Taipei 101 (台北101), once the world’s tallest building, is naturally what comes to mind at the mere mention of Taiwan. However, the country is so much more than this iconic skyscraper of 101 floors.
Taiwan is dominated by rugged mountain ranges on a good two thirds of the island country, parallel to the east coast. Therefore, the rolling plains in the south-west are where most of the population live. Indeed, Taiwan, or officially the Republic of China, has a lot to offer tourists, beyond Taipei, which is located in the north of the island.
The centre of Hakka culture
About 90 minutes’ drive south-west from Taipei is Beipu (北埔), a rural township in Hsinchu County（新竹县）. Known as the centre of Hakka culture as the majority of the people are of Hakka descent, take a step back in time by visiting the well-preserved Hakka village, with faded red lanterns hanging above doorways to greet visitors.
Many storekeepers here are able to converse in Hakka, and this ability is indicated in a sticker at the door. Popular items to get here include Hakka Lei-cha (客家擂茶) and Oolong tea ( 乌龙茶).
700 metres above sea level
Drive approximately a further 60 kilometres south through bumpy and winding roads to arrive at Mile High Leisure Farm (云也居一休闲农场) in Miaoli County (苗栗县), atop Guandaoshan, to participate in farming activities and partake in scrumptious Hakka cuisine.
Different crops are available for picking, depending on season and weather. Some of the common ones are ginger, strawberry, peach, plum, passion fruit, pumpkin and vegetables.
A Hakka village up on the mountains
While Mile High Leisure Farm provides bed-and-breakfast as well as camping-style accommodation, you may choose to spend the night high up on the mountains in a rustic Hakka-style inn amidst lush gardens and fish ponds at the nearby Zhuo Ye Cottage (卓也小屋) in Sanyi Township (三义乡), also in Miaoli.
Quirky huts with inspiring sleeping lofts offer guests a memorable stay as they take delight in the freshest of air. They can also sign up for indigo dye workshops during their time here to learn the techniques of tie-dying, using indigo dye produced from the farm itself.
It is interesting to note how family businesses and cottage industries such as Mile High and Zhuo Ye have been turned into successful tourism products. Over at the coastal town of Lukang (鹿港), about an hour’s drive south-west, a good number of manufacturing plants in this industrial zone on reclaimed land have also opened their doors to visitors to have a look at how their products are made.
Brand’s Health Museum (白兰氏健康博物馆) is a major attraction in this area, as it is an international household name in nourishing concoctions for general wellness.
Its neighbouring Ribbon Museum (缎带王) is the first ribbon museum in Asia, housing a collection of fifty thousand kinds of ribbons, thirty thousand patterns of printed ribbon, twenty thousand patterns of woven ribbon, as well as a hundred types of ribbon yarns.
Another highlight within the vicinity is the Taiwan Glass Gallery (台湾玻璃馆), particularly its Golden Tunnel and Underwater World. Also noteworthy is the glass Mazu temple (玻璃妈祖庙). Said to be the only such structure in the world, the building is made with entire sheets of glass except its pillars. This temple is an engineering feat, no less. What a sight to behold, especially at night when the lights are turned on.
Lukang’s historic district
Lukang（鹿港）in Changhua County is the second oldest town in Taiwan. It is famed for its culture and heritage that have been well-preserved through the generations. A pride of this town is its historic district, where red brick buildings with traditional Taiwanese architecture still stand firmly.
The ideal way to take in the sights and sounds of Lukang is by going on a walking tour, with Lungshan Temple (龙山寺) as starting point. From there, stroll over to the narrowest of narrow Mo Ru Lane（摸乳巷), followed by Lukang historic district, where century-old flavours of Cheng Yu Chen (since 1887) await.
From these traditional biscuits to the fashionable pudding of Simple Delicious Workshop, from classic street food fare of fried oyster omelette (蚵仔煎) and large intestines rice vermicelli (大肠面线) to hipster cafés, the saying that one can get to know a place well through its food holds true in Lukang.
Lukang actually means “Deer harbour”, a name adopted for its primary business of exporting deerskin during the Dutch Colonial period (1624 to 1662). Due to the geographical location of this port town by the coast, seafood features prominently in the diet of locals. Oyster is a common food here, so for a tourist to Changhua (彰化), one of the best experiences to be had is oyster harvesting (採蚵体验) in Fangyuan (芳苑).
Be taken on a motorised cart to the shore of the Taiwan Strait during low tide for a crash course on oyster harvesting and participate hands-on in this local cultural heritage. For all your “hard work”, you are more than welcome to feast on fresh oysters grilled over charcoal fire, on-site, as a reward for your labour.
Taiwan’s oldest city
After the back-breaking work of oyster harvesting, it is time for a good night’s rest. Take a short trip to Tainan（台南）, the country’s oldest city, just 1.5 hours’ drive south. Spending the night in Tainan would put one on a good footing to sample local delicacies offered by street hawkers at Yongle Market (永乐市场) at the crack of dawn. After all, many well-known Taiwanese dishes originated from Tainan.
Stretching the length of Guohua St. Section 3, the top four food picks are: spring rolls（春捲）, rice cakes（碗粿）, meat mantou (割包) and calamari rice vermicelli (小卷米粉). To give your breakfast a further touch of traditional flavour, wash it down with a cup of Taiwanese black tea（红茶）.
Tainan is well-connected by public transport, and is in fact, a major stop on the Taipei – Kaohsiung (高雄) High Speed Rail line (高铁), giving Tainan easy access to all major cities on the east coast.
From here, you are free to explore further, or reserve it for another visit. After all, the food, culture and warm hospitality of Taiwanese people are definitely something to enjoy again and again.
For my full Taiwan itinerary:
6D/5N Taiwan Small Town Ramble: Day 1
6D/5N Taiwan Small Town Ramble: Day 2
6D/5N Taiwan Small Town Ramble: Day 3
6D/5N Taiwan Small Town Ramble: Day 4
6D/5N Taiwan Small Town Ramble: Days 5 & 6
This trip was arranged by one of Ipoh’s top travel agencies, Golden Century Tour & Travel.
Note: An edited version of this article is published in the March 2019 issue of Malindo Air in-flight magazine. Photos used here are for illustration purposes only.
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