A Trip To Taiwan Essay

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Trip To Taiwan

By Vijeth Mudalegundi         

          From the moment I got off the plane, I knew that the months of preparation paid off. For months, I had undergone a rigorous selection process involving interviews, essays, and applications. After being selected into the program even more stress was added by the packing and preparation, but all of that stress washed away after stepping on land in Taiwan. Most people would say it was because I was so tired and just wanted to be on land again, however this felt a little more exciting than just that. Taiwan, from the beginning, offered much to explore and visit. It offered all landscapes one could think of, including: mountains, beaches, hills, valleys, plains, and cities. Everything one could think of in an island that is the size of New Jersey.

Taipei, the city which I stayed for most of the trip, is one of the largest metropolises in the world. Here at a local high school, Xi Song Senior High School, I spent most of my time learning Chinese and the cultural aspects of Taiwan. By the end of my trip, I was able to explore all aspects of Taiwan, from its sights to its culture to its language, all in 6 weeks of adventure.

One of the greatest aspects of life in Taipei was the night life. One of the most well-known aspects of Taiwan’s night life is its night markets. These night markets are the places to buy discounted goods, all the way from clothes and shoes to toys and food. The closest night market to our hotel was Raohe St. Night Market. Most of the tourists, such as me, buy things from these places.

This is a great place to buy souvenirs and items for yourself. Above all, these night markets served rich food found nowhere else in Taiwan. My personal favorite is called Mong Gwo Bing (Translates to Mango Ice). Mong Gwo Bing is a dessert served with shaved ice, fresh mangoes, sugar, cream, and other fruits. The dessert is famously made in Taiwan and is recognized by tourists as one of the most interesting dishes Taiwan has to offer. Other smells that waft above your heads at night markets include stinky tofu, fried mushrooms, and a variety of other dishes. Many malls are built in Taipei city and all the most expensive places to shop in Taipei. However, you will get name brand shoes, clothes, and more. These malls closely resemble the American style of capitalism and consumerism. All of these great destinations are open throughout the night and are great places to visit. Many say New York City is the city that never sleeps but I believe Taipei has come up to challenge that title.In the first week of my trip in Taiwan, the Alabama Mandarin Immersion Program funded an island round-trip to visits famous sights of Taiwan. During the first week, my travels took me from Taipei in the north down through the west coast to Kenting in the south and back up the east coast to return to Taipei. On our first day on the road we went to an aboriginal village near Sun Moon Lake. This village serves as a theme park for kids as well as an educational facility on the 14 aboriginal tribes currently living in Taiwan today. The park is located near Sun Moon Lake and is known for its two connected lake, one representing the sun and the other the moon. Every night throughout the week we would eat dinner at a traditional Taiwanese restaurant. The Taiwanese style was to sit around a common table and eat from several dishes given to everyone around the table. This banquet style meal was more than we could handle to eat but soon we developed the huge appetite that the Taiwanese have for food. The next day we traveled to the south coast of Taiwan to reach the city of Kaohsiung, the second largest city in Taiwan after Taipei. This city was located close to Kenting National Park. This park was built to protect the coral reefs of Taiwan and the lush forests located in the southern tip of Taiwan. We stayed in the area for 3 days exploring the reefs, snorkeling, hiking and laying on the beach. Taiwan’s southern coast offered plenty of entertainment and things to do. We concluded our around-the-island tour by traveling up the east coast visiting the highest mountain of Taiwan and spending time with newly found friends on the beach. The twenty students who came on this trip thoroughly enjoyed the first week, myself included.Over the next five weeks the group of twenty students got to experience the most influential part of the Taiwanese culture, their language. We learnt Chinese in a different environment compared to the normal classes taken in regular high school. We were immersed in the language from the language classes we took, the night market visits, and times spent with our home stay family. The language didn’t come from one outlet but from many allowing us to pick up on the language with greater efficiency. One of the most beneficial experiences I had in Taiwan was with my assigned host brother. Alex Wang, a local 15 year old, and I built up a friendship from the connection the program. He and I often went to some of the local sights and saw many things we weren’t able to see otherwise. Spending time with his family at nights helped me more thoroughly understand the daily life of a Taiwanese and the home culture of someone in Taiwan. The Chinese we learnt left a lasting impression on me and will probably be a lasting memory for years to come. Other than Chinese classes, there were cultural classes in which we learnt Chinese sports, arts/crafts, and traditional cooking. The taekwondo experience taught by teachers in Taiwan was nothing like the years I took as a kid in Birmingham. The intricate moves taught in the classes surpassed the quality as taught in studios in the US. Taiwan overall was a wonderful experience that will not be forgotten.At the end of the trip the friendships I made and the attachment I felt to the country increased my anxiety of leaving. However the experience I had gained by coming to Taiwan in the first place along with a touch of homesickness allowed me to board that plan home. My summer in Taiwan is an unforgettable experience. The experience and information I had gained could be used to improve myself and help me in the future. This summer was definitely one of the best summers for years to come.

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Mountains, canyons, beaches and amazing food – this delightful island has it all. Get ready to embark on your Taiwan trip and explore this spectacular East Asian destination.

As a travel blogger, I many people ask me about my favorite destination. “So, which place on Earth did you like the most? Where should we go?”.  My answer is always the same: “Just visit Taiwan“.

And still people are surprised. They might have heard of Taiwan – but how could such a tiny island be anybody’s favorite place to go? Especially if you have hundreds or thousands more impressive choices?

It’s time that I show you why. This post is dedicated to my friends in Taiwan and all the people who are thinking about visiting Taiwan in the future.

So – get ready to book your ticket! It’s time to travel to Taiwan!

WHERE IS TAIWAN? 

Just to be clear: you wouldn’t believe how many people have mistaken the location or the name of this little island. It often gets confused with Thailand.  Believe me, this place is really nothing like Taiwan!

Taiwan is an island in the Pacific Ocean located off the southeastern coast of China. It’s north of the Philippines. Well, just check the map above!

GETTING TO TAIWAN

On your trip to Taiwan, you will most likely arrive at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, Taiwan’s main international airport. It’s located 40km southwest of Taipei. My favorite tool for searching flights to Taiwan is Kiwi.com.

Let’s get this started. Here is my list of all the fantastic tourist attractions and places to visit on the delightful island of Taiwan! 

01 | THE SCENERY

Taiwan is incredibly green. No matter where you are, there is always a lush tropical forest around the corner.

The capital is surrounded by mountains with Yangmingshan National Park is situated just 12 kilometers from downtown Taipei. If you are interested in half-day Yanmingshan tour combined with hotsprings, I recommend this tour.

The landscape changes dramatically across the island. Central Taiwan is dominated by impressive summits, while southern tip of Taiwan – Kenting – is famous for its sandy beaches.

How to enjoy the sights? The best is to go cycling in Taiwan.

 

02COLORFUL FESTIVALS 

Taiwan’s calendar is packed with fascinating celebrations and holidays.

These are my favorite:

  • Taiwan Lantern festival – thousands of paper lanterns are released in Pingxi. (Jan/ Feb)
  • Matsu Pilgrimage – annual massive folk fest. 300 kilometers in 9 days. (Mar)
  • Dragon boat festival –  boat races on local rivers across the country. (Jun)
  • International balloon fiesta – colorful balloons rising in Luye Gaotai near Taitung. (July-Aug)

List of all festivals is to be found here.

 

 

 

03|  THE ABORIGINAL CULTURE

There are 16 officially recognized tribes in Taiwan.

They lived on the island long before the Han settlers arrived from China. Nowadays, their population is only 500,000 (2% of the total population of Taiwan).

A great place to learn about the various tribes is Sun Moon Lake area where the oldest tribes come from. It is hard to get so I recommend you visit it as part of this tour showing the best of Taiwan in just 5 days.

04 | THE BEAUTY OF EAST COAST WILL LEAVE YOU SPEECHLESS

The biggest part of Taiwan’s 23 million population lives on the west coast, while the east coast remains pristine and wild. To me the east is actually the most beautiful part of Taiwan.

These are the must-see places:

Taroko National Park – Taiwan’s most stunning national park, with 16 kilometers limestone canyon cutting through it. It is little hard to move around, so I strongly recommend to visit it on this tour including transport and guides.

Mugumugi – A lagoon with crystal clear turquoise water located 30 kilometers north from Hualien city. You are actually allowed to swim in it! Yay!

If you want to explore this place, my article: Mukumugi: Taiwan’s best kept secret will help you to find it.

Qingshui Cliffs– spectacular cliffs rising dramatically from the Pacific Ocean up to over 800 meters above sea level.

East Rift Valley –  A pretty area flanked by mountains. Lots of unique plants can be found there. The land is totally flat – perfect for cycling!

My blogger friend Nick wrote a detailed post about travelling to the East Coast: Yilan, Hualien and Taroko. 

05 | THE MYSTERIOUS OUTLYING ISLANDS

Taiwan consists of more than just one island! Are you surprised?

The little know outlying islands are peaceful and not yet damaged by mass tourism. Green Island (Ludao) features unique saltwater hosting, Orchid Island (Lanyu) amazes its visitors with it’s volcanic landscape and mystic atmosphere.

If you are into history, you should visit the oldest villages of the islands, head to Kinmen and Matsu, lying in the Taiwan Strait. If you are more into sunbathing and first class windsurfing, head to the west coast’s Penghu archipelago.

06 THE HIKING PARADISE

Hiking in Taiwan is one of the best in East Asia. The mountains cover two thirds of the country’s terrain.

Hardcore hikers usually want to tackle one of the two highest Taiwan mountains – Jade mountain (Yushan 3,952 m) or Snow mountain (Xueshan 3,886 m).

The best alternative for beginners is Hehuanshan (3,422) within Taroko National Park. It’s easily accessible and the view is stunning!

Overnight camping up there was one of my best experiences in Taiwan.

07 | TAIWANESE FOOD 

You will love this combination – Taiwanese food is incredibly tasty and really affordable! There are countless night markets across the island. Each one is different which makes it exiting. In Taipei, Shilin night market is the largest. Wanna know my favorite? It’s Raohe Street Night Market.

Taiwan dishes you should try:

Mango shaved ice: a pile of mango ice shavings that will make you experience a food orgasm. My favorite desert!

Stinky tofu: fermented snack that assaults the nose but pleases the palate. The smellier, the better. Ouch!

Beef Noodle:noodle soup made of stewed or red braised beef, beef broth, vegetables and Chinese noodles.

Braised pork rice: order “Lurou fan” and you get a bowl or rice with braised pork slices on the top. Humble but very traditional.

Flaky scallion pancakes:Chewy, flaky, and savory scallion pancakes are one of my favorite snacks in Taiwan. So addictive!

08 | COSMOPOLITAN TAIPEI

Taipei offers a thrilling mixture of European and Chinese culture as well as the old and new.

Taipei offers a lot of sights, these are the highlights:

  • Elephant mountain
  • Taipei 101
  • National Palace Museum
  • Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
  • Longshan Temple
  • Muzha

If you prefer to visit the city with local guide, you can book this tour. Alternatively, there is an private tour as well.

you Do you need a place to stay in Taipei? Read my other blog post Best  hostels in Taipei. I lived in hostels for 2 months testing them all for you.

 

 

 

09 |  THE PEOPLE

I have been to over 30 countries and never met people friendlier than the Taiwanese. They always offer to help and love talking to foreigners.

You will notice that they are extremely shy. Their English is often perfect but you need to give them time and encourage them.

If you stay a bit longer around the island, chances are, you will make really good friends over there.

10 |  THE HOTSPRING ADDICTION

People in Taiwan love hot springs. Some people visit them every day!

There are public hot springs in Beitou, about an hour from Taipei city center. And you should definitely try the wild hotsprings, too! Excellent choice is BaYan Wild Springs, in Yangmingshan National Park (this is also where I took the photo above).  This tour takes you there and I know you will love it.

Soaking in the hot springs is a must-do experience. Make sure you are not leaving without it!

…So, are you ready for the trip now? See you in Taiwan!

HAVE YOU BEEN TO TAIWAN?

I wonder how was your experience like – honestly, so far I haven’t encountered a person who didn’t like this tiny island!

Thanks a lot for reading – and please share the article with your friends. Let’s spread the news about Taiwan’s beauty!

Photo credit and special thanks

Big thanks goes to photographers who cooperated with me on this post. I used their photos since they had better picture of the same place.

Title cover picture: stunning panorama by Guillaume Bouvier. His purpose in photography is to capture the unique beauty of what surrounds him, and hopefully bring a pinch of welfare to people by doing so. Guillaume discovered Taiwan 6 years ago and fell in love with the place and the people. His approach is very personal and only driven by the inspiration of the moment. Find his website here, and follow him on Instagram @Yohmi.

Picture of Qingshui Cliffs: by Jeff Chao, guide from Taiwan Vista Tour.

Picture of Taiwanese food is from Chia Cheng Su, food photographer who runs Facebook The Beauty of Taiwan.

Picture of Taipei panorama: by Martin Kaalund Pedersen from Denmark.

The post was edited by Joanna Beata.

Check out my favorite posts about Taiwan:

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