There are many things about Taiwan that make it an incredible place to live; it’s easy to take some of those things for granted once you’ve been here for a while. I frequently hear that people think Taiwan is very Westernized, and while I agree that it is to some extent, there are still plenty of authentic Taiwanese experiences to be had!
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Here are 30 of my favorite authentic Taiwanese experiences. What are yours?
1. Learn how to drive a scooter in Taiwan and head out on a day trip. (Photo comment: It happened to rain that day, but it was still a great day. Wet jungle is just cool to drive through. For day trips, we head into the mountains of Taoyuan, but we’ve also gone on 4-7 day trips along the Central Cross Island Highway and along the Southern Cross Island Highway. They’re both great trips to take. I highly recommend doing it!) Also, you know you’ve turned Taiwanese when you’re wearing island rain gear. It’s the only way to go!
2. Ride the High Speed Rail from Taipei to Zuoying – Taiwan’s HSR can whip from the north to the south in under two hours. There’s plenty worth seeing along the way, from ocean to rice paddies and through rural communities and big cities.
3. Try Taiwan bubble tea – I’ve only met one person who didn’t like it, and that’s because she wasn’t prepared for the bubbles. Taiwanese bubble tea is sweet, satisfying, and utterly delectable.
4. Get a butcher knife massage. As weird and wacky as it sounds, a butcher knife massage is actually quite relaxing. The best booths are found in the underground Y Mall near Taipei Main Station. You’ll know them as soon as you see them. You can’t miss the flying butcher blades. Don’t worry, though. The edges have been dulled down, and it’s more like a gentle tapping motion.
5. Visit a Taiwanese teahouse. You must try this at least once. There are so many beautiful places to explore though! Head for the tea plantations in Maokang and sip some tea at a local shop or find a picturesque shop in Chiayi, where you can enjoy sipping tea by enormous stone ponds filled with hundreds of brightly colored goldfish.
6. Try a sun cake in Taichung. The city is known for having the yummiest sun cakes in Taiwan. These round, flaky crusted cakes are filled with condensed malt sugar. They’re typically eaten with Chinese tea.
7. Try everything at a local night market! This is a big challenge, but it’s worth taking. I can’t imagine life without our local night market. Noodles, bao zi, deep fried tian bu la and other glorious treats, bbq on a stick, oyster omelettes, coffin bread, sweet sausage, shaved ice, and stinky tofu. You’ll definitely find some things that you hate, but you’ll also find things that you’ll love. It’s all part of the experience, right?
8. Try a Taiwanese foot massage. Go to the blind massage shops. Mr. Massage is a popular chain. It will be the most painful foot massage of your life. If you’re able to get through it, you’ll feel like your feet are lifting right up off the ground at the end of it. You feel instantly reenergized.
9. Pay homage to the monks at Fo Guang Shan Monastery in Kaohsiung. This ultra zen monastery in Kaohsiung is massive. It’s also one of the most peaceful places I’ve been to in Taiwan. Visitors walk the Great Path to Buddhahood, which is flanked by eight identical pagodas. The final stop is the Big Buddha, the highest seated bronze Buddha in the world.
10. Set off a paper lantern over during the Taiwan Lantern Festival, or release one into the sky at the beach with some friends. One of the coolest events in Taiwan, the Pingxi Lantern Festival, involves releasing hundreds of paper lanterns into the sky during the Lantern Festival. If you don’t want to brave the crowds, you can easily purchase a lantern and light one on any of Taiwan’s beaches.
11. Stroll along the port and harbor area of Keelung City and then head to the Keelung night market for some fresh seafood. The best thing to eat here? In one word: crab. Do it. You won’t regret it.
12. Visit Queen’s Head Rock at Yehliu Geo Park. This is one of my favorite day trips from Taipei. Yehliu Geopark has been dubbed as Taiwan’s most beautiful landscape because of its unusual rock formations. The park is operated by the North Coast and Guanyinshan National Scenic Area.
13. Visit Moon Bridge at Lin Historical Garden. Some say the best time to go is at night so you can gaze at the moon. It’s just as pretty during the day.
14. Visit the pandas at the Taipei Zoo. The zoo is actually a pretty great zoo, as far as zoos go. I’m not a big fan of them, but the animals here are obviously taken good care of and the complex itself is well laid out.
16. Visit a Taoist temple and show bai bai. I remember being fascinated with Taoist temples when I first arrived in Taiwan. I’m still obsessed with them. These temples are a riot of colors, mythological creatures, smoky incense, and people paying respects to the gods. My favorite temple in Taipei is Tianhou Temple in Ximending. This temple is also known Ximending Mazu Temple, since the in house deity is Mazu, Goddess of the sea. The temple has been around since 1746 and it is one of the three major temples in Taiwan from the Qing period.
17. Eat at an yi bai rechau with some local friends. You can’t go wrong with fresh Taiwanese seafood and other delicacies at $3USD per plate.
18. Check out the hot spring culture in Beitou. Taiwan is loaded with all different kinds of hot springs, from the sulphur springs of Yangmingshan to the salt springs of Green Island. You haven’t done Taiwan if you haven’t had a good hot soak in one of its hot springs.
19. Watch a Taiwanese Opera performance. This is a visual delight, but your ears may never forgive you.
20. Catch the cool artistic vibe in Tainan. Outdoor patios, art shops, coffee shops, and more. Tainan is known for being one of the most laid back cities in Taiwan.
21. Visit Taitung and Green Island in southeast Taiwan. You can catch the boat from Taitung to Green Island for a unique island experience, or spend some time cycling around Taitung and its surrounding area. The Great East Rift Valley is nothing short of amazing. You’ll see fields of rice paddies, mountains, ocean, and rural communities, and probably lots of fruit vendors! Don’t miss out on the opportunity to stop and support local farmers. Taiwan fruit is devine!
22. Get lost on the Central Cross Island Highway. Traversing the Central Cross Island Highway by motorcycle has been one of the highlights of our last 10 years in Taiwan. One bike, two people, five days. Now that’s adventure.
23. Visit Wuling Peak on Hehuan Mountain at 3,275 meters above sea level. This peak is so high, you’ll be looking down at the clouds.
24. Have a drink on Ximending’s massive outdoor patio. Ximending is a pedestrian shopping area filled with coffee shops, restaurants, and the latest in Taiwanese fashion. You’ll find a number of patio restaurants and bars behind the Red House. My two favorite places are Dalida and the Thai restaurant near the Bear Bar.
25. Visit Houtong Cat Village in Rueifang in northern Taiwan. The village is an old mining town that is home to over a hundred cats that roam its streets looking for friends to play with. The village draws thousands of tourists over weekends.
26. Visit the Taipei flower market and gaze at Taiwan’s many different orchid species. You haven’t seen orchids until you’ve seen the flower markets in Taiwan. There is a reason why Taiwan is often called the Kingdom of Orchids.
27. Visit a Taiwanese aboriginal village. Learn about Taiwanese traditional tribal lifestyle and traditions. The Formosa Aboriginal Culture Village near Sun Moon Lake is the most popular attraction for guests that want to learn more about aboriginal culture in Taiwan, but it’s certainly not the only one. There are lots of villages to choose from.
28. Go to KTV with your friends. There are lots of karaoke places to choose from, and you can go at any time. Most KTV places rent out rooms to groups of friends, and you’ll have your own waitress to bring drinks and foods as you sing away to your heart’s content.
30. Find out what the fuss is about with pig’s blood cake. This is a heavy Taiwanese treat comprised of pig’s blood and sticky glutinous rice that is formed into a cake on a stick. It’s then rolled in peanuts and coriander and steamed.