The typical travel programme depicts Taiwan as a tourist hotspot for good steals and food, depicting the bustling hagglers of Ximending and shoppers of the Living Mall lugging their many purchases in tow. If you’re not a fan of the shopaholic lifestyle and are in search of a more relaxing holiday, Taiwan in fact offers many surprises from scenic spots to rich cultural experiences.
Thrill-seek at Leofoo Village Theme Park
Home of the infamous Screaming Condor roller coaster, you may recognise the theme park from the Korean variety show Running Man, as they challenged the hosts to this thriller.
With speeds of up to 122km/h, it gives you an idea of the adrenaline pumping experiences Leofoo Vilage has to offer. Attractions of different styles are available that cater to the entire family over the theme park’s 75-hectare area. Its integrated safari space will have fascinating animal interactions for the little ones, and for parents hoping for a more laidback time, Leofoo Village Theme Park features stunning water shows and parades.
The theme park is accessible from Taipei via the public E-Go bus from Jingan MRT station. The journey takes close to two hours, but it gives you ample rest for a full day of excitement and adventure in its sprawling compound.
Rejuvenate at relaxing hot springs
A short train ride from Xindian Metro Station can transport you to a whole new dimension of peace and tranquility, also known as the Volando Urai Spring Spa. To the surprise of some, Taiwan has a reputation of being a nature wonderland, and its village hot springs are one of its best-kept secrets. This can be fully experienced from private spring houses that treat you to landscapes of surrounding mountains and streams.
Escape the bustle of the city with your partner, and indulge in a quiet room for two, relax in the hot spring, and top it off with a delectable meal prepared with the freshest ingredients. A little further away, Lushan Hot Springs could also be an ideal option for a quiet getaway. Situated at the altitude of 400 km, it is one of the highest and largest hot springs of Taiwan, and is rumoured to have the most calming views of Taiwan’s breathtaking scenery. With sights, sounds and smells that create the perfect state of serenity, these hot springs are a definite must-try.
Climb a mountain
Don’t let the title scare you off — locals, both young and old, often flock to the steps of Elephant Mountain, also known as Xiangshan in Taipei. Take in the towering Taipei 101 in a different way, and try scaling the tricky steps in the evening, catching a glimpse of the sunset and then taking in the spectacular skyline of Taipei at night. The hiking trail takes a good 20 minutes or so, but guarantees a good spot to appreciate the horizon of the city at its very best. If physical exercise isn’t your thing, the Xinyi Shopping District is close by, and you can even opt for city bikes to take you around. Immerse yourself in the true Taiwanese experience by hopping on the locals’ favourite mode of transport, city bikes that follow a local guide through the best eateries and stores.
Make a wish and get it closer to heaven
Day tours will take you to the cobbling old streets of towns like Pingxi and Shifen, where you can take a peek into local shops along the railway that sell handcrafted knick-knacks and souvenirs to take home. Besides the majestic sights of the 20-metre tall Shifen waterfall, most visitors are drawn to the sky lanterns.
Every few minutes or so, visitors to Shifen will often witness these paper lanterns rising to the sky, carrying with them the hopes and wishes of many- up, up and away. Declare your love, pray for good health, or hope hard for some straight As in school. The stores sell a variety of lanterns for you to write your wishes on, with different colours representing different types of wishes such as prosperity or peace. Customise it as you please, and watch in awe as your personal wishes fly high in the night sky.
Catch some fresh cold air at the Sun Moon Lake
Often dubbed as one of the prettiest spots in Taiwan, Sun Moon Lake is famous for its amazing natural surroundings. Apart from the famous Grandma’s Chinese Tea Eggs that are not to be missed, you can check out the various historical sites while on a tour yacht. As you travel from pier to pier, soak in the breeze and sights that feature cozy shopping streets and intricate temples.
Another way to experience its gorgeous views would be to take a cable car over the lake, or embark on a trail walk with the family. Along your journey, stop to learn more about the Taiwanese aboriginal culture at the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village. Vibrant folk dances and traditional gastronomic delights are also key highlights that will give you an experience unlike any other.
See things from a whole new perspective
Get a panoramic birds’ eye view from the vantage point of a hot air balloon as it rises over the plains of Tai Tung just as the sun rises. While Tai Tung will require a 3.5-hour train ride from Taipei Railway Station, the experience of being flown by a professional flight team over the valleys of Tai Tung will be one worth waking up and travelling for.
Tai Tung’s lush greenery is punctuated by its Central and Coastal mountain ranges, and flowing rivers in a vast landscape that envelopes you. Well known for its annual balloon fiestas, Tai Tung is the place to be for a ride of your life, hundreds of metres up in the air.
Eat your heart out at a night market
Excite your tastebuds with the tantalising street foods that line the sidewalks of Taiwan; with so many markets, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Meat lovers can head straight for beef cubes found in the Rao He night market, believed to be the best in Taipei. Embark on a hunt for the local pet favourite, orh ah mee suah, their rendition of the oyster mee suah, and cool down with a cup of Heineken green tea.
If your stomach is still calling for more, perhaps try the Ningxia market, one with a history that stretches over two decades. Some tours take you on food tastings that allow you to skip the messy, snaking queues, and the guides will let you in on the best secret foods. These tours provide a firsthand experience of the Taiwan snack culture, and get ready to lick your fingers clean as you try over 20 famous night market snacks.
For those who have taken day trips over to Taichung, the Feng Chia Night Market is also a big hit with locals and tourists alike, and the available night tours are your best friend when it comes to seeking out the best culinary experiences.
Sweat it out on a cycling trip
The people of Taiwan are big on bicycles, and it is no wonder they boast some of the most spectacular cycling routes. One of the best locations to enjoy a good workout would be Tamsui, along the north coast of Taiwan.
A 40-minute train ride from Taipei, Tamsui houses many local hawkers and showcases architecture and attractions from all over the Asia. The bike trails will take you across hills, and you will encounter the range of wild mangroves. Along the way, make pit stops at the temple gardens, recharge and refuel at the cool cafés and check out the little trinkets at the traditional shops along the path.
The people and places in Tamsui are warm, and greatly reminiscent of their culture and past – even if you’re not up for a tiring cycling adventure, a day trip to Tamsui should still be a priority on your Taipei itinerary.
Tread into natural habitats
A more unique take on Taiwan would lead you to some of its dense forests and parks, on your hunt for beautiful fireflies. Taipei, despite its urban areas, is in fact flanked by mountain ranges, surrounded all around by beautiful greenery that creates an ideal ecosystem that teems with wildlife. Some firefly natural habitats include the Rongxing Garden Park, Muzha Park and Fuyang Eco Park. Gear up for a fun adventure as you search for these firefly communities, following guides along trails that are known to give you the best sightings. These tours are not only limited to Taipei, but all around Taiwan there are a variety of firefly hotspots that you can slowly check off your explorer list, each creating a whole new experience with its unique flora and fauna.
Pick up some shepherding skills
The trusty E-Go public bus is once again your handy companion in Taiwan, and this time it will take you to Cingjing Farm, a four-hour journey away. Chingjing Veterans Farm is often also termed as “Little Europe”, and upon seeing its vast plains and frolicking herds of sheep, one will understand how apt this nickname has become. The grasslands have herds of sheep that graze against the azure backgrounds and mountainsides, and guests can sometimes be treated to a good laugh when the sheep shearing shows are in action. Even without them, feel free to interact with the sheep, and venture further into the Small Swiss Garden, where the eye-catching floral displays will take your breath away.
For the hardcore nature lovers, embark on the different trails available, with some strenuous ones rewarding you with exciting sightings of mountain goats and maple trees. More leisurely options can provide you with glimpses of cows, cool breezes, and the sparkle of the nearby lakes.
If that’s not the sound of your luggage already clicking close, what are you doing? The exciting views and activities that Taiwan can offer are too much to resist. Whether or not you’re a nature buff or adrenaline junkie, rest assured that Taiwan has something for each and every member of the family, and maybe for once, it’s finally time to drag the shopaholic out of his or her comfort zone.