By Abby Moreno
Most of us don’t have the luxury of spending more than a couple of days exploring a new place, and often default on going the very touristy route. While there’s nothing wrong with that, often the best way to appreciate a new city or country is to take the road less traveled and do as the locals do.
This is easier said than done for a lot of countries, though not for the island nation of Taiwan- a melting pot of different cultures that boasts lush greenery side by side with all the comforts of modernity. It’s also home to one of the kindest, most helpful people on the planet — definitely a plus for visitors.
From modern Taipei in the north, laid-back Kenting in the south, and even the stunning offshore islands, you’ll never run out of things to do, more so if you’re in the know. So sit back, relax, and let a local show you how we do fun on the island.
Go biking or cycling!
Biking in Taiwan is as much a mode of transportation as it is a source of fun, and you’d be hard-pressed to find any Taiwanese who don’t know how to ride a bike. In Taipei, YouBike rental stations can be found near almost any MRT station. Rates start at an affordable 5 NTD for the first 30 minutes, and the best part is, you can dock your bike at any of the countless bike stations across the city.
If city biking isn’t your thing, then head to the riverside parks, where the cycling trails stretch over a hundred kilometers and run along the Danshui, Xindian, Keelung, and Jingmei rivers. One can easily spend a whole day going from one end to another, taking in the different sights, or even stopping for a nice picnic lunch.
Head to a day market!
Taiwan is fairly synonymous with night markets, but the day markets are also worth checking out. Open daily from dawn until early afternoon, these markets cater mostly to housewives and older family members shopping for meal ingredients. Here, you’ll find what’s fresh and in season and thus, cheap. If night markets are all about street food, the day version is brimming with all the raw, natural food that Taiwan has to offer. There’s a ton of fresh fruit and vegetables, a wide variety of cooked food, and even random knick-knacks. It’s a good way to see a slice of daily Taiwanese life: oozing with character — just like the locals who frequent it.
Hike up a mountain (or through a river)
If hiking is your thing, you’re in luck — Taiwan is a mountainous island. The sheer number of mountains you can climb is staggering, and locals make full use of hiking trails across the nation. Yangmingshan and Elephant Mountain boast marvelous views of Taipei. Alishan in Central Taiwan is home to oolong tea and spectacular sunrises. Cingjing, in the east, has green grasslands that will make you believe you’re in New Zealand. And of course, Hualien, and its stunning marble gorges, where hiking trails provide glimpses of the deep ravine below. Definitely not for the acrophobic!
If going up high places is not your thing, go river tracing! Known as canyoning in other parts of the world, this mostly involves walking, wading, climbing, and trekking upstream through a river. It’s an up close and personal experience with nature, with breathtaking views of natural rock formations, springs, and waterfalls. Notable river tracing venues are the Golden Grotto in Hualien, and Touqian in Wanli.
Soak in a hot spring
Every once in awhile, locals like to troop to the mountains for a good, hot soak. Most famous for this is Beitou, a hot spring town just north of Taipei. Various hot spring hotels in the city offer short-time dips, either in private rooms or communal public hot springs. Beitou is still very much within the city, though, so if a real getaway is what you need, then it’s probably better to head south to Wulai and take a dip in the open-air hot springs that are literally right beside the cold river. Overnight accommodations are recommended, to make full use of private hot spring tubs included in each room.
Fill your belly
Everyone, and their Taiwanese mother, is obsessed with eating — apparent in how much good food there is on the island. In fact, lining up for new food places is a national pastime. Most visitors hit up fried chicken chops or stinky tofu, but the real food gems are the rechao or hot stir-fry places. These joints serve up everything from sashimi and kung pao century egg to garlic pork and fried mushrooms — all for 100 to 200 NTD a plate. Washed down with multiple cold glasses of Taiwan beer, and it’s perfect for after-work de-stressing or a segue into the weekend.
Sing your heart out
Karaoke is serious business in Taiwan, so serious that they devote entire buildings to it. Most KTVs offer packages with food and drinks. Reservations are highly recommended, as more popular places tend to be full, especially during weekends. Cheaper places give you the standard room and a common snack buffet. But more expensive chains have en suite bathroom options, superstar room furnishings, and a huge food court.
Urban shrimp fishing, may sound weird, but it’s a unique activity that, if anything, is going to be an experience to remember. The mechanics are easy: pay a per-person hourly rate upfront to get a fishing pole and bait. Go inside and catch as many live shrimp from a concrete pool as you can within the time limit you paid for. Once the time’s up, you take your catch and head to the cooking area, where you clean, skewer, and grill those little buggers. Fresh and juicy, especially with a cold mug of beer.
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