Taiwan is truly Asia’s hidden gem and a travel lovers dream destination

Temple in Shifen old town

Known as Asia’s best kept secret or otherwise as Asia’s hidden gem, Taiwan is an amazing country replete with awe-inspiring panoramas, picture perfect locales, lip-smacking street food, towering skyscrapers, vibrant night markets, sparkling lakes, gorgeous mountains and countless other things that can satiate the cravings of a travel bug.

The view from shifen old town, Taiwan

Taiwan can smash every preconception of visitors, many of who actually go there for business, but stay back or re-visit with their families for leisure.  That’s Taiwan for you!

At the national centre for traditional arts, Taiwan

Taiwan is one of the few places on earth where you see a juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern existing side by side.  Along the alleys of traditional night market and ancient temples, you can find gleaming skyscrapers, and glitzy malls.  Here you can actually witness the ancient religious and cultural practices thriving alongside an overwhelmingly modern landscape.

In Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, you will see this juxtaposition more evident where skyscrapers like Taipei 101 share the same location with incense-fogged temples and indigenous communities.

While the rest of the world thinks Taiwan is only a IT factory that mass produces electronics due to their technical prowess, the reality is far from that.  Taiwan is actually a scenic country with a zillion unique experiences for people travelling from across the planet.  A melting pot of different cultures with a startling history, it is a perfect destination for people who enjoy learning about cultures and love countryside living.

Taiwan’s diverse culture is a result of the history of this tiny island that was once ruled by Japanese for over five decades. Following liberation, it became a refuge for Chinese Nationalist Party and their supporters, who fled here during the Chinese Civil War. This intermingling of cultures reflects in everything the Taiwanese do, including the food they eat. Taiwan’s cuisines are a lip-smacking blend of Japanese, Chinese and aboriginal fare that visitors can enjoy across the night markets, restaurants and food stalls.

There are dormant volcanoes and then there are hot springs, there are cycle trails and there are high speed trains. With a very robust and strong public transport network, gorgeous landscapes and top-class facilities, Taiwan is a wonderful country to travel to and travel within. Little wonder that Travel & Living Editor’s Choice rated Taiwan as one of the top ten countries to travel, in Asia.

The Taiwanese are hospitable and friendly. They are also especially appreciative of foreign guests who are curious to know about their culture.  Away from the towering skyscrapers and slick shopping arcades where you can find anything from Gucci, Prada, or Victoria secret, it’s the splendor of the countryside and its people that tend to leave the greatest impression on travelers.

So how did this awe-inspiring country become a hidden gem or best kept secret?! The fact that comparatively few tourists visit Taiwan as opposed to destinations like Thailand, Singapore or Malaysia, is more to do with lack of awareness about this wonderful country than lack of things to do. Taiwan is an amazing country that can offer – travel bugs, hikers, cyclists, divers, surfers, pilgrims and gourmands a slice of haven in that tiny corner of Asia.

     

 

Top things to do / Places to visit in Taiwan

Taipei 101 : 

Towering above the city like the gigantic bamboo stalk,Taipei 101 is impossible to miss. At 508m, Taipei 101 is an engineering marvel and the first building of its kind in the world. Spanning 101 stories above the ground at 508 metres, the building was designed as a symbol of technology’s evolution fused with Asian tradition. The building features many pan-Chinese and Asian elements mixed with a postmodern style. It held the title of ‘world’s tallest building’ for a number of years. At the 89th Floor, 382 meters above the ground, there’s an observatory deck providing mind blowing and unobstructed view of the city in all directions.  The base of the building houses a multi-level shopping mall, food court, various restaurants and stores

 

Taipei Hop on Hop Off Tour :

Sit back and relax as the 47 seater double decker bus takes you to some of the capital city’s most exciting destinations with ease. There are two routes- Red Route & Blue Route and six types of tickets, which range from a four-hour ticket for NT$300, a daytime ticket for NT$500, and a nighttime ticket for NT$400, to a full-day ticket for NT$700 and a two-day ticket for NT$1,200.

 

Ride the YouBike : 

Taipei’s bike sharing system, YouBike, is a great way to get out and see some of the incredible sites Taipei has to offer. With a seemingly countless amount of bicycle parking stations located around the city, many of which are located within walking distance of MRT stations and tourist destinations, YouBike is an excellent way to get around the city, complementing the MRT and public bus systems and giving visitors the option of conveniently renting a bicycle to explore the city.

 

Visit the Longshan Temple: 

Visit the Longshan temple in Taipei to experience a slice of Taiwanese culture.  This temple is today one of the city’s top religious sites, and a prime venue for exploring both Taiwan’s vibrant folk faith and its unique temple arts and architecture. Longshan Temple is one of largest and oldest temples in Taiwan. Entrance is free, but donations to maintain the upkeep of the temple are accepted.

 

Fulong International Sand Art Festival :

Established in 2008, the festival was created to promote sand sculpture art in Taiwan and provide a platform for sand sculptors to display their creativity. Fulong in the Northeast Coast is renowned for its soft, highly cohesive white quartz sands, owing to which this beach is acknowledged by the World Sand Sculpting Association to be the best for making sand sculptures in Taiwan. You can not only watch the creativity of other artists on display but also make your own sand sculptures. This festival is held annually between May and July.

 

Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival:

The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival is one of the most unique festival that takes place annually during Chinese New Year. Consistently listed in travel guides as a “must see” for international travelers around the globe, it is a not to be missed event if you are travelling to Taiwan. Even if you don’t happen to be lucky to travel during the Chinese new year, you can still visit Pingxi district any time in the year and release a sky lantern with your prayers handwritten on it.  Discovery Channel has rated this festival as the second biggest New Year’s Eve celebration in the world.

 

Tongshan Rice and Tea Resort

This leisure farm in Yilan County is quite popular among tourists. Tammy Chien, the Director converted an old warehouse into a learning center with a focus on farming.  Here visitors experience hands-on do-it-yourself educational activities related to farming. They teach visitors how to make puffed rice, puffed rice cakes and other delicious snacks & dishes. You can totally immerse yourself in fun activities like threshing the wheat, converting milled rice into popped rice, grinding rice using the mini mills etc.

 

National Center For Traditional Arts : 

National Center of Traditional Arts is the largest exhibition and performance site for traditional arts with rich collection of cultural antiques in Taiwan. The life of the past of Taiwan has been recreated here along with historic streets, traditional stages and houses with a brick kiln in the center. Visiting National Center of Traditional Arts can be like traveling on a time machine.  Here the traditional folk culture has been well preserved and represented with performing arts as well as handicrafts. Outdoor opera performances (called yetaixi) are held every day, with the performers traveling from the commercial street to the main stage. It is a spectacle of traditional Taiwanese theater that serves as a great cultural experience and a must visit attraction in Yilan.

 

Fruit Picking :

Fruit picking is a popular activity in Taiwan for locals and visitors alike. There is such a wide range of fruits available in Taiwan that fruit-picking can be done all throughout the year. Bell fruit also known as wax apple is a popular local fruit available across all seasons and is very juicy and delicious. Tourists interested in picking wax apple can pay a visit to the A-Don Bell Fruit Garden in Yilan County.

 

 

Lihpao Land Amusement Park : 

Lihpao Land is a theme park located in Houli District, Taichung, that features two roller coasters, including the world’s first coaster to feature a true 90-degree drop and the world’s only tilt coaster. Besides the roller coaster, it has several themed areas and a giant Ferris Wheel. The main attractions in Lihpao Land are live performances, gift shops, restaurants, food stalls, the gourmet alley, and rides.

 

Roll In Farm: 

Rollin Farm is one of the hidden gems to discover in Taichung if you like staying close to nature. Situated 1,200 meters above sea level, and providing an observation range of more than 180 degrees, this place offers unhindered views of the basin of Taichung City. You can witness an ocean of clouds below you, and mountains in the distant background.

 

See-Join Puppet Theater Restaurant: 

Hand Puppet Theatre is the most representative and popular traditional theatre in Taiwan . See-Join Puppet Theater Restaurant is the first theme restaurant that combines Taiwanese cuisine and the traditional theatre together. You can enjoy the food and watch the performance of the hand puppet theatre at the same time.  What’s more, they also have a session after the show where they teach some basics of puppetry to guests and do a show with the guests, as well.

 

Langyang Museum:

Situated adjacent to Wushih Port in Yilan County, the Langyang Museum is window to those wishing to learn more about Yilan.   The museum is an architectural marvel with a unique design that is inspired by the cuestas ( Hills with gentle slope on one side and steep slope on the other) commonly seen along Beiguan Coast. Visitors are first sent to the top level to begin the pyramid-shaped journey back down. Each floor is themed, from top to bottom Mountanous Level, Plains Level, Ocean Level, and Time Gallery, with two spaces for permanent exhibitions, a introduction exhibition near the entrance, and a Kid’s Land on 1F.

 

Beitou Thermal Valley:  

This is a volcanic valley filled with steaming jewel-hued water located near Qinshui Park. This magical location is one of the most famous sights in Beitou. This natural sulfur hot spring is one of the sources feeding hot spring bathing facilities around Beitou. During the Japanese colonial era, the valley was known as one of Taiwan’s eight great natural beauties and the magical translucent green colored waters gave rise to one of its pet names, Jade Springs Valley. The mineral composition of the rare green sulfur spring waters can only be found in two locations in the world, in Beitou and in Akita, Japan. The curling steamy mist that rises up from the waters is truly spectacular.

 

Mt. Yangminshan :

Yangmingshan National Park is one of the nine national parks in Taiwan, located between Taipei and New Taipei City.  This National Park is famous for its cherry blossoms, hot springs, sulfur deposits, fumaroles, venomous snakes, and hiking trails, including Taiwan’s tallest dormant volcano, Seven Star Mountain. Beautiful landscapes such as ridges, valleys, lakes, waterfalls and basins are abundant here in this mountain and presents many photographic opportunities.

 

Yongle Fabric Market, Dadaocheng :

Yongle Market is the largest fabric center in Taiwan. During Japanese Colonial period, this was the center of fabric trade with goods such as Japanese novelty print. Yongle today continues to remain as the largest fabric industry in Taipei.  Yongle Fabric Market is definitely an interesting place to visit and witness the fabric industry along with other interesting attraction nearby such as the old streets of Dadaocheng and the well known matchmaker temple. Traditional restaurants nearby, selling Chinese herb tea, fried Spanish mackerel thick soup, silver needle noodles, and tempura that’s chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside, are also a huge attraction that leaves people lingering for hours.

 

The Dragon Boat festival :

The Dragon Boat Festival is one of the most important traditional festivals in Taiwan. It is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar.  Attracting 5,700 contestants from 227 teams from Taiwan and abroad, the dragon boat competition is the largest of its kind in Asia. As one of the three major festivities for Chinese societies around the world, the Dragon Boat Festival is often associated with cultural icons such as dragon boats, zongzi (wrapped sticky rice), balancing eggs at noon, and fragrant sachets.

 

Check out my travel video below.  Do follow @itstime4taiwan on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter & Tumblr

 

 

This is not a comprehensive list but just few of the things that Taiwan has on offer. In the next couple of weeks we will be publishing our Taiwan Travel blog in a series of parts. Check www.arabiangazette.com again to experience a slice of Taiwanese culture and life. 

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