Cultural Travel: Taiwan

Taiwan trip-519As you visit the places in this eight-day guide, you discover a nation obsessed with food. The cuisine is as diverse as its population with dishes representing Taiwanese, Hakka, Hunan, Szechuan and Japanese cultures. The climate provides fresh produce, meat and seafood year round. Taiwan’s cultural and culinary offerings translate into rewarding experiences. After a week of eating from north, east and west and throughout the capital city of Taipei, you will appreciate the country’s national pastime. Read about a celebration traveler’s jet-lagged day in Taipei: The Lost Day.

TAIWANmap - 1

Plan Your Trip. Taiwan is a long narrow island east of China with Japan to the north and the Philippines to the south. The Taiwanese include indigenous tribes and settlers from China after the civil wars. Densely populated cities give way to forested mountains, waterways and gorges. The island’s pristine landscape is preserved in eight national parks and thirteen national scenic areas. At Taroko National Park, trails overlook deep valleys. At Jade Mountain, trails ascend to the snowy summit. Sun Moon Lake is nestled amid mountains covered in dense tropical forest.

Shaped like a leaf, Taiwan is 245 miles long and 89 miles wide at its broadest. Forested peaks cover two-thirds of Taiwan. Taiwan Tourism has itineraries centered on visitors’ interests, annual festivals and exhibitions. Allow a week or more to taste what this magical island has to offer.

Research Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area and Toroko Gorge National Park.

The Taipei Metro System (MRT) is easy to navigate. Purchase the Taiwan EasyCard, which you can reload at all metro stations in multiples of NT$100. To make a transaction pass the card over the sensor marked with the EasyCard logo. You can use it on the MRT subway system and city buses. Free internet access is available in the airport and train stations, MRT stations, tourist information centers and other public places. Travelers may apply for a free account using their passport as ID. To translate websites, click Translate This Page next to the Google search results.

Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted but you’ll need cash for the food vendors and for traveling in the countryside. Local currency is the new Taiwan dollar (NT). NT$100 is about US$3. You can get a tax refund at the airport within 30 days of the purchase date on your receipt.

Most hotels and restaurants add 10 percent service charge. Five-star hotels in Taipei include: the Marriott, the Regent Taipei, the Landis, the Sheraton, the W. The concierges have detailed maps in case you want to walk to nearby sights. Hotels give Western guests taxi cards, printed in English Please take me to, followed by a list of the popular sights in Chinese and English. You present the same card to get a taxi back to your hotel.

Taiwan uses 110V or 220V, type A power sockets.

The Tropic of Cancer slices through the island so temperatures range from sub-tropical to temperate. Taipei’s summer temperatures hover between 80 degrees F and 90 degrees F dropping in winter to 60 degrees F.

Learn More. Research Taipei sights, lodging and restaurants on Lonely PlanetTaipei Travel has current details of events and maps that you can download. The 2016 Taiwan Culinary Exhibition is held in August 5 to 8 at Taipei World Trade Center. Tourists are admitted free and receive an Easy go card, pre-loaded with NT150 about USD $5 to purchase food at the food session in the exhibition.

DAY 1, DAY 2  North American and European gateways.

Drive to the airport. Check in at the China Airlines counter. Fly through the night.
China Airlines-84Arrive the following morning in Taipei. Taiwan’s air carrier, China Airlines, flies to major  gateways throughout North America, Europe, Oceania, the Middle East and Asia. Passengers love the new fleet and premium economy that feels more like business class. I arrived at San Francisco International Airport at 10:30 p.m. and had to remind myself that I would arrive in Taiwan two days later. My flight departed in the wee hours—at 1:40 a.m.—and arrived the following day at 6 a.m. I flew on a brand new Boeing 777-300ER in premium economy to have a wider seat and had an empty seat beside me.

Getting There
China Airlines

DAY 3  Taipei Taoyuan International Airport TPE.

Arrive in Taipei and take the bus or train to Taipei.
After flying 13 hours and twenty minutes, the flight arrives at 6 a.m. the following day. Exchange money at the bank near the Tourist Service Center. The airport is in Taoyuan County, 25 miles west of Taipei. Airport buses and shuttles stop at both Terminal 1 and 2. The buses provide service to the Taipei Main Station, with drop off points along the route at major hotels and MRT (metro) stations. The KuoKuang buses have wide seats and ample legroom. Or you can take the UBUS shuttle to the high-speed rail station. It’s only a 35 minute ride to Taipei.

Taipei Taoyuan International Airport
No. 9, Hangzhan S. Rd., Dayuan Dist., Taoyuan City 33758, Taiwan
886 3 273 3728
Taiwan Tourism Bureau
9F, 290 Zhongxiao East Road.m Sec. 4, Taipei
tel. 886 2 2349 1500
Taiwan Bus Corp. (Kuokuang line)
Taiwan High Speed Rail
886 2 4066 3000

Check into the Regent Taipei for three nights.
Taiwan-242Ask for a quiet room on the fifteen floor. Then head straight for the rooftop pool. You can take a refreshing nap in the cabana. The basement-level thermal baths are also relaxing after a long flight. The Regent Taipei Azie Grand Cafe is a multiple-award winner of the Taipei Beef Noodle Festival and offers several beef noodle dishes.

Regent Taipei
No. 3 Ln. 39 Sec. 2, Zhonghan N. Rd. Taipei
886 2 2523 8000

Have a traditional Taiwanese breakfast.
Taiwan-109Watch the dough explode into golden brown puffs in vats of sizzling oil. A half dozen women wrap the deep-fried doughnuts in flatbread. The menu doesn’t have pictures to explain the Chinese characters, but point to the doughnut wraps and the bowls of soy milk. It’s the best place in Taipei for this Taiwanese specialty.

Fu Hang Dou Jiang
Huashan Market, second floor
No. 108, Section 1, Zhongxiao E Rd, Zhongzheng District, Taipei
+886 2 2392 2175

Explore the restaurant’s hiking trails. Have Zen cuisine in a tranquil mountainside setting.
Taiwan-139Allow time to hike long the waterfall trail before setting in for dinner. The owner Mr. Ling is a culinary scholar and architect who transformed a Japanese teahouse into a restaurant. The Oriental Zen cuisine complements the setting. Each dish on the seven-course menu echoes the landscape. The sushi platter is arranged on ice like flowers on the banks of a small waterfall. A dried lotus blossom slowly opens in the steam for the lotus chicken soup. Mr. Ling commissioned Ying Ge pottery to design serving sets for each dish. You sit on tatami mats in small rooms facing a tropical forest.

Shi-Yang Culture Restaurant
No. 7, Lane 350, Sec. 3 Xi Wan Rd., Xi Zhi District, New Taipei City
886 2 2646 2266

DAY 4  Taipei

Visit Taipei 101. Take the world’s fastest elevator to the observation deck.
Taiwan-163From every angle, Taipei 101 captivates. Take the guided tour to hear the stories associated with it’s construction and design. Ride the elevators to the observation deck on the 89th floor. The map identifies the city’s major sights and landmarks: Keelung River, Mount Kuan-Yin, Mingquan Bridge. Two rivers wrap around Taipei, Keelung River on the north and east and Danshui River on the west. Follow the stairs to the wind damper, which keeps the nearly half-mile tall building well anchored. Various designers created series of wind damper characters with round heads, similar to animated characters. School children cluster around these statues for photos.

Taipei 101
89 F No. 7 Xinyi Road, Section 5, Taipei
02 8101 8800

Have Taiwan’s famously addictive soup dumplings.
Taiwan-172In the basement-level food court is another national treasure: xiaolongbao, steamed soup dumplings. Each dumpling is pinch-sealed with 18 symmetric folds, then steamed. The kitchen staff works behind glass pounding, kneading, wrapping, folding and steaming to keep up with the demand. The Hong Kong branch of this dumpling restaurant was awarded a One Michelin Star. It was also ranked by the New York Times as one of the world’s top 10 best restaurants. When you eat a dumpling, hold a soup spoon under your chop sticks to catch the drips.

Din Tai Fung
Taipei 101, basement level

Tour the National Palace Museum.
Taiwan trip-393Perhaps the single most important cultural landmark in Taiwan is the National Palace Museum, which covers 5,000 years of Chinese cultural history. In 1949 two million refuges and the Nationalists arrived, bringing a peerless collection amassed by emperors over hundreds of years from the Beijing Palace Museum. This vast repository of Chinese art encompasses jade, bronzes, ceramics, calligraphy, paintings, ebony furniture and books. Scroll paintings depict daily life at the imperial court. Two popular exhibits involve food: the Jadeite cabbage and a fist-size chunk of jasper dyed and painted to look like pork belly cooked in soy sauce.

National Palace Museum
No.221, Sec. 2, Zhishan Rd., Shilin District, Taipei City
Tel. 886 2 2881 2021

Have dinner at Silks Palace.
Taiwan trip-406The menu Silks Palace plays with art and gastronomy. On the Cultural Relics menu, dishes replicate the museum exhibits. Jadeite Cabbage is cabbage and a sauce made with dried scallops, with dried shrimp shaped like the two insects. The braised pork is shaped like the Meat Shaped Stone and soup is served in a mini Ting Cauldron. Dessert is arranged on shelves in a mini Curio Box from the exhibit.

Silks Palace
at National Palace Museum
No. 221, Section 2, Zhishan Rd, Shilin District, Taipei City
Tel. 886 2 2882 9393

DAY 5  Taipei Main Station. Hualien. Taroko Gorge National Park.

Take the Tze-Chiang Express train to Hualien.
Taiwan trip-478Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) provides train service to Hualien. Book reserved seats online for the two-hour express train. The train station code for Taipei is 100, Hualien is 051. You pay online for your ticket but you have to collect your ticket at the convenience stores. Show the staff your ID and your ticket SN, then they help you operate the kiosk. You can also buy tickets at the train station but avoid the lines during morning and evening rush hour. The train departs Taipei at 6:20 and 7:20 a.m. The train rolls between the Coastal Mountains and the beach towns of the East Coast National Scenic Area.

TRA Taipei Main Station
online reserved seats
Taroko Gorge Tour

Hike Taroko Gorge.
Taiwan-218 Arrange for the tour operator to pick you up at Hualien Railway Station and take you to the points of interest and trailheads. The varied mountain peaks, numerous waterfalls, diverse plants together with the indigenous Taroko people, create a the rich, unique nature preserve. Taroko Gorge is marble and souvenirs shops feature marble trinkets.

Sports & Recreation
Taroko National Park
291 Fushi Village, Xiulin Township, Hualien County
886 3 862 1100 6

Have lunch at Leader Village.
Taiwan-183At Leader Village, the locals used drift wood to create a statue of Jeremy Lin on the Hornets basketball team. Aboriginal food consists mainly of rice cooked in a thick bamboo shoot, millet, pork, chicken soup, and side dishes of mushrooms and sweet potatoes.

Leader Village Taroko
No. 231-1, Fu Shih Village, Hsiulin, Hualien
886 3 861 0111

DAY 6  Taipei. Taichung. Sun Moon Lake.

Check out of hotel and ride the high-speed trail (HSR) to Taichung.
Taichung HSR Station is located in Wuri on the outskirts of Taichung. Store your luggage for the day. Lockers are near the Starbucks.

High-Speed Rail HSR
Taipei Station
No.3, Beiping W. Rd., Zhongzheng District, Taipei
Tel. 886 2 4066 3000
Taichung HSR Station
No.8, Zhanqu 2nd Rd., Wuri District, Taichung
Taichung Government Tourism Office
No. 36, Yangming St., Fongyuan District, Taichung
Tel. 886 4 2228 9111

Have coffee, pineapple cake or ice cream at a historic building.
Taiwan trip-459The interior of Miyahara looks like Dumbledore’s library at Hogwarts. The staff wears British uniforms reminiscent of the last days of the raj. The pineapple cakes are wrapped in decorative boxes. Try the flavored latte drinks: ginger, sesame or almond. The Miyahara pearl milk tea and the earl grey pearl milk tea both delicious. The line forms outside for honey cheese ice cream.

Miyahara Pineapple Cake Shop
No. 20, Zhongshan Rd., Central District, Taichung
04 2227 1927

Learn how to make pearl milk tea where it was invented. Have lunch.
Taiwan trip-490Stop at the home of the original Pearl Milk Tea. We booked the pearl milk tea ahead to learn the history of Taiwanese tea culture and to prepare this popular pearl milk tea. Before 1980, the Taiwanese didn’t drink cold tea or have tea with milk. In 1987, Chung Shui Tang put tapioca balls, a local specialty, in milk tea, it was the first time ingredients were added to a tea drink. Now people drink bubble tea around the world. A vigorous shake creates the bubbles. The secret ingredient is fresh tapioca, cane sugar cooked to impart a caramel flavor and color, high-quality black tea and high-quality dried milk powder. The lunch menu is divided into roasted, grilled, steamed, deep-fried and braised dishes.

Chun Shui Tang Cultural Tea House
No.9-19 Datun Street, Taichung
04 2327 3647

Return to Taichung HSR Station and take the bus to Sun Moon Lake or the hotel shuttle bus.
The easiest way to get to Sun Moon Lake is by bus. It’s easy to find English-speaking staff at the station to help with directions. The ride will take about 90 minutes. Get a taxi from the village to the hotel. The Fleur de Chine Hotel picks up hotel guests once a day at the station at 2 p.m.

Nantou Bus
Fleur de Chine Hotel HSR Shuttle Bus Service

Check into Fleur de Chine for two nights in a lake view room.
Taiwan trip-570Plan to visit the pool area, and the Eau Cloud Cafe to enjoy the lake views and a pot of the locally grown Assam black tea. During Japanese occupation, the tea had a worldwide reputation. Fleur de Chine Hotel is on Sun Moon Lake’s north peninsula amid a host of scenic and cultural attractions. Sign up for the morning walking tour if it is offered. Arrange activities and transportation at the front deck.

Fleur de Chine
No. 23, Zhongzheng Rd. Sun Moon Lake
Yuchi Township, Nantou County
tel. 049 285 5500

Go to the Sky Lounge for happy hour. Have dinner in the hotel’s lakefront dining room.
Taiwan trip-497Sun Moon Lake fills the view from the Sky Lounge terrace. The hotel’s dinner buffet is one of the best at Sun Moon Lake. The evening breeze ripples the water and catches the light in wavy patterns. As night falls, the fishing boat lights and the stars flicker on its surface.

Fleur de Chine

DAY 7  Sun Moon Lake.

Hike the Lakefront Trail. Tour Wenwu Temple.
Taiwan trip-530Sign up for the morning walking tour. Meet in hotel lobby at 7 a.m. The hotel provides a bi-lingual guide. At the end of the guided walk, visit Wenwu Temple. Wenwu Temple is devoted to the god of literature, the god of war and Confucius. It is also the temple of wishes.

Sports & Recreation
Fleur de Chine eco-tour
Sight Wenwu Temple
No.63, Jhongshan Rd., Yuchih Township, Nantou County

Bike around the lake. Take a boat tour at Ita Thao Pier.
Ask the hotel to arrange for bike rentals. Cycle on the lakeside trail. In about 18 miles you’ll hook up with the two-mile Sun Moon Lake Bikeway, which curves from Shuishe to Xiagnshan Visitors Center. End your bike ride at Ita Thao pier and board a sightseeing boat for an hour-long tour. You’ll see Lalu island and Ci-en Pagoda rising on a mountain ridge.

Sports & Recreation
Ita Thao Visitor Center
Boat Tour
Ita Thao Pier

DAY 8  Sun Moon Lake. Taichung. Taipei Taoyuan International airport TPE. North American and European gateways.

Take a final walk on the lakefront trail. Visit the Bamboo Rock Garden, then hike the Maolan trail at the back of the garden.
Have breakfast at the buffet. Check out.
Take the hotel shuttle bus to Taichung HSR Station. Take the high-speed train to Taipei Taoyuan International Airport.
Taiwan-140The new China Airlines lounge at Taoyuan International Airport has all the comforts. If you get a pass, you’ll appreciate the showers and tasty snacks, entrees and wine service. You’ll be ready to sleep through the flight. My flight departed at 11:40 p.m. and arrived in San Francisco the same day at 8:35 p.m.

HSR Shuttle Bus Service
Taichung HSR Station
No.8, Zhanqu 2nd Rd., Wuri District, Taichung
Getting Home
China Airlines

Taiwan trip-538—text and photography by Donna Peck

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