Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Taiwan- beautiful island blending East and West

Written by Ruth Sheffer

The lure and magic of the East with the comforts of the West - what could be more tempting?

After living in China for a while, the attraction of modern toilets and a clean environment could never be overstated. So with this in mind we hopped on a ferry boat to the island of Jinmen and from there onto a small domestic flight and soon found ourselves in the heart of the capital city, Taipei.

Maobitou Rock Formations & Cliffs - TAIWAN
How can I describe Taipei - bustling, cultured, fascinating, illuminated? 

All of these are true, but not enough to capture the charm of the city. It has a great subway system, cheap and easily navigated even by those who don't read Chinese characters. It has skyscrapers, the famous Taipei 101  being one of them, it has Asian markets full of cheap knock-off goods, but also exclusive glitzy fashion stores for the fashion conscious, and it has every style of restaurant imaginable, from the hole in the wall noodle guy to the fancy elegant upscale seafood place. 

It also has a fascinating history and enough museums to prove it, and finally it has art galleries and exhibitions. We were lucky enough to be there during a Hello Kitty exhibition in a building formerly a tobacco factory.

Nice Beach View in TAIWAN
Must-sees in Taipei are The Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Palace (which explains why Taiwan is not China), Taipei 101 building and surrounding shopping area, the temples of the old Wanhua neighbourhood,which in itself deserves a small walk, and the National Museum. Optional extras are the National University area and the Red House area. After a great 4 days of non stop action in Taipei, we jumped on the fast train for a 90-minute ride heading south to the second largest city in Taiwan - Kaohsiung (pronounced “Gaoshung”)

Kaohsiung is not a historic capital like Taipei but it has a certain charm to it, and is a good place to relax and unwind after the whirlwind of Taipei  before you continue to the southern tip of the island.

Rubber Duck in Kaohsiung TAIWAN
It is a pretty large and sprawling port but it has a pleasant central area where you can walk along the riverbank and enjoy the plentiful Taiwanese snacks on offer. We were fortunate enough to be there during the visit of the famed Rubber Duck,whose presence could be felt all over the city both in the shape of toys, t-shirts and even sweets.

From Kaohsiung we rented a car, which is very easy to do in Taiwan if you have an International Drivers licence, and drove down the coast to the southern tip of Taiwan, and the Kenting National ParkThe view along the way was not as great as we had expected, but the scenery when we arrived was certainly impressive.

Kissing Rock in TAIWAN
Driving down to the Kenting National Park, you can stop off occasionally to admire the view and take some pictures. There is plenty of surfing and other beach sports available in this area.

The sea is beautiful and the pace of life relaxed, and of course there is a wide variety of restaurants from local cuisine to Indian, American and Italian.

We stopped off  for a couple of nights at a place called Nanwan Beach, about 30 minutes drive from Kenting National Park. The beach is lovely and there are several pleasant guest houses and restaurants, right on the sea front there.We went into Bossa Nova, a Western style restaurant with really cool jazz music and a wonderful owner who fixed us up a place to stay right next door.

Ruth at the Hello Kitty Exhibition in TAIWAN
The most scenic spots around this part of the coast was called Maobitou, which has some amazing rock formations and cliffs which provide some great sea views, including a place called the Kissing Rocks.

You can fly into Taiwan at Taipei or Kaohsiung, and the whole island definitely deserves a longer visit than we were able to give it -- so perhaps we will be lucky enough to return and explore the Eastern side of the island.

Author's Bio
Ruth was born in London, UK, lived in France for a year and got bitten with the travel bug. Lived in Israel for 30 years as a High School teacher of English. Visited most of Europe, Asia and the U.S.A. Now living in China where she teaches English to University students while exploring more of Asia. Interested to read more of Ruth's writings?  Visit her Piglet's House for information on her work and life overseas.