Travel Bug Blogg - Taiwan, Full of Surprises!
Date: March 10, 2010
Author: Morgan Burrett
After leaving the Beehive Rocket Festival in Yenshui, it was time for something a little more sedate. So I made my way to Tainan, a major city that’s considered the birthplace of Taiwan. Here I visited some ruins from early Dutch settlement in the country, including Anping Treehouse, which was once the offices and storage facility for a British shipping company. Today it has been overgrown with massive Banyan trees, creating a tree house-like structure. Also in the area are other remnants from European occupation, plus lots of temples and night markets.
Leaving the big smoke it was a slow but scenic drive into the mountains, past tea plantations to a place called Alishan. It was amazing to experience four climate zones in an hour, but that’s how steep the mountains are in Taiwan. It doesn’t take long to go from the tropical heat at sea level to 2,500m snow-capped peaks.
Here I did a whole heap of things, from learning about Taiwan’s tea culture, to hiking through a forest wilderness with 2,000-year-old red cypress trees. But the highlight of my time in the area had to be the sunrise. It’s a pretty special experience watching the sun as it slowly crests the 4,000m high mountains. The first warming rays create a stunning glow as fingers of light break through the fog. It was a very special experience and something I would recommend to everyone.
After an early breakfast I departed Alishan and made my way to Sun Moon Lake. It’s located in the heart of Taiwan and surrounded by mountains. This was a short stop for me as I was making my way back to Taipei, though I managed to squeeze a lot in while there. First stop was a bike ride around much of the lake. Cycling is a major pastime in Taiwan, after all, they are one of the world’s biggest bike manufacturers and home to a famous bicycle company called Giant.
Riding around the lake proved to be an ideal way to get some exercise and learn a little about the area. My guide was a 62-year-old man called Tim Hsu. He started cycling 5 years ago and in that time he has ridden a lap of the country in just nine days. He also cycles 70km to and from work most days! Pretty impressive for a guy older than my father.
Also at Sun Moon Lake I learnt about the indigenous people of Taiwan at Formosa Aboriginal Culture Village. It’s a lot like Disneyland, combining a cultural centre with a huge theme park. It’s a great place for an
education about the countries history and its native people. You can then finish it all off with a few rides and a trip on a cable car that lets you take in the scenery from a birds eye view.
That night it was a three hour bus ride back to Taipei. Bus trips are always a bit of relief because it means I get to have a little sleep. An early start began with a visit to what was once the world’s tallest building, Taipei 101. It’s 508 metres high and has the world’s fastest elevator (Top speed of 1010 metres per minute). Make sure you visit on a clear day, because from the observation deck you can see the entire city and mountainous surrounds.
Next stop was lunch at the number one dumpling restaurant in Taipei – DinTaiFung. Here I had the opportunity to learn about how they make their famous dumplings before gorging myself on them. With a full belly I headed across town to the National Palace Museum. It’s one of the must visit sites in Taiwan. The collection mainly deals with Chinese art and artifacts and many of the works in the collection are masterpieces, leading the museum to become known as a treasure trove of Chinese culture. The collection consists of over 600,00 cultural relics, from tiny ivory carvings, to beautiful paintings and ceramics.
From Taipei I hit the road on a 90 minute trip south-east to Yilan. This part of the country has a more rural feel to it, with beautiful rice paddies spread amongst the encroaching urban development. Here I visited a leisure farm, which is a place where you can get a feel for the traditional farming life in Taiwan. I spent my time walking around the property and learning about how the people once made their living from the land. Then at night there were all sorts of traditional activities and games to entertain guests.
The following morning it was back to Taipei. With only a couple of days left I had a lot to squeeze in. First stop was to see a fortune-teller to find out what the year ahead holds. The good news was I had plenty of travelling and good times to come. The bad news….I’m a few years away from meeting the love of my life. Next was to see how one of the more famous dishes in Taiwan is prepared – Peking duck. For this I went to Yun Fu Lou Restaurant, a place that’s famous for it! The process is quite involved, but all the hard work is well worth it when it comes out tasting so amazing.
After strolling around the city for a while to let my food digest I headed to Shilin Night Markets. This is where you go to not only buy all your souvenirs, gifts and clothes. It’s also the best place to try a whole variety of the local cuisine. There are some things that are suited to the more adventurous eaters, like oyster pancakes and stinky tofu, and then there are the usual suspects like dumplings and noodles. Even if you’re not hungry or into shopping, the night markets are one of those experiences you can’t miss. It’s worth it for the people watching alone.
On my final day in Taipei I took the time to wind down a little. First thing was a soothing foot massage, which started with a shoulder rub while soaking my weary feet in a warm herbal bath. Massage is an important part of Taiwanese life and there are places throughout the city that run for 24 hours offering everything from 10 minute rubdowns, to full body massages where you sit back and relax while watching a private TV set. Next stop, and the last of my journey, was a hot spring resort.
The hot spring experience is a remnant of Japanese occupation in Taiwan. Other than a massage, it’s one of the best ways for a tired and sore traveller to recover before another big day of site seeing. In my case, it was the perfect end to a trip to one of the more unique places I’ve ever been.
Accommodation in Tainan: Nice Prince Hotel. www.niceprince.hotel.com.tw
Accommodation in Alishan: Alishan Guest House. www.alishanhouse.com.tw
Accommodation in Sun Moon Lake: Fleur De Chine Hotel. www.fleurdechinehotel.com
Accommodation in Yilan: Shangrila Leisure Farm. www.shangrilas.com.tw
Accommodation in Taipei: Grand Hyatt Taipei. www.taipei.grand.hyatt.com
Flights from Taipei to Brisbane: EVA Airways. www.evaair.com
For more information on Taiwan visit www.taiwan.net.tw