From simple wan ton soup to an extensive array of snacks on sticks, Taipei offers foods from all around the country. So, you don’t even need to venture out of the capital to enjoy most of Taiwan’s specialities.
However, most visitors only stay in Taipei when they visit Taiwan. Despite this, I recommend planning a trip to some of the other cities around the island.
There it’s plenty to experience travelling from city to city, including some of the original Taiwanese food stuffs (see 7 specialities made in Taiwan). Although, of course it’s not just about the food. With a high speed and normal train network it’s easy to get around via public transport and it’s reasonably priced.
The West coast offers some interesting places to experience local culture with numerous sights and warm weather most of the year round. Or why not head South to enjoy sandy beaches. Then for stunning scenery and hiking stop by the East coast.
Here are my personal highlights from 2 weeks spent in Taiwan in December last year.
1 Night markets
There are literally hundreds of night markets, enough to eat at a different one every night, which we certainly completed the challenge for. These open air bazaars mostly offer xiao-chi, “small eats.” Simply put, snacks on sticks, fresh off the grill and occasionally a little scary! My favourites were the onion pancakes and bao sandwiches.
We went on a food tour on our first night in Taipei which ensured we were well versed in what NOT to eat during the rest of our trip. I would recommend this but it’s only for the adventurous.
Whatever you do, don’t miss the night markets when you visit Taiwan.
There is so much to do and experience in the capital, so I can understand why most visitors never make it any further than here.
With temples, memorials, museums, hot springs and themed restaurants I’m actually struggling to limit my recommendations, so will save those for another post. For now, just be assured that there are plenty of reasons to visit the capital including the National Palace Museum and Taipei 101.
The Taiwanese ancient capital of Tainan is a complete contrast to Taipei. I would highly recommend including this on your itinerary, to experience original and authentic traditions.
Head to the Anping District and visit the Fort, Tree House and other local heritage sights.
Tainan is also the supposed origin of bubble tea, unless you believe the alternative – see Taichung. Dan Zai noodles also originated here, see my post 7 specialities made in Taiwan for more on these and other Taiwanese specialities.
4 Kaosiung, Fo Guang Shan buddha complex
An easy day trip from Kaosiung, Fo Guang Shan is a working monastery and educational museum. The extensive complex was definitely a highlight of my visit to Taiwan. A very spiritual place and despite the number of visitors it doesn’t feel touristy.
How to get there: MRT to Zouying Station, Buses 8501 or 8010/11.
There are a few things to visit in the city if time permits: I recommend the Dragon and Tiger pagodas at the Lotus Lake during the late afternoon.
There quite a bit to experience in the city itself which is doable en foot. A walking tour with a company such as TC Time Walk covers most of this and the local guides are bound to be able to share other info from their city.
- Miyahara for pineapplie cakes and ice cream.
- Sun cake museum – it’s free, although the exhibits might need a little explanation as they are not in English but the chance to taste the cakes makes up for this. Don’t buy the cakes here though it’s worth checking out Ziyou Road. See my post 7 specialities made in Taiwan for more/details.
- Fenjia night market (this one is in/on the streets near the university)
Taichung is also a good place to base yourself, for access to the Gaomei Wetlands, but don’t head there when it’s rainy, as we did.
6 Sun Moon Lake
This man-made lake in Nantou county is the largest body of water in Taiwan. Teeming with Chinese tourists during the day, it is a popular choice for day trips. I felt it was a nice place to go, but it can be busy and feels quite Westernised.
I think an overnight visit would allow you to see things after the tourists have left, so worth considering.
To get there it’s best to stay in Taichung and take a day trip from there if not staying overnight.
How to get there from Taichung: Buses from 7:50 am until 7:50 pm. I recommend getting a pass which includes options when you get there such as the ropeway and round-the-lake bus.
7 Taroko Gorge
Situated on the East of the island. Most easily accessible from Hua Lien, this national park is fairly large and the hiking trails are quite spread out. There is plenty to do on a day trip besides hiking either with a car (hire or get a driver) or using the public transport (note the buses are not frequent, so plan your day carefully if reliant on these).
Many people visit Taroko Gorge for the hiking trails which I recommend you plan ahead for, particularly if you want to climb a trail that requires a permit as these need to be obtained in advance.
8 Hua Lien
A good stopover city with one of the best night markets. There is little to do in the city other than shop and eat, the latter tending to result from the shopping options as well.
If you plan to visit Taroko Gorge this is the best place to stay if you prefer to be city based.
Whether it’s kitschy temples, themed restaurants or night markets, the one thing that stood out to me during my visit to Taiwan, was the people. Especially young Steven who we met whilst in the UK, staying with our neighbour.
Everyone is friendly and helpful. You only have to find someone who speaks a little English and they will share something with you; food recommendations, local cultures and anything you want to ask about.
10 Souvenir stamps
Everywhere you visit in Taiwan had souvenir rubber stamps which you can collect. More about these in my next post as this of course was a major highlight for me given I’m always searching for something creative on my travels.
Have you been to Taiwan, got any recommendations?