Mountains, skyscrapers & night markets in Taiwan

My first visit to Taiwan came about rather spontaneously through a work trip in March 2019. Before this opportunity arose, I knew very little about this tiny island located just off the east coast of mainland China.

Since then, I’ve already returned for a second trip, and did have another planned later this year before the Coronavirus pandemic struck.

Read on to find out why this relatively niche travel destination has left such a lasting impact on me, and why I can’t help returning again and again…

Taipei

The view from halfway up Elephant Mountain (Xiangshan)

Taipei is Taiwan’s capital city; a sprawling concrete metropolis rearing up between rolling, forest-clad mountains. I had never been anywhere like this before, where urban sprawl and natural beauty co-existed side-by-side in a pleasant, albeit somewhat strange, harmony.

From the minute I stepped foot outside the plane, I felt welcome in Taiwan, and that is almost completely down to the people there. Everyone I met was incredibly friendly; happy to point me the right way when I asked for directions, and all with a smile on their face. The people of Taiwan whom I met on my trip were so full of respect for, and showed so much kindness to, visitors such as myself, so much so that I immediately felt comfortable and at ease (despite this being my first solo international trip to the other side of the world).

Another thing I noticed right away when I arrived was how clean Taipei was, in terms of both rubbish on the streets and air pollution. A major hub in East Asia, the city prides itself on its eco credentials, serving as the country’s political, cultural, educational and economic centre.

As such, there are a plethora of things to do in Taipei. For breathtaking 360 degree views of the city, take the 37-second elevator (travelling at a dizzying 60km per hour) to the 89th floor of Taipei 101, formerly known as the Taiwan World Financial Centre. Taipei 101, which held the title of the world’s tallest building from 2004-2010, is the best place to get a birds-eye view of the city and its surroundings. In my opinion, the best time to go up to the viewing platform is about half an hour before sunset, so you can see the city’s transformation from day to night. Although beware – Taipei is subject to a lot of haze, particularly in the summer months, which may inhibit your view out across the city. So, make sure to check how good the visibility is before you head up there.

If you fancy getting out of the city and exploring Taipei’s natural beauty spots, check out Elephant Mountain (Xiangshan) – a 183m high mountain and hiking trail, with viewing stations which provide panoramic views of the city below. A word of warning – there are a lot of stairs. But, the views are definitely worth it once you get to the top.

And if nature is your thing, then take a trip to nearby Yangmingshan National Park, famous for its cherry blossoms, sulfur deposits, hiking trails and hot springs. Yangmingshan is also home to Taiwan’s tallest dormant volcano, the Seven Star Mountain.

Beware the stairs...hiking up Xiangshan

Other places of interest to explore in Taipei include its many memorial halls and museums, as well as the city’s National Theatre and National Concert Hall. There is a thriving shopping area around Taipei Main Station, including the Taipei Underground Market and the original Shin Kong Mitsukoshi department store. Other popular shopping destinations include the Zhongshan Metro Mall and the Guang Hua Digital Plaza.

Taipei is also home to many temples housing Buddhist, Taoist and Chinese folk religion deities. Xinsheng South Road is known as the ‘Road to Heaven’ due to its high concentration of temples, shrines, churches, and mosques.

Kaohsiung

My second trip to Taiwan saw me travel down to the south of the island to Kaohsiung, where I spent just under a week exploring the city (while I wasn’t working, of course). I loved my time in Kaohsiung, and saw a lot more of the nightlife here than I did during my trip to Taipei.

One of my favourite experiences was visiting one of the city’s many open-air night markets. All types of foods, drinks and local delicacies – most of which I had never seen before and, quite frankly, some of which I’m not all that keen on seeing again – were available to try and buy as you walked through the stalls bustling with families, groups of friends and locals out for a quick bite.

While it probably isn’t the place to spend a great deal of time if you’re particularly squeamish (cue, roasted duck heads), I would absolutely encourage you to try some of what’s on offer to get a truly authentic taste of Taiwan. Besides, you never know until you try, right?

Kaohsiung’s main landmarks include the 85 Sky Tower, standing at 378 metres tall, the ferris wheel of the Kaohsiung Dream Mall, and the city harbour, which is the largest in Taiwan. The city is well-known for its malls and shopping streets, and its newly-developed leisure parks: the Pier-2 Art Center, E-DA Theme Park, Metropolitan Park, Museum of Fine Arts and Tarako Park.

If you’re after something a little more agricultural, check out the views from Monkey Mountain (Shoushan) which is completely made up from coral reefs, walk next to the Love River (also known as the spine of Koahsiung), visit the Dapingding Tropical Botanical Garden in the Siaogang District, or venture out to nearby Yushan National Park.

Kaohsiung Harbour (credit: tingyaoh)

Whether you venture to the North or South of the island, Taiwan certainly has something for everyone – and I have only scratched the surface of what this incredible place has to offer. When it’s possible, I can’t wait to reschedule my trip out here and explore some more!

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