Why you should travel to Taiwan at least once in your life
Why Taiwan? The phrase made its way to me way too many times, as my travel plan to this island on the southeast coast of China became a public knowledge. After spending seven days in the traditional-meets-modern environs of Taiwan, my answer would simply be, why not!
After flight-hopping from Hong Kong, we dived straight into the western side of central Taiwan, Taichung City. The rapidly expanding industrial city of Taichung didnt take long to acquaint us with its lush green mountainous landscape, rice cultivations next to busy city roads, highways and industrial set ups. A couple of hours on the road and the bus pulled into a flora and fauna heaven of sorts, The Tai Yi Red Maple Resorts in Puli.
FIND YOUR DIET
Just before sunset, our tired beings were refreshed by a strawberry picking session. With a box full of with fresh ripe fruits of our labour, a lot of us had strawberries and cream in our minds, but the bodies wanted to rest.
Enter the hot springs and mind you, they are a major thing in Taiwan and your options arent limited to the very public, naturally occurring springs but the ones available en suite in the finest resorts of Taiwan, like ours.
The food, although is a challenge. If youre a vegetarian or happen to have food allergies like me, ask for monk food. Also, the Taiwanese eat rather early in the in evening, as early as 8.
My diet in Taiwan consisted of sticky rice (with added salt), bananas from the convenience stores, bread and boiled veggies. Apart from a hard-to-point, pungent ingredient common to all food, you do come back with appreciation for what the Taiwanese do with flowers, vegetables, plants and their yummy fire woks. Stinky Tofu can be avoided but a taste of the Bubble Tea is a must!
NATURE & LEISURE
The real experience of Taiwan actually began for me next morning as I looked at the beautiful hills wrapped in thick clouds, while sipping local drip coffee.
There were a couple of occasions when Taiwan truly bowled me over and while most of these moments were about the captivating natural beauty of this state, the rest had to do with their upkeep of public spaces.
That thought was reiterated, as I stood below a lush gathering of cherry blossom tress (of three different varieties) at the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, that has plenty of options for both thrill and adventure buffs. While some of us deep dived from a UFO-themed suspended roller coaster that does a 100-feet act, others decided to try their hand at making (read beating) the sticky rice.
The wow moment of the day belonged to the glass bottomed cable car ride through Formosan that leads right up to perfect birds eye view of the Sun & Moon Lake. The crystal cable ride was worth every muffled scream, as was the cruise on the emerald waters of the famous lake, that on one side mimic Chinese symbols of the sun and the moon.
FABULOUS PUBLIC SPACES
Case in point, the majestic Southern branch of the National Palace Museum in Chiayi County. Encircled by a lake, the museum is a modern structure in black and silver that showcases the cross-pollination of various Asian cultures. One of their permanent exhibitions, The Imprints of Buddhas, in particular caught my attention. The showcase included interesting Buddhist and Indian artifacts collected from across Asia. In Bantou Pottery Village, we got a chance to closely inspect an intricate art form, Koji/Jiao Zhi pottery (that adorns local temples) which is as complicated as its beautiful.
Qigu Salt Mountain that stands about six stories tall, is another wonder. A small chu-chu train running between the exhibition area and the mountain gives you a tour of sample salt fields. The Salt Mountain coffee and ice-cream served here are absolutely delicious.
Theres also some interesting salt based merchandise available at the premises. The Ten Drum Ciatou Creative Park, was a defunct complex remodelled by the Grammy nominated music outfit called Ten Drums Art Percussion group around 2011, who initially used space to practice. Today, the place has got a new lease of life thanks to the groups remodelling efforts, live performances and showcase of Asian percussion instruments.
Taiwan celebrates the lantern festival in different ways across the country, with fireworks, sky lanterns and tech. The main festival was held in Chiayi County this year and while we did see a token numbers of traditional lanterns in the sky, the real deal was a tech fest with mammoth LED fuelled thematic installations or electro-lanterns, in various shapes of cultural significance along with a beautifully orchestrated, grand event presented on water, land and air.
SLICE OF SPIRITUALITY
In the last leg of our trip, we visited the grand and picturesque Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum which is spread across 300 acres. Home to one of the tallest bronze sitting Buddha statues, this is also one of the largest Buddhist temples in Taiwan. Within its premises, youll find various Asian influences along with a museum, temple, library, other congressional spaces and a Buddhist restaurant called Hi-Lai, were I had my best meal in Taiwan.
Our last evening here was spent cruising across The Love River. This narrow river is surrounded by bike paths and walkways along with a whole lot of eateries. An octogenarian sang the Chinese equivalent to a love ballad as we made our way to love bridge, bathed in psychedelic lights-à la Paris. Its a great way to view the city.
Our last stop in Taiwan was Kaohsiungs Pier 2 Artzone where abandoned warehouses and an out of use train line have found a new lease of life in art. It makes use of reclaimed land and materials of the years gone by, turning them into appealing installations. Asias best kept secret after all, is also a shutterbugs dream destination.