Great holidays are 'made in Taiwan' too
TAIWAN. Yep, I know what you're probably thinking - and chances are it's not palm-fringed surf beaches, misty mountain forests or good coffee.
For many the name probably doesn't conjure up much other than cheap wares but you might be surprised to find that great holidays are "Made in Taiwan" too.
A recent trip to the island certainly proved an eye-opener with the little island packing a punch in terms of the variety on offer within a relatively small area.
Sure, I had expected urban sophistication, which it has in spades with bullet trains, galleries, sleek hotels and funky bars, but I wasn't quite prepared for its stunning natural beauty and such a distinct cultural identity.
With eating being somewhat of a national pastime, nowhere did facets of that identity find an easier expression than through food. And I definitely made a concerted effort to appreciate the diversity of the island's heritage through my stomach - I did a fair bit of "research".
From street stalls to fine dining to hearty traditional meals, there was something to suit every taste and on every plate an opportunity to recognise Chinese, Japanese, Spanish or indigenous influences, among others. Each dish was made with a lot of love, a nod to tradition and a dash of individuality.
History and food also came together at the incredible National Palace Museum where after marvelling at the priceless treasures housed there you can visit the Silk Palace restaurant and taste delicate edible interpretations of some of the museum's most prized possessions.
One dining experience that came with a side of culture was a trip to Kwangfu Hong Wa Wu, near Hualien, specialising in the food of the Ami indigenous people.
Worked into the fixtures and covering almost every available surface of this restaurant were depictions and carvings of owls of every size and shape.
Owl motifs are omnipresent in Taiwan and while they are all the rage at home at the moment too, here they weren't just a mere fad - these owls were not trinkets for sale but totems and powerful talismans of spiritual significance handmade by the multi-talented chef herself, who was also a traditional shaman of sorts.
This wasn't just a restaurant, this was also a working owl shrine.
If after sampling a taste of Taiwanese cuisine you're looking to work off any overindulgence, there are plenty of ways to get active.
Spend a few hours walking the vibrant streets of Taipei taking in the shopping and architecture, or cut loose from the crowds and head for the great outdoors.
Nature is within easy reach of the urban centres but feels like it's a million miles away.
Bisected by the Tropic of Cancer the island has tropical and subtropical regions that range from jaw-dropping marble gorges to idyllic beaches. Surfing is gaining popularity but if you want to stick to dry land hit the hiking and cycling trails in the mountains.
The Alishan National Scenic Area and Taroko National Park were a feast for the senses and had some of the most beautiful scenery I have seen.
Whatever preconceived notions I might have had before visiting Taiwan defied expectations - I certainly hadn't anticipated feasting with an owl shaman for instance, and I continued to be surprised and amazed by many other aspects during the trip.
Having now visited Taiwan, I think the biggest surprise is that it isn't a more common destination on the Australian travellers' radar, but I've got a feeling that's soon to change.
Scoot Airlines offers flights from the Gold Coast to Taipei via Singapore from $329.
Try Scoot Biz seats for some extra leg room and the Scoot Thru transfer option at Changi Airport for a smooth stop over.
To check the latest flight schedules and prices and to book, visit http://www.flyscoot.com
When you visit
- Din Tai Fung, Taipei 101
- Silk Palace, Taipei
- Modern Toilet, Taipei
- Kwangfu Hong Wa Wu, Guangfu
- Chao Li Alishan House, Alishan (http://www.alishanhouse.com.tw)
- Palaise de Chine, Taipei (http://www.palaisdechinehotel.com)
- Westgate Hotel Taipei (http://www.westgatehotel.com.tw)
- Fullon Hotel and Resort, Hualien (http://hualien.fullon-hotels.com)
- Alishan National Scenic Area
- Taroko National Park
- National Palace Museum, Taipei
- Taipei 101
- Huaxi Night Markets, Taipei
- Fenchihu Old Town, Fenchihu
Visit http://eng.taiwan.net.tw for more ideas or download the handy Tour Taiwan app for iOS