By Matt Thorington-Jones
Travelling friend at Travel Nation
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If like me you’ve already explored Southeast Asia and you're looking to discover somewhere different, choose Taiwan. This Far Eastern gem is home to fascinating culture, golden sandy beaches, fantastic wildlife and food markets to tantalise your taste buds. You can travel from cosmopolitan cities to lush green valleys and stunning national parks to more than 90 relaxed islands.
I recently spent 7 days in the country, and I was pleased to find an island packed full of exciting things to see and do, with something for everyone. Here are some ideas for what to do in Taiwan.
With the tropic of Cancer running through the middle of the country, it can be a little cooler and wetter in the north than the tropical south. Taiwan is pleasant to visit all year round with the summer having the hotter, humid and wetter months compared to the drier and cooler winter months. It can feel as if you have the whole place to yourself at times as there are very few western tourists in this friendly and welcoming country.
EVA Air offers direct flights (with a touchdown in Bangkok) to Taipei. Their Economy cabin has generous legroom, which is comparable to some airlines’ Premium Economy leg room! There is also a Premium Economy cabin which is very popular and with even more leg room and very comfortable seats. EVA Air offers a Business Class, and even a Premium Business class, which I would highly recommend for the 16-17-hour flight.
The city was once home to the tallest building in the world from 2004 to 2010, before the Burj Kalifa in Dubai took over. The 101 building is still an impressive sight to behold and well worth a ride on what was also once the world’s fastest elevator, reaching the 89th floor in just 37 seconds. Up there, you will be rewarded with stunning views of the city, circled by lush green hills.
Eating out is very popular in Taipei as many apartments don’t have kitchens, so there are literally hundreds of night markets to choose from. We checked out two of the most famous, the Raohe and Shih Lin Nim night markets. Beef noodles, freshly made dim sum and barbecued fresh seafood are all popular options. There is so much to choose from and all very cheap, plus the friendly traders are always more than happy to let you try a free sample.
There are over 12,000 registered temples in Taiwan, but one of the most popular to visit in Taipei is the Lung Shan Temple, where you can watch people praying to the god of marriage through the clouds of burning incense and hear the chanting of the ceremony.
Taipei is also home to the 7th most visited museum in the world, the National Palace Museum. The museum houses nearly 700,000 exhibits, showcasing around 8,000 years of Chinese artefacts and has been said to have some of the most exquisite artworks in existence.
I stayed in two hotels while in Taipei. The Grand Mayfull Hotel is quite luxurious; it has huge rooms, with lots of gadgets and everything you need. It is a bit out of the way but there’s a metro station nearby and it was definitely my favourite of all the hotels I stayed at while in Taiwan. For a more central option, the AMBA Hotel Ximen is the perfect option: rather basic but clean and modern, and right in the middle of everything.
For a break from the city, head to the old gold mining mountain village of Jiufen, which is around an hour from the city. Here you can learn a little more about the Japanese 50-year occupancy and gold mining that went on while exploring the narrow winding lanes and visiting a traditional tea house to enjoy the stunning view.
Taiwan is also gifted with a number of outlying islands, relatively untouched by mass tourism, such as the Penghu archipelago, which is home to around 90 peaceful islands with golden sandy beaches. Penghu is also one of the best places in the world for windsurfing and kiteboarding during the windy season between October and March.
Just a short 50-minute flight away, the main island of Magong is easily accessible. There are plenty of beautiful beaches and islands to explore, and you can sample freshly caught seafood during one of the famous 7-colour sunsets.
The main town Magong is fairly modern but you can soon slip away into the older, narrow side streets and temples that are hidden away. The Matsu temple is well worth a look, covered with beautiful carvings and said to be the oldest on the island. Cycling is a nice way to explore the old town and the surrounding area, before heading off to the neighbouring islands.
I stayed at the Four Points Sheraton, which offers spacious rooms with a balcony and a view on the park. This hotel has amazing recreational facilities like a games room next to the gym & spa! If you’re looking for a touch of luxury while in Magong, this is the ideal spot.
With regular ferries, it’s easy to visit the surrounding islands, offering more beaches, fantastic seafood and interesting geological features to explore. Fringed by coral reefs, there is plenty to snorkel and dive, as well as motorised water sports to choose from.
Chimei Island has one of the finest coastlines in Penghu and is also home to the famous Double-Heart of Stacked Stones, a heart-shaped stone fishing weir and an iconic attraction for the island. Be sure to visit the Blue Hole surrounded by bizarre rock formations and the island that you can walk to at low tide. Tongpan and Hujing have striking natural basalt columns and abandoned villages to explore.
In addition to the great beaches, Taiwan also has some jaw-dropping scenery with the lush jungle, mountainous region running down the backbone of the island, with 286 peaks over 3000 metres above sea level! Plenty of hiking trails await, with some great opportunities for bird watching and spotting wildlife. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the endangered black-faced spoonbill or possibly a Formosan black bear!
Taroko National park, on the east coast, is arguably Taiwan's most beautiful park, with the 18-kilometre marble-walled canyon running through the middle. To get here by road you will end up going through the Hsuehshan Tunnel, which is just shy of 13 kilometres and is currently the 7th longest tunnel in the world!
There are a number of walking trails that range from short and easy to longer and more challenging. Afterwards, why not unwind in a nearby hot spring to relax your aching muscles after a long day’s walk? Taroko is also home to the Taroko tribe, who is one of the 16 colourful indigenous tribes making up 2% of the population.
The east coast of Taiwan also offers the opportunity for some world-class whale and dolphin watching. The best time for whale-watching in Taiwan is between April and November when the waves are calmer and whales more plentiful. The popular places for whale-watching tours in Taiwan include Xingang and Fugang ports of Taitung, Hualien Harbour, and Wushih Port of Yilan. It is possible to spot humpback, killer, sperm, false killer and pygmy killer whales, as well as dolphin species such as spinner, bottlenose, pantropical spotted and Chinese white dolphins!
EVA Air has been a popular choice for well-priced flights to Thailand for many people over the years, and now, EVA has just opened a new route on the 1st July from Chiang Mai to Taipei. This is a great way to combine the familiar with the new and hop between countries.
So why not fly to Bangkok with EVA Air, then head down south for some much-needed beach time? You can then head back to Bangkok to fly onto Taipei and explore the far east’s hidden gems, before flying to Chiang Mai to discover or rediscover cultural Northern Thailand.
If this guide to what to do in Taiwan inspired you to add the island to your bucket list, we can help you plan the perfect trip, including flights, transfers, accommodation and even day tours and activities. Call us on 1273 320 580 or request a quote by email today.
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