A new year means new adventures, and with Taiwan opening their borders to tourists in October 2022, what better way to seek new experiences, other than by a week in Taipei to explore what this remarkable island has to offer?
With its unique fusion of cultures, breath-taking scenery, diverse cuisine, exciting city life and well-developed hospitality industry, Taiwan is an ideal destination for many types of travellers. So, with quarantine rules out of the equation – I took a trip amongst 244 other tourists as part of one of the twenty different tour groups hosted by Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau.
China Airlines – London Heathrow to Taipei
As someone who can get slightly apprehensive about flying, I was surprised at just how quickly China Airlines made my 13-hour trip to Taipei feel. The crew were attentive, making it easy for me to settle down for the overnight flight ahead.
I experienced the flight in standard economy, and as far as economy goes, the cabin was contemporary and clean. Already prepared for my seat, I was greeted with a cosy pair of slippers, a pillow, a blanket, and headphones for in-flight entertainment. There was plenty of legroom, and the seat reclined well enough so that you could notice a difference when doing so.
Now, just over an hour into watching a film on the reasonably sized entertainment screen before me, I’d slipped into a deep mile-high floating slumber. An astonishing eight hours later, I’d finally woken up, finding myself a few hours away from landing in Taiwan.
Starting my adventure, I stayed at Home Hotel in the Xinyi District of Taipei. This hotel was the ideal spot to get my body clock back on terms with the new time zone. Known for creating a platform to introduce Taiwanese culture to international guests, Home Hotel has 113 cosy rooms designed using traditional materials, such as Taiwan’s Chinese parasol wood and clear stone. This is a good central base to make you feel snug and at home.
New Taipei City Tour – The Scenic Areas of Jioufen & Yehliu
Good morning Taipei! As I draw back the curtains in my hotel room, I’m welcomed to a modern metropolis with end-of-night markets, many busy shopping streets, and a skyline full of contemporary buildings. With my batteries recharged, it was time to head off and discover the area of Jioufen, which is located in New Taipei City’s Ruifang District.
Jioufen is a mountain town known for its cute old narrow alleyways, teahouses and street-food shacks. Jioufen’s history as a mining hub during the Japanese-era gold rush in the 1890s places this town’s location within the hills of northeast Taiwan. With the village right next to the mountain facing the sea, this area was once recognised as the gold city of Asia, establishing its nicknames ‘little Shanghai’ and ‘little Hong Kong’. Expect to visit pretty temples, slurp your way through tea appreciation and wander around historic streets that make you feel you’re on set for the next cool martial arts film!
Next, I head to Yehliu Geopark to check out the hoodoo stones. This impressive landscape is covered in sedimentary stone rock formations with creative names, including the most well-known ‘Queen’s Head’. This place is like an outdoor museum and is considered one of the premier destinations in northern Taiwan.
Daan District – Night Market
After a quick shower and a short catnap, it was time to hit my first night market at the well-known Linjiang Street night market. I was hankering for simple food and found the famous Taiwanese bao bun, and after working through the queue, I opted for both savoury and sweet buns (Taiwanese pork belly and the sweet fried bao bun ice cream sandwich). My next course was served at one of the many vegetarian spots, where I tried some delicious green onion cakes.
Linjiang Street night market stretches across a 2-block area and offers many edible delights. Whether walking around with food wrapped in plastic, dished in a cardboard bowl or served on a skewer, you will surely find something tasty and delicious.
Taipei 101 Observatory
Taiwan’s tallest skyscraper boasts spectacular views, high-end shopping boutiques and restaurants. I started with a trip up to the 89th floor of the 101 Observatory, which showcases panoramic spectacular views across Taipei. Using what used to be the fastest elevator in the world, I reached the Observatory in an impressive 37 seconds! The 89th floor is indoors; however, you can also access the 91st floor, which is outdoors and puts into perspective just how high up you are. But it doesn’t stop there… if you’re a bit of a risk taker, you can head even higher up to the 101st floor, where you get harnessed up and get to walk around the very top of the railing, enabling you to directly look out one of the tallest buildings in all of Asia.
After spending a few hours admiring the impressive views, it was time to head back down the 101 Tower to Din Tai Fung for lunch. Steeped in a rich and captivating heritage, Din Tai Fung’s Long Boa is the pinnacle of culinary craftsmanship. Each bun is individually and delicately rolled out, filled and meticulously folded with 18 folds. Robots are programmed with specific coordinates to deliver food to your table, making you feel as though you are in a different futuristic time zone.
The final stretch of my itinerary, visiting Taipei 101, was rounded off with some shopping therapy. From high-street to designer to tech, this impressive mall has something for everybody.
A Night in Hualien – Taroko National Park Tour
With a few days well spent in Taipei, it was time to take a quick break from the city and head off to visit Taroko National Park. This extraordinary park is situated at the junction of three counties: Hualian, Taichung and Nantou and is packed with outstanding high mountains, steep gorges, beautiful rivers and waterfalls. The diverse forms of plants, animal life and indigenous Taroko people together create the rich texture of this unique natural ecosystem.
As someone heavily attached to nature growing up, I wasted no time switching into my leisure gear, ready to hit up these outstanding landscapes. I had the privilege of exploring Shakadang Trail, Swallow Grotto trail, Taroko Gorge, Xiangde Temple and Mountain-Moon Bridge.
Taroko National Park, well and truly took my breath away! I’d never felt so connected to the outdoors like this before; turquoise blue rivers running smoothly against multi-coloured rocks and boulders, with palatial amounts of flourishing green plants and trees scattered across an endless array of cliffs and mountains, peaking into a bed of fluffy clouds, perched on the pure refreshing blue sky. It was fair to say that not one second of reflection was wasted across the moments that this unique experienced offered.
The Regent Hotel
Now back in Taipei, I was based at The Regent hotel for the remainder of my time in Taiwan. This hotel is the perfect bespoke urban retreat, infused with Chinese, Japanese and Western influences, surrounded by gleaming skyscrapers.
With soft earth-toned furnishings, marble bathrooms housing deep soaking tubs and the soul of the city glowing colourfully through the window, this is a great base to frame and capture Taipei right from the comfort of your own room.
Exploring Taipei’s famous Streets, Districts & Areas
Yongkang Street houses plenty of restaurants, cafés and shops to suit all budgets. Surrounded by cute neighbouring lanes and alleys, there are more than 30 outlets to potter around and explore, including independent businesses and night market carts that line the streets selling different types of food, including; pan-Chinese cuisine, Korean, Japanese, Western and unique fusion dishes. However, the main attraction that tourists flock to Yongkang Street is the delicious shaved ice-cream bowls from Smoothie House.
Eating and Drinking Taiwan – Before heading off to explore more of Taipei, I tried some delicious food at the extremely popular Yang Shin vegetarian restaurant. Here you can expect natural and elegant vegetarian food, punching with flavour. Known as the first dim-sum theme restaurant in Taipei city, this restaurant pours five-star level exquisite cooking skills into creating innovative vegetarian cuisines. I tried some popular and tasty dishes, including stir-fried crispy mushroom & string beans and the mixed herb rice noodle rolls.
Lunch was followed by a spot of traditional tea appreciation inside the heart of one of Taipei’s oldest areas, the Dihua District. There’s something quite special about ordering tea in Asia; from selecting the flavour of the tea to the time that’s put into the preparation and presentation. I decided to try a fruit tea with base ingredients including rose bud, apple and clove. The Dihua District is popular for selling traditional Taiwanese products like herbs, incense, fabrics and Taiwanese tea.
About a 10-minute walk from Dihua Street, you can check out Dadaocheng Wharf. The area is not huge; however, it has a couple of cute pop-up bars and restaurants housed in shipping containers, all located right next to the Tamsui river.
To finish up a solid day’s walking tour around Taipei’s beloved areas, I observed everything on offer around the Ximending area. More of a modern and trendy location, with the majority of people hitting this area up to shop. Expect international and local run-of-the-mill brands, streets laden with food vendors and bubble tea, and street performances on the weekends.
Asia is brimming with many incredible temples; however, the accolade must go to the special Longshan temple in the Wanhua District. Longshan Temple is packed with rich history, including being nearly 300 years old and surviving a bombing raid. The temple has been rebuilt on several different occasions, which was done by the local community each time. Interestingly, Longshan is a temple that allows different religions to be practised under one roof; Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian faiths are all welcomed here.
The harmonising beating of the drum and prayers chanted by practising locals during the ceremony echo through the streets in perfect synergy. The temple inside is grand, with gold splashed across every corner and mantelpiece. This is a great way to experience the depth of Asian culture.
The Taipei Restaurant Bus
If the concept of staying in one spot for the duration of dinner bores you, then the Taipei restaurant bus is a new way of cruising through the city so that you can enjoy eating out accompanied by romantic scenery. This is the perfect way to see Taipei in all its glory at night, accompanied by a three-course dinner and cocktails. The experience lasts around 3 hours and ticks off all main tourist attractions.
National Palace Museum
If you are into history and love to explore museums, the National Palace Museum is packed with extraordinary historical treasures. Fascinating for its depth and breadth, some of the pieces here date back to the tenth century. The show stopping artefacts are the Jade pieces, in particular the Jadeite Cabbage which is a carving of a cabbage in jadeite and is the most popular piece in the collection of the National Palace Museum.
Xiaoyoukeng Area and Yangmingshan Hot Spring Experience
To round off my week in Taiwan, I finished up by visiting the Xiaoyoukeng natural volcanic areas. The sulphur dioxide fumaroles and mountains of silver grass create an ethereal backdrop for stunning photos. This place is like a giant outdoor science experiment, where you can expect to see white steam constantly rising from the large pit on the flank of the mountain. There are cool bamboo trails you can walk through, which provide a sense of peace and serenity along the route.
Finally, my trip to Asia was accomplished with a cultured volcanic hot spring experience, where I visited the Yangmingshan Tien Lai Resort & Spa. You can choose to relax in different baths that vary in mineral content, temperature and therapeutic effects.
In a nutshell
Taiwan is a unique and special island. If you’re thinking of experiencing Buddhist temples, cute villages, futuristic cities and breath-taking mountains all in the same country, then Taiwan is the place bursting with opportunities to explore, learn, shop and dine.
To discover more, visit: taiwan.net
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All imagery courtesy of China Airlines, Taiwan Tourism Bureau, Taiwan News, and Unsplash.