Why Taiwan will steal your heart through the stomach
Get ready to fall in love with food
Taiwan might not be first on your bucket list, but don't you dare write it off.
This underrated, mysterious island isn’t a popular tourist destination, which is why it gives you a stress-free chance to explore local pleasures, find distinctive tastes and meet ridiculously friendly residents.
It’s a blend of Chinese influence, indigenous Taiwanese culture and Japanese and immigrant connections. Traditional with a modern twist.
And yes, the food is to die for! In the land of steamed buns and stir-fry, you’ll also come across revelations like stinky tofu, bloody pudding or pork knuckle flavoured ice cream. You’ll definitely come back with priceless foodie knowledge, and maybe new size of jeans.
Book your flight directly from London Gatwick Airport to Taipei with China Airlines to have a feast for all senses. You won’t regret it; here’s why.
WHAT TO DO
Light up the sky with your wishes
Looking for love, success and/or wealth? Try your luck with the Chinese Sky Lanterns in Pingxi. It’s a charming, former mining town in New Taipei.
Pingxi hosts an annual The Sky Lantern Festival during the climax of The Chinese New Year holiday.
The thing that immediately drives your attention are the train tracks that run right in the middle of the main street, with little shops, restaurants and famous tea houses on both sides. Make sure to step off the tracks when you hear the train coming!
Before you set your dreams in the air, there’s a bit of DIY work. Construct a lantern with colourful paper, glue and wooden frame, then show off your mad painting skills. Write down all your wishes, doodle and get creative with a brush. Voila! After a mini photoshoot with the lantern, release your prayers to the sky.
Get lost at the night market
Knowing how great Taiwanese cuisine is, it’s not surprising that night markets are the headquarters of their culinary culture, and an important part of local lifestyle.
Shilin Night Market is one of the biggest gourmand and entertainment centres in Taipei, and probably the busiest spot in the city. Apart from insane food options, there are plenty of stalls with clothes, jewellery, accessories, electronics as well as places to play mah-jong with cute, pink Hello Kitty tiles.
If you’re ready to fill your stomach, try fantastic grilled seafood, delicious crunchy scallion omelette, fluffy sweet potato balls, flag dish- stinky tofu (for cultural purposes!) and milky bubble tea.
Watch perfectly synchronized choreography by guardian solitaries
Get a bit of history and culture by heading to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall located in the capital city. Its name honours the long-serving former president of China and is an outstanding political landmark, and a vibrant gathering space surrounded by blooming cherry blossom alleys.
Climb the steps to the main hall, where the massive bronze statue of Chiang is protected by military forces. The guard mounting ceremony is a spectacular performance and happens every hour.
Hike for the top views
After eating guilty pleasures, you might be keen for some exercise, so hike up the Elephant Mountain to gest the best view of the Taipei City. (Apparently, it’s the most instagrammable place in Taiwan.) Marvel at the magical skyline covering Taipei 101 tower, and other massive skyscrapers from the forest line on the trail.
The climb will take between 10-20 minutes, with a few viewing points and spots to rest on your way up. Aim to reach the top in time to catch the unreal sunset.
Rule number 1: bring water and trainers for comfort
Rule number 2: bring a camera to capture all incredible views
Rule number 3: bring a friend to capture you!
Get to know the tea inside out
If you can’t imagine a day without a hot cup of tea, explore tea plantations on the leafy mountains around Sun Moon Lake.
Check out the Hugosum teahouse, known for excellent craft and extremely polite staff. The business here has been passed on to the second generation to introduce the renaissance of the Taiwanese black tea to the world.
Start with a stroll around tea bushes and palm trees. Everything that grows on the plantation is sustainable, free from artificial substances and great for the planet. Then join the tea workshop class and produce your very own kind of tea. It’s laborious, but good fun and worth it for the delicate and smooth final product. Mmm…are you feeling Zen already?
FOOD AND DRINK
Dumpling heaven at Din Fai Tung
The sky is the limit when it comes to the variety of flavours at Din Fai Tung restaurant, at the foot of Taipei 101. Xiaolongbao, Shao Mai and Wonton are just a few of the shapes, types and sizes of dumplings and other Taiwanese delicacies found here.
Their signature dish is a paper-thin pork Xiaolongbao with an incredible 18 folds! Elsewhere on the menu are dumplings with seafood, fish, chicken, mushrooms, beans, as well as countless vegetarian options. Their dessert chef even recommends the melt-in-the-mouth chocolate variety.
Din Fai Tung has recently opened one of their international branches in Covent Garden, London, so have a little tasty sneak peek.
Shin Yeh on the top of Taipei 101
For a fancy meal with authentic flavours and an appealing view, take a lift to the highest floor of Taipei 101 tower and dine at Shin Yeh. Their culinary secret is reviving the unique style of traditional Taiwanese cuisine.
Choose from different sets of dishes in various prices according to preference and hunger level. All served on a Lazy Susan – great for infinite rotation, sharing and tasting.
Sweetness of Tainan
From Taipei take the Taiwan High Speed Rail at will whisk you to Tainan, a perfect place to fall in love, slow down and indulge in life. The food here, and likewise life philosophy, is sweeter than in other parts of Taiwan.
A daily breakfast menu includes fresh beef soup with ginger and spices. There is no better, nor famous, place to give it a go than Six Thousands Beef Soup Shop. Next, feast at Du Hsiao Yueh restaurant. Milk fish, shrimp rolls and kitchen speciality – noodles with minced pork and shrimp in prawn soup – are a must in your order there.
PLACES TO STAY
Taipei City Hotel
Taipei City Hotel is a mix of chic and innovation. From the outside, it’s an architectural phenomenon – monumental foundation finished with modern high tower. It stands out from the surrounding in Datong District of the city. Inside it, bedrooms are spacious and relaxing with a fancy bathroom space and v comfy king size bed. Breakfast is served in continental and Chinese variant or if you fancy getting out, Ningxia Night Market is a walking distance.
Silks Place Tainan
5-star accommodation doesn’t need an introduction. Silks Place Tainan is an exclusive place to stay and enjoy all the luxuries, featuring a private gym, restaurant, hot tub, nightclub, lounge area and a tiled rooftop pool that looks out onto mysterious Tainan city. Perfectly equipped rooms come with super-star service and all the compliments, including breakfast in two different restaurants. Option one (for the adventurous) – a taste of traditional Chinese novelties or option two – unlimited Western and Taiwanese specials. Wow!
Sun Moon Lake Hotel
A personal favourite, thanks to the poetic view at the calm lake from the room terrace. Sun Moon Lake Hotel is the right spot to forget about everything and drown in the beauty of nature. Rooms are bright and comfortable, equipped with all the necessities plus a little sitting area, private soaking tub and an adorable kimono for a quick outfit change. After checking in, chill in the hotel bar overseeing the mountains and water, take a free bike ride around the area or hit the hiking trail. Perfect place for mind, body and soul.
By Aleksandra Talacha
MTV Travelled with… Taiwan Tourism Bureau. For more information please visit www.taiwan.net.tw or go to their Facebook page @TaiwanUK. China Airlanes. Fly direct to Taipei with China Airlines from London Gatwick Airport. Flies five times a week with a return ticket from £500 per person. For further information, fares and reservations contact: 0207 644 6110 or visit: www.china-airlines.com. MTV Stayed at Taipei City Hotel. Room rates start from £74 per room per night. Check INN. Room rates start from £64 per room per night. Silks Place Tainan. Room rates start from £91 per room per night (excludes breakfast). Sun Moon Lake Hotel. Rates start from £111 per room per night.