When visiting a new country, it’s easy just to do what everyone else does. Sometimes, that is fine, but not when you are looking for those special places. The places that you will remember for the rest of your life!
Where is special to visit in Taiwan? I could say that everywhere in Taiwan is special, but I want to point you in the direction of some of my personal favourites. The real hidden gems are Taiwan’s islands.
I have many ideas about where you can go, and some are well known, but others rarely get western visitors. These are places that I have visited on numerous occasions; please let me share them with you. It is not meant to be an in-depth guide to each of the places that I mention. It is an overview of the areas that you should not miss.
Step One: Get away from Taipei
Capital cities, ahh, don’t you love them? So many travellers just visit the capital cities of the world and then claim to have visited their respective countries. This became very evident to me, as a Brit, because London has many, many tourists that never venture outside to see the real Britain.
Taipei is a splendid city that is full of things to do and see. Don’t make the mistake of spending all of your time in the capital. If you think that you won’t have the time to explore the island then make the time. The most significant cost of travelling to Taiwan is the flight, public transport and accommodation are very affordable. Take advantage of this.
The Diversity of Taiwan
As you are already in Taiwan or seriously considering visiting it, you may already be familiar with the layout of the island. The island is tall and thin, for want of a better description, The western side of the island is where the majority of the population live. A high mountainous spine runs from north to south effectively splitting the island into two halves. Travelling around the perimeter island is easy but going across it is not.
Decide on your plan. You can go clockwise or anti-clockwise, the choice is yours, but remember that the large cities are on the west and the scenery is on the east. Check the weather to help you decide on the direction if you are in Taiwan during typhoon season. Avoid the east coast if there is a potential storm heading toward the island.
I will list the places travelling in an anti-clockwise direction starting in Taipei.
These are far from the main island of Taiwan and are close to the Chinese mainland. They were only opened up to foreign visitors in 2009. They are a spectacular group of islands that are linked together by a network of ferries. They have a natural, unspoilt beauty and should not be missed. You can get there by air or sea.
This large city is located halfway down Taiwan and makes for a great base to explore central areas. You can take a trip to Sun Moon Lake from here as well as visit the famous Fengjia night market.
Taichung is home to many fine galleries and museums.
While not located in Taichung, it is well worth your time to pay a visit. The architecture and exhibits are stunning!
Visit the mountains, drink tea and watch awesome sunrises and sunsets. A wonderful place! Take the train up the mountain from Chiayi.
Tainan is full of historic sites and old temples. It is a must-see for anyone touring around Taiwan. Tainan is historically thought of as one of the oldest cities in Taiwan having been established by the Dutch in the seventeenth century. Fort Provintia was built by the Dutch in 1653 and now is little but a ruin. It is still a very worthy place to visit as two magnificent towers have been built at the site.
My city! This place has so much to offer! Getting here is a breeze, it has the second largest airport in Taiwan, and it is also at the end of the high-speed rail line. A bus is also an option for the budget conscious.
It has grown from a small trading village into a large and cosmopolitan centre. This city has the lot, fine dining, art, history, modern and efficient transportation. Kaohsiung is, without doubt, one of the most undiscovered jewels that most travellers miss. Don’t make that mistake!
If I ever decide to leave Taiwan, then I would really miss this place. It offers a stark contrast to the nearby city of Kaohsiung. Laid back and authentic. You can easily spend a day here. It is accessible by two different ferries (and a tunnel for cars and scooters only). I would recommend that you hire bicycles to explore Cijin as there is a myriad of tiny backstreets and temples. I challenge you to find the quayside potato chip factory!
You can take a ferry from Kaohsiung or fly here. You will probably arrive at Magong city which is more of a large town. I took my bicycle here on the ferry and had a wonderful time peddling around the quiet lanes. Penghu is the ideal place if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Go here and relax. Oh, did I tell you it has great beaches and superb snorkelling?
Xiao Liuqiu is a small island roughly thirty kilometres south of Kaohsiung city. You get there by taking a thirty-minute ferry from Donggang. The island is immensely popular on weekends so I would advise going there during the week. Home to “Vase Rock”.
Kenting National Park is on the southern tip of the island and os a super place to visit. Go there, hire a scooter and explore. Apart from the scenery, it has a vibrant little town with a night market, some nightlife and clean beaches.
If you are following along on this tour of Taiwan, then Taitung is the next logical step. It located in the south-east of the island and sits between the Pacific Ocean and the mountains. It is not as modern as other Taiwanese cities, and that can be a welcome relief. Great if you like exploring nature and the countryside.
Located near Taitung, you can get here by air or sea. Green Island is another often overlooked destination that is just beautiful. It has a saltwater hot spring which is very unusual. There are not many in the world.
Despite being the second largest city on the east coast, Hualien is very laid back. It makes sense to visit the Taroko Gorge while you are in the area and Hualien is the perfect base for that.
When to visit?
I would recommend the off-season periods, so either October and November or March and April. The summer months can be hot, humid and wet! There is a considerable difference in the weather between the Matsu islands in the north and Kenting in the south. I have visited Matsu in early February, and the temperature was low, around 8ºC.
What to take?
I always advise travelling light. Have enough clothes to cover the temperature differences that you might encounter. Don’t forget that the mountains in Taiwan have very different weather to the coastal areas.
I would always advise some form of rain protection. (I like to use a cuben fibre rain poncho in combination with a windbreaker jacket. Both of these are incredibly light and pack down small. Then I use a system of layers building up to a down jacket. I like to travel by bicycle. It suits my lifestyle and gives plenty of flexibility.
Q: Is public transport in Taiwan expensive?
A: No, it is very reasonable by western standards. It allows us to go to many more places than you might think possible.
Q: Will I find accommodation easily in Taiwan?
A: Yes, There are a lot of hotels and guesthouses. You do not always have to book in advance, but be prudent and check for public holidays when places can get busy.
Q: Do I need to worry about the language barrier?
A: no, those who worry achieve very little with their lives.