Don't have any image in mind of what Taiwan is like? Or maybe the name only brings to mind “Made in...” tags? Well, prepare to be surprised by its unspoiled nature and diverse landscapes in such a small territory, not to mention its safe and vibrant cities great for wandering.
While still off the beaten path, Taiwan is an up-and-coming destination in East Asia, offering a unique experience not far from China and Japan. Follow in the footsteps of the Bestjobers for an unforgettable 8-day trip around the island.
DAY 1: Taipei: Between tradition and modernity
First stop: Taipei. This city with a population of 5 million has grown dramatically since 1949, when it was chosen as the new seat of the government of the Republic of China.
Discover Taoism: The capital has so many Taoist temples, it's hard to choose among them! For a haven of peace in the heart of the city, choose the Baoan temple early in the morning. It has been recognised by UNESCO and offers a lovely visit.
Chiang Kai-shek Mausoleum: An impressive memorial honouring the first president of the Republic of China, who ruled the island for 25 years. The colours, shapes, number of steps: nothing was left to chance. It's hard not to feel insignificant when walking along its enormous esplanade.
Go to the top of Taipei 101: A source of national pride and once the tallest building in the world at 1,666 feet (508 metres), is an architectural masterpiece. Even taking its lift, among the fastest in the world, is an experience in itself. From the top, the view of the city and its surroundings is breathtaking! Not for those with fear of heights!
Elephant Mountain: Enjoy a stunning view of the city as you make your way up Elephant Mountain. The stairs and vertical rise may leave you with some aches and pains, but the view will leave you speechless! Tip: Don't necessarily waste your time waiting in line for a photo on the rocks – keep climbing the path, and the views only get better!
Where to eat
Delight your taste buds on steamed dumplings at Din Tai Fung, a beloved Taipei institution. With 10 locations in the city and 156 restaurants worldwide, this restaurant is a tremendous Taiwanese success. The Taiwanese eat fairly early. Try to come around 6 p.m. to get a table, or reserve in advance.
Where to stay
To reflect on Taiwan's history and take in the thrill from the comfort of your room, stay at the , an iconic place in Taipei. Built in 1952 in the Chinese tradition, with its curved roof and many red columns, it's a must-see!
No. 61, Hami Street, Datong District
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial
No. 21, Zhongshan South Road, Zhongzheng District,
No. 7, Section 5, Xinyi Road, Xinyi District,
Elephant Mountain (aka Nangang District Hiking Trail)
Lane 150, Songren Road
Din Tai Fung
No. 1, Section 4, Zhongshan North Road, Zhongshan District,
Tel.: +886 2 2886 8888
DAY 2: Unique Taipei and shopping
Dihua Street: If you have to pick just one neighbourhood, head to the Datong District along the Tamsui River and stroll down the famous old Dihua Street, filled with small shops full of Chinese herbs, crafts and teas. A perfect place to enjoy a cup of tea.
Songshan Cultural Park: A former tobacco factory opened in 1937, closed in 1998, and converted in 2011 into artists' studios, exhibition halls and cafés. A different way to see the city.
Songshan Cultural Park
No. 133, Guangfu South Road, Xinyi District
No. 101, Jihe Road, Shilin District,
DAY 3: Discover the majestic Taroko Gorge
After two days exploring Taipei, drive to Taroko National Park, about four hours away. Along the way, take a quick stop at the Qingshui Cliff to see the waves of the Pacific breaking over the cliffs. Then it's a radical change of scenery and a sure thrill when you find yourself in Taroko Gorge, carved by the turquoise Liwu River. You will feel tiny at the foot of its gigantic marble cliffs, several hundred metres high. With its mountains rising close to 10,000 feet (3,000 metres), Taroko is a true nature paradise with numerous trails where hiking enthusiasts can venture out for several days.
Where to stay
To get the most out of the canyons, sleep in the heart of the national park at Silks Place Taroko. After a day of hiking, the swimming pool and hot tubs on the roof terrace are welcome respite, as are the excellent service and delicious cuisine from the only restaurant in the park.
Silks Place Taroko
No. 18, Fengcun Road, Xiulin Township
Tel.: +886 3 869 1155
DAY 4: Discovering the eastern coast
Leave Taroko in the morning and head south along the eastern coast, the most pristine and untouched part of the island, protected since 1987. Today the Pacific Ocean will be your companion as you travel along Route 11. One curious place is worth a stopover: the Baxian Caves, or in Chinese the caves of the “Eight Immortals”, in homage to the Taoist deities. At the base of the main cave, close your eyes and listen: you'll have the impression you can hear the sound of the ocean. It's quite surprising!
A few miles farther, park your car at the Sanxiantai visitors centre and admire the impressive bridge with its many curves resembling a dragon. Take the opportunity to stretch your legs and walk across the bridge. You'll find yourself on a small volcanic island with a unique atmosphere, reminiscent of Scotland and the end of the world!
End the day in Zhiben, a town well known for its hot springs built during the Japanese occupation.
Where to stay
There are many hotels in Zhiben. The important thing here is to have access to the hot springs. At the Century Hotel, learn the ritual of the thermal bath, with separate baths for men and women, like in the Japanese onsen. Or enjoy a nice bath directly in your room with taps that supply hot water from the springs!
25 Xincun Road, Chenggong Township
25 Shintsuen Road, Chenggong Township
No. 30, Longquan Road, Beinan Township,
Tel:+886 8 951 5688
DAY 5: Western coast and Kaohsiung
Today you'll leave the rugged eastern coast for the much more urbanised and populous western coast of the island. It'll take four hours to reach Taiwan's second largest city, Kaohsiung. It's worth a visit if only to stroll through the art centre at the port, Pier-2. These former industrial warehouses have been converted into galleries, artists' studios, street art, small shops and cafés. You might be surprised by this avant-garde scene here in Taiwan.
In another style, a few minutes from the centre, don't miss Lotus Pond and its many colourful pagodas, each more interesting than the next. Have fun climbing to the top of the Dragon Pagoda and come out through the Tiger Pagoda (local lore has it that you should not do it the other way around). At nightfall, the place sparkles with a thousand lights and will enchant you with its magic.
Then you'll head out for Tainan, less than an hour's drive, where you'll spend the next two nights.
No. 1, Dayong Road, Yancheng District,
Kaohsiung City, 803
Dragon and Tiger Pagodas
No. 9, Liantan Road, Zuoying District,
Kaohsiung City, 813
DAY 6: Stroll through the streets of Tainan, Taiwan's historic and culinary capital
This is where the first emigrants and explorers settled. There are more than 300 temples in Tainan. You won't be able to see all of them, but one notable one is the oldest temple built in honour of Mazu, goddess of the sea (there are over 400 temples to her in Taiwan). The city is just brimming with historical sites, unusual places and lively alleys where time seems to have stopped.
Don't miss the Anping Tree House, a warehouse abandoned for the past seventy years, where nature seems to have taken over again. The building is covered in banyan tree roots.
End the day shopping along Shennong Street. A great way to spend a fun evening, surrounded by red lanterns, souvenir shops and cute trendy bars!
Where to have lunch
Street food is an institution in Tainan. Stop by the city's famous bakery Klin Taiwan Bao to sample their delicious stuffed steamed buns (bao).
Another Tainanese speciality are danzi noodles, served with minced pork. You'll find them at many restaurants, such as Du Hsiao Yueh.
Where to have dinner
Enjoy a pleasant meal steeped in history and flavour at Zhu Xin Ju. Learn about Tainanese cuisine as you feast on the daily creations, prepared by the chef who has a fine sense of detail and hospitality. It's a splendid menu created with taste and passion. Reservations are necessary, as there are only a few tables (don't miss the private collection of antiques in the back of the restaurant).
Where to stay
An architectural marvel made of concrete with clean lines and sleek décor, the Mao House will wow you as soon as you walk through the door. It's an oasis of tranquillity on the small island of Yuguang, a few minutes from the city, where you will want to rest after a day of exploring.
Anping Tree House
No. 108, Gubao Street, Anping District
Tel.: +886 6 391 3901
Shennong Street, West Central District
Klin Taiwan Bao Bakery
No. 218, Sec. 1, Fuqian Road, West Central District,
Du Hsiao Yueh Restaurant
No. 16, Zhongzheng Road, West Central District
Zhu Xin Ju Restaurant
No. 69, Xinyi Street, West Central District,
Tel.: +886 6 221 8890
Mao Wu House
No.113 Yuguang Road | 1F,
Tel.: +886 6 391 2113
DAY 7: High up in the Ruili tea mountains
Today you'll leave Tainan to head up into nature. You will discover the Ruili and Ruifeng farmlands, where oolong tea, known to be some of the best in the world, is grown. Between hairpin turns, the mountains gradually appear among the clouds. On Routes 162 and 166, the scenery is magnificent, with betel palms rising from the tea terraces and hills on the horizon, at an altitude of more than 3,000 feet (1,000 metres).
Between bamboo forests, tea fields and hikes along the waterfall trail, take a breath of fresh air and marvel at all the lush vegetation. You're just a stone's throw from Alishan National Park.
Where to eat
Even in the heart of the mountains, design is at home in Taiwan. With its open-air dining room, abundant greenery and outstanding tea shop, the Air Library is a great place to stop for lunch in style.
Where to stay
Tonight you'll sleep in a wooden cabin in the heart of nature. The atmosphere is rustic but the service authentic by Mr. Lai and his family, who do their best, despite the language barrier, to help you discover the beauty of their countryside. Traditional Taiwanese cuisine is served for breakfast and dinner, to be shared alongside the other guests in a warm, friendly, no-frills atmosphere.
603, Chiayi County,
Meishan Township, 仔2號附12
Lai Home/Light's House
No. 22-1,9 Lin, Xinxingliao, Ruifeng Village,
Meishan Township, Chiayi Country,
Tel.: +886 (0) 5 250 1109
DAY 8: Return to Taipei
It's time to head down the mountain and return to the city, your mind filled with cherished memories, before flying home.