Taroko Gorge was just a road before it became a national park. And a hell of road it still is. It seems almost sadistic to build such a narrow, treacherous road in a place so beautiful. This landmark on the east coast of Taiwan is home to sheer marble cliffs, green mountains, a raging river, and plenty of attractive spots to take a selfie.
Taipei, Taiwan is the perfect “starter city” for newbie tourists totally unfamiliar with Asia. The public infrastructure is incredible, the amenities are cutting edge, the people are friendly and there’s just the right amount of foreignness (shrimp fishing, hot springs!) to entertain but not overwhelm fresh-faced visitors. After all, there’s always a Starbucks or McDonald’s nearby. My friend and I came to this conclusion after spending a few days in Taipei. It was a fun trip, but I wanted to get out of the Taipei bubble and see the rest of the island of Taiwan.
Most people come to the village of Jiufen, which inspired scenes in the beautiful Spirited Away, for some crowded shopping on the old street. The scenery is also a top draw, but most visitors don’t bother making it to the best vantage point in the area. A short walk from the market is the clearly marked Jilongshan Mountain. Read more
Up a narrow, winded road is this vantage spot in Jiufen, about 90 minutes from Taipei by bus. It’s a picture perfect area despite the hordes of tourists who try to make their way through the lengthy market street. That area is a bit claustrophobic, so it’s outside where the real beauty lies.
When my friend Vinti suggested going indoor urban shrimp fishing when we met in Taipei, it sounded like something hipsters in Brooklyn would do (assuming the draconian laws in New York City allows would actually allow such fun). Still, it sounded like a great off-the-beaten-path activity and I looked forward to it. We didn’t know of any shrimp fishing places near the central Daan district, so we took a 20-minute cab ride to a neighborhood chock full of Japanese eateries (I have no idea where it actually was, sorry) and walked inside what appeared to be a low-key restaurant with garish lighting. In the back was a large murky pool. The fun soon began.
We spoke no Chinese, but pantomimed that we wanted to go fishing for an hour. We were given tiny rods and were the only ones sitting there on a weekday night. The employee put a tiny dried shrimp (cannibals!) on the hook and plopped the lure and bobber into the water. Within moments he had a hard bite.
The Beitou Hot Springs in Taipei is the best time you’ll ever have surrounded by old men in Speedos. Retirees flock to the four tiers of pools on the outskirts of the city during the daytime due to purported health benefits of the springs and also the low, low prices.
Tall buildings are the quintessential tourist traps. No matter what country you’re in, you’re charged way too much money to ride an elevator, mill around for a short while and then head back down to earth with the opportunity to purchase a miniature version of the building you were just on.
The views are typically excellent, but there are diminishing returns once you reach a certain height. The 101 floors on the aptly-named Taipei 101 seemed like overkill. There were perfectly good views from the 45th floor of a hotel I stayed at. Why go up the second tallest building in the world? (skip to the bottom for the TL:DR ).
It seems like anywhere you go in Taiwan, it’s impossible not to find a place selling mango shaved ice. This concoction typically involves a bowl full of shaved ice, mangos cut into cubes, some condensed milk to further sweeten the dish. Many places top it off with a couple scoops of ice cream. This is all well and good, but when the mango is perfect, simplicity is preferred.
Down in Tainan County, about four hours from Taipei, farmers grow the most incredible mango I’ve ever tasted. I’d sampled many variations of my favorite fruit in Cambodia, where locals claim there are more than ten kinds. Tainan’s Irwin mangos are on another level and apparently a popular export to Japan. Plus, they’re twice the size of the typical mango. A shaved ice vendor in Tainan gladly told all of this to my brother, who speaks Mandarin.
An eight-hour flight delay is never pleasant. Or at least that’s what I thought before being stuck at the Taoyuan Airport in Taipei. My Eva Air flight had mysterious technical difficulties, and while many of the passengers angrily waited near the boarding area, I explored every section of terminal 2.
It was the only airport I’ve been to where I didn’t feel like I was stuck in a bleak – yet spacious – prison. There’s even a Hello Kitty lounge (if you’re into that kind of thing). Here are a few reasons Taipei airport is the best I’ve ever been to, despite the lengthy security queue.
Best of all, you don’t have to be some rewards member to enjoy any of these. You don’t even need to pay a single Taiwanese dollar.