Taiwan — Who knew?!

Story & photos by Barbara Beckley

The A Mei Tea House in the old gold mine town of Jiufen.


“Be sure to see the National Palace Museum.” “Are you going to Sun Moon Lake?” “You’ll love Jiufen’s tea houses.”

This is what friends said when I mentioned that I was traveling to Taiwan. While business regularly takes them to this Southeast Asia island nation, as it does for thousands of people, once there, my friends enjoy it as a vacation.

As a first-timer, and a leisure traveler, I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was a veritable wonderland of vacation enjoyment brimming with delightful natural and man-made activities from the coastline to the mountains. I accomplished all my friends’ recommendations — and more!

Dining at two Michelin-starred restaurants in Taipei, the capital, got things off to a great start. The duck entrée was instrumental in awarding three Michelin stars to Le Palais restaurant at the Palais de Chine Hotel where I was staying, and it was exquisite. “The simplest dishes are always the most difficult,” Executive Chef Matt Chen told me, explaining that he takes two days to prepare this fabulous dish.

In the upscale Shilin district, the Michelin one-star Golden Formosa restaurant has been dishing out Taiwanese traditional cuisine from family recipes since the 1950s. Their signature deep fried pork ribs — fried twice to seal in the juices and crisp the skin — was amazing. “It’s easy to be passionate about traditional food when your restaurant’s been in the family for three generations,” said Eric Chen, the founder’s grandson and current chef-owner.

Viewing the Chinese artifacts at the National Palace Museum; skyrocketing in an elevator to the top of Taipei 101, the world’s second-tallest building at 101 levels, for breathtaking views from the 91st floor outdoor observation terrace; and marveling at out-of-this-world food sculptures at the annual Taiwan Culinary Exhibition (held each July — this year it’s July 26-29) made a fun-filled day.

“Yes. It does look like Queen Elizabeth,” I agreed with Jerry Chen, my guide. It was the next morning, and we were exploring Yehliu Geopark, a crescent of sandy beach below rocky cliffs about 20 miles outside of downtown Taipei. Here, Mother Nature, through erosion, has created an outdoor gallery of weird and wonderful shapes. The “Queen’s Head” is the most famous, but there are countless other eye-catching rock formations named for legends and likenesses such as “Fairy’s Shoe,” “Gorilla Rock,” and “Fried Drumstick.”

From the beach, we headed into the hills and the old gold mining town of Jiufen. Who knew Taiwan had a gold rush? “Yes we did. In the 1890s,” Jerry explained. Japanese miners flocked to the hills and built the flourishing town of Jiufen only to abandon it once the gold ran low in 1971. In the 1990s, Jiufen was reborn as a weekend getaway from the city, its narrow, crooked streets and rustic 19th century Japanese and Chinese buildings now converted into cozy bed and breakfast inns, boutiques, art galleries, and tea shops.

One of the most famous, the A Mei Tea House, jutted out in front of me as I sat opposite inside the Skyline Tea House enjoying the mountain and ocean views. It made a perfect backdrop for my first Taiwan tea ceremony. Gourmet tea is a top crop, and the Taiwanese make teatime a big splashy affair. After explaining the nuances of each tea type, the servers not only pour boiling water into the teapot but over the outside of the pot as well. “The better to bring out the essence of the tea’s flavor,” they say.

The next day, tea plantations gleamed in the sun as I drove through Taiwan’s central mountains on the four-hour drive to Sun Moon Lake. A stop at the Hugo Assam Tea Farm tasting and retail shop in Shiang-Cha Valley introduced me to perhaps the best tea on earth. One sip of its exclusive “red beauty” black tea and the $388-a-canister price seemed fair. (Although, I didn’t purchase any.)

Boating, bicycling, riding the Ropeway cable car 3,425 feet above the three-square-mile Sun Moon Lake, visiting beautiful Shuanglung waterfall, and evening cocktails at the lakefront Fleur de Chine Hotel rooftop bar made another perfect day.

Salt was the theme of the next day. Traipsing through the Jingzijiao Salt Fields — acres of real, edible, white, salt — while balancing two salt-collecting buckets on my shoulders was an irresistible selfie moment. As was my playing the drums — yes, real drums — the next day at the Tainan Ten Drum Rende Creative Village.  

Even my friends hadn’t experienced all these antics, and this was only some of what I did.

To learn more, visit Eng.Taiwan.net.tw (www.eng.taiwan.net.tw).


TaiwanvacationsaltboatingbicyclingRopeway cable cargourmet teacrooked streets

Jan 2020


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