Places like the museum and Taipei 101, one of the world’s tallest buildings, make Taiwan unique.
But many similarities exist between the island and the Mainland. Think of it like the difference between the U.S. and Great Britain.
Taiwan is small – the combined area of Maryland and Delaware. Here, verdant mountains often shroud themselves in mist and envelop Buddhist monasteries and chasms that dig deep into the earth. In-between are rice paddies, tea farms, Starbucks and 7-Elevens.
TAIPEI CITY AND VICINITY
Though Taipei and its environs are quite modern, antiquities rule at the National Palace Museum. The museum contains over 600,000 relics including dazzling baubles, jades, curio boxes and porcelains. There’s an ivory, oval-shaped picnic basket, so delicately carved, it looks like lace. And would you believe a carved olive stone with eight people on a boat? You need a magnifying glass to appreciate its intricacies.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is located on Zhongshan Road, adjacent to the Peace Park. The stark white tribute to Chang resembles Beijing’s Temple of Heaven. Flanking it are the National Theatre and the National Concert Hall. Taiwanese often practice their Tai Chi at these two classic Chinese structures. Quite impressive.
So is Madam Chang Kai-Chek’s legacy, the Grand Hotel. Built in 1952 to house visiting dignitaries, this majestic pagoda-styled inn on the hilltop was styled after China’s Forbidden City. Walking through the red and gold lobby with its crimson pillars, stunning ceiling, marble dragon-carved balcony and dramatic staircase, one feels quite regal. All accommodations open to drop-dead panoramas, but as for the rooms themselves? They are pretty ordinary.
Very uniquely Taiwanese, the 270-year-old Lungshan Temple located in the southwest part of the city on Kuanzhou Street, reeks of ritual. For example, it is bad luck if you don’t enter from the right – the dragon mouth, and depart from the left – the tail end of the dangerous tiger.
The dragon’s mouth, whose foggy breath smells of incense, opens to a courtyard that overflows with worshipers. Though I have no food – like the crackers, cookies, fruits and cereals that others bring to the god of education – I light an incense stick and bow to him in hopes of becoming smarter.
Nearby, numbered fortune sticks are piled in cylindrical holders. I pick a stick and then throw two orange crescent-shaped pieces of wood. Both flat sides come up. A good sign. I pick the matching number fortune which my guide reads and gushes about the good luck I will receive. I hope she is right.
Inside the Main Hall sits the mercy goddess, Guanyin. I crank my neck to ooh and aah over the swirling, seven-layered carved wooden ceiling and delicately chiseled balconied walls.
Herb Alley is to the left of the temple. This chockablock of stalls brims with roots, leaves bulbs and teas. Taiwanese are big into herbal medicines. The bitter tea I try is supposed to make me healthy. Yuck! The pungent taste makes me suck in my cheeks.
Dumplings are another Taiwanese specialty. The very reasonably priced, unpretentious and very popular Din Tai Fung Dumpling House, near Chang Kai-Chek’s Memorial Hall may have cornered the market. Eating too many of their delicious meat, seafood, and veggie dumplings has me feeling like a stuffed dumpling myself.
Lukang (aka: Lugang): Lukang Old Street is lined with traditional buildings and snack shops. But the Longshan Temple’s carved dragon poles and garden courtyards are the real attraction. Stop by the Lukang Folk Arts Museum to see ancient musical instruments and paintings. Some date back to the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912). Find Lukang in Changhua County, on the west coast.
Taiwan has style. Even if you are headed for China, consider the island located just on the other side of the Taiwan Straits.
Meinong: Spent some time hiking or biking around Meinong’s lake at this Hakka culture area located in the Kaohsiung district (southeast). Then, have a look at the 250-year-old East Gate Tower or the pottery workshop in the cultural village. Pottery and paper umbrellas are a good find here.
Sanyi: In the mountainous Miaoli County (island’s west side), woodcarvers ply their craft. Carvers’ shops line Shui Mei Old Street. Check out the remains of the Longteng Bridge. Built in 1907 using brick blocks mixed with glutinous rice, a 1935 earthquake destroyed it.
Sanyi is also famous for Hakka culture. Learn more at the Taiwan Hakka Museum. Their famous cuisine is basic but delicious. Hakka cookbook author, Linda Lau Anusasananan, describes it as “Chinese soul food from around the world.” The Hakka population in Taiwan is around 4.6 million people today. Hakka people comprise about 15 to 20% of the population of Taiwan and form the second-largest ethnic group on the island. They are descended largely from Hakka who migrated from southern and northern Guangdong to Taiwan around the end of the Ming dynasty and the beginning of the Qing dynasty (ca. 1644).
Dajia: This hamlet is known for its farming that produces rice, onions, bitter gourds and believe it or not, square watermelons. The
Dajia and Da’an Rivers, the Taiwan Strait, plus the Tiezhan Mountains surround the town.
OTHER PLACES TO EXPLORE
To highlight the Mountain Year Campaign for 2020, the tourist board has selected five classic hiking paths through Taiwan that showcase many of the island’s interesting destinations. Each suggested itinerary differs in length and endurance required, but all showcase the spectacular nature found in the country. Some of the highlights can be found below.
Taroka National Park is located on east side of the island, The steel-colored, marble-lined chasm swoops down to the slithering Liwu River. It is a hiker’s paradise. Mount Hehuan, an 11,200-foot-high (3,416-meter) mountain lies within it.
So does Hsiangte Temple. The Buddhist monastery is chiseled out of the side of the mountain. This canyon is home to the Truko people. Their craft shop is a good place to see traditional loom, bamboo and rattan basket weaving.
For more information about hiking in Taiwan, visit https://eng.taiwan.net.tw
The Taiwan High Speed Rail Train travels 186 mph (300 km/h) from Taipei to Taichung. Then it’s a one-hour and thirty-minute drive to Sun Moon Lake. Taiwan’s largest lake (and one of its larger towns) got its name from the odd shaped lake. One side is crescent moon-shaped and the other is circular and sun-like. Calm waters reflect emerald mountains. It’s just the place to spend the day hiking, fishing or taking a lake cruise.
Taiwan has made it even easier for travel advisors to become familiar with the destination and its offerings by introducing their new Taiwan Specialist Program and Sales Companion app, a virtual partner to educate and enable you to easily and effectively sell Taiwan to traveling clients. To sign up, visit www.taiwanspecialistprogram.com
For more information about everything Taiwan has to offer, visit the website of the Taiwan Tourist Board: https://eng.taiwan.net.tw