The Bachelorette Taiwan episode finally showed off the magnificent island nation I fell in love with 25 years ago. Most North Americans think of Taiwan as an industrial wasteland, and it is anything but. It is, in fact, one of the world’s best travel destinations, and definitely Asia’s best-kept secret.
I’ve been to most of the locations shown on the Bachelorette Taiwan episode. Here are my 5 favorites – my best things to do in Taiwan (many of them happened on Ashley’s dates):
- Taroko Gorge (Ashley’s date with Ben). The island boasts some lovely beaches, but its grandest scenery is the magnificent mountain range covering 60% of the land, making it a hiker’s paradise—including eye-popping, tropical Taroko Gorge National Park where sheer marble and granite cliffs shoot thousands of feet out of the impossibly blue Liwu River and into the sky. The TV, even in high definition, didn’t begin to do justice to magnificent Taroko Gorge. The road through Taroko Gorge cuts an almost impossible route across the middle of the island, and there are dozens of great sights to see right from the highway – including the Shrine of the Eternal Spring, which was prominently featured on the Bachelorette, Taiwan. Taroko also offers a multitude of great hiking trails; a favorite Taroko hike is the Shakadang Trail. If you want to spend a night there, I enjoyed the Leader Hotel and resort with its aboriginal staff and evening show in the heart of Taroko (Courtesy Taiwan Tourism, but I would stay there on my own).
- BTW: I do not recommend doing Taroko Gorge by scooter; the tourist buses and other traffic can be intense, and you do NOT want to play chicken with a Taiwanese bus driver.
- Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and Park (where Ashley dumped Ryan). The big white pagoda building with the white roof is a Taiwan icon, although the man immortalized in a giant statue inside (a la Abraham Lincoln), Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, essentially the founder of modern Taiwan, is no longer revered by all. The surrounding park and buildings fills 60 acres. Two massive halls built in Classical Chinese style house Taiwan’s national orchestra and opera company, and there are dozens of performances in each hall every month by both local and touring performers. The park grounds are often filled with people doing Tai Chi – although rarely as perfectly costumed as on Bachelorette Taiwan. For several months I lived right behind this complex, and spent many, many hours playing and relaxing there.
- Longshan Temple (Dragon Mountain Temple) (Ashley’s date with Ryan). Taiwan’s most common style of religion combines folk gods with elements of Buddhism and Taoism, and it’s all on display at this very old and visually-stunning complex, first built in 1738. The most-popular Taiwanese folk god is Matsu, goddess of the seas. Her face may be gold, or black. It can be a bit daunting to figure out what’s going on in a Taiwanese temple, but ask around – you’re likely to find someone who wants to practice their English by explaining it to you!
- Jiu-fen Village. On the Bachelorette Taiwan episode, they went to a mountain village called Pingshui. Instead of that spot, I recommend a day-trip from Taipei to the mountain village of Jiu-fen, a former mining community turned tourist town. It’s crammed with winding streets and captivating views out to sea. There are loads of Taiwanese food treats on sale (you should try everything), but most-importantly you should enjoy a full-on Taiwanese tea house experience on the patio at Jiufen Teahouse, preferably at dusk as the lanterns and twinkling lights of the village come on. Pure magic.
- National Palace Museum. This spot was, unfortunately, left off the show – although I understand why. The museum is, in fact, the greatest treasure trove of Chinese cultural artifacts on earth, all of them taken by the Nationalist Chinese government when they fled Mainland China in 1949 – 2,972 crates full of Sung Dynasty ceramics, Han Dynasty jades, Ming Dynasty cloisonné pieces, and more. And thank the Taoist and Buddhist gods for that, because most of them would likely not have survived Communist China’s awful period known as the Cultural Revolution. Instead, they were lovingly and carefully cared for in Taiwan. Any fan of Chinese arts owes it to him or herself to get to Taiwan and explore this collection (although only a portion of it will be on display at any time).
Disclosure: I lived and worked in Taiwan in the 1980s and 1990s. I have done all the activities above on my own, and at my own expense. In 2009, I was a guest of Taiwan Tourism, who paid for a 10-day trip to the island, including the above-mentioned teahouse experience and the mentioned hotel in Taroko. I would gladly go back and pay my own way at both of those experiences.