Friday, 14 September 2018

Travel | 7 Unmissable Experiences in Taiwan

South-east Asia is undoubtedly the most popular holidaying region for Indians travelling overseas. The accessibility, reasonable airfares and hotel tariffs, wonderful hospitality, food to suit all types of palates, pulsating nightlife, rejuvenating spa properties, and scenic beauty coupled with an international vibe are some of the factors that contribute to this popularity. Many urban Indians have enjoyed multiple trips to Thailand, had their share of thrills at Hong Kong Disneyland and Universal Studios in Singapore, partied Vegas-style in Macau, imbibed the spiritual energy of Bali, bummed on the pristine beaches of the Philippines and Malaysia, and explored the emerald isle closest to home – Sri Lanka. What’s next? Taiwan!

On a recent trip to Taiwan, we were happy to discover a wonderful mix of experiences that this island nation offers. From European-style museums to an interesting choice of reverberating beats for music buffs, eco-leisure resorts for nature lovers and adrenaline pumping activities for adventure enthusiasts there is literally something for everyone! Here is our pick of seven unmissable experiences in Taiwan. We have deliberately steered clear of Taipei; besides being the capital, it is the most frequented city in Taiwan. Read on to know about the hidden gems.

Sun Moon Lake

1. Enjoy the Sun Moon Lake
The Sun Moon Lake was easily the most scenic spot on our itinerary. The turquoise-hued water body surrounded by mountains is known for its unique shape: the indentations form the Chinese symbol of sun on one side and a crescent moon on the other, hence the name. It is also the most important source of hydroelectric power in the heart of Taiwan.
We enjoyed a bird’s eye view of the Lake from a glass-bottomed cable car (www.ropeway.com.tw) that went up to the highest point in the nearby mountain. To appreciate the clear water up close, take a boat cruise from one of the three wharfs - Shueishe Wharf, Itashao Wharf or Xuanguang Wharf. Boats leave every 10 minutes from 9am to 5pm, and the whole trip takes around 1.5 hours. Tickets can be bought at the wharfs or in your hotel. Another way to enjoy the idyllic surroundings is by cycling along the dedicated track around the lake. But if we were to pick our favourite: check in at the luxe Fleur de Chine Hotel (www.fleurdechinehotel.com) and take in the 270-degree vista of the lake at sunset from the Sky Lounge at the rooftop.

Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum

2. Explore the Museums
We have to admit, we were very impressed with the museums that we visited in Taiwan. The Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum (south.npm.gov.tw) is a chic complex in Taibao city, based in the southwestern county of Chiayi. Set by the bank of a man-made lake, the NPMSB compound is divided into a fluid space for display and archival purposes. This museum makes for a fascinating exploration of the cornerstones of Asian cultures, such as textiles, ceramics and tea. While most of the items on display were produced by Chinese kingdoms and dynasties or nearby kingdoms, it is interesting to note that the intermingling of Chinese, Indian and Persian heritage, especially along the Silk Route led to an inimitable amalgamation art, products and even lifestyle.
The Chi Mei Museum (www.chimeimuseum.org), in Tainan is more European in look and style. Even the art on display, from the temporary exhibition of the exemplary Dutch artist, Henk Helmantel to an entire hall dedicated to the celebrated French sculptor, Rodin, is likely to transport you to a different continent altogether! And after you check out the Mechanical Musicians exhibition and demonstration do sit down for a high tea (again, a European concept) at the museum cafĂ©.

Chi Mei Museum

3. Move to the Music
The Ten Drum Ciaotou Creative Park is the funkiest space ever! A former sugar factory, it is now is run by the Ten Drum Percussion Group. This award-winning group has won prestigious accolades including a nomination for the Grammy Best World Album Award and the American Independent Music Awards World Traditional Music Award, so expect to be enthralled with the fantastic performance on drums in an industrial-style space that is as fascinating as the music. While the remnants of the sugar factory, like the molasses tanks make for interesting backdrops, the walkways through the three or four stories high massive machinery make this an innovative cultural park where industrial heritage meets the arts, with concerts, workshops, artist residencies.


Tai Yi Red Maple Resort

4. Stay at an Eco-Leisure Resort
The Tai Yi Red Maple Resort (taiifarm.com) is a good choice for many reasons. About an hour and half by road from Taichung international airport, it is nestled amidst lush greenery. Every room has an en suite bathroom that gets hot spring water, making it a private haven for a relaxing, mineral-rich soak. This resort takes it flower power very seriously which means that not only can you enjoy gazing at the vibrant-hued blossoms all over the resort, you can even eat some of them. Try the garden salad at dinner or enjoy the freshly plucked edible flowers for breakfast with a little drizzle of honey.

5. Visit the Night Markets
Every city has its own night markets on fixed days of the week. Check with your hotel concierge for the one closest to your location, or even a quick internet search will throw up the names of the popular ones. If possible, we recommend you to check prior to reaching so that you can plan your schedule according to your interest, since, some night markets are all about street food while others are more popular for shopping.
Our experience with night markets in the cities of Tainan and Kaohsiung was that you could get an incredible array of Taiwanese street food – everything from freshly grilled oysters, hearty broths, and decadent desserts. Going by the number of people at almost every stall one could gauge that the food is authentic and delicious. And no, it’s not all about the edible creepy-crawlies. If you have a sweet tooth do not miss fresh strawberries dipped in a candy mix that hardens within seconds making it the most delicious fruit on a stick.
If you’re interested in shopping, most of the stalls have high-quality Korean products like bags, clothes, shoes, jewellery and accessories. And, if you like bargaining, rest assured that this is as good as it gets! Taiwanese people are the sweetest and the politest people to bargain with – most of the time they simply agreed to the lower price that we quoted or politely refused.  

6. Take an Evening Cruise in Kaohsiung
A unique way to enjoy the bustling city of Kaohsiung is via a boat cruise down Love River. This romantic experience takes you under brightly lit bridges and is inspired from the Parisian cruises. As the evening lights twinkle from Kaohsiung’s high-rise buildings, charming musicians at Love Pier will also serenade you like their French counterparts.

Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum

7. Soak in some Positive Vibes
Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum (www.fgsbmc.org.tw) in Kaohsiung is not only a religious monastery but also an educational and cultural center for locals and visitors. The vast complex hosts one of three sacred tooth relics of Sakyamuni Buddha, and also the tallest sitting bronze Buddha in the world - the Fo Guang Big Buddha. As we are guided through the complex, the heavenly scene of eight pagodas, representing the Noble Eightfold Path, towering into a clear blue sky with white, foamy clouds gliding across gets etched in our heart forever. 




Getting There:
Flights: Cathay Pacific, Thai Airways, Malaysia Airlines and Garuda Indonesia are some of the airlines that fly from Delhi and Mumbai to Taipei, with one stop en route.
Time Difference: Taiwan is 2.5 hours ahead of Delhi.

Exchange Rate: 1 New Taiwan Dollar (TWD) is approximately Rs 2.11.

A version of this article first appeared on IndiaToday.in on May 3, 2018.

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