By Juanico Fernandez
Taiwan for me is easily one of my favorite destinations in Asia. It has that distinct look and feels to it that reminds me of Hong Kong and Japan combined, yet it still manages to stand out among its Asian neighbors.
I remember visiting this tiny island nation that has a little bit of everything, from mountainous landscapes and beautiful beaches to a sprawling nightlife in the metropolis. Not to mention the incredible people you’ll meet along the way that makes Taiwan the perfect travel destination for Filipinos.
If you plan on visiting Taiwan but isn’t sure where to start or where to go, don’t worry–I’ve created a guide that will take you on a journey from capital city Taipei in the north all the way down to Kaohsiung City in the south.
Like all great civilizations, Taiwan started its life as a small fishing village which then quickly evolved into one of the strongest economies in Asia. Fast forward to today that small fishing village has turned itself into one of the most advanced cities in Asia.
Taipei is Taiwan’s capital city in the north and is also the heart and soul of Taiwan. But around Taipei, there are many other undiscovered cities in the south like Kaohsiung, Tainan, and Taichung.
Luckily most of these towns are easily accessible by Taiwan’s state-of-the-art High-speed train that connects most big cities in the east. This advance high speed train serves as a vital link that connects the rural part of Taiwan to most of its urbanized cities and it does this effectively and efficiently.
Join me as we discover the best things do and see in Taipei before heading down south for a more cultural experience.
TAIPEI: Din Tai Fun, Taipei 101, Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, See-Join Puppet Show, Night Market
First stop in our north Taiwan tour is Taipei 101. Once hailed as the #1 tallest building with its 101 floors, this engineering marvel is now the 10th tallest skyscraper in the world. In 2004, it even won the Guinness World Record for the world’s fastest high-speed pressurized elevator with a top speed of 1,010 meters per minute. That means it only takes 37 seconds from the 5th floor all the way up to the 89th floor.
Inside the Taipei 101, you also get to visit the world’s biggest Mass Damper that’s suspended from the 92nd to the 87th floor and weights 728 tons. This massive steel ball acts as a giant pendulum that sways to counteract the building’s movement caused by strong winds and earthquakes that are common in the country.
A lot of people have been asking me if it was worth paying NT$600 just to go up and have an excellent view of the city, and my answer is 100% YES! But only if the weather is clear, I feel that visiting Taiwan would not be complete if you did not go up the Taipei 101, at least once. There are a lot of things to learn and do while you’re up there and I think the best time to visit is at around 5-6pm to catch the sunset.
Read More about Taipei 101: https://www.ourawesomeplanet.com/taipei101
We’ve all heard about the Legendary Xiao Long Bao (steamed dumpling) in Taiwan that a lot of Pinoy foodies are raving about. Established in 1974, Din Tai Fung was among the “Top 10 Restaurants of the World” by New York times and was awarded One Michelin star three times in its branch in Hong Kong.
You can decide to eat at the Din Tai Fung inside the Taipei 101 Mall branch to make it convenient to go to Taipei 101 observatory after lunch. We’ve been told that the waiting can vary from 30 minutes up to 2 hours depending on the day and timeslot, so be sure account for that in your itinerary.
A must-try and my personal favorite is the oozing Chocolate Lava Xiao Long Bao. I love eating it in one bite to enjoy the liquid chocolate with a sticky bite from the Xiao Long Bao skin. As always, best eaten while hot.
Read More about Din Tai Fung: https://www.ourawesomeplanet.com/dintaifung
A visit to Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall is a must for any tourist to understand the culture and colorful history of Taiwan. The Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall is the most prominent historical landmark in Taiwan. It was built as a tribute to the founder of Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek. It opened in 1980, four years after his death in 1975.
The iconic ceremonial changing of the guard happens every hour and the best time to go is around 10am on a weekday. The guard duty rotates among members of the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Military Police and lasts for about 15 mins. Be sure to reserve your spot at the center as early as you can for the best view of the ceremony.
The entrance is free inside this huge picture perfect place, and it requires lots of walking to get around.There is also a museum below the hall that documents Chiang’s life and career, as well as exhibits about Taiwan’s history. They say the best time to visit is around March when cherry trees bloom all over the memorial.
Read More about Chiang Kai Shek Memorial: https://www.ourawesomeplanet.com/chiangkaishekmemorial
Hand puppet shows have been performed for over a hundred of years all over Taiwan, and it is no doubt a big part of their culture. But in this new age of technology, this age-old tradition is slowly fading, and there are only a bunch of places left in Taipei where you can enjoy this traditional performance.
Like the “See-join puppet theater restaurant,” a small hidden gem tucked away in a small street in Nanjing Road, Taipei. This 2-in-1 theater and restaurant is a one-stop shop for locals and tourists who want to have a good laugh while enjoying their dinner with the family. The whole show lasted for about an hour, and we had good laughs all throughout.
The owner/puppeteer also narrated the story quite well in English, which was a big plus because Taiwan isn’t that English-friendly. We genuinely enjoyed the overall vibe of the place and the interesting history and story behind this ancient craft. And honestly, at first I didn’t expect myself to enjoy it because I was never a fan of stage performances, but as it turns out, it was the most enjoyable thing that we did during our Taiwan trip.
No trip to Taiwan is complete without a visit to one of their Night Markets. Taiwan has many night markets, and Raohe is just one of the notable ones, others being Ximending and Shilin night market.
Night markets are the life and blood of Taiwan, and if you don’t know what a night market is, they are pedestrian friendly streets packed with tourists and locals. They only open at night and the main aisle would mostly be filled with cheap food and shops as far as your eyes can see.
And of course we’ve all heard about it.. the Notorious Chinese stinky tofu from Taipei (and we could smell it from a mile a way too). It has often been described as the “Worst smelling food on the planet.” Some even say that you only need to follow your nose to be able to tell where it is because of its repulsive canal smell.
So.. Is it really that bad? YES, if you are referring to the stench it gives out. But the popular fermented tofu tells an entirely different story with its flavorful taste, that is if you can get past the smell. And to be honest, the stinky tofu is actually quite delicious. Definitely a must “smell” when it’s your first time in Taipei.
They sell just about everything you can imagine, from the latest fashion clothes, accessories, and gadgets, to souvenirs and mouthwatering street food. Like this famous stinky tofu, which you could smell from a mile away.
Most Night markets are open from 5pm up to 2am in the morning, and in my opinion, they are the perfect place to start and end your Taiwan trip. But night markets aren’t just all about food and shopping–they also offer a peek into Taiwan’s culture, lifestyle, and people. Night markets like Raohe are something that are uniquely Taiwanese and visiting one might just give you a whole new perspective of what traveling is for you.
Just 1 hour away from Taipei City, Shifen Old Street is one of the most famous day-tour attractions outside Taipei. Originally built as a train station to transport coal, this small picturesque town is now famous for its Sky Lanterns.
Built around a still functioning old Rail Station high up in the mountains, the place provides tourists with the opportunity to write down their wishes and release sky lanterns all day long for only NT$100 to 200. Back in the day, it is believed that writing your wishes on Sky lanterns would carry your prayers to the sky.
Another cool thing about Shifen is its railway. If you wait long enough, you might catch a glimpse of a train running right through the old street. Also, shopping here is perfect if you plan on buying souvenirs for your friends and families back home.
Read More about Sky Lantern: https://www.ourawesomeplanet.com/skylantern
Located just 20 mins away from Sky Lanterns, Shifen is also home to the famous Shifen Waterfalls also known as the Niagra Falls of Taiwan. Although much smaller than the actual Niagra Falls, the scenic waterfall itself looks like a scene out of an old traditional Chinese painting.
Entrance is free, but before you reach the waterfalls, you first have to hike down several paved walkways and pass through a creaky suspension bridge that was also used to transport coal back in the day. The hike was fairly easy, and the surroundings certainly made it feel like a walk in the park, plus you could hear the sound of the soothing waterfall from a mile away.
We spent almost an hour at Shifen Waterfall, and along the way, there were a bunch of souvenir shops, food stalls, and scenic resting spots.
I’ve fallen in love with Jiufen, an old mining town in the Northeast Mountains of New Taipei City that is now home to artist shops, authentic tea houses, and yummy artisan stalls.
The 100-year old A-Mei Tea House in Jiufen inspired the Japanese anime Spirited Away, which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards in 2003 and is regarded as one of the greatest animated films of all time.
I just love the playful stairs and graffiti, Chinese characters, and Japanese-Chinese feel of the whole town. Jiufen is now my favorite place in Taiwan, and I can’t wait to go back…
Read More about Jiufen: https://www.ourawesomeplanet.com/jiufen
Overall, Taipei is an awesome city, and there are much more undiscovered places to visit. It certainly is different from most of its neighboring countries and has definitely something special to offer.
TAICHUNG: Zhong She Guangguang Flower Market, Chun Shui Tang Cultural Tea, Rainbow Military Housing
Everywhere you go you see them all over the place (even in the Philippines). But did you know that the first ever Milk Tea or bubble tea was invented in Taichung in the 1980s? Now, this popular Taiwanese drink has overtaken Starbucks in Taiwan and is in the process of taking over the world, and people are going crazy about it.
The first and original milk tea shop Chun Shui Tan can be found in Taichung. In Taiwan, there are many varieties of bubble tea recipes, but it always boils down to either milk based or fruit flavored. But the classic and most popular one that you should try will alway have the chewy tapioca balls and Ice-blended slushy consistency.
Located in the west-central part of Taiwan, Taichung always enjoys great climate all year round compared to Taipei in the north and Kaohsiung in the south. This makes Taichung the perfect place to grow most of the local flowers, hence the main draw for tourist in Taichung is the Zhong She Guangguang Flower Market.
And if this place looks familiar its probably because this is where they shot some scenes of the F4 in Meteor Garden. A very popular taiwanese TV show that exploded in popularity in the Philippines.
Another scenic place worth visiting in Taichung is the You Jian Yi Chui Yan Restaurant. A Chinese-Japanese themed restaurant with a wonderful view.
This Japanese looking restaurant is located high up in the mountains and offers classic Chinese food served in a very Japanese way.
During my visit I had a chance to try the Red Horse Head Fish. A local fish only found in the north east coast of Taiwan. This surprisingly salty fish had edible scales and is normally served with cucumbers and grapefruit.
Also located in Taichung is the iconic Rainbow Village which used to be an old housing development for retired soldiers. The buildings were then hand-painted with colorful murals featuring cute drawings of children and doodles, saving it from imminent demolition.
The Rainbow village was saved from demolition thanks to its last living resident, A 93-year-old man who now turned the village into a tourist attraction and a proud icon of the city.
Compared to Taipei and Kaohsiung if find that Taichung is a really quiet and slow paced city which is good thing if you want to escape big crowded cities. And being located in the center Taiwan, Taichung makes for a perfect stop over for your island adventure.
TAINAN: Anping Tree House, Confucian Temple, Blueprint Cultural & Creative Park , Ten Drums Park
It all began in a small port in the southern part of Taiwan. Tainan is Taiwan’s first international trading port and the original capital city before Taipei. Being the oldest city, Tainan opened a lot of doors to different opportunities at that time.
To be precise, it was at this exact warehouse in Anping district is where it all started. The Anping Tree House was originally a factory that traded and stored salt, a precious ingredient back in the day. Now the Anping old town serves as a living history museum with lots of old and well-preserved houses.
The place has been overgrown by large 200-year-old banyan trees which completely covered the area, making it a spectacular tourist attraction in Tainan.
Being the oldest city, Tainan is also home to the very first Confucian Temple and also the oldest temple in Taiwan. It was built in 1666 and has since gone through 30+ reconstructions. Entry to the temple grounds is free, but you must pay to enter the Confucian Temple building. Inside, you can interact with century old scriptures and instrument that date back hundreds of years ago.
Upon entering, the whole place exudes this calm and peaceful vibe that remains true to its traditional Chinese roots. And despite its age, the temple still holds on to century old books, scriptures and musical instruments that are still kept for tourists to enjoy.
With all these old buildings and history, one may think that Tainan is just an old and rusty city, but in fact, Tainan is the perfect example of old meets new. This modern day city is also a haven for the younger generation, where modern art meets creativity and technology.
One good example is the Blueprint Cultural and Creative Park. A hip and creative destination within the city with lots of art installations, graffiti’s and shops that sell unique items.
The place started as a collaboration between the local government and a group of artist to turn an abandoned Japanese dormitory into something that the younger creative minds can enjoy. The small alleys and picturesque shop houses are perfect destinations for photography enthusiast and is a heaven for Instagram OOTD’s.
Another creative place you could visit while in Tainan is the Ten Drum’s Culture and Creative Park. Located just a few minutes away from busy city, Ten Drums used to be abandoned factory utilized by the Japanese back in the old day. Now they have converted the massive factory into a cultural and activity park.
The park is huge and requires at least half a day to explore, and because it was built inside an old factory building, it certainly has that distinct “steampunk” look. I really like what they did with the interior because the place looks like a scene out of a Hollywood movie.
There are a lot of things you could do inside the retrofitted buildings, like rappelling of a steep wall or sliding down an extremely high indoor slide. Aside from the activities, tourist can also explore the abandoned factory and enjoy the impressive scenery as well as a couple of restaurants, playgrounds, souvenir shops and museums.
Lastly, don’t forget to watch the leading performance of Ten Drums every night. The performance runs for about an hour and showcases various percussion instruments along with carefully crafted story telling.
So if you are the kind of traveler who prefers to visit historical and cultural sites and want to immerse into a local community, then Tainan is the perfect place to visit.
KAOHSIUNG: Hakka Cuisine, Nihgt Market, Formosa Station, DIY Pineapple Picking, Fo Guan Shan Monastery
Further down south right after Tainan is Kaohsiung City, the last train stop in Taiwan’s high-speed rail system. Kaohsiung is Taiwan’s 2nd largest city after Taipei and is also the biggest port city in Taiwan. Often overlooked by tourist, Kaohsiung city is a melting pot of different cuisines and culture.
Hakka cuisine, for instance, is an ancient Chinese cooking style from mainland China that found its way into Kaohsiung. The word Hakka in Chinese translates to Guest and Home and is what Kaohsiung actually feels like, Home.
What I love about Hakka cuisine is its simple flavors which reminds me of home cooked food. Most Hakka dishes are usually salty like my favorite Gua Pao (Chinese Burgers) served with Taiwanese pickle and peanut powder.
Aside from food, Kaohsiung is also known for their big night markets (larger than the ones in Taipei) that sell just about everything and anything you can think off.
From various exotic parts to casket shaped bread toasts, Coffin Board is an iconic Taiwanese snack that is made to look like a coffin/casket with either chicken, beef or shrimp fillings.
Thankfully, Kaohsiung city is commuter friendly for tourist even at night which makes getting around much more convenient. Not to mention Kaohsiung has some of the most beautiful train stations in Taiwan.
Like the famous Formosa Boulevard Station. An attraction on its own, this unique underground station was rated second most beautiful subway stop in the world. The whole station lights up at night showcasing the worlds largest glass dome masterpiece that plays a lights show on a regular basis.
Away from the city, another thing that Kaohsiung is famous for is its incredibly sweet pineapples. Probably the best and sweetest Pineapples I have ever tasted in my life. It’s so sweet; it doesn’t even have a single hint of sourness or that itchy after taste like the ones you find in the Philippines.
These pineapples are so famous in Taiwan that even the government promotes DIY pineapple picking on small farms with cash incentives to big tourist groups who would do the activity. Pineapple farms like these are also a good of way interacting with locals and learning more about their culture.
If you have lots of free time, I’d recommend simply walking around small towns around Kaohsiung because they very safe and all the locals are very friendly and eager to eager to interact.
I find that exploring small towns by walking is a great way of immersing yourself into a country’s culture and community. This way you also learn more local knowledge that you otherwise won’t learn from your guides or brochures.
For example, while strolling, I found out that most old Taiwanese structures make use of red clay bricks that are found all over Taiwan. They use these sturdy bricks to counter strong winds and heavy rains, they even use the bricks to decorate most of their buildings that still stand up to this date.
Aside from Red bricks, the Taiwanese are also fond of their silky smooth white porcelain that are often shipped for export. We visited this porcelain museum/restaurant around Kaohsiung and admired these beautiful creations.
One thing in particular that caught my eye inside the 1300 Museum is this intricate porcelain and gold statue of the great sage that costs NT$3,150,000 or P5.5 million pesos.
Another thing that will surely catch your eye is the 100 hectare Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum, that is about the size of 100 international rugby fields. They say it’s so big that you’ll need at least three days to explore the temple grounds and the eight pagodas entirely.
Established in 2011, The Fo Guang Shan was built for posterity and for the hearts and minds of anyone who wishes to visit. Entrance is free for the public grounds.
According to the Venerable Master Hsing Yun, as long as there is someone who needs it, that person can come to it regardless of any religion. The monastery has been an icon in Taiwan both cultural and educational wherein anyone can enter and explore the monastery.
“Some say it is a miracle, but miracles do not happen by chance” Sitting at the end overlooking the whole monastery, the Buddha museum itself was built as an illustration of the Buddha’s teaching and was designed entirely from the visitor’s point of view.
Overall, I enjoyed exploring the southern part of Taiwan. Going to all these historical places certainly made it feel like traveling back through time. Visiting small towns, ancient temples and little farms certainly opened up a different perspective on what Taiwan is to me.
And while everyone is busy planning their trips to Japan and Korea along with thousands of other tourists, Filipinos are missing out on what Taiwan has to offer, especially being just 1 hour and 30 minutes away from Manila. Taiwan remains relatively unknown to most Filipinos, despite them being our closest neighbor
Aside from Taipei, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung, there are much more things to do and explore in Taiwan, so if you plan on staying longer, be sure to visit the western part of Taiwan next outdoor and adventure rich experience.
Book your flights with Eva Air, Taiwan’s official aircraft carrier and enjoy the best rates to and from Taipei. You also get to enjoy the exclusive Eva Air lounge and the Hello kitty Theme plane on selected airports.
Live an Awesome Life,
NICO of Team Our Awesome Planet
Disclosure: Out Taiwan trip was courtesy TECO (Taipei Economic Cultural Office) and Eva Air. I wrote this article with my biases, opinions, and insights.
Ps: Taiwan’s Visa free policy for Filipinos will be announced sometime this October 2017. In the meantime, existing Japanese and Korean Visa holders can apply for a free travel authorization certificate on their website.