I confess I haven’t been much curious about Taiwan. My camera was born there, says the “Made in Taiwan” label on it. Apart from that my knowledge and interest about the leaf-shaped island has been limited. So, the experiences I had during my seven-day trip there were completely new to even my imagination. There are no never-seen-before-beautiful sights as such, so don’t put it in your must-see list… But the experiences it offers are enthralling. I recommend this offbeat destination in your must-experience list.
Here are some of the top experiences I had in Taiwan – a list of things to do in Taiwan:
1. Offering Cake at a Temple:
The sight at the Xia-Hai City God Temple was nothing of what an Indian temple looks like. The offerings to the deities included cakes, pastries, candies, et al. Devotees and monks did not mind us photographing them; they must be used to it since the temple is highly popular among the tourists. What makes the temple so popular? The Matchmaking God. Old Man under the Moon, or the deity of marriage and love is said to have blessed countless people in finding their loved one. The couples show their gratitude by offering their wedding cakes.
Next, there is The Wife of the City God, who is known to give blessings to make your husband “domesticated”. In earlier times, women of Da Dao Cheng area (where the temple is located) prayed to her so that their husbands wouldn’t philander. To express gratitude, they used to offer embroidered shoes to the goddess. Today, Fortune Shoes are considered a lucky charm of the goddess and keeping a pair at home represents blessings for a married couple for a blissful life.
Before you leave the temple, drink ‘Blessed Tea’ made with wolfberries, roselle flowers, daisies, cassia seeds, and prunes for good fortune. The sign above the counter claims that the tea helps g women devotees get more attractive! The tea has enough herbs to bless your health anyway. Buy some herbs from the market in the neighbourhood.
Location: Dihua Street, Taipei
2. Launching a Sky Lantern
Writing a message on a sky lantern and seeing it fly made for the second best experience in Taiwan. Did I mention we were standing on a railway line while doing that? Pingxi District is famous for sky lanterns. Visitors can come here during the Lantern Festival and write their wishes on lanterns and release it. The lanterns are available for NT$ 100-200. The experience is exciting, although the district is little far off from Taipei.
3. Attending the Lantern Festival:
Witnessing the Taiwan Lantern Festival was fun in itself. The festival is an annual event hosted to attract tourists. Celebrated on the 15th day of the first month of lunar calendar, it has been rated as one of the best festivals in the world. While the festival is celebrated all over, there is one main host city each year. This year it was Taichung.
I was lucky to see the celebrations from the VIP seating area. Right in front of us was the main lantern – “the lucky Ram” – symbolizing the year of goat according to Chinese astrology. Besides, there were several smallers lanterns of various shapes telling different stories. Food, firecrackers, dance performances, music – all spread festivity in the air.
4. Early Morning Cycling around Sun Moon Lake:
Nantou County is perhaps the quaintest corner of Taiwan. We reached here worn-out at dusk yet couldn’t resist taking a walk around town. Light rain shower was perhaps nature’s way of adding a dash of magic to the evening. But the area’s beauty truly came alive early next morning when I went for cycling (available for free at Hotel Del Lago where I was staying). Mountains seem to shelter the placid lake, making it a tranquil frame. It felt like having a conversation with the lake and everything around it. The cruise, later that morning, was a continuation of our dialogue.
Lalu Island, the center of the lake, is considered the holiest ancestral spirit land of the Thao aboriginal tribe, one of the many Taiwanese aboriginals. Thao fishing boats sailing along with the modern power boats paints the picture of today’s Taiwan – a mélange of old and new.
The island divides the lake so as to make the northern half appear like wheel of the sun while the other half like the crescent moon hence, the name Sun Moon Lake. I, however, admit that I couldn’t spot the shapes even from the top during the ropeway ride.
There are multiple spots to stop by and admire this beautiful lake. These are: a) Xiangshan Administration & Visitor Centre b) Ropeway – Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village c) Yongjie & Tongxin Bridge d) Meihe Park
5. (Not) Eating Pig Brain:
You have to be daring to try the local delicacies. Pig brain, pig blood cake, duck tongue, snake soup – did not tempt me but seeing the locals and some of my fellow travellers relish these was an experience. So was visiting the Toilet Restaurant. Imagine sitting on a toilet seat with the table resembling a bathroom sink. The food comes in miniature toilet bowls and drinks in miniature urinals. And oh, the dessert comes in shape of turd on a dish that resembles squat toilet. Not tempting right? Wonder what makes Modern Toilet in Taipei a highly successful restaurant. Perhaps, the quality of food. Dare try and tell us about it! Taiwan has several such bizarre theme restaurants.
Worry not, Taiwan has plenty non-bizarre and Indian restaurants too. More about it in another post.
6. Visiting Ten Drum Cultural Village:
Learning to play drums, being exclusive audience to a music performance, and using an eco-toilet – not items on my bucket list but I am happy to put these there and tick!
Ten Drum Cultural Village is located in the suburbs of Tainan. Lovers of culture and art will appreciate this place. A disused sugar refinery, the space has been converted into a fascinating cultural park by Ten Drum Percussionist Group. The objective of this initiative is to promote music, preserve the history of Taiwan’s sugar industry, and to make it an ecological attraction. The performance, involving lights & water, was exciting. There’s also a drum museum exhibiting the process of drum making. A walk around the green area was a delight. A green toilet with goldfishes is something I haven’t seen ever before!
7. Admiring Cherry Blossom:
February is perhaps the best season to visit Taiwan. Cherry Blossom trees added a wonderful hue to the landscape all over. The best view was at the entrance of Formosan Aboriginal Village. Pose anywhere, it will be a pretty picture!
The Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village is an amusement park – a glorified version of Dilli Haat. It has three main areas: amusement park, village park, and European garden. The Village Park, the largest outdoor museum in Taiwan, employs Taiwanese aborigines. You can engage with them with various activities like weaving, sculpting, handicrafts, etc.
8. Painting T-shirt at TaiYi Ecological Leisure Farm:
Going back to school is least of your expectations during a trip to a foreign land. But this was a good trip down the memory lane. Bringing back the fun of painting classes at school, the visit to TaiYi Ecological Farm was surprising. Senior editors and writers (fellow travellers) sat with brushes, paints and leaves trying to bring out the best of their creativity. We may not have created masterpieces but did create a joyful memory.
TaiYi is a leisure farm hotel in Nantou county. If you love flowers and gardens, it is a good place for a weekend.
9. Eating Chocolates and Ice Cream at Miyahara:
Boxes in shape of books and chocolates inside – what else could a booklover with sweet tooth want! The sweetest experience of all was the visit to Miyahara – an unusual dessert store in Taichung. I recommend the shop for buying treats as souvenirs. It’s truly different in terms of décor and architecture too. Make your own ice cream but not before you erase the word ‘calories’ from your mind.
10. Shopping at Night Market
A post on things to buy from Taiwan will follow soon. But the list of things to do in Taiwan wouldn’t be complete without talking about night markets. Taiwan comes alive in the evening with night merchants setting shops and locals & tourists gathering in large numbers to enjoy street (bizarre) food and retail therapy.
This is first post in the series Taiwan Diaries. The writer went to Taiwan on invitation by Taiwan Tourism Bureau.