Taiwan is not really known as a tourist destination. many travelers skip over our little island in search of the impressive skylines of Tokyo, Hong Kong, or Shanghai - and the seemingly endless beaches of Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. but I'm here to tell you, they are missing out.
Taiwan has amazing food, incredible scenery, and friendly people. the MRT subway system in Taipei is the cleanest and best organized I've ever ridden. an American passport qualifies you for [free] visa on arrival, and you can get around the island easily without knowing a word of Mandarin. and if you still need convincing: Taiwan has ONE really awesome skyscraper [which was, for a bit, the tallest in the world] and the south has your gorgeous beaches. oh... and there's a high speed rail system that can get you from one to the other in only 2 hours.
so we've established that Taiwan is a place you should visit. but what to do while you're here? don't worry, I have a list! a few of the items I came up with are specific, but most of them can be found anywhere in Taiwan. I haven't done and seen all of these items yet, but over the next month I plan to while my friend and then brother are visiting.
+ eat dumplings +
obviously. my favorite are xiao long bao - soup dumplings. a broth paste is packed into the dumpling along with the meat, and melts when the dumpling is steamed. in my opinion, Din Tai Fung does them best. but you can find dumplings of all kinds everywhere in night markets and stalls along the streets. beef noodle is another Taiwanese specialty that should not be missed.
+ ride a scooter +
Husband likes to say that the best way to see Taiwan is from the back of a scooter. is it a little terrifying at first? yes. but wait until you see the traffic. being able to zip around the lines of waiting cars will make you glad to scoot. be sure to wear a helmet [duh] and follow posted traffic signs. the cops WILL pull you over and not knowing Chinese won't get you out of a ticket.
+ hike Taroko Gorge +
Taiwan has mega-cities and a huge high tech industry, but also gorgeous mountains, unique rock formations, and endless rice paddies. hiking is available in all levels of difficulty, from trails that are paved and have stairs to the famous Alishan Mountain. BUT if I had to recommend one place to visit, it would be Taroko Gorge. the national park encompasses an enormous marble canyon that stretches nearly half the width of the island. along the trails in the park you can find various waterfalls along with shrines, temples, pagodas, and monasteries. you can easily find a trail or trails to fit your need - from a ten minute stroll to a 4 day mountain trek.
+ caffeinate at a cat cafe +
cat cafes can be found in a few Asian countries, but Taipei claims to have had the first. you can visit for an hour or two, play with kittens while you drink your coffee, or study with a cat on your lap [or your laptop, if they are anything like my cat back home.] while this is clearly an activity for animal lovers, there is no shortage of options for feline-free beverages. tea and juice shops line the streets, offering both hot and cold blended beverages for your enjoyment.
+ climb Taipei 101
yes, it's just a really tall building. but when you go to New York you see the Empire State Building, when you come to Taipei you see Taipei 101. even on a misty day the views are spectacular. inside, you can view the enormous damper ball which makes this building possible. it absorbs the shocks and sways of the building through earthquakes and typhoon winds [both common here.] if going to the top for incredible views of the city and surrounding mountains isn't your thing, the first few floors hold a high-end shopping mall.
+ stroll through a night market +
night markets are an assault on the senses. squid on a stick, cheap tshirts, fried rice, dumplings, plastic toys and trinkets, fresh blended fruit smoothies... it's like a flea market with extra awesome. most cities have them, though Shilin district in Taipei boasts the most famous and one of the largest on the island. if you are a seafood lover then the smaller but tasty Keelung market might be more your style.
+ ride the high speed rail +
if you've been to Japan, this may not impress you. but as someone who spent years on Amtrack and New Jersey Transit... the Taiwan High Speed Rail is lightning fast and spotlessly clean. you'll also notice how well organized their system is. assigned seating, designated waiting areas for each car, and electronic ticketing. if you want to save a little cash you can take the regular rail, but I recommend at least one ride on the HSR for the experience.
+ tour the National Palace Museum +
this museum houses one of the largest [and arguably, the best] collection of Chinese art in all the world. depending who you ask, the ROC either rescued or stole these treasures from mainland China when fleeing the communist regime. the collection is so vast that only 1% can be displayed at one time, and it takes twelve years to rotate through all of it.
+ visit a temple +
Longshan Temple in Taipei is well-known, but you won't be able to walk far in Taiwan without spotting a dragon-covered roof [which is one of my favorite things about living here.] Some temples are Buddhist, some are Taoist or devoted to folk deities, and most are a vibrant blend of beliefs. the Confucius temples are easier to spot since they are plainer in appearance, but no less beautiful.
+ soak in a hot spring +
hot springs are everywhere in Taiwan, though somehow I have not yet made my way into one. Beitou and Wulai are two areas that offer many options and come highly recommended. high-end resorts will have the waters piped to private indoor tubs, while others opt for free springs "in the wild" that adjoin rivers and streams. some people also like to rub the mud on themselves for an extra exfoliating experience. either way, it sounds like a lovely way to relax after all the hiking and sightseeing.
have you ever been to Taiwan? is there something you would add to this list? have I convinced you to come visit? :)