For a relatively small island nation, Taiwan has a lot to offer. Great food, kind locals (the East Asian island recently placed top in a survey looking at the friendliest place for expats), culture, big cities and calm retreats are all on offer. So just where in Taiwan should you go? Here are five of Travel Daily’s favourites.
You want: The best views of a big city
Try: Seeing Taipei from above
Why: Taiwan’s capital holds around 2.7 million residents, so it’s no surprise that every street corner buzzes with the chaos of a big city. See swaths of it from Taipei 101 Tower, a skyscraper with a viewing platform over Taipei’s sights. A shopping mall with global luxury brands and smaller market stalls fills up the lower floors.
If you visit in the evening, stop by Din Tai Fung restaurant to try authentic xiao long baos, a stuffed steamed bun. Dipped first in vinegar, then nibbled carefully to release the oils, the xiao long bao is an eating experience not to be missed. Din Tai Fung does it well. Then head on up the tower to watch Taipei sparkling at night. There’s an outdoor terrace with fairly limited views but fresh air, and an indoor enclosed area with floor-to-ceiling windows. As you walk out, leave extra time to explore the buyable beauties in the coral exhibit.
You want: A beautiful bit of culture
Try: The Chimei Museum in Tainan
Why: Historic Tainan, the oldest city in Taiwan and once the island’s capital, is a great place to experience arts and culture. Dive into it all at Chimei Museum. Established in the 1990s, this museum presents a grand European-inspired facade with gushing fountains and an imposing, statue-lined bridge.
Inside you’ll find everything from a large collection of ancient instruments to Western arts. Rodin’s pieces play a featured role. There are also modern temporary exhibits that require an extra ticket, so it’s worth checking what’s on before you go.
You want: Quirky served with a grain of salt
Try: The Salt Mountain in Qigu
Why: For 338 years, Taiwan was a powerhouse of solar salt production. This process involved using salt fields and sun to draw salt from the sea. But in 2002, owing to changing technologies and labour prices, things ground to a halt.
Fortunately a love of salt is still alive at the fairly quirky Salt Mountain in Qigu. As the name suggests, this kitsch tourist attraction features a stiffened six-story salt mountain. There’s also a tourist train, a giant cat statue, a salt sculpture exhibition hall and rows of greasy food stalls. It’s worth ordering an ice cream topped with — as might be expected — salt. The flavour will leave you wanting water but the novelty’s worth it.
You can then head on to the Jingzaijio tile-paved salt fields. Get there a bit before sunset and try to grab a spot between rows of photographers waiting to catch the changing light. The sight of the sun throwing itself across the low-lying bodies of water truly is beautiful. You can also book a special salt experience where you use salt to make your own soap, or order a coffee with a salty accent. The latter is best avoided.
You want: The great, quiet outdoors
Try: Sun Moon Lake in Nantou County
Why: This lake is beautiful. If you can, rent a cycle from one of the many shops nearby then heading along the paved, manicured path that circles the lake itself. You’ll pass by sights like Wenwu Temple, an elaborately designed temple with ornate lions and delicate wood chime blessings; Xiangshan Visitor Center, an ultra-modern concrete structure; Xuan Zang Temple, which has a fantastic viewing platform; and quite a bit more.
Beyond the sights, by cycling around the lake you will be able to enjoy a Taiwan that tourists don’t often see: one that’s quiet, serene and bustle-free. Finally, if cycling’s not your thing, you can book a ticket to take a simple but pretty boat tour.
You want: A hotel to relax and exhale
Try: Fleur de Chine
Why: Taiwan has a lot of hotels, and quite a few very good ones. Where five-star, luxury-focused Fleur de Chine shines is in its impressive range of facilities. There’s a ‘Water World’ in the hotel’s basement. Spanning 3,000 square metres, this spacious structure includes a hot spring spa, hydrotherapy pool with different jet stations, a proper lap pool with multiple lanes, a sunbathing platform and even a child section. In the latter you’ll find the fairly tempting 15 cm pool filled with colourful floating balls — designed, unfortunately, only for infants. The hotel also has a rock climbing wall, spa and amphitheatre.
As for the 211 rooms, they’re modern and comfortable. A private balcony and hot spring bath tub add that extra bit of luxury. Then there’s the hotel’s view over Sun Moon Lake, all making this retreat well worth a visit.