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If you are looking for a destination that will tantalise the tastebuds, allow you to experience an astonishing history, give you the opportunity to immerse yourself in a kind culture or to simply relax and enjoy some beautiful nature then I urge you to visit Taiwan.
Global Tourism Exchange in conjunction with Golden Foundation recently offered me the fantastic opportunity to experience this truly wonderful destination. With it’s rather extreme contrast between city hub-bub, small town zen and rich history, I was honestly surprised at everything this little island had to offer.
We flew with Cathay Pacific who, for the first 11 hours of the journey, delivered a very pleasant economy class experience. The seats were comfortable, the food was good, the entertainment selection great and the service was friendly. It was typhon season in Taiwan though, which meant the last hour was a bit more turbulent and where some of us were enjoying the ride, other passengers were left a bit white knuckled. After two failed attempts at landing, we thought that the gusty winds were going to force us back to Hong Kong, third time was the charm and to a loud round of applause the wonderful pilots managed to land the plane. What a way to start!
Day One had us experiencing everything that Taipei had to offer…and I mean everything! It was a manic 14 hours where we visited temples, shrines, memorials, museums and even completed three hotel inspections. Despite a far more jam packed itinerary than what I would usually recommend, it was a great way to experience the influences and history of the previous Portuguese, Japanese, Dutch and Chinese owners. Dinner was at the Michelin Star dumpling restaurant Ding Tai Fong Xinyi, located at the bottom of Taipei 101, the Pork Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings) were insanely delicious and the perfect way to finish of a hectic day!
The next morning, we woke excited and ready for the journey to Taroko Gorge, the group was sure that this National Park was to be the highlight of the trip! Unfortunately, the previously mentioned typhoon had other ideas and decided to flood the access roads. This meant we would not be visiting the Gorge this time, on the up side this is a wonderful excuse to go back! It could have been a disastrous situation, 10 travel agents and nowhere to travel…our quick-thinking guide was good at his job though and created a new itinerary on the fly. He had us visiting a local tea planation, where we picked, dried and brewed our own tea leaves and then touring Kavalan Whiskey Brewery where we had a tasting session.
After a relaxing day of tea and whiskey it was time for a change of pace, so back to Taipei we went ready to immerse ourselves in the hustle and bustle of the Shilin Night Market. The largest market in Taipei was an assault on the senses, smells of stinky tofu, sweet toffee covered fruit and incense competed against each other, prayers could be heard from the nearby temple and arcade games dinged loudly. That was all hazy background noise for me though, being a good AFL supporter I managed to find myself a portable wi-fi unit and pair of headphones and was listening to the Bulldogs vs Hawks game. Go Bulldogs!
Next on the agenda was Sun Moon Lake, the largest and most beautiful alpine lake in Taiwan, after a short boat ride across the lake, with a pit stop at yet another temple, we were in Tainan, our home for the night.
The next day was vistas twenty-six ways, views from here, there and everywhere! We explored the tiny, quiet town with a bike ride that took us up the mountain, through the forest and part way around the lake, drank iced tea and took in the misty landscape from the top of the glorious Lalu Hotel. Then climbed the stairs of the 46-year-old Ci-en Pagoda which graced us with even more breath-taking views of the mountains and lake.
The journey continued with a visit to the Buddha Memorial Centre and Fo Guang Shan Monastery located just outside of Kaohsiung. If the 108m Golden Buddha, multiple pagodas and lush gardens were not enough to get us in the mood, then how about a guided meditation?. Whilst wandering through the Monastery, our guide was approached by a monk who offered to show how to meditate. We were taken to an area of the Monastery that is usually only open to those who are participating in retreats. While sitting knee to knee, with our eyes closed and nothing to listen to besides the soothing voice of the old monk, the worries of the world fell away. I never considered myself to be the “meditating type” and I still don’t know why this time was different, I suppose when you have so much calmness and serenity surrounding you, you can’t help coming away from the experience feeling enlightened.
All in all, it was a magical experience full of great food, amazing people and unforgettable experiences. A destination that I would never have thought to pick and would now travel back to without hesitation.