Asia

Traveling in Taiwan

written by | Posted on May 1st, 2010

Just outside of Taipei, there’s Yang Ming Shan National Park, a beautiful conservation area not too far from the hotel and the city—maybe a 40-minute ride. Its main attraction is a dormant volcano still spewing plenty of steam with its ancient core helping to heat up the natural hot springs found around the area. The nearby Jing San Recreation has some of those hot springs and many local Taiwanese visit the hot springs facilities there with both men’s and women’s indoor facilities. But you can’t be shy here, because it’s skinny dipping only, no bathing suits allowed.

The Yehliu Geopark is about a 90-minute drive from Taipei on the coast and its biggest attraction is the exotic rock formations created by erosion from wind and ocean currents. It’s truly a beautiful natural site and locals and tourist alike “ooh and aah” over the unique formations. There’s also an amphitheater with a dolphin show, as well as numerous restaurants and shops nearby.

cultural marvels Cultural enthusiasts will find some time for a little contemplation at the Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Center for a vegetarian lunch with the monks at this Buddhist temple and training center, a very modern complex of buildings that includes the Dharma Mountain University. The place is immense and we were shown throughout the complex with its temple rooms for devotions and an extensive library of varied texts in several languages.

Nearby is Taiwan’s Museum of Gold, which is really kind of an amusement park highlighting the gold mining activities in this once-prosperous region. Once you arrive, you go by a series of buildings or homes that look remarkably Japanese. And with good reason, they were. The more modern mining activities there went back to the late-18th and early-19th centuries, but gold has been taken out of there for centuries. When the Japanese took over Taiwan in the early-20th century and colonized it, they also took over the mining operation. Part of the mine is utilized now for tourists. You enter two legs of the actual mine wearing miner’s hats and walk down into the mine where they have a variety of exhibits showing how the miners worked when it was active. After you come out, there’s another exhibit giving the history of the mine with old photographs and one section explaining how the Japanese utilized prisoners of war they had captured early in WWII, virtually as slave labor and thousands died from malnutrition and beatings. Farther on, there’s a gold museum with gold artifacts that came out of the mines.

On the hill opposite the museum is Tomau Jifu Village, necessitating still another hair-raising ride up another narrow, twisting road—everything is vertical in this part of Taiwan, it seems. Once you arrive, you start up on foot and en-route, pass dozens upon dozens of shops set right up against one another selling everything from clothing and jewelry, to souvenirs and arts and crafts. Tell clients to try the Kunohe Restaurant here, it has a stunning view with an outdoor balcony overlooking a valley and the ocean. The food here, too, is excellent and that’s saying something because the dining overall in Taiwan is stupendous.

But there’s plenty of must-see attractions in Taipei, as well, including one of Taipei’s oldest merchant districts that’s still going strong—a long thoroughfare clogged with taxis, scooters and motorbikes and storefront after storefront of herbal pharmacies where medicines prescribed by Asian medical practitioners are filled containing things like snake skins and all manner of herbs and spices. Tea anyone? There’s lots of it here, as well as jewelry and curio shops, plus small grocery stores and clothing shops.

Next, it’s the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall—a huge structure dedicated to the late ruler who, apparently, has fallen into some disrepute with modern Taiwanese as they revisit some of his more heavy-handed tactics in the formation of modern Taiwan. But there seems to be plenty of folks either willing to forgive and forget or who just want to enjoy the formal Changing of the Guard ceremony, an impressive military tradition that runs here daily in front of a massive and benevolent-looking huge statue of the former Taiwanese president, not unlike the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.