Zalina Mohd Som
ZALINA MOHD SOM lists the 10 top things to do along the Taipei-Kaohsiung route.
Portuguese sailors called it Ilha Formosa or Beautiful Island when they first saw Taiwan back in the 16th Century, while modern-day Taiwan makes itself reputable as a Mountainous Island.
Two hundred sixty of its mountains are over 3,000 metres high, one of which is Jade Mountain, the highest peak in the Northeast Asia region.
Taiwan tourism authority adds the word "fun" in capital letters to its name as the island is branded as a destination that offers fun and exciting activities and attractions contributed by its modern cities and unspoilt nature.
Taiwan may be nine times smaller than Malaysia but the sweet potato shaped island is not short of things to do and places to visit.
While it is possible to "finish" the whole island in one go, it is best to at least cover the island´s west coast by going down south from capital Taipei to Kaohsiung.
Complete the Taipei-Kaohsiung-Taipei round with a ride on the Taiwan High Speed Train that takes only 90 minutes travelling times compared to four hours by road.
Here are 10 top things to do along the Taipei-Kaohsiung route.
1. Conquer the Taipei 101
If Kuala Lumpur is proud of its tallest towers, the Petronas Twin Towers, Taipei is of its tallest building, Taipei 101.
It takes only 37 seconds to reach the observatory deck on the 89th floor. The 508-metre building is an architecture of a fusion of East Asian and Taiwanese.
A Taipei city tour should also include a visit to Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall which was constructed in memory of the former president, Chiang Kai-Shek; and to the National Palace Museum, renowned as one of the greatest museums in the world.
2. Shop at the night market or shopping streets
Night market or shopping street is a big component of shopping in Taiwan.
If every city has one, what´s more in big cities like Taipei and Kaohsiung. Taipei itself has more than three shopping streets that operate every night. More than often, Ximending, Shihlin and Tihua are top choices for visitors to taste Taiwanese night life.
Ximending is well-known for its wholesale garments while Shihlin is where youngsters go for trendy fashion and al-fresco dining. Tihua is a cultural centre for the Hakka community.
3. Try the young pinang (betel nut)
Betel nut may not be your thing but still, you should try dropping by at the island´s many road-side kiosks selling this exotic "stimulant". Trust me!
Like the Malays and Indians back home, Taiwanese like to chew betel leaf-wrapped pinang. Most of them are lorry drivers who take on the highways to ferry goods.
To attract these men to stop at their kiosks, the operators engage sexy, skimpily dressed girls to sit in their glass-wall kiosks.
Sales are so good that betel nut becomes the island´s second largest crop. But, don´t try snapping a picture or two of these sexy girls for they might ask hefty fees for the poses!
4. Visit the old street of Jioufen
Those who don´t like the over-crowded, commercialised shopping streets, the old street of Jioufen is the right place.
Though still crowded and noisy, the narrow pedestrian mall charms any jaded visitor with its charming shops and stalls selling traditional Taiwanese cakes and snacks, and beautiful craft.
Walk till the end of the street and the sight of hillside tea houses fronting pebbled lane will take you to a different world. Jioufen, that pebbled lane particularly, is said to be the preferred location for Taiwanese movie or drama series.
5. Soak in the sulphur-rich hot springs
There are visitors who go there just to soak in its many natural hot springs.
Its volcanic past has left Taiwan with abundant reserves of geothermal energy that makes it one of the densest and most varied concentration of hot springs in the world.
There are more than 100 locations that have this hot bubbling mineral water. Some of them serve as centres for large numbers of hot-spring hotels like Beitou.
The Taipei district is known for its sulphur hot springs and thanks to the Japanese colonisation (1895-1945), these hot springs still exude a faint Japanese atmosphere both in architecture and culture.
6. Take on a sombre mood at the Wufong Earthquake Museum
The museum is built on the ground of Kong-Fu Elementary School in Wufong in Taichung district.
The school´s sports ground was located right on the Chelongpu fault that forced the ground up to about two metres.
The damaged school and the raised ground are preserved to be the most important part of the museum.
It leads visitors through the damaged buildings before the tour ends at an exhibition hall and an earthquake simulator, which is as close as one can get to experience the real 7.6-Richter Wufong earthquake.
7. Climb up the beautiful layered steps to British Consulate Building in Takao, Kaohsiung
The colonial building is a former British consulate built in 1865, making it the first western-style building built in Taiwan.
Sitting atop a hill, the building commands open views of Kaohsiung Harbour and the city skyline. There´s a restaurant said to serve the best English tea and scone.
The city tour of Kaohsiung should also include a trip to Splendor Kaohsiung. The tallest building in the southern Taiwan houses a five-star hotel The Splendor Kaohsiung, office buildings and a shopping mall. There´s a viewing deck for visitors to have an aerial view of the harbour city.
8. Take the Kaohsiung MRT and get down at the Formosa Boulevard Station
Whether during the day or night, getting down at the station proves worth it. It is where you can see the world´s largest art glass.
Spanning 30 metres in diameter, the ceiling decks bright colourful art which makes it hard for you to look away. One will either lie down on the floor (to best view it) or leave the station with a stiff neck!
9. Be a kid again at any of its theme parks
We are not talking about those usual brands of theme parks. All theme parks in Taiwan are local brands.
They don´t need cartoon characters from Disney nor those super heroes from Universal Studio.
Nonetheless, the parks have their own themes and attractions. Windows on China is home to 130 large, exquisitely-detailed miniatures of world´s famous landmarks.
Best of all, the park also houses the world´s first Doraemon park. Its neighbour Leofoo Village Theme Park is Taiwan´s first park that combines wildlife zoo and amusement park. The 100-hectare park also houses four themed villages - Africa Safari, Wild West, South Pacific and Arabian Kingdom.
10. Be a tourist and ogle at Wulai´s beautiful nature
Wulai is a tourist town located in the southern Taipei County. The hilltop town offers cool high-altitude temperature, beautiful unspoilt nature and unique aboriginal culture of the Atayal tribe.
But the things that one shouldn´t miss is the feet-stomping Atayal cultural show and a leisurely walk at the old street of Wulai.
Complete the round at Wulai with a ride on Wulai Scenic Train, a converted mine train built during the Japanese and a gondola ride to the top of Wulai Falls.
For details, Visit Taiwan Visitors Association website.
Source : New Straits Times – 18 March 2010