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Both cozy and fast paced

Published in the Winter  2013 Issue of Canadian World Traveller
By Michael Morcos

Taiwan may be separated from mainland China, but they are close in culture and proximity. Due to the unique island situation, the people who call it home have adapted and blossomed into a vibrant, respectful and fascinating destination to explore for other Chinese tourists and guests worldwide.

Being in close proximity to many other nations, the Taiwanese people have adapted several cultural quirks and turned them into their own. There is a deep history of occupations from other nations, so this destination has adapted and create a rich quilt of colour, cuisine, entertainment and more all their own on the island. This was evident through the incredible displays of reverence at historical monuments I saw, the strange performances, delicious meals and unwavering hospitality.

The National Palace Museum

Arriving in Taipei City in time to head straight for this massive museum was an experience to remember. This aesthetically pleasing facility holds nearly 700,000 artifacts that tell a fascinating history of the Chinese and Ancient Asia. While it may not be organized perfectly like some western museums, the sheer volume of antique jars, sculptures, paintings and more is worth the visit. Making time to visit either early in the morning or at twilight can be the best times to experience this place, as many tour groups from mainland China and all over the world can crowd the hallways.

The National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

It is impossible not to notice the stark white walls and majestic design of this proud memorial. Built in honor or Generalissimo Chiang, former president of the Republic of China, guard now stand tall around its entrance and many visitors come out of curiosity or to pay respects. Both inside and out are beautifully landscaped and well maintained, making it ideal for a stroll when the weather is favorable. Plenty of relics are kept safe here, including a mock-up of an old office command center, Chiang’s state car and giant bronze statue. Such a landmark is iconic in Taipei and I found it to be a beautiful of summation of Taiwanese style.

A stay at the Grand Formosa Regent Taipei

While taking in all the sights and sounds of this vibrant city, it was great to have a home base at the Regent Taipei. Luxury and class are two values this hotel hold dear, reflecting in their gorgeous design and layout of the common areas and guest rooms. Since it is centrally located, it’s great for exploring when you only want a few minutes walk to the subway and other modes of transportation.

To Hsinchu County for an unusual performance

Not only does this northern part of the island boast stunning scenery, friendly people and fun celebrations, their performing arts offerings are worth encountering. While I was in Hsinchu County, I was able to see a unique show called Redtop, which highlights the idea of men dressing as women. As unusual as this was, all the artists were extremely talented and sported elaborate costumes while demonstrating their dance, acting and comedy skills. In the past two decades this performance troupe has won several accolades for their interesting interpretations.

Journey through the Beipu township

After the show I began to explore more places inside Hsinchu. One beautiful area was Beipu, known for it’s authentic tea blends and indigenous population. It’s very rural and only has a few main roads, but I was able to view some of the villages and temples. I enjoy venturing outside the hustle and bustle of large cities to truly connect with the landscape and the locals who live among the beauty.

The Nan Yuan hotel

A tranquil escape was to be had at these cozy accommodations in Hsinchu. The views atop this hilly lookout are unrivaled, as well as the regional cuisine of fresh vegetables and more served in the hotel restaurant. I admired the small pond filled with black geese and koi fish, perfectly fitting into the lush green backdrops of trees.

A peek at the Miaoli Lantern Festival

Lantern lightings and colorful parades are common in Taiwan, but this even what started over a decade ago is really something special. I attended the event held in Chuan Park and witness a beautiful display of community and prosperity. Things really get going at night when there are street parades featuring illuminated characters and sculptures, including things like Chinese dragons, peacocks and painted faces. Dancers perform uniformly, often to catchy drumming rhythms that also get the audience moving. The street food is another highlight, as guest can sample everything under the sun from fish stir fry to fried meats on handy sticks.

Relaxing at the Miaoli Maison de Chine Hotel

Where I next laid my head was a beautiful establish with a large, elegant lobby and plenty of friendly hotel staff. It’s location is close to several places to eat, plenty of train stations and more. After a hectic day of sightseeing, it was wonderful to relax in their spacious, plush rooms and get a good night’s sleep.

Beautiful Taichung City

Taipei isn’t the only buzzing metropolis for travelers to enjoy while visiting Taiwan. I journeyed to Taichung, the third largest city, and was greeted with a plethora of shopping opportunities, historical attractions and cultural offerings. Night markets are a favorite pastime of locals and visitors alike, as well as spending time in forest parks, wildlife sanctuaries and heritage temples.

The memorable Hotel One

Of all the places I stayed in Taiwan, this was my favorite. I tend to lean toward more interesting and unique accommodations that offer plenty to look at and offer a look into the cultural wonders of a destination. Each corner was adorned with sleek and sharp ambiance, especially the amazing dining and lounge areas with city views. Rooms were comfortable and felt almost like home, providing equally stunning lookouts over the skyline from massive windows.

Touring the Lukang township

Bordering part of the west coast of Taiwan is this fun area that has remained a bustling port town for generations. Lukang Old Street was of particular interest to me, as it is lined with many historical buildings and temples. Many people’s homes have intricately carved doorways and window frames, which stand side by side eating establishments serving up dishes like fried shrimp, oyster omelettes and steamed meat buns. Near the Lukang Old Street is the Matzu Temple where I saw funny statues depicting some of life’s best ‘pleasures’, such as having a good yawn or scratching your back.

A trip on a high speed rail

Getting around Taiwan can be a little hectic, with all of it’s busy cities, dense forest and sprawling rural landscapes. Luckily, there are many high speed train routes travelers can take to make their journey easy and quick. I was on the train from Lukang back to Taipei and found the experience to be pleasant, and most important, fast. Routes travel along the west coast from the Zuoying station in the south to Taipei.

Learning at the Handicraft Promotion Center and Huashan 1914 Creative Park

Residents of Taipei can do remarkable things with their hands and create all sorts of crafts for visitors to take home. I was given a demonstration from some of their best artists as they made wares such as candles, bird figurines, pottery and clothes. Over at the Creative Park, my cultural tour continued with a look at this old abandoned factory that has been turned into a performing arts center and innovative community. Edgy designers from all over Taiwan have taken over to use the space for making light fixtures, toys and other interesting inventions.

The Jian Guo Holiday Jade market

I have an affinity for the beautiful hue of jade, which I was able to indulge while perusing through this large market. Vendors display their green-colored trinkets, jewelry and raw stones for purchase at a wallet-friendly cost. Not only is jade a big seller at this market, I also spotted wonderful bouquets of flowers, metal teapots and tasty street food. Be cautious of fake jade though and speak to vendors if there is a concern. Usually bargain hunters can discover wonderful pieces to give as gift or keep as souvenirs.

Visiting Taipei 101

This skyscraper in the middle of Taipei cannot possibly be overlooked. Built in 2004 and known as the tallest eco-friendly building in the world, the Taipei 101 building acts as a new, iconic symbol for the prosperity the city have been enjoying in recent years. I made my way to the top observatory and was rewarded with some of the most spectacular panoramic glimpses of the skyline. Guests can also get a bite to eat, shop at the indoor mall or keep a lookout for the progressive artwork on the walls.

The International Floral Exhibition

Weather is favorable most of the year in Taiwan, which allows for ideal conditions to keep a myriad of flora blossoming. I experienced some of this admirable beauty at the Taipei Expo park. Flowers of all shapes, colors and sizes spilled out along the pathways, inside the center itself, creating a blanket of blooms like I had never seen before. Among the most memorable things to see were the fashion designers that made gowns of flowers and 3-D exhibitions of flowers that allowed viewers to see digital imprints that popped without the use of glasses.

Taiwan is an excellent way to get a unique perspective of Chinese culture. I was in awe of the friendliness and fun I had while taking in the wonders of this breathtaking destination, shining bright in its diversity and natural allure.