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.
Anapji Pond (or ‘Samguk-sagi’) is a man-made pond located at the Banwolseong Palace Complex in the coastal city of Gyeongju. It dates back to the Silla Dynasty (roughly 674 CE) and was commissioned by King Mumnu who was heavily influenced by Taoism.
While beautiful during the day, I would suggest sticking around until sunset. The entire complex is lit perfectly for night photography (a sturdy tripod is recommended). Not only the palace buildings, but also the surrounding forest and small river areas have multi-colored lighting.
The Uros people can be found living on man-made totora reed islands in Lake Titicaca (3810m above sea level and just 5 km off the coast of Puno, Peru). There’s a myth that this pre-Incan group no longer lives on the reed islands and, today, the islands are only used as a tourist attraction. This is not true. Of the forty-two islands, just ten are used to host visitors from the mainland. The rest are home to a few hundred indigenous people who still rely on fishing, trapping sea birds and bartering with the mainland locals for survival.
There are a couple theories as to why the Uros first took to the sea. The most popular one says they were trying to prevent attacks from their more aggressive neighbors, the Incas.
Until recently, your only option as a traveler was to take a tour during the day or hire an independent boat operator in Puno. Now, there is accommodation on the islands and you have the added option of staying for a couple days to get a better feel for the culture, traditions, language and people. A portion of the islands have electricity by way of solar panels, as well as, a restaurant, a hospital, a school and “the world’s only floating post office”. Be aware that if your tour doesn’t include a trip to these sites, there will be an additional fee for the locals to transfer you there via reed boats (roughly 8 soles).
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.