountain valley next to the Liwu River. It is the most luxurious accommodation and spa in the park. Taroko has something to see all year round. Favorite spots include the colorful rocks of Shakadang River, Lotus Pond, and the Bilyu Sacred Tree. Don’t forget your hiking shoes and camera.

The Road Less Traveled
To experience local culture, head to Taitung in Taiwan’s southeast corner. Travelers can fly from Hualien to Taitung in less than an hour or opt for a scenic but bumpy five-hour jaunt down the Hualien-Taitung Coastline Highway. The route has numerous places to stop and enjoy the beaches and waves of the Pacific. It also gives travelers a chance to see the country’s local side. Stop in the small towns and villages along the way to sample regional cuisine and culture.

A child from one of Taiwan’s 14 indigenous tribes wears traditional dress.

A child from one of Taiwan’s 14 indigenous tribes wears traditional dress.

After spending the night at the family-friendly Hotel Royal Chihpen – regrettably the “Thomas the Train” and “Barbie” theme suites were booked – I headed over to Taitung’s municipal gymnasium for the Ilisin harvest festival. Each summer, hundreds of Amis (one of 14 officially acknowledged indigenous groups in Taiwan) take part in a centuries-old gathering and purification dance. Their smiles indicate how proud they are to keep the customs and language of their ancestors alive in the face of rapid modernization around them. The locally-brewed rice vodka  helps lift spirits as well.

Taiwan5

On the grounds of The National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

An Artist’s Life
“This is the real Taiwan. It’s what Taiwan used to be before the shopping complexes and modern construction came,” says Matrico, who lives in Atolan Village, an artist’s commune in the village of Dulan, an hour drive north of Taitung City. He stands on the patio of a rundown tin-roofed cinder-block building, which serves as Atolan’s de facto café and social center. Inside, small folding stools circle five mismatched tables placed on a smooth cement floor. With Bob Marley songs playing nonchalantly in the background, I order an iced mocha. I notice a book on the table, pick it up and begin to read. A shirtless man with Maori-esque tattoos stretching shoulder-to-shoulder approaches. He holds the butt of a hand-rolled cigarette in one hand and a book that looks like the one I’m reading in the other. “I am Alien. This is my book,” he says with a toothy grin that exposes a red betel-nut-stained mouth. He points to the page I’m viewing and translates some of the Chinese characters on it. I’ve just met the Robert Mapplethorpe of Taiwan. The book, odd sexual references aside, would be an instant hit at an edgier U Street gallery. I buy one for US$7. He signs it “I am an alien of Asada who only worships myself.” So artistic!

Geothermal luxe

A cabana at chic boutique hotel and spa Villa 32. (Photo Anchyi Wei)

A cabana at chic boutique hotel and spa Villa 32. (Photo Anchyi Wei)

For those looking for Zen close to Taipei, the hot spring town of Beitou is highly recommended. There are a number of hot springs resorts and spas in the area, but the crown jewel is Villa 32. Here, next to peridot green steaming geothermal hot springs is one of Taiwan’s best kept secrets – a 6,000-square-meter open air pubic hot spring and ultra-exclusive five-room resort. The style is Japanese country home mixed with a modern design aesthetic built around the elemental themes of wood, stone, and water. It is clean and simple, yet über sophisticated and inviting. At a time when so many boutique hotels offer austere minimalist contemporary encounters, Villa 32

captures the essence of reductionist luxury in a form that is part jet-set, part pampered spa, part home, and part hideaway. Two rooms are Japanese style, three are European. I recommend a Japanese room ($600 night). As I soak in one of seven different pools of fresh geothermal mineral water and reflect back on a journey that took me across Taiwan and back; one word keeps coming to mind – authentic.

THINGS TO DO IN TAIPEI

1. Go to the top of Taipei 101
2. Eat at Din Tai Fung
3. Explore a night market
4. See the National Palace Museum
5. Tour Yingge Ceramics Museum and “Old Street”

WL TRAVEL TV VBLOG!

Explore almost all of Michael’s experience over video! Click below for short vignettes of his travels in Taiwan!

We walk the shopping districts and hop a ride on The Taipei Rapid Transit System, also known as the MRT (“Mass Rapid Transit”)

The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Park opened in 1987. It contains not only the memorial but also the National Concert Hall and the National Theater. The park covers a space of 24 hectares, with a wide open plaza. It is surrounded by a long white wall topped with small blue tiled roof forming a long hallway which wraps around the park. You can find a variety of interesting historical artifacts relating to the life of Chiang Kai-shek.

For those looking for Zen close to Taipei, the hot spring town of Beitou is highly recommended. There are a number of hot springs resorts and spas in the area, but the crown jewel is Villa 32. Here, next to peridot green steaming geothermal hot springs is one of Taiwan’s best kept secrets – a 6,000-square-meter open air pubic hot spring and ultra-exclusive five-room resort. The style is Japanese country home mixed with a modern design aesthetic built around the elemental themes of wood, stone, and water.

Atolan Village is an artist’s commune in the village of Dulan in Southern Taiwan. It houses a small cafe and gift shop, where local artists, who have studios on site, display their art. The work is both traditional, and surprisingly modern and contemporary. Def some gems can be found here for art enthusiasts looking for non-commercial/tourist Taiwanese art. Most of the artists are not han-Chinese. They are from local Amis tribes.

Each summer, hundreds of Amis (one of 14 officially acknowledged indigenous groups in Taiwan) take part in a centuries-old gathering and purification dance. Their smiles indicate how proud they are to keep the customs and language of their ancestors alive in the face of rapid modernization around them. The locally-brewed rice vodka helps lift spirits as well.

Lotus Lake a man-made lake and popular tourist destination on the east side of Tsoying District in Kaohsiung City in southern Taiwan. Opened in 1951, it is famous for the lotus plants on the lake and the numerous temples around the lake, including the Spring and Autumn Pavilions, the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas, and the Confucian Temple.

The pointed Taipei 101 tower is an engineering marvel and must see. It also houses the luxury brand boutiques we’ve all come to love. However, the items are just as expensive (if not more so) than in the U.S. – Taipei 101 is no bargain shopper’s paradise. What is amazing, is the view and the elevator, which rockets visitors from the fifth to the 89th floor in 37 seconds.

The Taipei County Yingge Ceramics Museum is a museum presenting the best of Taiwanese ceramics. The permanent exhibits present five major themes: Traditional Pottery Techniques Hall, Once We Were: Development of Taiwan Ceramics, Pottery Town: History of Yingge, Shuttle Through Time: Prehistoric/Aboriginal/Contemporary Ceramics, Future Prediction: Industrial and High-tech Ceramics.

In a city bustling with life, the Grand Formosa Regent Taipei hotel offers an elegant blend of traditional decor and contemporary comfort. Situated in the Zhongshan District in the heart of the business, shopping and cultural districts, our luxury Taipei hotel’s location is a short five minute walk from Chung Shan MRT station, connecting you to all the attractions of Taipei.

Taroko National Park is one of the seven national parks in Taiwan and was named after the Taroko Gorge, the landmark gorge of the park. It spans the counties of Hualien, Taichung, and Nantou on the island of Taiwan.

This trippy clip follows the flight of colorful balloons at the opening ceremony of the World Games in Kaohsiung, 2009.

The sport of canoe polo on Lotus Lake at the World Games in Kaohsiung, 2009.

Your dreams realized  when you book the Hello Kitty suite at Grand Hi-Lai Hotel in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, you get to use the Hello Kitty car. I’m pretty sure this is a vintage Mini.

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63 Responses

  1. Lex says:

    Not many “big” magazines would do an articles on Taiwan, but you did!!I am extremely grateful for this. (Most magazines would blah blah blah about China, Japan and the rest of Asia, I always wonders why Taiwan has always been missed out?!) Taiwan is a vibrant and beautiful country which has everything to make it a popular destination. However, the government itself did not pay enough attention onto it only until recent years. I really hope that this article will open people’s eyes to consider making their next trips to this beautiful island.

  2. Edison says:

    Taiwan, also well-known as Formosa, is standing for the highest democracy country in the Chinese society in the world. All the cities in Taiwan are full of their beauty and vibrant features.

    If you still remembered The World Games 2009 in Kaohsiung, and then you will never miss this vital city which is running thriving and robust. Please check this website: http://khh.travel/en/

    If you love to catch the historical atmosphere, and then you will never miss Tainan city with its well-known heritage which is telling Taiwanese history in deep. Please check this website: http://map.tncg.gov.tw/english/Default.aspx

    Too many to tell, but we are waiting for the world to come to discover your own touch in Taiwan.

    Welcome!

  3. KK says:

    First of all, I’d like to thank you for writing about my beloved country, which would probably decrease the number of people mistaking that I am from Thailand. Second, Taiwan is really a place to go to, no matter what kind of stuff you like. What do we have? Fantastic nightlife, interesting cultural experience and history stories, nice beaches, natural views, …, etc. If you got any problem, ask Taiwanese people and we would help you out! Trust me, you’ve got to come feel the passion of this fascinating island.

  4. ?? says:

    ????^^

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    ?????^^

  5. Josh says:

    Taiwan really is a great destination to travel to experience the local food and the essence of traditional Chinese culture.
    One of the best thing to do in Taipei city is clubbing and nightlife, pubs, dance pubs, clubs, you name it, can be found easily in the city.
    The locals are mostly polite and friendly, above all, many do speaks English and you won’t get lost even if you only speaks English.

  6. Chax says:

    LOVE IT!!

  7. LW says:

    I’ve traveled, literally, all around the world and earned my college degree in New York (a place some would tout as the best city in the world). But as a person born and raised in Taiwan, I have to say, it is still my most beloved place. It has little to do with the fact that it’s my home– I just passionately love the people, the food, the urban yet laid back lifestyle and the beauty in the streets where old are mixed with new. My life in Taiwan is so happy I wouldn’t want to trade it for any other. Sadly, too few out there know about this amazing island, so I sincerely thank you for writing this article and introducing the place to the world.

  8. Taiwanese says:

    Yes,Taiwan,my lovely country.I’m proud of being a Taiwanese.Taiwan,I love you .

  9. David says:

    Whatever you hear, see, or read on magazines, TVs, movies, books, you always hear China this and China that. Finally, a magazine out there does not kiss China’s butt.

  10. CJChiu says:

    I would say go to Taiwan, a country you will enjoy not only art, astonishing natural landscape, gourmet food, but also nice and warm people. Welcome to Taiwan!

  11. Love Taiwan says:

    These pictures are so vivid and updated. I can’t help feeling nostalgia for my hometown. Taiwan~ I am coming back, just one more month!

  12. CJChiu says:

    Taiwan is a country you must visit. You will enjoy not only the beautiful natural landscape, art, fine food, but also nice nice people out there! Welcome to Taiwan!

  13. Patricia says:

    Love this article! Come to Taiwan to see and experience all these great things! 🙂

  14. ALAN says:

    wow ! I LOVE TAIWAN SO MUCH. 🙂

  15. nikiguo says:

    It really is a pleasure and great opportunity for Taiwan to be discovered the diversity with so many friends in the world. As you say: it has Chinese, Western, Japanese, and indigenous cultural influences as well. We would like to extend our cordial welcome to everyone to visit Taiwan,especially in Kaohsiung,for dipping into the sensual pleasures of this harbor town. We will be happy to see you soon.

  16. Irene says:

    LOVE TAIWAN!!
    IT’S a varied place.
    Welcome to Taiwan 😀

  17. i236 says:

    Also a great place for diving …. both the southern & northern Taiwan. Come to experience with yammy food and diving with us !!! Cheers ~ a PADI Diver

  18. ming-wei says:

    Also known as the Republic of China, free China, Formosa, bao dao (treasure island), this is a must visit Asian country. Other than its beauty, Chinese heritage, and food, let’s not forget the night life. The clubs are one of a kind, equivalent to Las Vegas and Hollywood. As for the karaoke pubs, it is just as advanced as Japan. In all, Taiwan has absorbed all the goods from the world (even its socialized medicine) and placed it on this island. If you have never been there, you are missing out…

  19. sophie says:

    yea! Taiwan ..its a great country that you should be visit !
    here have great food .friendly people and good chinese culture .
    wvwn that you only speak english ..the peope still love to help
    nightlife is good aot great nightmarkets .club. pub .to many
    when you travel in taiwan ,you dont have to worriend about nightlife
    you always have somewhere to go
    and the beach are good ..kenting beach blabla to many
    and the nationalparks are great too
    so ..just come to taiwan ,and to see how beautiful the country

  20. Teresa says:

    Too bad you do not get to visit southen Taiwan. It has more Taiwanese culture, delicious and tradictional cuisine and ocean view for you to try and see~~~ Well, it is actually good that you do not get to see all those, because you get more reasons to visit Taiwan again. Taiwan will amaze you if you allow it to show you in their way. ^_____^

  21. PJ says:

    LOVE TAIWAN!!!

  22. Sher says:

    YES! TAIWAN!

  23. Josh Huang says:

    It’s really awesome place!Im so proud of that.

  24. Stan says:

    Taiwan is so wonderful!!

  25. I form taiwan says:

    hey~ I am born in Taiwan!

    The Taiwan people are very friendly

    welcome to taiwan

    taiwan touch your heart !^^

    http://www.taiwan.net.tw/

  26. Davith says:

    Welcome to Taiwan!! Taiwan will touch your heart!!

  27. Asay says:

    A good friend of mine – Carol Sap. leaves out there in Taiwan. I hope I will go there one day and you have given me a useful info to make me even plan to go sooner than later.

  28. Pearl says:

    Chinese culture is well preserved in Taiwan, not in China. So, if you are interested in Chinese culture, you should really go to Taiwan!

  29. Ivan says:

    There are many nice places in Taiwan.
    Welcome to Taiwan!!!^^

  30. Kelly says:

    thank you for this wonderful article that brings Taiwan to the eyes of the states. my country is really special and hard to be compared with the other asian countries. love it, thanks again.

  31. Isaline says:

    Good on you! I must share this article with every friend of mine! The place is marvelous, the people are passion and friendly, above all, most of them can speak pretty good English!

  32. Starry says:

    Taiwan is really nice place.
    Taiwan wil touch your heart.
    If you come to here to look around.
    You will enjoy your time here

  33. Jalen Chen says:

    TAIWAN, so-called Formosa, combines great nature scenery and deeloped modern civilization. Eastern and western culture both
    infuse their trace in this island. Hence, there are various features alongside its food, people, and landscape.
    Welcome to TAIWAN!!To explore fashion, tradition, and passion!!

  34. fonty says:

    Spent a week there in January. Truly amazing place. Nice weather, not too much traffic, beautiful mountains, friendly people, history, etc. It’s got European/US level facilities (excellent trains, buses, metro, and even street lighting on mountain roads!) but maintains its wonderful oriental flavour.

    Another thing to do: visit Tainan, especially the Amping district, and experience the history. I recommend a walk through the national park mountains, as well. Beautiful.

  35. Michelle says:

    Spot on observations! Very good article.

  36. Clifford says:

    I suggest also to go to the mountain, the beach in S. Taiwan, to take time to immerse in Taiwanese’s zeal & kindness. It’s really worthy.

  37. Celia says:

    Thanks for writing an article about Taiwan. Taiwan is a beautiful country. People are friendly and nice there. We welcome everyone in the world come to visit Taiwan. Food in Taiwan is really special and delicious. You won’t miss it. You will love everything here.

  38. Shan says:

    Welcome to Taiwan.
    You’ll definitely love it.

  39. shing chang says:

    Thank you for introducing our wonderland to the world! Taiwan is a place that’s easy to get around: many people are fluent in English. Even those who aren’t fluent, they’re not intimidated by it (and hence will be helpful in giving directions to foreign tourists). Big cities like Taipei is quite international, with all the friendly chains (starbucks…etc) for those travelers who sometimes feel homesick on the road, and local food champs (e.g. Din Tai Fung…etc) for food adventurers, and many more to offer…Bon voyage ^_^

  40. Astroboy says:

    Taiwan is laid back, leisurely, and unpretentious especially compared to places like Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, and even Tokyo. What struck me is the orderliness of people as compared to people in China.

    What I love about Taipei is that it has developed a sense of its own metropolitan identity and culture. It is reflect in its food, architecture, art … etc. Its a great place to visit. It is an understated, but memorable destination.

  41. Colin says:

    Hey thanks for the great article on Asia’s best kept secret! I was born in Quebec but have lived all over Asia and Taipei City was by far my favorite city to ever live in because its so much more happening than Hong Kong or Manila by night, so much more democratic than Shanghai or Singapore, so much more sophisticated than Bangkok or Jakarta and so much more liberal and open-minded than Seoul or Tokyo AND the great irony of course is that Taiwan is SO much more chinese than China since it never had any revolutions to extinguish this.

  42. Eric says:

    What’s a wonderful article showing Taiwan to the world!!!

  43. Mr. J says:

    Taiwan is awesome and fantastic!!
    travel once, unforgetable!!

  44. LittlePo says:

    I grew up in Taipei Taiwan and live in the States now. I have to say your article makes many good and authentic suggestions. I personally think the best Chinese food should be found in Taiwan (sadly the reason can be traced back to the civic war) and the museum is a must-go. I’ll put a link to your article on my site, I just started an adventure business called LittlePo Adventures planning to take people there this August to do some rock climbing and for sure, I’ll show my participants night markets, the museum, the food, and the hot springs! 🙂

  45. T says:

    Welcome to Taiwan!!!

    Thank you so much for writing this article! I am really prod of my country and want to share its beauty and hospitality to the world. Too bad that not much people notice us and our government doesn’t spend enough time on it.

  46. MM'S says:

    nice article all true about taiwan

  47. sugarbill says:

    beautiful article! and don’t forget the surfing in Yilan and along the east coast! Viva Taiwan!!!

  48. Mandy Friendly Huang says:

    I love Taiwan so much^^~
    The place in taiwan is so much beautiful and kindly friends.
    There’re so many hottie and pretty artist in the Culture Garden.You can make nice friends in Taiwan,Welcome to Taiwan.:D<3
    Mandy Huang

  49. C from TW says:

    The biggest small island in the world i live!!
    I LOVE TAIWAN!!!

  50. Yu Ju says:

    Come to Taiwan! You’ll like it!

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