When Portugese explorers in the 17th century first laid eyes on Taiwan, they apparently called it ‘ Ilha Formosa’, the beautiful island. And beautiful, one can definitely say, this leaf shaped emerald island nation truly is.
For a country that has so much to offer, it is interesting that Taiwan, as a travel destination, has remained relatively unknown. If you tell your friends you are travelling to Taiwan, you will surely end up with a reaction like ‘ Taiwan?’,’ What is there to see or do?’.
Starting point for most people will be Taipei, Taiwan’s trendy though laid-back capital city. You will find yourself many times ‘Lost in Translation’ although ‘Lost’ is not really the correct word. Never have I been in a city where English is definitely not wide-spoken, but where its inhabitants will go really out of their way to help you find your way. Taipei does not boast of grand world famous ‘must sees’, instead it has many humble beauties worth exploring.
Every evening there is at least one night-market to be found in Taipei’s many districts where you can taste a variety of cheap yet delicious foods. The establishments are often ramshackly, small, bustling, and noisy. Yet the night-markets are popular hang-outs where students, the elderly, family and friends, all gather for sumptuous eateries such as the delicious beef stew noodle soup and sizzling Taiwenese pork dumplings. A feast for both eyes and ears! After that, stroll along the backstreet alleys where you can find many small neighborhood temples; especially the elderly like to gather here to catch up on the latest gossip, play a board game of some sorts or burn some incense for good health or a spicing up of one’s love life….At night with all the little temple lanterns lit, you feel like you are transported back in time.
At my lovely B & B, The Solo Singer, in Beitou, a funky yet tranquil retreat in the northern district of Taipei near its famous hot springs, the owner tells me the story that the Taiwenese government encourages young people to start their own business by offering cheap loans.
This fresh entrepreneurial spirit can be felt throughout the city where design, culture and good taste is really everywhere. One can therefore see many college/ university graduates who start their own B & B business, a coffeeshop, an art gallery or a combination of the 3. In Taipei, one literally stumbles across the many boutique /hipster coffee places: see A Poet, The Good Design Institute, Flugel Studio and many more. There are so many nice options that one would need at least a week to try them all! ( and at least 10 day!)
Next month I will take you to Moakong!