Inhabited by a population of 23.51 million people, Taiwan is known to be one of the world’s most unique getaways. Michel Noblet, who is ranked among the most successful and influential hospitality and tourism experts in the Middle East, returns back totally charmed after a recent visit to the Country.
Lonely Planet voted Taiwan as one of world’s best tourist destinations in 2015. The New York Times ranked Taiwan 11th among 52 tourist sites of the world. The island nation’s cuisine was ranked 35th among the 40 must-experience attractions by The Guardian newspaper.
According to CNN 10 things that Taiwan does better than other nations, include its unique night markets, themed restaurants, and readily available Wi-Fi access. CNN also reported that among the top 12 places in the world to enjoy the sunset, Guanshan, Kenting, sits in eighth place.
No doubt, the leaf-shaped island of Taiwan has one of the most developed, technologically-based economies of the world, where research and advancement form the backbone of this island nation’s vibrant infrastructure. The country prides itself on its long and vibrant historical democratic traditions.
My association with the country goes back a long time when I opened Le Meridien Taipei Hotel in 1999 as the regional head of the Meridien group. Subsequently, I went there many times over the next few years for business. Therefore, when I received an invitation from Taiwan Tourism Bureau recently to be part of a media fam trip I was all excited to return back – this time as a tourist.
We flew direct on Emirates flight that took off from Dubai International Airport at 3.40am and arrived in Taipei at 4.20pm local time after an eight hours and forty minute journey.
Taipei 101 Tower
Upon arrival, we went straight to the 509m tall Taipei 101 Tower that used to be the world’s tallest building when it was completed. The bamboo-shaped skyscraper is still one of the most famous high-rise buildings in the world and definitely Taipei’s biggest landmark. Located in Xiny District, Taipei’s most prestigious shopping area. it’s surrounded by upscale shopping malls and stores.
Din Tai Fung Restaurant
Dinner was at Din Tai Fung Restaurant that is known internationally for its xiao long bao / steamed dumplings. It was once named as one of the top ten restaurants in the world by the New York Times newspaper and was awarded one Michelin star. I must say that it lived up to its reputation.
The Sherwood Taipei
Feeling tired and ready to sleep we headed to The Sherwood Taipei that is a Muslim-friendly luxurious 5-star hotel in Songshan District. Featuring 343 rooms, it is conveniently located near Taiwan’s extensive transportation network and well-equipped with world-class facilities including indoor pool, fitness centre and spa. Our stay at the hotel was exceptional with outstanding service and hospitality.
Next morning after an awesome breakfast at The Sherwood Taipei we went to see the Yehliu Geopark that is home to some of the most interesting eroded rock formations in the world. Lying in a 1.7km long cape, this area is prone to erosion from a combination of seawater, wave, and wind forces that lead to formation of various shapes. Most famous among these are ‘Nefertiti Queen’s Head’, ‘Mushroom Rocks’, ‘Sea Candles’, ‘Tofu Rocks’, ‘Elephant Rocks’ and ‘Fairy Shoe’.
Beitou’s ‘Tavern Dishes’
After almost three and a half hours at Yehliu Geopark we were all hungry and stopped for lunch at Beitou’s that boasts scenic beauty, historic sites, a ‘green library’, famous hot springs and ‘Tavern Dishes’, a distinctive cuisine combining the regional history and culinary art. The Tavern Dishes are prepared by chefs who integrated the best of Japanese, Sichuan and other regional cuisines. Meticulously cut and decorated, these signature delicacies of Beitou offer a visual and savory extravaganza that remains popular with gourmets.
National Palace Museum
Post lunch we went to see the National Palace Museum which is one of the most famous and most visited museums in the world. It is home to the biggest collection of Chinese artifacts. If you want to browse through 8000 years of Chinese history, this would be the best place in the world to do it. Even if you’re not a history buff, this museum should be on top of your list of must-see places in Taipei City.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
This 76m tall majestic Hall was built in the memory of Chiang Kai-Shek, who was the President of Taiwan for 25 years. The neo-classical Chinese architecture is located in Taipei’s biggest square named Liberty Square and also has on site National Theatre as well as the National Concert Hall where world-famous musicians have performed. At this place, take lots of photos and don’t forget to see the changing of the guards at every hour inside the memorial hall.
Mayur India Kitchen
It was time for dinner and we headed this time to Mayur India Kitchen for some spicy Indian delights. Mayur turned out to be an excellent choice with absolutely delicious mix of authentic North and South Indian dishes with great ambience and service.
Dinner was followed by a walk around Ximending. Crowded and colourful, Ximending is the city’s biggest pedestrian area and the most popular destination for tourists. It is full of pubs, clubs, trendy shops, themed cafes and whacky restaurants. You can eat snacks, shop or watch street performers entertaining the curious passers-by. Taiwan’s movie theaters originated here with the first ones appearing in 1930s. The octagonal red-bricked Red House Theater is found here too, designed by a Japanese architect in the early 20th century and is today one of the main attractions in the area.
Tired after a full day of sight-seeing and shopping, we were ready to hit the bed and returned back to the beautiful Sherwood Taipei hotel that surprised us with its outstanding hospitality at every step.
Taiwan High Speed Rail
Next morning after an early breakfast, we took the Taiwan High Speed Rail from Taipei to Tainan. The bullet train links Taipei to Kaohsiung at a total length of 345 km in only 90 minutes travelling time.
Our first stop was Chimei Museum that has a wide collection of Western art, musical instruments, weaponry and natural history. There are four exhibition rooms, one temporary exhibition gallery and a sculpture hall in the main building.
Local Food in Tainan
Tainan is well-known for its local food and we enjoyed some amazing Taiwanese delicacies for lunch before proceed to Salt Mountain in Qigu.
Salt Mountain in Qigu
Salt Mountain is one of the most popular attractions in Tainanand is situated close to Qigu Lagoon. The Qigu Salt Field was once the largest solar salt field in Taiwan supplying salt for domestic, agricultural and industrial sector. With changes in time, solar salt was no longer economically viable; hence the Qigu Salt Field ceased production in May 2002, marking the end of 338 years of solar salt history in Taiwan.
There are two salt mountains in Qigu, the major mound and north mound. The major mound is about 20 meters-tall and together the two mounds comprise of 60,000 tons of salt left over.
Next on our itinerary was Jingzaijiao Tile-Paved Salt Fields. The site was originally a barren desert. Lying on the sandy beach it is a small sand dune, where underground water gushes out from low-lying ground forming a well-like structure.
Tayih Landis Hotel
Soon it was time for dinner and we headed to Tayih Landis Hotel in Tainan. Its Muslim meals are totally Halal with the hotel fully complying with the Islamic Shariah.
Tayih Landis Tainan
We spent the night at Tayih Landis Tainan that is a luxurious Muslim-friendly five star hotel located 15-minute from Tainan Airport. Our stay at the hotel was extremely comfortable as we relaxed in its stylish accommodation. The hotel is well-equipped to meet the needs of international travellers with fabulous facilities including an indoor pool and spa.
The following morning we set off to explore the southern city Kaohsiung that is Taiwan’s largest port and its second largest city.
Ten Drum Cultural & Creative Park
Ten Drum Cultural Village is situated at the century-old Tainan Rende Sugar Refinery. It is the first art village combining drum, music, leisure and nature. The village also features the first chimney / water theater. Here we had a wonderful time playing drums and discovering the various cultural aspects.
Ten Drum Special Set Menu
For lunch we were treated to a fresh veggie salad made from a variety of seasonal vegetables dressed with special guava milk from Yanchao. The desert was equally refreshing and included a selection of fresh fruits from the garden.
Taroko Park Mall
Next was a fun-filled shopping experience at Taroko Park Mall that offers several sports and entertainment attractions, such as a carousel in the front plaza, as well as a go-kart racing track which is a miniature copy of Japan’s renowned Suzuka circuit.
Pier-2 Art Center
We then went to see the Pier-2 Art Center that is an art center without walls and was originally an abandoned warehouse site built in 1973. Next to a residential district and facing the sea, 3 warehouse clusters are connected by West Coast Bike Way. Larger than 52 thousand square meters, Pier-2 Art Center’s most attractive characteristics is the abundance of outdoor public arts.
We also had a chance to pass by the Love Pier along Love River in Yancheng District, Kaohsiung, Taiwan. It is one of the most famous places to enjoy the seaside scenery with Kaohsiung skyline.
Chateau de Chine Hotel
Dinner was organized at Germination Pavilion restaurant at the 5-starChateau de Chine Hotel. The outlet prides itself in serving Muslim-friendly meals with all ingredients sourced from Halal certified suppliers. The meal is served private room and a separate kitchen is used for preparation.
85 Sky Tower Hotel
85 Sky Tower Hotel was our abode for the night. This upscale, high-rise hotel is merely 9 minutes’ walk from both Kaohsiung Exhibition Center and Kaohsiung Harbor, and 11 minutes from a metro station. I enjoyed my plush room and woke up to beautiful views of the sea. After an early breakfast we headed to Cingjing.
We arrived there in time for lunch and enjoyed fresh kiln baked pizzas. One does not need to make a reservation at the restaurant but pizzas need to be ordered two hours beforehand.
Post lunch our first stop was Cingjing Farm.The fresh air and the scenic wild greenery of the Qingjing Veterans Farm transported us to another world. The Qingjing Veterans Farm is situated at the Renai Township of Nantou County, 8 km north of Wushe Section, Tai 14A Route of Central Cross-Island Highway in Central Taiwan. The Farm produces various kinds of fruits including peaches, pears, plums and kiwi fruit. Attractions at the Farm include the Tourist Center, the Green Green Grasslands, the Small Swiss Garden, the Recreation Center for visitors, the Shoushan Park, the Guest House and a Stock Nurturing Center. Herds of sheep, verdant mountains, azure skies, sparkling bay all seemed straight out of a fairy-tale.
Cingjing Guest House
The beautiful Cingjing Guest House, located at an altitude of 1750 meters, hosted us for dinner that night followed by a marvellous stay. Here surrounded by fresh air, luxuriant forests and flowers, we left the world behind and imagined ourselves to be in heaven.
Tai-Yi Red Maple Resort
After breakfast the next day we drove down to the 4-star Tai-Yi Red Maple Resort that has a beautiful garden and natural spa. Spread over 13-hectares of land, this green power resort boasts 7 ecological farms. Aside from its scenic beauty it offers varied experiences includingfruit picking that we thoroughly enjoyed. For lunch we were once again treated to Halal food as the resort has a Muslim-friendly restaurant on site.
Sun Moon Lake
We then headed to Sun Moon Lake that is listed as one of the top 10 most beautiful cycling trails in the world. The 30 km road around-the-lake features uniquely magnificent sceneries. On the way we passed four main temples.
Sun Moon Lake Ropeway
A visit to the Lake will not be complete without the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway that is a scenic gondola cable car service connecting Sun Moon Lake with the Formosa Aboriginal Culture Village Theme Park.
Fleur De Chine
The night halt and dinner was planned at the 5-star Fleur De Chine hotel. We enjoyed a fabulous buffet at the romantic Crimson restaurant with the stunning Sun Moon Lake serving as a backdrop and the chef in the open kitchen putting up a great show.
Winner of the World Luxury Hotel Award, Fleur De Chine is a Muslim-friendly distinctive hotel with 211 rooms all with elaborately designed French windows, balconies and in-room hot spring marble bathtubs.
Sunrise at Jinlong Mountain
We woke up very early the next morning to see the sunrise at Jinlong Mountain that is located on a hill by County Road 131 from where one can see the entire Yuchi basin. On return we had a quick breakfast before moving to Taoyuan.
Ali Baba’s India Kitchen
We had a great Halal Pakistani food in a wonderful atmosphere at Ali Baba’s India Kitchen. On the menu were exquisite and mouth-watering chicken curries, vegetable kebabs, biryani, wheat wonders and amazing rice pudding flavoured with cardomon and saffron.
Taoyuan Robot DreamWorks
The same day at 3pm we were invited to Sha Yang Ye Robot Wonderland-pavilion of future which is the only robot tourist factory and the most cutting-Edge smart technology at a glance in Taiwan. The Sha Yang Ye Robot factory is a unique place where intelligence, technology, culture and innovation meet. There were 22 themed areas integrating education with leisure for an exceptionalinteractive experience. We had a great space adventure with robots especially with the robot combat contest.
Later on and before departing and saying a big
“XIEXIE” to Wonderful Taiwan and to Mr Chen our driver and our outstanding guide Tina,we had delicious Chinese food at the Gloria Outlets which has over a 100 of the world’s leading retail brands, restaurants and cafes.
Home to the best street food markets in the world, Taiwan is one of Asia’s must-see destinations combining diverse landscapes, stunning sun sets & romantic hot spring resorts
In conclusion this is Taiwan, named Ilha Formosa, the beautiful island, by Portuguese explorers. Home to the best street food markets in the world, it is one of Asia’s must-see destinations combining diverse landscapes, dramatic mountainous terrains, towering sea-cliffs, stunning sun sets, romantic hot spring resorts, rich cultural heritage and folk traditions, with heart-warming hospitality.
Personally I am committed to going back as I am eager to learn and enjoy more about fascinating Taiwan.