One of the few things that I hate about traveling is standing in a long queue while trying to get inside a popular attraction and squeezing through throngs of tourists who are trying to take perfect selfies. This is why on my recent trip to Taiwan, I decided to venture into the less touristy areas and explored Taiwan’s off the beaten tracks.
Taiwan is slowly becoming one of Asia’s most popular tourist destinations, so it’s not surprising to find plenty of tourist guides online that will point you out to the most popular destinations in the country. There’s nothing wrong with visiting these popular attractions, but if you want to experience and enjoy the country like the locals would, why don’t you stray off the usual tourist routes and visit something else? Read on as I share with you some tips on how to explore Taiwan’s off the beaten tracks.
Head To Taichung
Taiwan consists of four major cities – Taipei, Tainan, Taitung and Taichung. And while most tourists would head to Taipei and Tainan, Taichung is often overlooked. Having a population of almost 3 million, Taichung is a large city with bustling night markets and emerald green hills where you can take part in some hiking activities.
On my first day in Taichung, I visited the Second Market, a market lined with several market stalls selling everything you can think of! The market was remarkably built in a perfect hexagon shaped and serves as the very center of Taichung. Aside from admiring its remarkable architecture, I spent the day devouring authentic local foods. I cannot even give a recommendation on which food to try since all of the foods I’ve tasted are just so delicious!
From the market, I went to Chun Shui Tang to have a taste of the authentic Taiwanese bubble tea. You’ll find bubble teas almost everywhere in Taiwan, but Chun Shui Tang is said to be the birthplace of the bubble tea and where the bubble tea craze has started.
On the following day, I was craving for some outdoor adventure so I went to Dakeng. Located on the eastern side of Taichung, the city boasts a beautiful view of emerald green hills. The hills have trails that are built entirely from logs and there are plenty of trails to choose from for your hike. I took trails 1 to 4, and although the climb is a bit challenging, when I get to the top and saw the most beautiful sunset views, I must say that it’s really worth it!
Visit The Ci’En Pagoda
From Taichung, I went to the Sun Moon Lake to visit the Ci’En Pagoda. Although the Sun Moon Lake is a popular tourist destination, there are actually some places in the area that are unreachable by tourist buses and one of these is the Ci’En Pagoda. I hired a personal driver to drive me up and down the hills near the Sun Moon Lake. After the fun drive, I had to walk for about 20 minutes passing through a tropical forest until I reach the Ci’En Pagoda. This remarkable structure was built by Chiang Kai-Shek in honor of his mother. Having a height of 46 meters, climbing all the way to the top is truly a one of a kind adventure! Yet, when you get to the top, you will be rewarded with a magical view of the Sun Moon Lake.
Surf At Jialeshui
The Kenting National Park in the southern area of Taiwan is a great place for relaxation and exciting adventure. However, I was looking for a place that is not too crowded, which is why I avoided the main spots of Kenting and instead, I hired a local guide who took me to Jialeshui on a motorbike. Jialeshui is a small coastal town in the eastern part of Kenting and a favorite destination for local surfers. I’ve always wanted to learn how to surf and in fact, it has long been on my bucket list so I decided to enroll in a surfing lesson while in Jialeshui.
Ride The Kaohsiung To Taitung Train
The train ride from Kaohsiung to Taitung is no doubt one of the most scenic train rides I ever get to experience in my entire life! I spent most of the journey gazing at the window, admiring the magical views of the mountains, rice fields, and beaches. Passing through Kaohsiung’s central mountain range, you get to enjoy the magical views of lush green hills amidst the glistening river beds. When the train reaches the East Coast, you’ll be treated to the beautiful coastal views of turquoise water and sandy beaches. Just before you reach Taitung, you’ll be passing through a long stretch of Taiwan’s most beautiful rice fields.
Experience Dulan’s Lively Art Scene
My surfing teacher in Jialeshui recommended that I should visit Dulan to enjoy its artistic vibe. So after arriving at the train station of Taitung, I hopped on a bus that took me to Dulan, a tiny coastal village off the east coast of Taitung. With only less than 1,000 inhabitants, I was expecting Dulan to be a quiet and peaceful community, yet I was taken aback by its lively atmosphere!
Upon arriving in Dulan, I visited the Old Sugar Factory, a cultural park that’s home to independent local artists and designers. I spent the rest of the day admiring the interesting art installations and structures scattered at the park. On the following day, I went to a “secret beach” upon the advice of a local. I walked for ten minutes until I reach a place that locals call the “water running up”. From here, I walked into a small road that led me to an empty beach. It’s just stunning although I would recommend that you visit it with some friends because it’s a bit creepy to go there alone.
In the evening, my local host invited me to a bar named the Highway 11, famous for their homemade craft beers. I enjoyed an interesting conversation with the owner and some foreign artists who considered Dulan their home. Luckily, I happen to be at the place on a weekend, where local live bands can be heard performing in the background, which adds up to the lively scene.
Discover Taipei’s Hidden Gems
After Dulan, I headed to Taiwan’s capital and discovered its hidden gems. Sure, there are plenty of interesting things to see and discover in Taipei, but most of the locals I’ve met told me that there are actually several hidden gems tucked into the little alleys of this vibrant capital city. So after my adventure in Taitung, I head straight to Taipei and explored its hidden gems. Here are some of them:
- Beitou hot spring – after all the adventures I did in Taichung, soaking in a hot spring sounds like a good idea. So I went to Beitou, a place dotted with Japanese style bathhouses, to enjoy a relaxing bath at a thermal hot spring. Another town known for its hot springs is Wulai, a charming sleepy town about 30 minutes away from Taipei.
- Hongshulin mangrove wetland – there are plenty of cycling trails all over Taipei, but my personal favorite is the path that’s between Hongshulin and Tamsui MRT, which runs through the Hongshulin mangrove wetland, a protected nature reserve. I rented a bike at the Hongshulin MRT and cycled my way past the wetland all the way to the Tamsui MRT, where I returned my bike and took the MRT back to the city center.
- Hidden alleys near Zhongshan MRT – I love the lively atmosphere at the various night markets of Taipei, but if you want a quieter and less crowded place to shop, check out those hidden alleyways near the Zhongshan MRT Station. The place is dotted with several shops selling different kinds of things. There are also plenty of food stalls and quirky cafes along the street, serving delicious Taiwanese treats.
- Huashan 1914 Creative Park – this park is among the few open green spaces that are within the Taipei city center and a great place to shop for vintage art pieces, including local handicraft and other interesting products. Unlike the other parks in Taipei, this park is less crowded and a perfect place to stroll around while admiring the interesting art installations at the park.
As you see, there are so many places to discover in Taiwan which no travel guidebook can tell you about. I was even amazed at how much there is to discover in this thriving Asian country.
There is nothing wrong with sticking to tourist spots when traveling to Taiwan, but if you’re like me who wanted to stray off the well-trodden track, this guide should help you in creating your own travel itinerary and enjoy Taiwan like no other tourists can.