Travel Diaries: The Secret Getaways of Ilha Formosa
History, Culture and Tradition
Despite being a small island nation, Taiwan has a lot to offer to visitors with different hues.
So if you are one of those attracted by history, culture and tradition, the myriads of temples, museums and aboriginal villages interspersed across the country may well draw your attention.
- Taipei National Palace Museum: On top of your list should be the Taipei National Palace Museum that houses the largest collection of priceless Chinese artefacts and artwork in the world. The museum, created as a result of the Chinese civil war, traces its origin to the same imperial source that’s behind Beijings famous Forbidden City.
The full collection at the Taipei museum consists of some 650,000 pieces, spanning many dynasties. Two of the most popular treasures of the museum are the 17th century jade cabbage, carved from a single piece of jade; and a meat-shaped stone, carved during the Qing Dynasty from banded jasper.
- Formosa Aboriginal Cultural Village: Before the Chinese immigration began in the 17th century, Taiwan was populated by indigenous tribes for over 8,000 years. At present Taiwanese aborigines make up only about 2 per cent of the national population. They are divided into 16 recognised groups.
A visit to the Formosa Aboriginal Cultural Village in Nantou County is an interesting way to find out about the history and traditions of the aborigines. The outdoor atmosphere gives visitors a glimpse of aboriginal heritage in an authentic setting by depicting the villages and lifestyles of the main tribes. One of the primary attractions of the village is the traditional music and dance show by native aborigine performers.
- Ten Drum Cultural Village: Located in the suburbs of Tainan, the Ten Drum Cultural Village offers a unique experience for those interested in culture and art. It covers an area of 5 hectares with 16 old-fashioned warehouses built in Japan-ruled period. In 2005, Ten Drum Art Percussion Group took over and transformed the place into Asia’s first drum-themed international art village.
Visitors are bound to be mesmerised by the musical extravaganza which combine drumming skills with traditional martial arts. The drumming experience, that offers a chance to try one’s hands at the drums, is great fun too.
- Chimei Museum: The museum is described by Forbes magazine as ‘one of the world’s most surprising art collections’. The private museum founded by Taiwanese businessman Shi Wen-long is housed in a European-style palatial building and has become a modern landmark in the historic Tainan city. The museum is known for having one of the largest collections of violins in the world.
Whether you love the sea or the hills, Taiwan offers you a choice to explore both. Away from the hustle and bustle of cities, Taiwan’s hinterland could prove to be quiet a pleasant surprise for nature lovers.
Amid towering mountains, there are eight national parks interspersed with rivers, lush vegetation, beaches and numerous hot-spring resorts.
- Sun Moon Lake: A trip to Taiwan is incomplete without visiting the ethereal Sun Moon Lake – the country’s largest. Perched amid a picturesque mountain backdrop nearly 750m above the sea level, the lake is an extremely popular honeymoon destination for natives and East Asians. There is a scenic gondola cable car service that connects the lake with the Formosa Aboriginal Culture Village and offers stunning views on way. The area surrounding the lake has many trails for hiking.
The around-the-lake road is listed among world’s top 10 most beautiful cycling trails and passes through magnificent sceneries and four major temples including the Wen Wu Temple, dedicated to Chinese philosopher Confucius.
- Cingjing Veterans Farm: High on the mountains of Nantou County at an altitude of 1,750m lies the Cingjing Veterans Farm – a small resort town that’s been called ‘Taiwan’s Little Switzerland’ and ‘Paradise in the Mist’. There is indeed a garden named the Small Swiss Garden that’s eternally bedecked with colourful paper windmills modelled on their 18th century European counterparts.
Passing native forests, through towering gorges, you can immerse yourself in the fresh air and the scenic wild greenery of the farm. The farm produces various seasonal fruits including: peaches, pears, plums, kiwi and passion fruit. Visitors can indulge in fruit-plucking sessions organised round the year.
You can also stroll through the ‘Green Green Grasslands’ (yes, the green has been emphasised twice in the name) and feed the friendly grazing sheeps. The farm hosts regular sheep shearing shows, with shearers all the way from New Zealand hairdressing these furry farm animals for the audience’s enjoyment. Just a small walk away horsemen and women show their amazing equestrian skills in an amphitheatre-like arena.
- Yehliu Geopark: A short drive away from capital Taipei is the Yehliu Geopark, located along a cape that overlooks the point where Taiwan Strait meets the Pacific Ocean. The surface of the cape is dotted with 'mushroom rocks' that have been carved over centuries by wave-cutting and weathering into all kinds of shapes.
The most iconic of these rocks is known as the 'Queen's Head' due to its uncanny resemblance with the head of ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti. Other remarkable formations include Sea Candles, Fairy Shoe, Ginger Rocks, Tofu Rocks Elephant Rock, Ice Cream Rock, Kissing Rock, and Princess' Head along with many interesting potholes.
- Qigu Salt Mountain and Jingzijiao Salt Fields: The Qigu Salt Mountain in Tainan province was once the largest sea salt field in Taiwan. Following its closure due to declining production, the place was refurbished in 2002 by Taiyen Company to create a unique museum through a landscape of the Salt Mountain.
The nearby Jingzijiao Salt Fields is an additional attraction. Under the sunshine, the salt fields display resplendent, mosaic-like patterns making it an ideal setting for photography. We also attended a workshop and learnt how salt is used in making soap bars.
Following a week-long rollercoaster journey through this beautiful island nation, as we arrived at the departure gates of the Taoyuan International Airport to catch our return flight, the ever-jovial Watermelon, who didn’t speak a word of English, screamed “kataa, kataa” with a phone-camera in his hand.
It was his signal for a group photo. We posed for one last time and bade farewell to both Tina and Watermelon with a promise to return again to the enchanting Ilha Formosa.