Often overlooked, Taiwan is a small island with big things to offer. Diverse, charming and always authentic, this little hub of Asian splendour is just as alluring as its lofty next door neighbour, China.
Taipei, the gateway to Taiwan. And with Air New Zealand now operating non-stop flights between Auckland and this culturally breath-taking city, ask us about their best flights.
1. Rich history
Over the centuries many diverse cultures have inhabited Taiwan, including the Indigenous Taiwanese, Dutch, Spanish, Japanese, and Han Chinese. Take a closer look at historic influences such as Fort Santo Domingo in in Xinbei, built in 1629 by the Spanish and a beautiful spot for an afternoon picnic. Fort Zeelandia was built in the 17th century by the Dutch and The Chimei Museum offers a clear example of European-influenced architecture. In Taipei, the National Palace Museum is home to an extensive collection of Chinese imperial artefacts.
2. Taiwanese food
Go in search of Taiwanese street food. Night markets are hugely popular but Shilin Night Market is by far one of the most famous, and you won’t get a better selection. The Taiwanese also take their beef noodle soup very seriously, so much so, there’s even a national beef noodle festival. The discerning foodie should head to the luxurious W Taipei for an upmarket broth complete with stunning skyline views. We have Taiwan to thank for gua bao (steamed pork belly sandwich), bubble tea and xiaolongbao (steamed dumplings). Din Tai Fung is a chain restaurant arguably serving the world’s best xiaolongbao. Find the original eatery on XinYi Road, Taipei.
3. Baseball matches
Introduced in Taiwan more than 100 years ago by Japanese occupiers, and the nearest thing to a national sport, the Taiwanese go gaga for baseball. The country’s Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) is the most popular top-tier baseball league to follow in Taiwan. Try and catch a game because it’s fun to watch and a great cultural experience. Xinzhuang Baseball Stadium in New Taipei City is a good place to experience a packed-out game. The island’s most popular team, the Chinatrust Brothers easily attract 10,000 plus fans every time they play here, and as you can imagine, the atmosphere is electric.
4. Water attractions
Sun Moon Lake is a beautiful destination for a short getaway. A huge body of water fringed by hotels, its sedentary atmosphere makes for a relaxing city escape. The archipelago of Penghu boasts tropical sands and plenty of beaches reachable via boats accessing the islands. It’s also a must for seafood lovers. Yangmingshan National Park is just a short bus ride from Taipei and features plentiful hot springs. Make sure you go to Xiaoyoukeng and see the geysers. For drop dead gorgeous beaches, Okinawa Island is the largest of the Japanese Okinawa Islands but closer to Taiwan than Japan, while Kenting National Park is home to stunning waterfalls but it’s the golden beaches near Kenting Street that are unmissable.
5. Movie highlights
For fans of Hayao Miyazaki anime (and who isn’t?) the Taiwanese town of Jiufen inspired the labyrinth town in Miyazaki's cult-movie, Spirited Away. The narrow streets, stairs and red lanterns are all found in the animation, with the town’s Grand Tea House supposedly influencing the film’s focal bathhouse. Then there’s Kenting National Park. If you’ve ever watched The Life of Pi, the deserted white-sand beach of tropical Mexico is actually Kenting Beach. Just 500m in length, you can visit the bay on the park’s west side. Enjoy fine swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving. It’s an exotic paradise and quite possibly Taiwan’s best-kept secret.
6. Rainbow Village
Rainbow Village is a former ex-military village, built hastily and cheaply decades prior. It is also the artist’s palette of local man, Huang Yung-Fu. He felt the village was too drab and has spent years painting hundreds of animals, dolls, airplanes and manga characters across the walls and alleys. It’s free to visit and there’s even a small souvenir shop run by Rainbow Grandpa’s (as he’s now affectionately known) grandson.
7. Native Taiwanese townships
Taiwan is also scattered with indigenous Austronesian tribes. A small island off the country’s southeastern coast is home to the most remotely located indigenous tribe: The Tao. On Taiwan’s east coast, the largest concentrations of indigenous tribes is found in Taitung and every summer, they hold the Festival of Austronesian and Formosa Indigenous Cultures. Swing by Dulan Sugar Factory Café in Taitung City for traditional and contemporary indigenous music, played live by indigenous singers who instigate impromptu jam sessions. Visitors are welcome to join in.