Taiwan, the Heart of Asia. It is a small, island nation north of the Philippines and is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Known for been a producer of electronic items, there is so much more to Taiwan. Beautiful mountains, deep forests, great wildlife, beautiful temples and plenty to see and do make Taiwan a great destination. Taiwan also has an excellent public transport system making it easy to get around. Here are our Top Ten Places to Visit in Taiwan.
10 – Sun Moon Lake
Sun Moon Lake is the largest lake in Taiwan and is located in Nantou County, the center of the country. It is a beautiful place surrounded by some of Taiwan’s best mountain scenery and as such offers some excellent hiking. The lake is home to the aboriginal Thao tribe who own many of the nearby shops and restaurants. In the center of the lake is an island which is off limits as it is a religious site for the aboriginals.
As well as the natural scenery of the lake, there are a few other attractions to see and do. The first is the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway, a gondola which takes visitors from the lake to the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village. Even if you don’t intend to visit the village, a trip on the ropeway is recommended because of the views you get.
The aforementioned Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village is an excellent theme park containing a culture park about Taiwan’s many aboriginal tribes as well as a number of rides. The Aboriginal village consists of 9 villages, each representing a different native tribe. There are displays on the tribes including examples of architecture, clothing, religion and food. Activities you can take part in are local handicrafts and learning native dances. In the square, throughout the day are performances and shows.
The theme park section is called Amusement Isle and contains a number of thrill rides and roller coasters. This includes a log flume and Taiwan’s largest free fall ride. It is recommended to spend the night at Sun Moon Lake as there is so much to see and do here.
9 – Taichung
Taichung is Taiwan’s third biggest city and is centrally located, easily accessible from Taipei via the High Speed Rail. Most people come to Taichung because of it’s excellent museums and art galleries. The main museums to visit are the huge Museum of Natural Science and the Museum of Fine Arts. The science museum is actually seven museums in one. This includes an earthquake museum, global cultures museum and life sciences museum. The museum has a number of hands-on, interactive displays making it excellent for children. The Fine Arts museum is well regarded with a number of visual displays. It is also popular with children as it has creative workshops and interactive displays. Another museum worth visiting is Taichung winery. This dates back to the Japanese colonial era and is still making wine today. The museum details the history of wine making and the history of the factory itself.
Other places to see in Taichung are Stock 20 a converted railway warehouse now used for art exhibitions and Kaomei Wetland which is a former man-made beach from the Japanese era. It is now popular with nature lovers and bird watching due to the number of rare and migrating birds which can be seen.
8 – Jiufen
Jiufen was a prosperous mining town until the 1950s and it is now one of north Taiwan’s main tourist attractions. It is a lovely town set high in the mountains with stunning views. The old street is full of traditional tea houses, food shops and shops selling such items as masks and ocarinas so is a great place to pick up a gift. Been high the mountains, there are plenty of hiking trails. The most recommended is up Mount Jelong which takes 40 minutes and offers some good views of the nearby city of Keelung.
An unusual activity to do is to visit Chipao Dress Rental and rent some authentic, traditional, Chinese clothes and dresses to wear. Walking around the town taking photos whilst wearing traditional clothes is fun and something unusual to do. For fans of anime, Jiufen was also the inspiration for the town in the Japanese anime movie “Spirited Away”.
Jiufen is easily accessible by bus from Taipei or Keelung.
7 – Tamsui
A historic town to the north of Taipei. It is easy to get too as it is on the red MRT line. There are a number of historic attractions to see which makes it a great destination to visit. The town has two different forts. The first one, Fort San Domingo dates from 1641 and was built by the Dutch. In the 19th century it served as the British Consulate. The second is Hobe Fort and is a coastal fortification from the 1800s. Soldiers from Hobe Fort featured in the Keelung Campaign during the Sino-French War where they halted the French attempted invasion of Tamsui. It is entirely intact.
Other places to visit in Tamsui are the old street lined with traditional food and handicraft shops and Fisherman’s Wharf located on the coast. In addition to exploring the town of Tamsui you can catch a ferry across the river to the town of Bali which has an excellent coastal and riverside bike trail.
6 – Green Island
Green Island is one of Taiwan’s most popular weekend getaways. It is a formal penal colony which is now a major tourist attraction because of it’s breathtaking beauty and great scuba diving spots. The old jail is still standing and is now a museum detailing the island’s past.
The main things to do on Green Island are snorkeling and scuba diving. For snorkeling, there are three designated sites, Chai Kou, Shi Lang and Da Bai Sha. Each of these features walkways to take people past the sharp coral and to the drop off. Each site is great to visit and you can see hundreds of tropical fish. Snorkeling outside of these designated sites is not recommended because of the sharp coral and strong waves. For scuba diving there are a few good tour groups who offer dives. The north is a particularly recommended dive location as it is possible to see the adorable pygmy sea horse among the reefs.
For visitors who don’t wish to swim, there are other reasons to visit. Zhaori Hot Springs are a must and they are one of only three saltwater hot springs in the world. The springs are near the sea and consist of various pools at three different temperatues. Relaxing in the luxurious hot springs is a great way to finish the day. Other activities to do are cycling with a round trip been 19km. There are plenty of cycle paths and walking routes and lot’s on the island to see and explore including a cemetery, temples and a lighthouse.
5 – Train journey to Pingxi
Taiwan has an excellent public transport system with a good rail service. One of the recommended journeys to take on the Taiwan rail is the journey from Taipei to Shifen. This route is recommended not only because it is a nice, relaxing trip which will take you past some beautiful scenery. but because of the stops along route.
The first stop is Ruifang. You need to change trains to the Pingxi line here but it is worth taking time to visit this a former mining town. There is a historic old street and some interesting temples as well as a number of good hiking routes. You can spend a couple of hours exploring this pleasant little town before changing trains and moving on towards Houtong Cat Village.
Houtang Cat Village, as it’s name suggests, is a village full of cats. Hundreds of cats, which can be found lazing around all over this small village and as such it has become a popular tourist attraction. It is a unique experience and well worth a visit for an hour before moving on to the next destination, Shifen.
Shifen is an old town, known for it’s sky lanterns. However, we recommended waiting before releasing one until you get to our next destination. Shifen has an old street and market which runs along the side of the railway tracks. This makes it quite an interesting place to see it. Although the old street is very good, the main reason to stop is to walk to Shifen waterfall, a couple of kilometers outside of town. This waterfall is 40 meter high and the most scenic in Taiwan.
Our final destination is Pingxi. This is another historic town built around a central main street. Pingxi is well preserved containing a number of old shops and wooden houses which were built during the Japanese colonial era. The highlight of your trip to Pingxi however is releasing a sky lantern. This is a great cultural experience. You buy the lantern from a nearby seller, write wishes and prayers on for yourself, friends and family members and then the seller will help you to release it. You stand on the railway tracks and let the lantern go and it is truly a unique experience, making for some great photographs. During Chinese New Year, the town holds its Sky Lantern festival where thousands of people turn up to release lanterns which is a great spectacle. If you can’t make it for new year, have no fear. You can release the lanterns throughout the whole year.
4 – Kinmen Island
An off the beaten track destination, Kinmen Island is an excellent little getaway with cheap, regular flights from Taipei and is located just off the coast of China. It was the sight of the Battle of Guningtou in 1949 where the Chinese attempted to invade. Kinmen was also the site of artillery duels in the 1950s during the First and Second Taiwan Strait crisis. Subsequently, Kinmen was fortified and garrisoned which means it is full of interesting military sites to visit.
A military enthusiast will love a visit to Kinmen. The main military tourist attractions include, Zhaishan Tunnels which is an underground naval base, Guning War Museum which has some excellent information about the battles fought here and Lion Mountain artillery base. You can also see war remnants on various parts of the island such as buildings with scars from bullet holes and tank traps which remain on the beach.
It isn’t just the excellent military sites which make Kinmen a must visit. There is the Kinmen Cultural Village which is an excellent little place with traditional Chinese style houses from the 1800s. There are also temples everywhere in Kinmen, many of which are very beautiful and a day temple touring can be very rewarding. An interesting and unique museum is the Brothel Exhibition Hall which details the seedy past of brothels which appeared on the island to cater to the soldiers garrisoned here.
Flights to Kinmen are regular, inexpensive and easy to book online. There is a nice selection of hotels and guest houses to choose from too.
3 – Kaohsiung
Taiwan’s 2nd biggest city and arguably it’s most beautiful. Kaohsiung lies to the south of the island and can easily be reached via the excellent High Speed Rail. One of the highlights of Kaohsiung is the stunning Lotus Pond. This is a great place to have a bike ride and the pond is surrounded by a number of excellent temples and pagodas, some of which are built on stilts over the water. The best is the Tiger and Dragon pagoda which is designed to resemble a dragon and a tiger.
Another great place to visit is Cijin Island, this slender island is a 5 minute ferry ride away. Again, this is a great place to take a bike ride. On a circular route of the island you will take in the small but pretty lighthouse, Chihou Fort which is a Chinese fort from the 1800s, Tianhou Temple, a fun fish market and a good beach. You can easily spend a full day exploring Cijin.
Near Kaohsiung is the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Memorial Museum. This museum was opened in 2011 and contains a Buddha tooth relic. The site consists of a number of exhibition halls, pagodas and museums. Towering above the site is the 40 meter golden Big Buddha statue.
Other destinations to visit in Kaohsiung include Pier 2 Art District which displays various statues and art works, Shoushan Monkey Mountain where wild monkeys can be seen and 85 Tower, Taiwan’s second tallest building.
2 – Taipei
Taipei is the capital of Taiwan. The city is full of great things to do, things to buy, places to eat and more. From modern buildings to traditional night markets; Taipei has something for everyone so is a must visit if you come to Taiwan. Here some of the best things to see and do in this large, wonderful city.
Taipei 101 is Taipei’s most visited landmark and is the countries tallest building. It was at one point the tallest building in the world and has a viewing platform which offers some great views of the city. The architecture is impressive too with the building’s design been based on bamboo. It cuts a very striking figure, towering above the city. Nearby is the 4 Beasts Mountain hiking trail which offers a number of mountain hikes of varying difficulty. Also nearby is Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall which commemorates Taiwan’s first president.
For people interested in temple’s there are a lot to choose from. The most famous is Longshan Temple where you can take part in religious services and see locals praying to the various gods. Guandu Temple is one of the most impressive, built into the side of a hill and with underground tunnels lined with statues which makes it a fascinating place to visit.
Other must see visit sites in Taipei are Maokong Gondola, one of Asia’s longest cable cars. This takes you up into the mountains where you can get some stunning views. At the top are tea plantations and three, beautiful temples. Have a cup of tea whilst relaxing with some of the nicest views you can get. Chiang-Kai Shek Memorial Hall, the National Palace Museum (the best collection of Chinese art in the world) and Ximen shopping district are other noteworthy sights.
Finally, no trip to Taipei is complete without a visit to a night market. There are a number of these in Taipei, all selling cheap products and great food. The biggest is Shilin Night Market which sells a variety of street food.
1 – Taroko Gorge
Now the number one place to visit in Taiwan. It is an obvious choice and is Taiwan’s most popular tourist destination, Taroko Gorge. The gorge is a 19km long Canyon near the city of Hualien. It has a mix of terrains and relief going from coastal cliffs, subtropical forested canyons to sub-alpine coniferous forests. Within the areas of the gorge lives a host of wildlife including 30 mammal species and nearly 150 species of birds. Entry to the gorge is free. The best way to explore is to hire a private driver for the day in order to see it.
The views throughout the gorges 19 kilometers length are excellent, there are so many Instagram worthy photo opportunities. Along the length of the gorge are some very nice little temples. The Eternal Spring Shrine is partiularly picturesque. It is perched on the side of a mountain with a waterfall cascading down from underneath. Other temples are Hsiang-Te Temple with it’s superb mountain views and Swallow Grotto which is located above a river and gets it’s name from the swallows that nest there.
If you dont’ want to rent a car to explore, you can cycle although the ride is entirely uphill or hike. The best hiking route is Jhuilu Old Trail. Located 700 meters above Swallow Grotto, is is only 90cm wide in places and lacks a guard rail so is very adventurous. It is a historic trail having originally been used by hunters from the Truku Tribe. If you visit just one place in Taiwan, it has to be Taroko Gorge. It is simply stunning.