by Mark Heng
Night markets: Similar to Singapore's pasar malams, but on a different scale, Taiwan's night markets are a definitive night experience for intrepid travellers. Most night markets operate daily, featuring individual stalls selling hand bags, clothes, and accessories, as well as street food such as stinky tofu and oyster omelette and speciality drinks, including bubble tea. These markets are typically bustling and crowded, with an atmosphere that is characteristically noisy, with hawkers shouting and fast-paced music pervading, making for a thorough sensory experience. Practically every city in Taiwan has a night market (probably more than one), with different markets similar in most ways to each other but offering regional specialities. Taipei's Shilin is considered by many to be the king of Taiwan's night markets, with the latest trends, games of skill, and so much more.
Homestay: Experience the warmth and hospitality of Taiwan's affable people with a homestay, Taiwan's version of the bed-and-breakfast. Also known as minsu, these offer accommodation at a fraction of the cost of most resorts, and are run by long-time residents who can recommend attractions that are off the beaten path and offer insider tips to travellers. At the same time, a homestay offers the chance to delve into local culture.
Taroko Gorge: Taiwan's top tourist destination is famous for its great natural beauty, where marble canyons and ancient hiking paths rise from sea level to some of the tallest peaks in the country. Taroko is home to half of Taiwan's animal species, including the Taiwan macaque, Formosan black bear and wild boar. The turquoise Liwu River cuts through the park, carving deep valleys and ravines in its path. In a single afternoon here amidst majestic scenery, you can travel from rugged coastal cliffs through a maze of canyons and sub-tropical forests, to sub-alpine coniferous forests.
Yangmingshan National Park: On the doorstep of Taipei, the majestic mountains, hot springs, tranquil lakes and beautiful grass fields of this natural gem are perfect for relaxation and recuperation. Escape from the city and immerse yourself in nature with over 1200 plant species, especially rhododendrons, azaleas and Japanese cherry trees. Check out Chiang Kai-shek's grandest villa, Yangming Shuwu, which is set dramatically in a valley, amidst lush greenery.
Sun Moon Lake: This is one of the loveliest landscapes and the largest body of freshwater in Taiwan, and is famous for sparkling clear blue waters set against a picturesque mountainous backdrop. Cycling, boating and strolling around the lake makes for a great getaway. The Meihe Garden and Shuieshe Pier of Shuieshe Village are beautiful spots to hang out both day and night. The Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village combines cultural attractions with an amusement park.
Alishan: This National Scenic Area is Taiwan's most visited national park, with enchanting vistas of misty giant cypresses forests and amazing sunrises. The high elevations give the park a temperate climate, which is wonderful for hiking along the trails or exploring the mountain wilderness, villages, waterfalls, and tea plantations. The famous Alishan Forest Railway takes you from Chiayi up to the Alishan Forest Recreation Area, where many come to witness the sun rise and set in a “sea of clouds”. Mountain produce is popular here, such as High Mountain Oolong tea.
Kenting National Park: Encompassing the entire southern tip of Taiwan, this park is famous for its lush vegetation and beaches of yellow sand and turquoise waters. Further inland, there are low mountains, hilly terraces, rugged cliffs and even sandy deserts in a few places. The Kenting Forest Recreation Area features limestone caves and botanical gardens, and the Jialeshui coral coastline showcases rocks eroded into the shapes of animals.