Despite its proximity, we had not traveled extensively to Taiwan. While Melvin has been to Taiwan twice during his service years in the army, those 4-days of R&R don’t count, though some photos from those era (early 90s) creep in below.
And of course there were some business trips, both nearer and further back in time. How things are so different yet so similar!
The most substantial journey was made by Suan with her father to visit her brother. You see, Suan’s brother was domiciled for work for 3 months. They flew into Taipei to stay with him for a period of time after a short sojourn around the island with a packaged tour group.
Taiwan as an island truly has unparalleled beauty. If one were to do a road trip, the place to start would be,
The north and east coast
Just a short drive of 35km from Taipei, Chiufen (九份) is an old mining town. There is a disused gold mine here. Not far from the coast, it is not the best time to visit in the winter time as the weather along the coast can be windy and wet. In the evening, there was an evening meal of local seafood and the lighting of the Kongming (孔明灯) lantern, similar to many other parts of Asia where lanterns are lit and floated to the skies to obtain wishes.
The drive towards Hualien (花蓮) would go through the Taroko gorge, carved out of marble by the elements. You can see from the bluish hue of the water that hints of fine rock particles reflecting the sunlight. It’s the same that we observed in New Zealand.
As an island on the Pacific ring of fire, Taiwan was born through seismic movements of the tectonic plates. It also means that there is significant number of hot springs and deposits of volcanic material in the land. It makes for a rich agricultural lands to be tilled – many of which harvests rice.
There was a stop at a local dairy farm along the way. So Taiwan is not just famed for its electronics exports but also boasts of an impressive array of farm produce!
The coast of Taiwan that faces the pacific can be a really beautiful place for photographers in the late spring till autumn. Stunning undeveloped coastlines and rocky outcrops line the entire ~170km from Hualien to Taitung (台東).
The “end point” is Kenting national park, located at the southernmost tip of the island. Now Melvin is well familiar in part with this area, having trekked across the mountainous pass and roads for as many as three weeks at a time. Looking back it is all beautiful vista, just that it wasn’t the time to enjoy it though! Now that the east coast is covered, it’s time to swing back north towards via
Kaohsiung, Taichung (台中) and Hsinchu
The southern city of Kaohsiung (高雄) is not just the largest settlement in that part of Taiwan, but it is also a major seaport. The “love” river runs through the middle of the city and it is famed for its many night markets. Actually, night markets are the rage ALL over Taiwan.
No visit to this part of Taiwan can be complete without a stop at the Fo Guang Shan monastery. Started in 1967, this monastery has a 120 feet tall Buddha statue. It is surrounded by 480 smaller statues at its base in a series of concentric circles. A wealthy religious order, it wields significant influence.
Along the drive, you may frequently come across stalls along the road. These stalls are manned by young ladies dressed rather skimpily (especially in the colder month now). They are selling betel nuts, the chewing of which will stain your teeth and mouth a blood red.
Drivers buy these especially on overnight drives, which according to Melvin was quite frequent. He recalls being driven from Taipei late at night to Hengchun in the south, arriving at the break of dawn.
Hope that they don’t do this as much anymore. In any case, there is now high speed rail that links Taipei to Kaohsiung which takes about 2 hours.
Populated originally by aboriginal tribes, Taiwan today is overrun with the descendents of migrant Chinese from the mainland.
What remains of the “native” people is sparse and has become more of a touristic money spinner than anything else.
In the Formosan aboriginal culture village, you can see replicas of the houses which the ancestors of the now heavily assimilated aborigines lived. Yeah, you also get to see a dance or two, but it is a really light shadow of the formerly proud indigenous culture.
At Nantou, visit Wenwu temple (文武) that is located along the Sun Moon Lake (日月潭). February is a good time of the year here in southern Taiwan, as it warms up earlier and flowers begin to bloom. The lake itself is an interesting walk, as these really old photos testify. It is cooler up here at 750m above sea level. Sometimes all you can see is the mist!
Hsinchu (新竹) is known more for its local delicacies than anything else, and being so close to Taipei, we start with a introductory summary of;
The national Palace museum
In 1945 as the people’s liberation army was bearing down towards the city of Shanghai, the last of the nationalist troops fled the city towards Taiwan. More than half a million soldiers and two million civilians are said to have migrated across the strait. Along with the people were said to be all the treasures of China.
But this was not the case.
As early as 1948, the ROC government had already begun the process of transferring all of the portable Chinese assets to Taiwan. Included in that were the central bank’s gold reserves, and the subject of this section : the national collection of Chinese art and artifacts. Contrary to hearsay, the museum in Taipei ‘only’ house approximately 20% of the original horde that was removed from Beijing in the 1930s (to prevent falling into Imperial Japanese hands), though this is said to still number well over 600,000 pieces of artifacts. The balance had been seized by the PLA in Nanjing and moved back to Beijing at the end of the civil war. The interesting thing is, the better collection went to Taiwan on that first consignment.
We had the pleasure and privilege of viewing both collections.
The challenge is finding photos of the museum, in specific the art and artifacts to share on this page. In both (Taipei and Beijing), photography was strictly forbidden. And in the time before these restrictions came in place, Melvin (who had visited the museum in 1992) did not “waste” any film photos, limited as his budget was in those days. If only we can download the images retained in the white matter of his brain…certainly a place to spend the day if you enjoy being around really old stuff.
Cuisine, Taiwan style
In all of our writings, food figure in a significant way.
And in Taiwan, the journey can be really incomplete without sampling the enormous diversity of food choices there is on offer. Although the island came to be populated with descendents of migrants from the Fujian, Hainan and Guangdong provinces, you will recall from earlier paragraphs that an exodus of mainland Chinese from other provinces came through in the wake of the “loss of China” to communist rule in 1949.
Hence the diversity of cuisines, mixed into a mélange fusion that continues to present innovation till today. Nowhere is this more obvious than at the night market incubators, where hawkers both young and old churn out a smorgasbord of combinations and approaches to food presentation.
In Taipei, all guides will probably point you to Shihlin (士林), where the national palace museum is near. Highly recommended to try the oyster omelette and the sausage wrapped in sticky rice. We’d not recommend taking the bubble ice tea or ice shavings if you have a weak stomach…
Each city in Taiwan seem to have its night markets. When Melvin had his 4 days of R&R post military exercises, each city he stopped (on the way back to Taipei) had a number of night markets to choose from. And they not only sold food.
In fact, in those days of old, Melvin bought large posters made from silkscreen, stuffed toys and cheap accessories for the then girlfriend…and the food at these night markets are cheap, even till today.
Aside from history, culture and food, Taipei today boasts of additional attractions worthy of visit. Melvin stayed at the Grand Hyatt for one of his business trips and had time to explore the 101 building, at one time the tallest building in Asia.
And there is more. Given more time, an excursion to Danshui (淡水) or Maokong (貓空) would be very profitable in terms of the what you can see and do. But even if you are wondering around the old streets of Taipei, that in itself will be an experience.
Long ago when “policemen wore shorts” and in February 2009 / December 2011 + our latest in July 2016