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Taiwan: Beyond the cityscapes and fast trains

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By Kathrina Ysabel Pineda

Only in Taiwan is where you can stop and smell the roses, and at the same time savor the stinky tofu.

heping island

On my first trip to Taiwan, I was awed by all the lights that blanketed the skyscrapers at night, how every single corner looks like it came straight out of a well-curated, aesthetically-pleasing Instagram account, and how they kept their culture and tradition intact amidst the fast advancement and adaptation to modernization. I was left wanting to explore more.

One thing that left a mark on me was how safe I felt walking around the streets alone at night. How many places can girls name that have made them feel like that? It is a recommended place for female solo travelers to explore.

Hues and histories
I had a chance to explore Taiwan the second time around as the Taiwan Tourism Board took us to see Taiwan in a new light.

rainbow village

My favorite part of visiting a new place is gathering new stories. Taiwan has a lot of them. But one particular place that carries my favorite story is their Rainbow Village in Nantun, Taichung or the rainbow military housing.

In an attempt to save the military housing that was facing dismantling from the government’s city plan in September 2008, a retired soldier started to paint his dreams in lively colors on the walls. Before they knew it, the whole place was covered in characters, words, numbers, and all colors of the rainbow. This attracted many people, mostly children, to keep coming back to the place and in turn, the government declared it a treasure worth preserving. The retired soldier who saved this little village is known by the people as Grandpa Rainbow. The place is as beautiful, and as pure as Grandpa Rainbow’s heart.

original pearl milk tea

While in Taichung, especially if you are a milk tea lover, it is a sin to miss going to the birthplace of milk tea. The Original Store of Chun Sui is the place to visit for the whole cultural experience of having your milk tea fix. This place is where it all started and having a taste of their Pearl Milk Tea with tapioca will give you all the nostalgia.

steamed dishes

Along with their Pearl Milk Tea, we tried their other dishes including the Shrimp Shumai, Tofu Skin Rolls, and Beef Tendon Noodles. It all tasted like home away from home.

fried tofu

Before we called it a night in Taichung, we headed over to one of the famous night markets, the Feng Chia Night Market. Loads of choices of clothes, accessories, beauty products, street foods, and the latest technology filled the bright streets, and all is fairly priced. It was one of the best ways to end a long day.

Feng chia night market

We headed to Gouxing Township the next morning and experienced the rich culture of the Atayal tribe, a minority aboriginal tribe in Taiwan at the Atayal Resort. The stay at the Baroque architectural style of Atayal Resort could pass as a complete package for its numerous recreational activities, and ecology.

atayal tribe at atayal resort

We had a short shooting session with bows and arrows, then headed to their popular skywalk that is both literally, and figuratively, breathtaking. They have a skywalk that hangs 500 meters above sea level where you can see the marvelous view of the mountainous landscape, and a glimpse down through their tempered glass construction will leave you at the edge of your seat, or at least the skywalk.

Where the grass is greener, and the temperature is lower
When people think of colors they can associate with Taiwan, green is the least color they could think of. Since I saw the mountains and waterfalls on the screen of my plane to Taiwan, I was left curious by their green tourism.

sun link sea

I hungered to see the mountains, taste the sea, and feel the clouds. People barely see the greener side of Taiwan, and I was fortunate enough to have witnessed its natural beauty that is just as worth all the glamor as its busy night markets and neon-lit buildings. It was a breath of fresh air. I fell even more in love with Taiwan for its greener side.

Taiwan’s neon-lit streets are indeed beautiful, but the path less traveled led us to greener grasses.

The High Mountain Fairyland of Taiwan is where waterfalls, caves, ditches, and boulders were formed under the erosion, cutting, and penetration by streams for tens of thousands of years. The Sun-Link-Sea Forest and Nature Resort is where the mountains surrounded by clouds and fog greet you on your walks, and the dropping temperature warms you up inside. It is a dream for mountain and nature lovers like me as I got to stroll down their natural trails and showered in green on my way to the best scenery in Sun-Link-Sea, the Songlong Rock Waterfall.

songlong falls

Sun-Link-Sea has immeasurably beautiful natural sceneries, wild floras and faunas that photographers take their time for to capture and observe.

At night, you can observe the stars on their view deck. Sun-Link-Sea is said to have one of the clearest view of the stars and the galaxies at night because of their low level of light pollution. Aside from stargazing, I had the most perfect view of the mountains that silhouetted in the night under the moonlight.

We have also visited the monumental Jiji Train Station, which is an ancient train station that is the most popular in the Jiji route. The Jiji Train Station was destroyed by an earthquake in 1921. When it was reconstructed back to its original look, it attracted many tourists. It is a reminder that things can be admirable even after it’s been left in ruins.

More of the Nantou County cold awaited for us at Checheng. The view of Mt. Xin while taking a journey along their nostalgic railways, and rustic village is a cup of calming tea. Cheheng opts to a more family-oriented scene combined with leisure. It serves as a reminder of the flourishing history of the local industries namely the lumbering and coal industry.

The many shades of blue on the Sun Moon Lake is one of the reasons it is one of the most scenic areas in Taiwan. What is said to be the only big, natural lake in Taiwan is located 748 meters above sea level. It got its name from the southern part of Lalu Island shaped like a new moon, and the northern part shaped like a sun. It is a famous area where bikers, picnic-goers, and many pre-nuptial photoshoots take place. Sun Moon Lake is surrounded by the view of Itashao, the Ci-en Pagoda, and many natural forests.

heping island park

Heping Island is the less crowded, yet elevated version of the Yehliu Geopark. Located right within the North Coast and Guanyinshan National Scenic Area is the place where the roaring waves meet the geoscape. As you take a walk around the island, you will witness the years-worth of erosion by the wind, sea, and eroded rocks that have formed unique shapes, while you take in the smell of the ocean and the breeze of the wind as it hits you. It’s straight out of a scene from a movie.

Doors wider open
I am so glad that Taiwan has opened its doors wider for Filipinos and made it visa-free since Nov. 1, 2017. I saw other nationalities in line at the immigration that still have to present a visa just like the one I had to before.

The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the Philippines has announced that the visa-free access will continue until July 31, 2019, and will the on a trial period and subject to be reviewed for further extension.

Even their MRT station is so advanced that all we had to do was get to the first station so we could check-in our baggage straight to the plane right then and right there, and let it all do its magic while we carry on to the airport. We even got our boarding passes there. Before we know it, the next time we saw our luggage was at the baggage carousel back home.

I have this pact to myself that I will not visit any place twice because it would be a waste of my time, and money, to spend on a place that I have been to before instead of just going and spending it all somewhere I have not been to before. But Taiwan is an exception. I want to keep coming, and come back for more.

Of course many people go there to just take photos but there are a lot of things much deeper than what meets the eye. Taiwan is the temples, the culture, the colors of the lights at night, the mountains, the falls, nature’s formations, and the greenery. Taiwan is the advancement in technology, the flavors in the food, the hospitality of its people, and the memories that it will forever embark on you. Taiwan is in its history, and the future.

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