Experience Taiwan’s mountain magic
The annual Lantern Festival of Taiwan, hosted by the city of Taichung this year, pulled out all the stops to wow visitors with an astonishing display of light, art, tradition and technology centred on a grand live show, featuring the leading talents of the country and attended by international dignitaries, local and national leaders. TTN was invited for the annual Lantern Festival concluded earlier this year and visited Taiwan’s central region, as well as its western and eastern coasts.
Lantern Festival 2021 will have high standards to match, but, for this writer, the main pull of the island country lies somewhere in its verdant mountains.Taiwan’s mountain trails and hikes are accessible to nature lovers of all fitness levels, thanks to the efforts of the tourism department. A packed tourist bus of retired seniors, trooping out, marching in their squeaky new sneakers, singing aloud was a memory for the ages. This report aims to bring to you, through two unique locations in central and eastern Taiwan, less-known and exciting itineraries for Middle East travellers. Experiences that can be designed around the themes of nature, mountains, family and bonding. Prepare of a taste of authentic Taiwanese experiences.
NANTOU If Taiwan is the heart of Asia, then Nantou county is the heart of Taiwan. Just under three hours from the capital Taipei, this verdant region in the country’s centre is blessed with the best of nature – clear spring water, bounty of delicious locally grown fruits – don’t forget passion fruit, a straight-from-movie-set Sun Moon lake, and a thoroughly enjoyable family getaway in the mountain districts dotting the county. A day at Puli township is highly recommended. The town is home to dozens of DIY workshops, where visitors may learn to create hand-made paper from scratch, then craft an assortment of designs and showcase items with the paper, all this within an hour. It is an incredible individual and group experience, and at the end of it, your creative senses are awakened! Alongside hand-made paper workshops are bee-keeping workshops and woodwork workshops. Walk away as proud maker of your own wooden toys and music boxes. Stay at the region’s most sought-after Fleur de Chine Hotel. Standing tall on the Sun Moon Lake, guests enjoy private hot spring marble baths overseeing the lake right from the cosy comfort of their room. The resort’s culinary fame goes far and wide and comes with Halal friendly service. Muslim guests are offered a separate dining hall seating and tableware that is exclusive to them. Fleur de Chine boasts of an entire floor dedicated for children’s play area. Called Cloud Forest, the impressive facility features indoor climbing wall, teenager’s zone and a plethora of fun activities to keep the little ones busy. Surrounded by mineral rich green mountains, the Sun and Moon Lake is a nature-designed place for family outings and couples alike. The moods change from misty early mornings to clear afternoons, and golden twilights providing visitors with some very special views and takeaways from the lake district. As we leave Nantou behind driving eastwards through the Hehuanshan mountains, we reach the pinnacle of Taiwan, its highest point. Where walking atop clouds is the norm– a fluid stream of white clouds snaking its way through the handsome ranges. The fruit stalls selling locally grown pears, apple and strawberries in the township of Renai is possibly the sweetest memory of the trip, literally. HUALIEN The east facing Hualien county is home to the world-famous Taroko gorge. Thanks to the marvels of modern engineering, visitors can walk close to the jutting outcrops of the powerful range – through a 700m long tunnel of Nine Turns. Tourists of all age and fitness levels are seen enjoying this breathtaking view of nature, that’s how friendly this long narrow path is. There are a dozen other viewing spots that are connected through hiking paths inside the Taroko National Park, each vying for attention. But the views of the eternal spring of Changchun Shrine is simply arresting. From an open air terrace of the cafe at the base of the fall, time stands still, and the only sound that can be heard is the distant whisper of the eternal waterfall. After a day’s fill of nature’s brilliance, only an equally rewarding nurture of the mind and body can make for a perfect sequel. This is where the sophisticated Silks Palace Taroko comes in – designed to blend in with the surrounding rocky terrain, with modern Japanese styling, well-appointed rooms and a superb spa offering. The excellence is matched elsewhere by masters in the kitchen. The gastronomic experts are able to listen carefully, and swiftly return with off-menu items, completely compliant with Halal requirements. Kids under twelve will enjoy a great time at the hotel’s recreation centre. Open until late night, the Kidzania-like role-playing activities will ensure long hours of fun and merriment, giving adults a chance to enjoy the spa featuring stunning gorge views, rooftop outdoor whirlpool and swimming pool facilities. The rooftop cinema that comes to life under the starry sky, with the imposing gorge as the backdrop, is another signature Silks Palace experience. You cannot leave behind Hualien without taking the pristine sights of the Pacific rim. This is where Taroko National Park meets the azure spread of the vast ocean. On a clear day, visitors will be able to see three distinct tones of turquoise – a spectacular sight, replete with Instagrammable moments. Taiwan has rapidly revamped its tourism facilities to cater to Muslim travellers. Most of the public areas, parks, malls and train stations, airports offer ablution and prayer room facilities. Halal certified eateries abound across the island nation. With its popularity rising among Muslim travellers from Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and increasingly from the Middle East, it is no surprise then, that among the non-Muslim countries, Taiwan ranks third most favoured by Muslim travellers.
UNMISSABLE MEMORIES OF TAIWAN
RAINBOW Village in Taichung: The world’s attention turned to this colourful village painted by a 98-year old grandpa. The village, in the outskirts of the vibrant city of Taichung, has become a Mecca of inspiration to young and old alike. Taking a selfie with Rainbow Grandpa at the Rainbow Village is part of every visitor’s ritual.
Shifen and Jiufen Old Street: Holidays are meant for unforgettable memories, and the sky lantern activity, standing on an old railroad in Shifen makes for enduring memories. Guests are given paint brushes, then guided to paint their wishes on a lantern and then release them into the sky – it is a sight to behold, and a fun group activity. For Japanese film fans, specially those of Studio Ghibli, Jiufen is a walk down the scenes of the award-winning movie, Spirited Away. The bustling food street experience through the narrow alleyways provide visitors with an exciting array of authentic flavours.
Din Tai Fung: Middle East has its own flagship store of this legendary Taiwanese eating house in Dubai Mall, but a visit to Taiwan will remain incomplete without immersing in the tasty offerings of the Din Tai Fung at the base of the tallest tower, Taipei 101. A top of the world experience (after taking in views from the 101 observatory) is when you watch the masters of Din Tai Fung at work, pleating dumplings in their inimitable way, then enjoying the flavourful taste of the fillings. Note: Pre-visit reservations are highly recommended.