I’ve done a fair bit of travel to several countries in Asia and each one is charming in its own unique way, my most recent one being to Taiwan. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect and Taiwan was a complete surprise… and a totally fantastic one at that. Located in the South China Sea, this small island is packed with so much to do, see and experience! From the modern glittering skyscrapers in the neon-lit city to the bustling food and night markets, from its rich culture and heritage to its dramatic and jaw-dropping landscapes, there is something for every tourist and budget. I have to say that Taiwan is truly one of Asia’s best-kept travel secrets.
This dazzling city is the capital of Taiwan and is the perfect place to start your trip. Visit the iconic landmarks and experience the rich culture and heritage, eat your body weight in food as you wander through the bustling food and night markets, explore the narrow alleyways filled with quaint restaurants and boutiques, and shop till you drop in its crowded and lively shopping districts.
We spent two whole days in Taipei city. Check out what we did there.
Xiangshan, also known as Elephant Mountain or Mount Elephant, is a mountain in Xinyi District in Taipei. It is roughly 180 meters high and has a hiking trail about 1.5 kilometers long. The hike takes about 20 to 40 minutes depending on how fit you are! It does get quite steep in parts but there are rest stops along the way. Once you get to the top, the views are simply stunning. Taipei 101 can be seen towering over the rest of the city and makes for quite a postcard-perfect photo!
Tip: sunrise and sunset are the best times to visit. The place is usually less crowded and will make for some spectacular pictures.
Formerly known as the Taipei World Financial Centre, this skyscraper stands at 1,671 feet and was officially the world’s tallest when it opened in 2004, surpassed only later by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Take the high-speed elevator ride all the way to the top for a breathtaking 360-degree view of the city. It is pretty amazing!
Jade and Flower Market
Beneath Jianguo Elevated Highway lies a huge indoor jade market that stretches all the way from Ren’ai Road up to Jinan Road near Zhongxiao Xinsheng. Rows upon rows of vendors attract crowds of shoppers when they open for business on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 am – 6 pm. The flower market is an extension of the Jade Market and even though you may not want to buy anything, just the explosion of colors and floral variety is worth the visit.
Eat, Eat, Eat!
Now there are plenty of five-star restaurants in some of the best five-star hotels in Taipei, but the night markets are where the culinary magic happens. You get to taste a variety of delicious food at non-ransom prices. A win-win! Ningxia, Shilin, Keelung, and Roahe are the night markets to visit especially if you are a foodie. Oyster pancakes, BBQ, fried chicken, all kinds of dumplings of all shapes and sizes, noodle soups, oyster omelets, bubble tea and plenty of fresh seasonal fruits are in abundance everywhere. To me, it was a foodie-coup!
And do make a trip to Din Tai Fung – Taipei is where this famous chain began. Xiao Long Bao, a soup dumpling, is a staple favorite here. The thin pastry is folded into a small pouch, then stuffed with meat and soup and garnished with ginger, vinegar and soy sauce. Talk about an explosion of flavors!
Scattered across the city, amidst the tall skyscrapers, are a number of beautiful temples that have preserved the culture and heritage of this country. The architecture, history, the rites and rituals performed, and their colorful facades certainly makes it a worthwhile stop. A must on the list is the Longshan Temple. Originally built in 1738, this is one of the most well-known cultural attractions in Taipei. It has been damaged by fires and earthquakes time and time again but has always risen. I attribute it to a higher power at work!
The Grand Hotel Taipei
This 14 story hotel is located on the Yangming mountain, overlooking Songshan in the east and Danshui in the west. Both the interiors and the exteriors of this magnificent hotel are beautiful and extremely Instagram friendly. The history, the grandeur of its regal architecture and ambiance will have you wandering the hallways for a while.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
This is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Taiwan. This impressive monument is an ode to the former military leader and president, and it is definitely worth a visit. Tip: Go on a weekday morning. It may be less crowded than usual.
Shop till you drop
Ximending night market, one of Taipei’s favorite shopping district, is the place to go to find great bargains and plenty of original branded stuff at cheap prices. A good place to shop for souvenirs and if you are feeling hungry, there are lots of vendors selling delicious treats at every corner and plenty of restaurants and cafes to enjoy a good meal.
While in Taipei city we stayed at the Artree Hotel, a lovely boutique hotel pretty much in the heart of the city. It is spacious, stylish and affordable.
Location: Google Map Link
Contact Details: +886 2 2578 7728 / email@example.com
We also got the chance to explore parts of the rugged east coast of Taiwan. This sparsely populated coastline is nature at its best and makes for a great road trip. It is almost like someone had a field day with a palette of watercolors. From the magnificent cliffs covered in green to the ocean’s brilliant shades of blue, the landscape is truly breathtaking.
We set out from Taipei city early in the morning and our first stop on this road trip was Yehliu Geopark.
Yehliu Geopark is a landscape of honeycomb and mushroom rocks that have been eroded by the sea over time. It is home to a number of unique geological formations including the iconic rock that resembles Queen Elizabeth (which apparently took around 4000 years to form) and is located along a cape stretching out from the town of Wanli. It is a popular tourist attraction so try to get there early to beat the crowds.
We then headed towards Jiufen. This charming village is perched up in the mountains and is about an hour’s drive from Taipei city. This rustic town that is adorned with red lanterns is known for its narrow streets, food stalls selling plenty of Taiwanese delicacies and sweeping views of the mountains and the sea. It is one of Taiwan’s most popular destinations ever since Studio Ghibli film “Spirited Away” was filmed here. Sip on a cup of tea in one of the many beautiful teahouses and enjoy some of the most magnificent sunsets. The hues of orange, pink and purple are out of this world.
Tip: This place gets very crowded, especially when the weather is good. You might want to reach early and get yourself a good spot at the teahouse to be able to view the sunset.
Shifen is well known for the Shifen Waterfall. At a height of about 40 meters, it is widely regarded as one of the most scenic spots in Taiwan. Located in the Pingxi District, on the upper reaches of the Keelung River, this waterfall is not to be missed.
You can then head on over to Shifen old town. Originally built for transporting coal during the Japanese era, the station and tracks run straight through the village. It is easy to see why so many people come here everyday! The local food, the souvenir shops, and the puffing trains all add to the charm of this little town. The sky lanterns at Shifen Old Street is its main attraction. Once used as a signaling system for those who worked in the railroad industry, visitors today can paint their wishes on to the lantern in the hopes that they will come true before releasing them into the sky. This costs about 3 to 5 USD each.
Both Juifen and Shifen are day trips from Taipei. If you don’t have your own transport or are not with a guided tour, you can either take a train from Taipei Main Station (which costs about $3) to Ruifang Station and transfer to the Pingxi Small Railway to Shifen Station. Or you can pre-book this direct shuttle service which picks you up from Ximending and reaches Shifen within an hour (it is more convenient even though it costs more). This shuttle service also offers plenty of other day trips/discounts from Taipei city.
(The above hotel photos belong to Valletta Hotel)
After a day of exploring we checked into the Valletta Hotel. It is located in the heart of the Jioaxi Hot Spring area and within walking distance from the Jiaoxi bus station or train station. Local attractions nearby include Wufongci Scenic Area, Longtan Lake, and Jiaoxi Hot Spring Plaza.
Location: Google Map Link
Contact Details: +886-3 910-0111 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Back on the road early the next morning…
National Centre of Traditional Art
The National Centre of Traditional Arts located on the riverbank of Dongshan River in Wujie Township is the largest exhibition and performance site for traditional arts. Life from back in the day has been recreated with cobble streets, performing stages and brick house facades that use to line the old streets of Taiwan. It almost feels like walking through a time machine. All sorts of specialty stores line the streets of this center and several pieces of installation art have been recently added to the grounds as well. A great spot to add to your itinerary.
We continued driving along this coastline heading towards QingShui Cliffs. Such a dramatic shift in the landscape. We had to stop and take it all in despite being almost blown away by the rain and wind.
We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant perched upon the cliffside. The entire decor stays true to its roots. We dined at tables and chairs carved from wood and enjoyed a wonderful meal served up the traditional way.
We drove along Highway 9 towards Qingshui cliffs for some of the most jaw-dropping views. It is a 21km stretch of coastal cliffs along the Suhua Highway and the Qingshui Cliffs lie approximately 100km south of Taipei between the cities of Yilan and Hualien. This cliff has been designated as one of the Eight Wonders of Taiwan and views of the blue turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean are truly mesmerizing. There are plenty of great designated spots to capture some amazing photos!
Taroko National Park
Taroko National Park is Taiwan’s top tourist destination spanning an area of about 920 sq km. Named after the local Truku aboriginal tribe, this park is one of this country’s most beautiful sights that offer a chance to hike through mountainous terrain and gorges, and even dip your feet in the clearest of flowing mountain rivers. The best time to visit would be mid-week so as to avoid a lot of the weekend crowd. We explored a lot of this park at dusk and in the early morning hours before the tourists descended… which meant we were able to take lots of photos in peace and quiet.
Admission to the park is free.
Accommodation in Toroko National Park
It is ideal to spend at least one night in the park so as to make the most of your visit. This way you get to explore more as well as do things at a gentler pace. There are three types of accommodation you can choose from depending on your budget and the kind of experience you want to have.
Silks Palace Hotel (photos belong to Silks Palace Hotel)
Offering uninterrupted views of the surrounding greenery, Silks Place Hotel is designed in a modern Chinese style, combining Taroko’s cultural and environmental characteristics and is the only five-star hotel that is located within the Taroko National Park in Hualien County. The hotel is an hour’s drive from Hualien’s city center and the Hualien Train Station. Hualien Airport is about an hour’s drive away.
Contact Details: +886-3-869-1155 / email@example.com
Taroko Village Hotel (photos belong to Taroko Village Hotel)
Located within the park, this rustic hotel has about 25 wooden cabin style suites that are set against the backdrop of the greenest of mountains. You can truly feel one with nature in the midst of these beautiful surroundings. The Swallow Grotto trail is approximately 0.7 km from Taroko Village Hotel, while Eternal Spring Shrine is 10 km away both of which happen to be famous spots in the park. This hotel is also halal certified.
Contact Details: +886-3-861-0111
Taroko Tienhsiang Youth Activity Center (photos belong to Taroko Tienhsiang)
If you are on a budget, this hostel is the place for you. The Tienhsiang center is situated inside Taroko National Park, 45km away from Hualien. The hotel can accommodate up to 220 guests in total. They also have a restaurant, a social hall, a recreation room, and a coffee house ensuring their guests will be comfortable during their stay.
Contact Details: +886-3-869-1111 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Getting to Taroko National Park
You have three options to get to Taroko National Park. We were in a car since we had a guided tour for the entire journey which in my opinion is probably your best bet. You are free to do things at your own pace and have someone explain the history and significance of everything around you. However, if you are pressed for time you can go by bus, train or catch a flight.
- Taipei to Hualien by train: this is probably the most convenient and affordable way to get to Hualien and it takes about three hours and a one-way ticket costs approximately 10-15USD.
- Taipei to Hualien by plane: if time is not on your side, then you can fly from Taipei to Hualien. It takes about an hour and a return ticket on Uni Airways costs about USD60 depending when you are traveling.
- Taipei to Hualien by road: you can drive from Taipei to Hualien, which is what we did, however, we broke the journey up over a couple of days. It takes about 3 or so hours. You can also take a one day guided tour bus from Taipei to Hualien especially if you are on a budget and strapped for time.
We flew back to Taipei city and did some last-minute shopping, sightseeing and of course had some last-minute fabulous food before heading to the airport for our flight back to Dubai.
A big thank you to the Taiwan Tourism Bureau for inviting me on this trip. Taiwan has exceeded all my expectations and this experience was fabulous. There is still so much left to see and I will definitely be making a trip back there very soon.
If you have any questions, write them in the comment section below and I’d be more than happy to answer them!
Time of travel: We traveled from 15th November to 21st November.
Weather: We were very lucky with the weather during our trip. Winter has quite a bit of rainfall so do plan accordingly. Carry warm clothing if you are traveling to the mountains. It can get a tad cold.
Getting to Taiwan: Plenty of flight options available. We flew from Dubai to Taipei on Emirates Airlines.
Visa: All the information is available on https://www.boca.gov.tw/mp-2.html