Taiwan is a hidden gem that should be on everyone’s ‘bucket list’ to visit. Travel + Leisure listed Taipei as one of the “Best Places to Travel in 2016”, Forbes Travel Guide lists Taipei as one of its “16 Top Destinations For 2016”, Lonely Planet published “Five reasons why Taiwan Should Be on Your Bucket List”, and Srune.com gives an additional “100 Reasons to visit Taiwan.”
Welcome to Taiwan! We'll have a get-acquainted meeting at 3 p.m. at our hotel in Taipei and a welcome banquet for dinner.
We begin our exploration of Taiwan in its capital city, Taipei. We visit the memorial hall of former President Chiang Kai-shek with its striking white walls and blue tiled roof. On the grounds of this memorial are the National Concert Hall and National Theater, both built in traditional Chinese palace style. The Martyrs Shrine was constructed to honor the war dead. Its impressive architecture resembles that of the Hall of Supreme Harmony in Beijing's Forbidden City. We also visit the modern Taipei 101, once the tallest building in the world, as well as the modern commercial district with stores, restaurants, and entertainment venues that surround it.
Today's focus is on historic Taipei, from Dadaocheng area where Taipei began its development centuries ago to the always busy Longshan Temple, devoted to both Buddhist and Taoist deities. Next to Longshan Temple is Herb Alley, a narrow space stacked high with strange looking roots, branches and leaves. Here, Traditional Chinese Medicine prescriptions have been filled for many generations of Taipei residents. Next, Ximending was Taipei's main entertainment district during the Japanese occupation era (1895-1945). Today, this is an area of movie theaters, cafes and shops geared towards the youth market. The Huaxi Street Night Market is one of the oldest markets in Taiwan. It is more famously known as Snake Alley, as this is one of the few places that you will find snake delicacies. The Shilin Night Market is a more modern night market with a dedicated foods section, where you can try just about every type of Taiwanese snack.
Taiwan's hills and mountains offer great environments for growing high quality tea; Taiwan produces some of the finest tea in the world. Paochong tea, which is a light oolong, is cultivated in Pinglin. Here, we explore terraced tea plantations and sample the local brew. Nearby Pingxi, and the railway branch line by the same name ,developed due to a once prosperous coal mine. Today, its old street is quiet and quant. Along the railway tracks in the town of Shifen, visitors write their wishes on sky lanterns and release them, allowing them to fly off toward the heavens.
After a long day of sightseeing and photographing, there is nothing better than soaking in natural hot springs waters. These can be enjoyed in a public pool area in the resort or in the privacy of your room.
Taroko Gorge is one of the rare examples of a natural marble gorge in the world. Its marble walls and cliffs were cut over a long period of time by the aquamarine waters of the Liwu River. This gorge is located within Taroko National Park and is a protected and spectacularl scenic area. This gorge was once home to the indigenous Truku tribe, one of the 16 officially recognized tribes in Taiwan. Although forced to leave by the Japanese in the early 20th century, members of this tribe retain some land within the park, such as along the Shakadang Trail, which follows the picturesque Shakadang River. Swallows Grotto is the nesting site for a large number of swallows, from which it gets its name. This is the narrowest point of the gorge and where the waters of the Liwu River rush through.
Special lunch in an aboriginal restaurant which has been described as “amazing, special and yummy”, “great food and atmosphere”, and “tribal cuisine.”
We continue our exploration of the spectacular Taroko Gorge and the rich Truku tribe culture. After a visit to the Goddess of Mercy Temple in Tianxiang, we cross a suspension bridge and then walk the 1.2 mile (two-kilometer) Lushui-Heliu Trail with natural overhangs and views of the Liwu River. At the Buluowan Leader Resort, we enjoy a lunch of indigenous cuisine. Buluowan was once the location of a Truku tribe settlement. Here, a fascinating exhibition describes the traditional lifestyle of this tribe. We then visit indigenous people working to pass on their cultural heritage including the traditions of facial tattooing and weaving. We end our day in Hualien City at the A-Zone Hualien Cultural Creative Industries Park. Built more than 100 years ago as a winery, it has been transformed into cultural and creative product exhibition space.
Special dinner in a historical house, Andante Restaurant (Creative Industries Park) (Western cuisine)
At the Cidal Hunters School in the indigenous Amis Community of Shuilian, we learn some of the traditional knowledge of this tribe including how to start a fire without a lighter or matches, build traps, and traditional uses of plants. We spend the rest of the day traveling along the beautiful Pacific coastline.
Today, we continue our travels southward along the spectacular East Coast of Taiwan. In Changbin Township of Taitung County, we visit Baxian Cave with several natural openings in the rocks that have been transformed into mostly Buddhist shrines or temples. This is also the location of Taiwan's oldest prehistoric site. Also in this township lives Father Josef Eugster, a Swiss German Catholic priest who has served in Taiwan for four decades. He developed a reflexology (foot massage) system that aims to improve health and has taught these methods to local residents to help them earn a living. Another attraction is the Tropic of Cancer Marker, symbolizing the boundary between Taiwan's subtropical and tropical climate zones.
Fishing is an important livelihood for many families living along the East Coast and we may have the opportunity to see colorful fishing boats returning with their catches. We also visit the indigenous Amis community of Pisirian. This community traditionally raised goats, which feature prominently in the community's driftwood sculptures and murals. From here, there are spectacular views of the Sanxiantai Scenic Area (rock outcrop). The Dulan Sugar Refinery is no longer in operation and has been transformed into artist studios and exhibition spaces. Driftwood sculptures are prominent here. After dinner, head to Tiehua Village to enjoy live music performances, mostly by local indigenous artists.
We continue our exploration of Taiwan's indigenous culture, visiting a community of the Rukai or Paiwan tribe. After lunch, we travel along the picturesque Southern Link Highway to reach Kenting, Taiwan's southernmost tip and its premier beach resort area. Our hotel is located near Kenting Street, lined with souvenir shops and restaurants.
Kenting National Park includes both coastal forest and coral reef ecology. Today, we explore some of the highlights of this national park. After that, enjoy some free time on the beach!
Fo Guang Shan is the largest Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. Its attractions include a large collection of Buddhist sculptures, such as a 36-metre tall statue of Amitabha Buddha. Following our visit here, we head to Tainan, often referred to as "the cradle of Taiwan's modern history". The Dutch ruled here for nearly four decades during the 17th century before being defeated by Koxinga, a Ming dynasty warlord. This was followed by migration of people from the coastal areas of southern China, and the first ethnic Chinese settlement. In addition to a plethora of well-preserved historical sites, traditional arts (such as paper lantern making and wood carving) continue on here and can be viewed in shops tucked away among quiet ancient alleys and lanes.
Today, we continue our exploration of Tainan's rich history, and enjoy some of its natural beauty as well, especially its mangrove forests with abundant wildlife including migratory and resident birds, crabs, and mudskippers.
We return to Taipei via the High Speed Rail, which reaches top speed of 300 kilometers per hour. Once back in Taipei, it is time to relax or to finish up last minute souvenir shopping and sightseeing before coming together for a farewell dinner.