Wistaria Tea House is located in the Da’an district of Taipei and is well-known as the setting for a portion of the Oscar-winning director, Ang Lee’s feature “Eat, Drink, Man, Woman”. The cottage was originally built in the 1920’s, housed the Governor-General during Japanese rule until 1945, and was home to the notable economist Professor Chou Te-wei (周德偉) and his son the pro-democracy intellectual and political dissident Chou Yu (周渝) until the late 1970’s. In 1981 the home was converted into the Wistaria Tea House and became a popular meeting place for dissidents opposing the Chinese Nationalist Party’s long standing rule over Taiwan (a 38-year period known as the White Terror). The teahouse was declared a historic monument in 1997 and underwent renovations in 2008 to produce what you see today.
Wistaria Tea House stocks a wide range of teas both in variety and price. You may choose to order a single cup or a set (below). Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with the proper tea ceremony, the patient and knowledgable staff will walk you through it from beginning to end.
Christmas land in New Taipei City is one of the most festive and popular sites during the holiday season with concerts, food vendors, rides and (of course) lots and lots of lights. On weekends, you’ll find crowds that rival the Shibuya crossing in Tokyo.
If you’re a fan of Anthony Bourdain’s “The Layover”, this picture may remind you of his Taipei episode. Urban shrimp fishing (or shrimping) is a well known past time here in Taiwan. For a small hourly fee (roughly $10 USD) you are given a fishing pole, a tray and unlimited bait. Once your time is up, you can take your catch over to the on-site ovens to clean, skewer, and cook. Then relax with a Taiwan beer and enjoy your hard earned dinner.
The experience of sitting indoors around a murky pool trying to catch your dinner can seem a bit odd (especially if you have zero fishing experience like me) but if you’re looking for an activity that’s uniquely Taiwanese, this is it.
Shifen Old Street is one of the busiest stops along the Pingxi Line in northeastern Taiwan. Visitors enjoy releasing sky lanterns (100-200 NT), looking through the souvenir shops and walking along Jingan Suspension Bridge to Shifen Waterfall. It takes roughly 15-20 minutes to walk from the station to the waterfall and admission is 80 NT for adults.
Keelung is one of Taiwan’s major port cities and is found in the northeast corner of the island. The Ghost Festival is celebrated annually in Keelung on the 15th night of the 7th month of the lunar calendar. These activities have been celebrated since 1855 and are now well known as one of Taiwan’s must-see folk events (a large cruise ship from Nassau was docked in the harbor so it seems this festival is gaining international recognition as well). According to Chinese tradition, the Ghost Festival is one of three major festivals that pay homage to your ancestors (something akin to Halloween in western countries). It’s believed that at the beginning of the 7th month, the gates to the spirit world open and all the spirits are released back into the human world. The spirits linger for the entire 7th month before returning threw the gates.
“This tradition is said to originate from the Buddhist Ullambana. According to Ullambana scriptures, the mother of one of Buddha’s disciples had been condemned to eternal torture and salvation as punishment for the sins she committed on earth. The disciple traveled to the depths of hell to offer his mother food, but it all vanished before reaching her mouth. The disciple turned to Buddha for help, who advised him to prepare more food for the monks so that they would aid him in the rescue of his mother and other long-suffering souls. This tradition has been carried through Buddhist societies and is the reason the Taiwanese prepare food and festivities for the dead during this month.” (formosatravel.net)
The festival spans both Buddhist and Taoist religions with people setting up tables outside temples, homes and businesses and placing small offerings of food for both their ancestors and unknown wandering souls. You will also see many people burning paper money in small bins near the street and, on a larger scale, you will see lanterns in the shape of houses, TVs and cars being burned as well. If the spirits are appeased, the people will receive good fortune for the coming year.
Getting there from Taipei is rather easy and the parade is centrally located. Some streets are blocked off at dusk so if your hotel is close to the parade route, you may have trouble getting in or out. Once the parade finishes (around 10pm) everyone starts moving up the coast highway to a small port 20 minutes outside the city. This is where, at midnight, the lanterns are set on fire and released into the ocean.
Elephant Mountain (Xiangshan Trail or Nangang District Hiking Trail ) stands at 183m and is located in the Xinyi District of Taipei. It’s known as one of the best places to view the entire Taipei Basin and Taipei 101.
Photographers flock to get unique shots of the iconic building during the golden hours and throughout the day. The trail is especially busy during the weekends and you may have to wait to set up your tripod and shoot from the more popular viewpoints.
If you’re not interested in taking pictures, Elephant Mountain is also a great spot to people watch. You will find a lot of activity at the top of this mountain. It’s a favored place for socializing, picnics and workouts.
The National Palace Museum is found in the Shilin district of Taipei and houses one of the largest collections of ancient Chinese art in the world (over 600,000 pieces). The collection spans nearly 10,000 years from early Neolithic history to the end of the Manchu Dynasty in 1912. In 2013, the museum was ranked 7th on the list of most visited art museums in the world.
The Zhishan Garden is found within the National Palace Museum compound and contains Chinese style ponds, statues and wooden pavilions.
There are no photographs allowed inside the museum and you’ll likely be asked to check over-sized bags at the service counter. It’s still worth bringing along your camera to get some shots of Zhishan Garden and the exterior of the museum.
Yehliu Geopark is a short ride from the city of Keelung on Taiwan’s northeast coast. The most distinctive feature is the hoodoo stones (similar to those in Bryce Canyon, Utah but on a smaller scale). Each stone has been given an imaginative name like the Queen’s Head, Mushroom Rocks, and the Fairy Shoe. The composition of the rock is mostly sandstone and limestone which allows for sea erosion and weathering to take its toll. The geological landscape has also been heavily influenced by the movement of the same tectonic plates that created the Datun Mountain System just west of Keelung.
The park was first recognized during the Japanese Colonial Era but with their defeat in WWII, The Republic of China took control of the area and abolished it in 1945. The national park wasn’t formally re-established until 1986 as part of the environmental protection movement.
In addition to hiking the over 3,400m peaks, you can also river trace the deep marble canyons and waterfalls, visit the temples and shrines and take part in the annual marathon through the gorge.
Taroko National Park is just a short ride from Hualien and most accommodations will happily arrange a guide for the day. Park entry is free but be aware that if you want to go off the beaten path or into restricted Truku aboriginal areas, you must apply for a permit ahead of time.
A wide-angle lens (I used a Tamron 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5) is worth packing to shoot the high canyon walls and winding Liwu River scenes.
Longshan Temple is located in the Wanhua District of Taipei and dates back to 1738 when Fujian settlers built it as a place of worship and congregation. Over the years, it has been damaged due to earthquakes, fires, and allied bombing during WWII. Today, it encompasses both Buddhists and Taoist deities with a statue of Kuan-in (the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy) in the main hall. The statue was famously spared when the allied aircrafts bombed the temple in 1945 (Japanese were suspected of hiding arms inside). Once the air raid was over, they found the main hall and part of the nearby annex were destroyed but the statue remained intact.
Entrance is free and donations are accepted. The money goes toward temple maintenance and improvements.
If you’re feeling adventurous, Huaxi Night Market is next to Longshan Temple and sells snake blood and snake soup. You can also find traditional and antique shops, fortune tellers and Chinese medicine shops nearby.