From the grandeur of Taipei and the bustling night bazaars of Tainan to the vibrant counties of Kenting and Pingxi — Taiwan is an island full of scenic uncertainties.
The minute I stepped on to Scoot, a low-budget airline carrier, I felt at home.
With a splash of white and yellow, the Singapore-based airline is edgy, chic and contemporary. I boarded the flight to Taiwan amidst a raging debate about having ‘baby-free’ zones on airlines.
Scoot is one of the first airlines to have introduced such zones — called ‘Scoot N Silent’, where children below the age of 12 are not permitted to enter. “The idea is not to be insensitive but to appeal to travellers who need their privacy and peace, especially on longer flights,” explains Sheetal Anand, marketing representative of Scoot Airlines, who travelled with us on the trip.
And sure enough, with no babies on board, I slept like a baby. Though, once we landed, the itinerary for the six nights, six different hotels, set a pace that was anything but gentle.
From chilling by the Sun Moon Lake with the Nantou mountains in the distance, to hopping on a train in Taipei city that is so fast — it can cover the distance between Chennai and Bengaluru in 90 minutes— and then being serenaded by the gentle strains of the earliest violins ever discovered, at the Chimei Museum in Tainan— suspect our tour guide spiked the butter chicken to keep our energy levels that high.
I have to agree here that the best part of my trip to Taiwan has to be just four words—Taiwan Gold Medal Beer! They weren’t exaggerating with that name. It’s smooth, light and just as the locals promised — delicious. What’s more, you can sip on one as you stroll along the streets!
Details: Scoot Airlines round trip via Singapore costs Rs 34,697
(if booked two months in advance).
Bullet trains & Chocolate Farms
For someone who took summer holidays that were synonymous with the Indian Railways, boarding the fast-as-lightning HSR aka High Speed Rail from Taipei City to Zuoying was a bit of a wake up call. The train covered a staggering 345 km distance in just 90 minutes.
After reaching Zuoying, we went to Yoho beach resorts in Ping Tung County, with a smattering of pools and little waterfalls straight out of a postcard. With the fag end of a typhoon leaving us with a light drizzle, umbrellas went up and floaters went down. But nothing could dampen the celebratory spirit of the aborigines dancing in full swing at our next stop at the Shin Coco Farm. Transitioning from dancing to DIY chocolate making at the farm came as unexpected. Sadly none of my colleagues got to taste my Chinese cocoa dragon.
Price for the DIY chocolate experience – Rs 750 per person
Do Not Touch the Jelly Fish!
This was a first for me. The National Museum of Marine Biology & Aquarium at Pingtung in Southern Taiwan has what are called ‘touching pools’.
And boy, did the kids love it.
I must admit, I chickened out though, but was fascinated to see the ancient jellyfish and giant kelps and seals from the Kelp forest.
The museum was divided into three parts — Waters of Taiwan (themed after the water systems in Taiwan), Coral Kingdom (covering coral reef habitats) and Waters of the World (ancient Precambrian oceans). Talk about a wet history lesson!
Details: www.nmmba.gov.tw. Entry fee: Rs 1000 for adults; Rs 500 for children.
Normally, I wouldn’t seek out a temple visit.
In fact, back home in Hyderabad, you would have to drag me by force. But what drew me to the Fuan Gong temple near Checheng County was the silence.
Unlike in India, where a visit to the temple means crowds, noise and smokey fumes from incense sticks, Taiwanese temples encourage private worship. You can barely hear a sound, save for a gentle gong every now and then. Most people come to pray alone, and surprisingly, don’t bring their families along.
Also I discovered pandits, rishis or spiritual gurus are all absent. I watched curiously as the locals performed their prayers. There were several bright red Divan blocks, which are basically big, bright blocks made of wood. As per their tradition, people are supposed to drop these blocks in front of the deity (considered auspicious) following which they would get a sign from the deity (each can interpret it in their own way), which would tell them if they can proceed or come back later.
If they are allowed to proceed, they have to pick up a numbered stick, and according to the number, pull out a piece of paper, which has a message, just for you.
In case you were wondering about the name, Fu means Fortune, An is peace or safety and Gong, temple or palace. And I felt all three. Let’s just say, when a guide asks whether to include a temple stop on my next itinerary, I am giving it a nod.
Details: (08) 882-5301-2
To market, to market
Here is another must-see on the island — the night market. Taiwan has an estimated 300 of these which stay bustling thanks to nocturnal shoppers and a marathon set list by street musicians till the wee hours of the morning.
If you’re a foodie, you’ll love the oyster omelettes and bubble tea. But as for me, who took to missing our desi spice rather early on, I played it safe and chose to stick with pre-ordered tandoori chicken and turmeric rice instead.
While the ladies in my tour party shopped around for handicrafts and souvenirs, I went on a hunt for shot glasses to add to my travel collection.
While I couldn’t find the glasses at the market (finally got them at the Taipei 101 store), I was happy to buy fridge magnets to add to my collection, for Rs 300.
When I first looked at the magnificent structure of the Chimei museum in Tainan City, it felt for a moment, like I was in Europe, at a famous Greek or Roman destination.
Oddly enough, there are no guides allowed in here—simply because of the enormous amount of information on display.
Instead, visitors are given an audio guide with headphones, and can listen to an audio clip about any object that one is standing in front of.
Despite a vast selection across everything from fine arts to armour, what had me staring the longest were the violins.
As of last year, the museum has over a 1,000 violins in its collection, with more than 200 of these borrowed for performances in the last decade.
An antique one dating all the way back to 1570 by Andrea Amati caught my eye. I pressed the audio button and listened to some of the most beautiful music I’ve heard in a while.
Details: www.chimeimuseum.org. Price: Rs 450 for adults; Rs 350 for kids.
Cable car view
Cruising along the waters of the Sun Moon Lake is an experience that will stay with me for a long time to come. And to top off this view, our next mode of transport by a cable car nearly 40 feet above the ground had us all holding our breath.
We took in the mountains, the crisp air and tiny houses of the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, which is where we were headed to next.
On reaching, we were treated to a stunning cultural showcase display of traditional homes, crafts and dance performances. The millet wine that was served as a welcome drink had me smiling from ear to ear.
The writer was invited by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau and Scoot Airlines.
By Suhas Yellapantula